The recent Anambra State governorship election won by a former Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Prof Chukwuma Soludo, expectedly recorded a low voter turnout.
There were initial fears and apprehensions, especially that the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), an outlawed separatist organisation, and the Eastern Security Network (ESN), were carrying out a series of attacks on individuals, security operatives and government offices in some South-East states.
Two days before the election, IPOB cancelled its one-week sit-at-home order earlier declared in the state. The group, which had used force to enforce the sit-at-home in the South East had declared the same in Anambra to discourage residents from taking part in the election.
However, IPOB spokesperson, Emma Powerful, in a statement, announced the cancellation of the sit-at-home order.
Powerful said, “Following the genuine intervention of our elders, esteemed traditional institutions/rulers and religious leaders, and after a due consideration of the positive impacts of their engagement, and sequel to the fact that our elders have spoken in our terms, the leadership of IPOB ably led by Mazi Nnamdi Kanu hereby and immediately calls off the one-week sit-at-home earlier declared to commence tomorrow, November 5.”
Despite IPOB cancelling the sit-at-home order, the election though peaceful, with the massive deployment of a combined team of security operatives, was marred by low voter turnout.
Of the 2,466,638 registered voters in Anambra State as announced by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), only 253,388 were accredited.
At the end of the election, there were only 253,388 votes cast, of which 8,108 were rejected.
This means only 10 per cent of the registered voters in the state voted during the election or putting it in another way, only one in every 10 registered voters in the state’s 21 local government areas, consisting of 326 wards and 5,720 polling units, voted on Saturday and Tuesday’s supplementary election in Ihiala LGA.
While election observers and Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) had predicted the low turnout due to many reasons, including fear of violence, the state is known for voter apathy despite producing many eminent Nigerians.
Governorship elections in the state have never witnessed up to 50 per cent voter turnout with the highest being 2007 when the election was characterised by reported massive rigging.
History of low turn-out
Although the voter turnout in previous governorship elections in the state was low, the recent election had the lowest.
Of the 2.2m registered voters in 1999, only 1.02m voted in the 1999 election, representing 46.4 per cent.
The 2003 election saw the highest turnout with 47.22 per cent, with the total number of registered voters being 1,859,795; while only 878,212 of registered voters participated in the election.
While there were 1.84m registered voters in the state in 2010, only 302,000 voted on Election Day; translating to only 16 per cent of voters.
In 2013, only 465,891 of the total 1,770,127 registered voters voted on Election Day, representing about 25 per cent.
Likewise, in the 2017 election, less than a quarter of the total number of registered voters participated in the poll.
INEC in a report said that of the 2,064,134 residents registered as eligible voters for the 2017 election, only 448,711, about 21 per cent, turned up to vote.
Curiously, both the 2017 and 2021 polls were held in November, with the 2017 poll on November 18 and the last election on November 6.
Why we shun elections – Voters
Residents of Anambra State said that though they were ready for to vote, they were disenfranchised by the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) failure and other factors.
Some of the people who spoke to Daily Trust Saturday in Awka, the state capital, said many things were responsible for the low turn-out for elections.
A resident, Chief Chukwu Iluzie, said many people had thought Anambra State would be on fire during the last election.
He said, “Before the election, there were fears that there would be serious problems and people left the state for different places to escape being caught in the crossfire.”
He further said multiple registrations was another problem, as many voters registered in more than four to five places and that they could only vote in one polling unit.
Another resident, Mr Patrick Chimezie, said the people of Anambra were not politically conscious and that over the years they had never shown concern for elections.
He further said, “The voters were suppressed as result of the inefficient performance of the BVAS, which was overwhelming. Virtually in all the PUs, many were denied accreditation and voting due to none functioning of accreditation machines.”
Chimezie also blamed the low turn up to lack of confidence in the nation’s electoral process.
He said people were of the opinion that some power in Abuja had perfected rigging of polls and there was no need for them to waste their time coming out to vote.
He added that: “People preferred to stay indoor to be secured rather than coming out to be killed.”
Also speaking to our correspondent, a civil servant, Ignatius Nweke, said there was a general fear of insecurity hence that people could not come out to vote.
He said the people of the state were not “politically aware”, noting that most of the people that voted in the last election were civil servants.
He further said the threat of IPOB also contributed to the recent low turn up, as voters believed that since IPOB had declared sit-at-home that day, the election would not hold.
Stand-alone governorship elections
Unlike most other states in the country, Anambra State observes off-cycle governorship elections due to the peculiarity of its governance history and the roles of the influential politicians who wielded power and ruled the state in the past as “godfathers”.
Between 1999 and 2003, the godfather-godson political squabble began with business mogul, Emeka Offor, and Governor Chinwoke Mbadiniju, with Offor seeking to control the politics of the state as godfather.
In 2003, the current Minister of Labour and Employment, Chief Chris Ngige, as Anambra State governor, was locked in a war of survival with his godfather, Chief Chris Uba, leading to violence and “impeachment” of Ngige.
Apart from Anambra, other states like Osun, Ondo, Ekiti, Bayelsa and Edo have been recording stand-alone governorship elections since 2010 due to impeachments, violence, inconclusive elections, among others.
Chief Chinwoke Mbadinuju governed from May 29, 1999, to May 29, 2003, under the banner of the PDP.
While in May 2003, Chris Ngige of the PDP was elected governor and was in office until March 17, 2006. On March 17, 2006, Mr Peter Obi of APGA was declared governor by the courts and was in office until November 3, 2006, when he was impeached by the state assembly for “misconducts”.
Dame Virginia Etiaba was sworn-in as governor on November 3, 2006, serving till February 9, 2007, when she transferred power back to Mr Obi after the appeal court nullified Obi’s impeachment by the state assembly, and Obi ruled again from February 9, 2007, to May 29, 2007.
However, on May 29, 2007, Chief Andy Uba was sworn in as governor of the state, having been “elected” some months prior, but on June 14, 2007, was removed from office by a Supreme Court decision.
Mr Obi returned as governor and governed until March 17, 2014, when his anointed successor, Chief Willie Obiano, was elected and sworn in as governor.
Mr Obiano will complete his two terms on March 16, 2022, and will be replaced by the Governor-elect, Prof Chukwuma Soludo.