• Insecurity, loss of confidence spike voter apathy to 70%
• Imo worst hit as less than 20% participated at last elections, 13% projected for guber poll
With a few days to the November 11 governorship election in Bayelsa, Imo, Kogi, it is almost certain that insecurity and near loss of confidence in the electoral process may force about 70 per cent of eligible voters out of the election, especially in Imo state.
From antecedents at the last elections, about 20 per cent of Permanent Voters Card (PVC) holders participated. Findings suggest that this may further dip with widespread apprehension on security of lives, coupled with credibility concerns about the electoral process.
Bayelsa and Kogi are not spared of security worries amid records of steady decline in elections.
At the last presidential election for instance, Bayelsa’s voter turnout dropped by 20 points from 36.4 per cent to 16.4 per cent, Kogi’s dropped by 9 points from 33.6 per cent to 24.6 per cent.
INEC earlier hinted that over 5.4 million Nigerians are on the voter register for the November 11 Governorship Elections in Kogi, Imo and Bayelsa states.
There are 1,056 862 registered voters in Bayelsa State; 2,419,922 in Imo State; and 1,932,654 in Kogi State, making a combined total of 5,409,438 registered voters for the three states.
Imo is more of a peculiar case. Official records of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) show that the state registered about 2.42 million PVC holders for the 2023 general elections. Of the number, a total of 2, 318,919 persons collected PVCs, while 101,003 remain uncollected.
At the February 2023 presidential election, only 469,685 persons voted in the exercise, out of the 476,730 accredited, which is about 20 per cent of those that collected their PVCs and were supposed to vote in the election in the state.
Following the wave of insecurity in the state, new findings has shown that the state may be left with just 600,000 eligible voters, out of which 300,000 (or 13 per cent of total PVC holders) may maximally vote
Already, the electoral umpire has declared no election in 38 polling units out of Imo state’s 4,758 polling units as a result of zero registered voters. As such, elections would be held in 4,720 other polling units of the state.
Although the commission did not disclose the affected polling units, a non-governmental human rights organisation, Alliance for Africa (AfA), last week confirmed that insecurity and apathy would force many out of the election.
The group in a report stated “43 per cent of the sample of Imo state citizens said they will not participate in the election”.
In Its survey, tagged: “The Imo state Citizens’ Charter of Demand” residents cited “insecurity, as well as loss of confidence in the electioneering process and INEC as reasons for their decision”.
But more worrisome is the outcome of the research conducted by the International Society for Civil Liberties and Rule of Law (Intersociety), which was released last week, where it stated that about 130,000 genuine votes only may be relied upon to determine the winner of the governorship election.
The group which carried out the research in conjunction with South-east based Coalition of Democracy and Human Rights Organisations (SBCDHROs), further added that the number of genuine votes would be drawn from about 300,000 voters that may participate in the election.
“This projection was arrived at after putting into consideration the fears, chaos and bloodletting that deeply affected the state and 65 per cent or 1.8 million of the registered voting population uprooted and forced out of their voting areas; leaving the state with only 600,000 eligible voters, out of which 300,000 may maximally vote,” Board Chairman of Intersociety, Emeka Umegbalasi disclosed.
Umegbalasi noted that the case of Imo state is akin to the November 2021 Anambra governorship election where 112,229 votes of the total number of lawful votes of 249,631 votes determined the winner of the election.
He added that many homes in Imo have continued to be deserted with attendant killings, intimidation and fear.
Umeagbalasi, who expressed worries that the INEC might resort to “harvesting and writing of results to determine the winner of the election”, explained that the assumption followed “the January 14, 2020 Supreme Court verdict that installed Governor Hope Uzodimma as remotely originated from harvested results from 311 polling units in the state where voting either did not take place or was cancelled as a result of widespread violence and gross malpractices in the state’s April 2019 governors”.
He, however, added that the organisations are interested in the restoration of sanctity of the ballot box and protection of voters of the state, stressing that there should be “one man, one vote system to determine the winner.
“Apart from ensuring their security and safety, the voting routes and environments and their residences and sensitive voting materials, including result sheets, must also be secured and subversive elements within the security forces including deployed soldiers, police and Ebubeagu militia stopped from wreaking more havocs”.
IN Bayelsa State, there are fears of voters’ apathy in Yenagoa, the state capital, as most residents appear to have lost interest in voting, especially going by what happened in the last governorship election in the state and the recent general elections.
There are also concerns that some might stay away out of fear of violence and threats by the two major political parties – PDP and APC in Nembe and Southern Ijaw Local Councils as political actors in the state deploy thugs and miscreants to scare away voters to enable them have the field to themselves.
Even recently, the PDP and APC had raised the alarm over attempts to scuttle the election through intimidation and violence.
There have been attacks and killings in Opu-Nembe, and this will affect voter turnout on Saturday.
There have been pockets of election-related violence across the state, but not up to the scale witnessed in the previous election. Yet, the threat of violence would affect voter’s turnout and certainly the overall outcome of the poll.
Hot spots include Basambiri, Opu-Nembe, and other strongholds of the two main candidates and political parties, Governor Douye Diri of the PDP and former governor and immediate past minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Timipre Sylva of APC.
Kogi is also not spared of its worries. Ahead of Saturday’s election, opposition parties, PDP, ADC and SDP have accused the ruling APC of tactics aimed at stifling the opposition and recruiting foreign thugs to disrupt the election. The parties objected to last week’s directive by the Kogi State Government to hotel owners in the state to reserve all hotel rooms in the 21 Local government areas of Kogi State from November 4th to 12th.
Claiming grave security implications, the opposition claimed to be in possession of reliable information that Governor Yahaya Bello intended to use the hotel rooms to accommodate imported militias, who will be used to create chaos at his command before and during the elections.
PDP candidate, Dino Melaye, at a press conference in Abuja said intelligence at the disposal of his campaign council suggested that the thugs would be brought into Kogi State from Lagos, Ogun, and Oyo States.
He further alleged that fake police and army uniforms have been given to the thugs so residents could not easily detect them.
Shola Adebola, who spoke for the ADC campaign said, “We are also aware that the governor’s directive is aimed at disrupting the electoral process, as it will prevent INEC, election officials, security personnel, and local and international election observers from accessing hotel accommodation during this crucial period.”
Expressing concerns over the development, a Public Affairs Analyst, Jeremiah Uzoma, stated that the unresolved issue of the 2019 governorship and the outcome of the March 2023 State House of Assembly elections have compounded the situation in Imo state.
He added that most residents were unhappy with the manner the Supreme Court adjudicated the 2019 governorship election, adding that three years after a case of the actual candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the election was brought before the apex court, it had continued to dilly-dally with it.
When the matter was eventually fixed for hearing last week, the apex court had adjourned it to December 5. By this time, the governorship election would have been held and the winner announced.
“Who will be happy to participate in an election when we are yet to know the truth about the earlier one held? The Supreme Court was quick in announcing that the incumbent governor, who ended fourth in the 2019 election according to the results declared by the INEC was the true winner; but the same court has sat on a case brought before it to determine the rightful candidate of the APC in the election.
“There are two cases in court from the PDP and APGA on that matter. They centred on the actual candidate of the party after the court disqualified Uche Nwosu, who was already carrying the party’s governorship ticket. That court did not pronounce the candidate.
“Remember how the court validated 388 polling unit results that were not known to INEC to determine the winner of the election. Now, whether what the Supreme Court did was in order or not, the fact that the beneficiary of that ruling has remained in office and is preparing for another election while a case against him is pending for three years breeds loss of confidence in the process. What it means is that, no matter how hard people try to honour the election, one way or the other, anyone favoured by the ruling class will be declared as the winner.
“That is one plank. The second plank is the last state House of Assembly election that was held this year. The outcome of the exercise gave the 27 Assembly seats to the APC including areas where there was no election and as we speak, nothing has happened to invalidate the outcome, in spite of several complaints by the people.
“So the people are afraid they might be used to legitimise a flawed process. Since it is convenient to award results that cannot be overturned by the courts of the land, what is the need of coming out to vote on Election Day?” Uzoma said.
Findings show that the state’s electoral strength had dwindled in the last few elections. A research organisation, Dataphyte said in a recent report that in the past governorship elections, mainly the last three, the voter turnout has been consistently below 50 per cent, based on the percentage of the registered voters who cast their vote on the Election Day.
Nonetheless, INEC has said it is doing all in her powers to instill confidence in the electoral process by making the outcomes count and less stressful on the people.
It stated that 17 political parties will participate in the election in Imo state. It assured that the outcome of the exercise would be electronically transmitted, adding that it had deployed necessary facilities to ensure a hitch free exercise and urged residents to honour the exercise by voting on that day.
INEC further assured that with the level of security it had mobilised for the election in the state, “several lapses recorded in the previous elections will be corrected”.