Cheta Nwanze, Lead Partner, SBM Intelligence

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  • Geopolitical Analysis
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Lessons from the Anambra governorship election for 2023 09 Dec 2021

Last month’s governorship election in Anambra State left many heaving sighs of relief. The feared violence failed to materialise. However, the expected low turnout manifested for all to see, and that puts a lot of pressure on the incoming governor, Charles Soludo.  

While Soludo’s win appears to be a victory for the people of Anambra against a perceived attempt by outside forces to impose a leader on them as happened in neighbouring Imo, there needs to be a discussion on what lessons can be learned from the conduct of the election in anticipation of the 2023 general election, preparations for which are going to dominate the coming year.

The low voter turnout is a major highlight of the election and a good start-off point for the discussion.

Voter turnout was around 10 percent, a major decline from the 22 percent recorded four years ago, and by far the worst in any presidential or gubernatorial election in Nigeria since 1999. The weak turnout tallied with a survey that SBM Intelligence published just five days before the election. That survey warned of a very low voter turnout and attributed the causes to a myriad of issues, insecurity being chief of them.

No matter who wins an election, a situation in which only one in 10 registered voters, which in the case of Anambra was effectively 3 percent of the population, show up on election day raises fundamental questions about how much the people care about those who govern them, showing a disconnect between the government and the governed.

Multiple factors are responsible for the growing election apathy in Nigeria. The fear of violence is often a huge disincentive for voting. The fact that, for example, more than 626 people lost their lives in the 2019 general election in various parts of the country from the start of campaigning to actual voting, and no one got arrested, much less convicted by a competent court of law, validates the fears of those who would not dare to come out to vote.

Security concerns were highlighted as a major reason that most people who opted not to take part in the Anambra governorship election stayed away. 0.6 percent of the SBM survey respondents were not registered voters, but of the 99.4 percent who were, 68 percent said that they would not vote in the 6 November 2021 election; 79 percent of those who said they wouldn’t vote fingered the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra (IPOB) as their main security concern.

But non-state actors weren’t the only security issue. Nigeria’s political class sees winning elections as a ‘do or die’ affair, and so foment violence where they cannot buy votes. In so many cases, law enforcement officials fail to arrest the perpetrators of violence, or at best arrest token pawns in the game. This lack of integrity has diminished confidence, leading to the apathetic disposition of the electorate. If the state cannot provide security for its citizens, why should it expect the citizens to participate in elections and give it legitimacy?

INEC’s inefficiency is also a cause of low voter turnout. Many people experienced challenges in registering to vote; and INEC failed to deliver PVCs until a few days to the election.  

Since elections have failed to provide good governance and security; and many government officials are glaringly bad examples of how to lead, citizens are abandoning their civic responsibilities in ever greater numbers. The much-expected ‘dividends of democracy’ have not materialised. Rather, what we continue to experience with successive governments are worsening socio-economic conditions, including rising unemployment and poverty. The most damning statistic to come out of Anambra in recent times is the 44 percent unemployment rate.

Security is going to be a major concern in the 2023 elections. Right now, Nigeria is an undeclared war zone. The governorship election took place under enormous security concerns with IPOB doing as much as they could to make sure it did not hold. But the various security threats are the result of something I have argued about so many times in the past: all of Nigeria’s security concerns bar none, have an economic backdrop. During the pre-election debate between APC, APGA and PDP, the candidates of each party were careful not to draw IPOB’s ire. Largely so, they made the debate issue-based, around economic and socio-political development. The state already has an unemployment problem which is a contributor to the social unrest, and the candidates quite commendably chose to focus on the root cause, the economy. This is something that needs a lot of focus in post-Buhari Nigeria. If we can get many young people into productive occupations, our security challenges will slowly fizzle away.

However, one lesson that I am very confident will, sadly, not be learned is the mass deployment of the security services (and their attendant use of brute force). A few days to the election, everyone prepared more or less for war. The police deployed more than 34,500 personnel, 45 Commissioners of Police, 48 ACPs, two DIGs, five AIGs, and three helicopters. The Civil Defence Corps sent in more than 20,000 men. The Department of State Security deployed its men and women. The Office of the National Security Adviser announced that any non-state actor who made any attempt to test the will of the state will be met with “maximum force.”

The show of considerable force could have been avoided if a political solution was reached between the federal government, IPOB and stakeholders at the state level. Rather, it appeared that various interest groups, the candidates and their parties were left to do the bargaining, which in another circumstance, could have been counterproductive given the disinterest of the government which holds the constitutional levers for the control of force.

But when you have a situation where 10 percent of Nigeria’s police force had to be deployed for a single election in Nigeria’s second smallest state by landmass, what will happen when we have an election in all the 36 states? Bear in mind that the army as things stand, are deployed in all the 36 states of the country.

The performance of INEC warrants further comments. We must commend the commission for its role in ensuring a credible poll whose outcome was accepted by everyone but the APC candidate. However, the run up to the poll and the drama surrounding it showed that there were lapses that could have been avoided. Several issues are noteworthy here, including the incompetence of INEC’s staff. The ICT department of the commission has also been found wanting for years, which makes mockery of its budgetary allocation. In hoping for better luck, we should not continue to subsidise incompetence in our elections by accommodating so-called “Nigerian factor”, which amongst other things means mediocre performance.

Issues with the Biomodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) was a problem which delayed the voting process very needlessly in some areas. Asides some pockets of violence in Ihiala, the failure of technology was instrumental to the initial declaration of the election as inconclusive. But an often-unstated reality is how much funds are being used to hold supplementary elections, which makes the cost of holding elections to go a notch higher.

These issues seriously call into question INEC’s competence and preparedness in the run up to 2023. The Anambra polls were supposed to be the test run for 2023 on a number of issues including voter registration, turnout, and deployment of technology.

Nigeria has had elections every year since 1999 and more than 20 years later, is yet to get it right with voter ID capturing machines. In both the 2015 and 2019 general elections, the failure of voting machines was a contentious issue, and calls to revert to the manual capturing of voters’ data were controversial.

The BVAS system works quite well where the 4G cellular network that it piggybacks on is working. What happens in the large stretches of ungoverned spaces, prevalent in Northern Nigeria, where there is no 4G? Where BVAS inevitably fails in the region in the 2023 presidential election and INEC reverts to manual voting processes, we should expect people to cry wolf. But perhaps there is still time to fix these issues if the political will to do the right thing is present.

Cheta Nwanze is Lead Partner at SBM Intelligence.