By From Leo Sobechi
Away from projections about likely performances of the four front row political parties and their presidential contenders in next year’s election, stakeholders have taken a look at the flip side of the issue of possible level of voter participation.
The Guardian went to town with the outcome of the latest ANAP/NOI poll, which showed a high number of undecided and uninterested respondents and sought perspectives from relevant stakeholders.
Comparing the September survey and the December poll, it was evident that the parties’ performances across the six geopolitical zones witnessed a slight jump, thereby, indicating that the campaigns have elicited some level of interest by prospective voters.
However, the poll outcomes showed that less than 50 per cent of registered voters would determine the winner of the election, just as it was not possible to assert how far the calibre of presidential options was affecting voter enthusiasm.
Executive Director, Abuja School of Social and Political Thought, Dr. Sam Amadi, told The Guardian that INEC is not doing enough to build confidence in its integrity and competence.
Amadi noted that press statements and conferences by the INEC Commissioner for Information, Mr. Festus Okoye, are not convincing, stressing: “INEC needs to demonstrate how it will protect voters from manipulation.
The performance of INEC officials in previous elections erodes believability. INEC needs to be more transparent and communicative.”
On his inferences from the ANAP poll, Amadi, who is also a former Managing Director of Nigeria Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC), noted that a 50 per cent voter turnout for 2023 presidential election will be an improvement on previous elections.
He stated: “We will like to see a higher degree of voter enthusiasm marked by voter turnout. But sadly, the level of apathy caused of massive governance failure and irresponsible behaviour of politicians means that we may not cross the 50 per cent benchmark.
“Voter apathy is a historical fact in Nigeria. I don’t think it relates much to the quality of presidential candidates in the election circle. As a matter of fact, we can argue that the field of presidential candidates, this time, is an improvement of what it used to be in previous election.
“This time around, we have distinct choices. Peter Obi’s presence means that we can make clear distinction between the leading candidates. I think the real cause of voter apathy is two-fold: the gross failure of governance at all levels and the poor credibility of the electoral process.”
The Associate Professor of Law maintained: “Many Nigerians believe nothing will change and that INEC will not deliver a free and fair election. There is a growing lack of trust in public governance and electoral system.”
Speaking on the issues of expectation and impact of campaign messaging, Amadi declared: “I think many people believe the election will hold but they probably don’t care much about its outcomes.
“I believe that the campaign of all the candidates have been poor compared to the challenges that the people face. Atiku Abubakar has played up his experience and the performance of PDP in its 16 years, especially in managing the economy.
“But, the problem is: many people also see massive failure in those 16 years. Tinubu has been hiding from real debate and parrots Lagos as his signature. But, many people know that Lagos is not a real success and Tinubu did not build Lagos.
“Peter Obi makes a heavy weather of his prudence and honesty, but he has to do more to show he can solve these problems. So, the campaigns are low-pitched and not yet captivating.”
However, offering a divergent perspective, the Galadima Bokkos, Chief Jonathan Sunday Akuns, noted that the latest outcome of poll about 2023 elections by ANAP/NOI has provided some anecdotal clues about the likely behaviour/attitude of voters.
Akuns stated: “The large chunk of undecided and uninterested respondents seems to point to voter fatigue of the disconnect between expected dividends of democracy and actual delivery of such expectations by elected officials.
“As for this category of voters, they get cryptic about essence of their votes to service delivery. In addition, the caliber of the frontline candidates inspires no hope of a renewed commitment away from business as usual mind-set; the two front liners are jaded old horses and are likely to be a burden upon public psyche than assets for public value.
“As a result, the capacity of a third force to suffer leavening reversals from the frontier candidates seems to cast a shadow on the occurrence of the 2023 event as scheduled. In addition, the combined effect of the discordant voices about the antecedents of the frontier candidates and prevailing level of insecurity across the country seems to dampen the enthusiasm of respondents.”
While noting that on the overall, the “2023 election is a work in progress along a volatile path that’s strewn with ethnic and religious sentiments rather than the patriotic zeal of nationalism,” Akuns said the New Nigeria Peoples Party (NNPP) candidate, Senator Rabiu Kwankwaso, represents the rest of other parties, just as Tinubu and Atiku are the front liners, and Obi, the third force.
On the implications of marginal increase in number of respondents on voter turnout, he explained that “the observed increase in the percentage of respondents suggests that the steady campaign outings of basically three parties, the fringe outings by the other parties as well as sporadic INEC enlightenment are causative agents.”
“The effects of INEC confidence building efforts towards 2023 elections constantly get undermined by the relentless attacks on its facilities in some parts of the country.
“Fifty-two per cent of respondents are undecided and uninterested. This is quite high and seems to suggest that voter turnout in 2023 elections is likely to be less than 50 per cent. The low voter turnout will not vitiate the validity of the election outcome.
“The 52 per cent respondents could suggest that they are voters that would have wished to vote for either Atiku or Tinubu, but became too shy to reveal their electoral preference in the public arena for over-age candidates with crushing baggage of personal profile.
“Peter Obi as a third force candidate of the youth fellowship will pull the moments to his electoral victory akin to a Macron and Ruto moments in France and Kenya respectively.
“Obviously, the failure of 52 per cent respondents to reveal their electoral preferences also suggest their desire for a Peter Obi victory by withholding their votes for a Tinubu or an Atiku due to the long-standing toxic pedigree of the duo in the political arena.
“The more the duo campaign around the country, the more they expose gaffes and unsuitability but yet inspire the youths. Secret desires of the vote abstainers is cryptic nudge for a reset and fresh air in the public governance space that resonates with the voter youth groups,” Akuns asserted.
But, a development expert, Dr. Arthur Martins-Aginam, said INEC deserves commendation for the work it is doing and the confidence it is exuding about the elections.
Martins-Aginam, who teaches communication at Baze University, Abuja, disclosed that more than in previous elections, “INEC sounds very prepared for the elections despite major challenges, like insecurity, which is largely beyond its mandate.”
Martins-Aginam said: “The big problem is that Nigerians have become very jaded, and rightly so, that they are almost at the point of giving up on the country and her institutions.”
He explained: “While I am usually very skeptical about polls, especially in the context of Nigerian politics, I think the 50 per cent figure is more about the uninterested than the undecided.
“In our mostly party and ethnic politics, people are usually easily locked in allowing little room to be persuaded to change their preferences as is the case with the so-called swing voters in US elections.
“The indication that less than 50 per cent of registered voters will participate in the elections is obviously a matter of great concern, given the challenges facing the country, making 2023 unarguably the most consequential election in Nigeria’s history.
“There is never a good time for voter apathy, worse still in this election cycle. Again, that’s an answer a good scientific poll should have provided- why the people opting out have decided to do so as anything else is speculation.
“Will be nice to find out from them why they are apathetic to the election. To try to answer your question pointedly, it may be a consequence of both the feasibility of the general elections holding, in part, because of pervasive insecurity in the country as well as the calibre of the candidates.
“But that also begs the question, if prospective voters are fed up with the APC and the PDP, what about the emergent Labour Party? Or has its earlier momentum stalled? The poll should help provide answers to these and more.”
Source: The Guardian