The figures released by the INEC on voters registration, as at January 2018, show these: North Central, 10,586,965; North East, 9,929,015…
Last weekend, the voters’ registration exercise conducted by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) ended nationwide. The INEC had projected that at least 80 million eligible voters would register at the conclusion of the exercise, but it ended up with 84,271,832 (84.2 million). According to INEC chairman, Mahmood Yakubu, 14,551,482 new voters were registered.
For a country with an estimated 185 million population, going by what the Director-General of the National Population Commission (NPC) said a few months ago, 84 million voters means that about 45.5 percent of Nigerians have registered to vote and determine the fate of President Muhammadu Buhari and other presidential candidates that would emerge in other political parties. For me, the issue is not really about the number of people registered to vote. It is about the number of those who would actually exercise their franchise at the end of the day. This makes this question pertinent: How many registered voters will eventually vote during the 2019 elections?
In 2015, a total of 67, 422, 005 voters were registered. Out of these, only 28,587,564 people voted to pick the President, which is about 42.5 per cent. Broken down further, President Buhari scored 15,424,921 votes, which is 23 percent of the total registered voters. This means that only 23 percent of Nigerians made Buhari President, in a country of about 185 million people. In the election also, former President Goodluck Jonathan garnered 12, 853, 162, about 19 percent of registered voters. When Buhari’s total 15,424,921 votes is added to Jonathan’s 12,858,162 and other candidates’ 304,534 votes, it brings the total number of those who voted in the presidential election to 28,287,564.
What this tells me is that the percentage of Nigerians who determined who became President in 2015 was abysmally low. It is not only low but also divided along ethnic lines, as Buhari got the greater percentage of his votes from the northern part of the country, while Jonathan raked in his votes more from southern Nigerian. If, therefore, the percentage of those who vote for a president is low, does this show good representation? I guess this is why some countries specify percentage of the votes a president must garner to win an election. Where such percentage is not met, there will be a second ballot between the two leading candidates, for the winner to eventually emerge. This is something our federal lawmakers may have to look at in future, to ensure that when a President emerges it would be from popular votes, representing popular mandate.
Having said this, I must emphasise that it is the duty of the INEC, political parties, politicians, community leaders and others who understand the dynamics of democracy to mobilise Nigerians to register for voting. The total number of voters, as at January 2018, before the last registration exercise, showed that mobilisation and sensitisation of Nigerians for voters’ registration were not effective in some geopolitical zones. The figures released by the INEC on voters registration, as at January 2018, show these: North Central, 10,586,965; North East, 9,929,015; North West, 18,505,984; South East, 8,293,093; South South, 11,101,093; and South West, 14,626,800. By last January, therefore, 73,042,950 voters were registered. Now, there are 84 million voters registered to vote next year.
The breakdown of last January’s figures by geopolitical zones shows that the North West has the highest number of registered voters: 18,505,984, followed by the South West, which has 14,636,800 registered voters. If we take this as a benchmark, I do not see much changing, with regard to the geopolitical zones’ registered voters. The North West would still lead on the registered voters table, followed by the South West. The South East, which, last January, had the least registered voters of 8,293,093, would still be the least on the table. This could only mean two things: The North West has the highest population in Nigeria or that the people in the zone are more politically conscious and, therefore, register for voting more than others. It could also mean that the North West mobilises better. The same could also be said of the South West. It is stating the obvious to say that the more people registered, the more the percentage of those who would vote. With their strength, the North West and South West have presented themselves as stronger political forces and, therefore, have better bargaining power than the South East, for instance.
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Nigerians understand some of the things that happened during the voters’ registration, which could have been by accident or design. We know that, whereas Nigerians were ready to obtain their permanent voters cards (PVCs), it was difficult for them to do so, owing to some shortcomings on the part of INEC. A situation where only local government headquarters were mainly used as registration centres made the exercise extremely difficult. Such registration centres were always chaotic, which kept many people not only away but also frustrated those who went and wanted to register.
However, with voters’ registration over, there is no need crying over spilt milk. The important thing now is for the geopolitical zones, which have low number of registered voters to mobilise those who registered to come out in February 2019 to vote for candidates of their choice. It will pay the South East, which has the least registered voters, to ensure that a greater percentage of those who registered actually vote next year. In the last elections, the South East states delivered a paltry number of votes in the presidential race. In that election, only 401,049 voted in Abia, out of 1.3 million registered voters. In Anambra, 703,409 voters exercised their franchise out of 1.9 million registered voters. Ebonyi recorded 393,337 voters out of the 1.07 million registered voters. Five hundred and fifty-three thousand three people (553,003) voted in Ebonyi, out of 1.3 million registered voters. In Imo, 731,921 votes were cast out of 1.7 million. This totalled 2,785,725 votes, almost equal to 2,172,447 votes cast in Kano alone in that election.
I believe that the South East could do better than that next year. What is needed is for the governors, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, community leaders, town union leaders and others to educate registered voters on the need to exercise their civic responsibility by voting next year. Since these people failed in getting more people to register, they should go out of their way to ensure that the greater majority of those who registered vote next year. The number of people who votes would determine the fate of the South East in the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the All Progressives Congress (APC).
The Igbo are expecting that PDP would zone the vice presidential ticket to them. Are they ready to deliver enough votes for such a candidate if he or she is so chosen? The Igbo also expect to produce the next President in 2023 through APC after President Buhari. Are they going to give APC more votes then what the party got in 2015? Whichever way the Igbo decide to vote, they have to give it their best shot because their votes will make or mar their future political fortunes. I expect that every Igboman registered for the elections would take voting in the elections seriously. It is only when they deliver high votes that they would no longer be taken as the whipping boy of Nigerian politics. They would not only be respected but also feared. And political decisions would not be taken without their input and interest considered.