The March 16, 2013, Federal Capital Territory (FCT) area council polls might have entered record books as one of the most poorly patronized elections in the history of Nigeria. The official statistics show that less than 10% of registered voters turned out to cast their ballots. As an INEC accredited election observer, the summation of my experience on the field clearly suggests that Nigerians are getting acutely weary of our electoral process. I carefully avoided saying “democratic process”, to avoid being misrepresented as calling for a military putsch. This is especially so given that governance in Nigeria has been largely reduced to reactionary witch hunting. On getting to polling unit 011, Karu Ward 10 at about 8am, I was shocked to find only a PDP party agent and a few security personnel at the voting centre. There was no sign of INEC, no trace of election materials and NO VOTER! I stayed there for about forty five minutes and the situation remained the same. I took off to nearby polling stations in the company of Okey Ndilibe; a veteran journalist, also accredited for the election. Our experience was not different from scenes at the first polling unit. In more than ten polling units observed in Karu, Orozo and Nyanya wards, voters were sparse and INEC staff arrived at their duty posts about one to three hours late.
When the last ballot was counted, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) had cleared five out of six area councils, leaving Gwagwalada for the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP). Thus, PDP made an electoral gain in the chairmanship slots it controls in the (FCT), having succeeded in snatching Kwali Area Council from the ANPP. Given, the low voter turnout for the council polls, the outcome did not come as a surprise to many political observers. First, the scale of voter apathy that attended the election appears to have been deliberately orchestrated. Apart from a deluge of campaign posters strewn all over the place, there was no serious attempt to connect voters with the electoral process. There was hardly any debate or other forms of public engagement with party candidates. To my knowledge, the only election debate held was attended by three councillorship candidates. Despite the reality of a plethora of developmental deficits, infrastructural decadence and citizens’ deprivation in the FCT, the last council election was not anchored on any discernible pro-people issue. All we heard was how the PDP would bury the emerging APC; apologies to FCT Minister, and how the APC would put an end to the rigging machinery of the PDP. The common man was not the issue, not at all! That for me was mind rigging!! Latent but potent!!!
It is only unfortunate that since 1999 general election, successive elections in Nigeria have increasingly isolated the Nigerian people. From the governance temperament of our ruling political class, it is clear, even to the blind, that our politicians have sworn to practice democracy without the people. In the countdown to the FCT council election, one expected a lot of issues that are dear to the heart of Abuja residents to shape the political discourse. These issues were also supposed to have been deployed as connecting nodes to engage public interest for the election. That never happened. It is common knowledge that there is dearth of health and other life supporting facilities in Abuja’s satellite communities. The recent outbreak of wild polio virus in two communities near the city centre is only an eye opener to the severe health challenges in the FCT. A recent FCT Millennium Development Goal Report shows that more than 80% of rural communities in the FCT still drink from open and unsafe water sources. In Wuye city centre and most communities in the hinterlands, school children still study under trees. Communities such as Kwakwa in Abaji are lucky to have a benevolent traditional ruler offer his palace as classrooms. In Abuja, we cohabit with gory tales of governance failure, yet, our collective misery hardly found expression in the electoral verdict that was delivered at the last FCT council polls.
Moving forward from ‘the today’ of FCT council elections to ‘our tomorrow’ of 2015 general elections, two things are clear; Nigerians are tired of the humiliation they are daily going through in the hands of the political ruling elites and they are not going to keep docile forever. The sensibilities of millions of Nigerians are not only being dulled by the pervasive poverty and unemployment in the land, they are also being blurred by the endemic corruption in our corridors of power. Corruption, impunity and bloodshed have combined to terrorize the lives of regular Nigerians. Party politics within Nigeria’s democratic space have been reduced to “come and chop”, irresponsible presidential pardon, endless merger talks and preposterous controversies over names cum acronyms. Nobody talks about the Nigerian people! Nobody talks to the Nigerian people!! As our bleeders continue to ride us rough, INEC with its trademark logistics tardiness is yet to wake up to its onerous responsibility as the most crucial midwife in Nigeria’s leadership labour room. INEC cannot do much as its hands are tied. Mr. President and his party members still decide who calls the shots in INEC. Are you still surprised why Nigerians do not trust the electoral system? Are you still miffed that Nigerians have voted with their absence in recent elections? With the current insistence of President Jonathan on full deregulation of the oil sector, I have a feeling that something will give way and soon! It might be today, it might be tomorrow, it might be 2015! Boko Haram terrorists are already having their day. Niger delta militants have had their fill. Kidnappers and ritualists are catching their fun. Our corrupt political class is bent on its old ways. The Nigerian people are boiling to have their country back! I fear for the day of their pound of flesh!
Comrade Asuzu Echezona
Deputy General Secretary
Alliance for Credible Elections (ACE-NIGERIA)