“Nigerians have practically abandoned polling units in today’s election. They’ve come to the realization that ‘voting’ is done at the Collation Centres NOT at the Polling Units …Sad day for Demon-Crazy!” – Omoyele Sowore, Presidential candidate, 2019 General Elections.
This piece is not to do a post-mortem on why turnout was low in Saturday’s state level elections, there will be more than enough time for that when the full figures are released. It is also important for me to point out that since 1999, the presidential vote has always witnessed a higher turnout than state level elections, just that this year, the drop was more severe than normal.
The Nigerian Governorship elections held on March 9, 2019, in 29 out of the 36 states. Governorship elections are very crucial and while the outcome of state governorship elections are usually influenced by the outcome of the Presidential Elections, much of the apathy reported is because many Nigerians erroneously believe that whatever a president does is what affects them. While the President’s words and actions do have an effect on the direction the country takes, and on what happens, the real damage in Nigeria is being done mainly at the local levels.
The governor of a state is vested with the responsibility of the governance and administration at the state level. This is important, closer to the grassroots, and touches more lives directly. Much has been made about the number of students that registered for the National Common Entrance examinations in Zamfara State, but not enough noise has been made of the fact that Abdulaziz Yari, the outgoing governor who is now moving to the more comfortable surroundings of Abuja, is/was the man most directly responsible for primary education in the state. Based on figures from the 2017 UNICEF Multiple Cluster Survey, under Yari’s watch, 24.41% of children under the age of 14 in Zamfara were not in any school of any sort. That is not Buhari’s fault, and that statistic has a more direct bearing on the future of Zamfara than most other metrics.
As of the end of September last year, only Jigawa, Katsina, Lagos, Niger and Yobe states are not owing any worker (or retiree) a kobo. When you consider that for all his faults, Buhari ensured that the states got the Paris Club money specifically to ensure that all wages are paid (I still think it was a bad idea), you begin to understand the scale of how bad things are at state level.
In Abia State, which at 20% had the poorest turnout percentage-wise in the Presidential elections, civil servants are owed salaries of between two and 11 months depending on your status and level; teachers are owed between two and six months, while local government workers are owed two months. In terms of gratuity, no worker in the state has been paid any since 2003, while the state’s pension arrears are between three and 14 months, again depending on both luck, and which ministry or department you worked with. According to the Nigeria Labour Congress, Abia owes pensions and gratuities of around ₦25 billion, mostly to people who worked under the ministries of education and health. The pensions and gratuity thing in neighbouring Imo stands at 20 years – ergo since democracy began; no retiree in Imo has received his gratuity. Any wonder that many have logged out of Nigeria mentally?However, despite all the faults noticed in the Presidential election, shunning the state elections was a very short-sighted reaction by Nigerians.
This is why it is vital for citizens to participate in the choice of who governs them at the state levels: at the state level, the government generally has the responsibility of developing the states, and in practical terms, with the exception of Jos, Kaduna, Minna and Lokoja, Abuja is too far from the state capitals for the President to truly understand what is happening in those places.. If every state is decently led and committed to grassroot development, the country will chug along faster. The provision of social services and general infrastructure in the state and development of the state is predicated on the leadership capacity and competence of the Governor of the State.
The majority of Nigerians are farmers and small-scale traders, who live in the rural areas and consequently the development of those people and their quality of life is dependent on the leadership quality and competence of the Governor and his ability to mobiles resources and develop the rural communities in particular. The rural areas are responsible for Nigeria’s food security and consequently it becomes imperative that the Governor foster agricultural development in the state at the grassroot level.
The failure and stagnation of state development is as a result of the voters/electorates not voting credible candidates that are dedicated to the development and growth of the states but sitting back and focusing only on Abuja. The turnout was beyond underwhelming.
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