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Abia Elections And Voting Turnout

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It has always been a known and accepted fact the world over that “Politics is a game of numbers”. Once again it is an assertion that was proven true during the just concluded Nigerian Presidential and legislative elections whereby General Buhari was able to become victorious partly based on the strength of the number of votes he received from the northern states. As I have once stated in one of my previous articles, the north may yet to catch up with the south in some areas of our national development and consciousness but if there is one area they have mastered, outsmarted and are far ahead the rest of us, it is in the game of politics. Right from the time of Ahmadu Bello, they have been cognizant of the numbers game. Whenever it is time for a national census or elections their leaders have done their utmost to ensure that they register large numbers so as to continue to create the illusion or confirm the truth that their numbers is exactly what they claim it is. The fact that they have done so consistently, we in the south have come to accept it as a fait accompli that they constitute more than half of the Nigerian population. Which undoubtedly may be true or false considering the fact we still do not have what internationally may be regarded as an accurate census figure.

As we can see from the presidential results it would have been close to a different ball game if Jonathan had received the anticipated number of votes from the south eastern states of Abia, Enugu, Ebonyi and Anambra, that is however not to take anything away from Buhari's victory and the masterful campaign tactics of the APC . The president –elect deserves our congratulations and prayers from every Nigerian, including some of us who were skeptical about his promise to successfully eradicate corruption considering some of the people around him. While the Governors from the northern and western states irrespective of party affiliation were busy removing any hurdles that would have made it difficult for their citizens to pick up their PVC cards by declaring public holidays for that purpose, their counterparts in the south east especially in Abia were busy raising obstacles, such as hoarding and stealing the cards, officials showing up late or not

even showing up at all at their local government council collection centers, there by causing most prospective voters to show up multiple times for their PVC collection until they gave up in frustration. Again while the northern states used their mosques, radio and television stations to educate their people and to turn them out to vote on election day, governors in the south east restricted the use the state's media outlets . On election day, the INEC officials also did not help. Most showed up late or not at all at some polling stations in the South east and as such not many people were accredited to vote by 1.30 pm. In contrast, Kano state INEC was able to accredit over 2 million people by the 1.30 accreditation deadline. It is therefore no surprise that on election day the turn out was poor. The number of people who voted in Abia for instance fell from 1. 2 million in the 2011 elections to 400,000 in 2015 out of the 1.3 million who registered. Which begs the question. What happened to the over 700,00 Abians who did not vote and why.

That is the question , officials of the APGA party in Abia must be asking themselves as well as strategizing on how to turn them out to vote on April 11. The time is past to continue blaming the Governor for his role in the poor turn out , rather we must seize the opportunity to reenergize the voters and to impress upon them the importance of coming out in large numbers to vote for Dr Alex Otti. Our people must be reminded that this is an opportunity they cannot let pass them by, unless they want to continue with their complaining and whining for another 8 years. Considering what transpired during the march 28 elections, I still cannot comprehend how one man can continue to run roughshod over an entire people and still get away with it. Why is the silence from our so called Igbo elite, namely our chiefs, ex- military officers, Ohaneze ndigbo etc ?

Just as it is quite right to be critical of the governor, we cannot save our people from the blame game. It is very frustrating and disappointing to hear that most of our polling workers were willing to subvert the true voting intentions of the people by changing voting figures to favor the PDP after receiving huge sums of money. What happened to our sense of decency and accumulated grievance

against the Ochendo regime.? How is it that some of us are willing to sell our conscience for money, forgetting about the hardship the people of Abia have endured in the past 16 years?. When we behave like this we give credence to the stereotype about the Igbos regarding our love for money. Can we with a sense of self indignation blame others when they say in jest that' to ensure that an Igbo man is really dead you may have to wave some money under his nose and if he does not wake up you can rightly confirm he is dead'..? . We need to change as a people . With Buhari's victory, the political equation has changed considerably, and there is no better place and time to start than the April 11 election. We must not only vote in large numbers but must ensure that our votes count by not only protecting it, but also refusing to accept money from all those who want to subvert it. We must not only report those so inclined to the authorities but shun and ostracize them from our communities. It is about time we stop praising, respecting and idolizing those who acquired their wealth by illegitimate means.

Dr Alex Otti on his part has done his best through his various rallies and town hall meetings to acquaint the people with his plans for the state . These meetings which has been aptly described as informal public meetings that gives the members of a community an opportunity to get together and to discuss emerging issues have seized upon by Dr Otti as an excellent public relations tactic that has enabled or offered him the chance to speak personally in a relaxed atmosphere or environment about issues relating to members of the electorate.

Studies have also shown that politicians who reach the pinnacle of success often do so because they know how to create connection, encourage interaction and drive conversation with groups of people. The goal is to think one-to- one instead of one-to-many. So a good politician tries to convey his ideas and plans directly. These politicians do not do not speak to the people as a group. They speak to groups as a collection of individuals, hence it is an accepted fact that a politician who comes across as real and accessible is more likely to get voters to accept whatever message he is trying to convey. A prominent Harvard professor Joseph Story once formally quoted that “the law is a jealous mistress and as such

requires constant courtship”. The same could be said of the electorate during political campaigns. The voters like the proverbial mistress needs to be constantly romanced and appreciated which is exactly what Dr Alex Otti has done in these meetings and it is now time to turn these efforts into a large turn out on election day.

It is however very unfortunate prior to the March 28 elections, that politically sponsored thugs from the PDP have done their utmost to disrupt some of these meetings all to no avail. Which begs the question, when did our people turn to hooliganism as a way of winning elections? Are we not the same people who survived a civil war due to our ingenuity, unity of purpose and pride in ourselves.? Political assassinations, kidnappings and disruption of rallies have never been associated with us. Suddenly we seem to be competing with our brethren in other parts of the country who are so inclined. But then what do you expect, when we have a governor and an administration that is a personification of the worst characteristics that humanity has to offer. An administration that is the most corrupt, the most deceitful, the most tyrannical and the most greedy in Nigerian history. An administration where its members collectively find themselves participating in the incestuous orgy of corruption. For instance how can the y explain what happened to the more than 739 billion Naira allocated to Abia state in the past 7 years and 3 months with nothing to show for it, when you consider the fact that Abia state is estimated to receive a monthly allocation of 8.5 billion naira . Broken down as follows: 4.5 billion from the federation account, 3 billion for local government councils and 1 billion from the IGR, not to mention the various internally collected revenue from taxes, levies, fines etc. ie ( 8.5 multiplied by 87 months). Its therefore not surprising that this administration will do anything and will go to any length to retain power as was evident in last Saturday's election when apparently billions of this stolen money was used in bribing polling officials.

Like most of us here in diaspora who could not attend any of these town hall meetings I 've followed Dr Otti's campaign events on social media, and I must say his recent rally in Etche road ,Aba was a sight to behold. The size and boisterous nature of the crowd was enough to convince any doubting Thomas that victory is at hand as the people of Aba , gay with their banners and resplendent in their attires showed no hesitation in their desire and resolve to follow Dr Otti to the promised land. Watching it on social media I witnessed a crowd that displayed a sense of dignified affirmation. Subtly but unequivocally people appeared to be no longer afraid of tomorrow because they have seen yesterday and are hopeful about today. As Dr Otti addressed the crowd in the company of Ms Bianca Ojukwu, whose presence added a spur to his already soaring campaign stock . I saw a man whose warmth and joie de vivre was contagious. I saw right away why the people were clamoring for him. As he spoke one could see that the character of his mind is such that his thoughts habitually takes on this form of illustration of which the point he wishes to make or enforce is invariably brought home with strength and clearness impossible in hours of abstract argument.

In my humble estimation DR Alex Otti is a man who is a personification of clean, competent and determined leadership. A leader who holds a bold vision for his state. A leader who will not lead his people down a beaten path of narrow minded godfatherism, but down the broad avenue of national and global engagement and economic competitiveness. A man of exceptional determination with great reserves of personal courage and cheerfulness. A man who loves the subtleties of human relations and sensitive to nuances. A man who deals little in abstractions and whose answers and response to difficult issues are always direct and assured . He comes near to being a perfect politician hence I can recall no man presently in the state with uncompromising loyalty , and who unites in the same degree the qualifications of professional attainment ,fervent devotion to Abia and to the principles of good and honest governance.

In contrast I find in his opponent, Dr Ikpeazu as a man who seems pathetically out of place in the campaign arena and painfully lacking in political talent or even a serious interest in politics. One thing the Ikpeazu campaign has failed to realize and appreciate is that you cannot sail through a campaign without the hard work that goes with it. While Dr Otti had been busy canvasing the state for votes, the PDP on the other hand were seeking out ways to rig the elections. You must have

the clarity of vision to know what you want , where you are going and how to pursue it. The voters must have a good idea of what you stand for, what you expect of them and where you are leading them to. More important is the fact that as a candidate you have to earn their trust, confidence and loyalty, all of which Ikpeazu has been delinquent of. Sometimes I wonder what Ochendo saw in him to decide to anoint him his successor considering his awkward nature and the fact that candidates are considered only as good as their chances of winning. This man has no chance of winning considering the out pouring of support for Dr Otti and short of any futile attempt to rig the elections again. It is very obvious that the difference between these two candidates is wide and far between and that this is our chance to free ourselves from the evil clutches of the Ochendo regime ,but no less important is planning for the day after the election , after victory has been achieved.

The task before the new governor is going to be enormous. To whom much is given, much more is expected. Honestly I do not envy Dr Otti considering what awaits him. The blighted city that is Aba will require his immediate attention, so is the state of Abia economy, the empty treasury , the falling and dilapidated infrastructures, the absence of basic social amenities, falling educational standards and the deplorable state of Abia healthcare facilities etc. The list goes on and on. Yet like a majority of Abians I have faith in him and in his abilities to make bold decisions and to make the right choices. Choosing the right priorities, to tackle right away. For me personally, my faith and confidence is his abilities is borne from the fact that not many governorship aspirants first commission a study of the state they hope to govern so as to ascertain what awaits them and hopefully plan ahead. Which is what Dr Otti did . An indication of his inherent ability to be proactive. It is however my hope that Abia people will be patient with him because he cannot perform all the miracles we expect of him in transforming the state as quickly we will want him to. He will not only need time, but also our understanding, cooperation and assistance, since these problems have been years in the making.

To succeed he will need the best minds the state can offer .People who will see themselves as being on a mission of salvation and recovery. Hardworking men and women who will be uncorrupted by the derivatives of office and who see themselves as servants of the people and not their masters. People who think and talk solutions and not continuously whine about problems. Citizens who are willing to make history and not the other way round. Dr Otti on his part must avoid sycophants, which I am sure he is aware of and above all listen to the advice of former British prime minister when he described leadership as 'being able to say no”, which I am sure he must have done a lot of times as a banker. Succeed he must not only because he is a man who have always thrived in an atmosphere of high expectations but also because providence intends him to be our governor . So all Abians must bring about this much awaited change come April 11 as our future and progress as a people may well depend on it. Our votes cannot be stolen this time. We must not only protect it but fight against any interference with figures by all means necessary. God willing Aprill 11 willmark the dawn of a new era in Abia.

Nnanna Ijomah
A former Assistant To The late Emeka Ojukwu Teaches political Science In New York

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Articles by Nnanna Ijomah