By NBF News

Attahiru Jega
The Independent National Electoral Commission on Thursday noted that Nigerians' participation in the electoral process was low, saying that only 35 per cent of the 70 million registered voters took part in the last general elections.

The Chairman of INEC, Prof. Attahiru Jega, stated this at a workshop on voter apathy organised in Abuja by the commission.

Before Jega made the disclosure through the chairman, INEC Board of Electoral Institute, Prof. Lai Olurode, United States President Barack Obama, advised President Goodluck Jonathan to use the opportunity of his victory at the April poll to develop Nigeria.

Jega, at the workshop in which the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung Foundation gave a report of its research on the April general elections, said the poor turn out of voters in the general elections was at variance with the belief that they showed much enthusiasm during the polls.

He described the workshop as part of efforts 'to extend the frontiers of citizenship and widen the scope of participation in elections and governance processes.'

The INEC chairman noted that the low participation in the polls was an indication of political apathy in the country and citizens' disinterestedness in the electoral process.

Jega said, 'That there exists voter apathy in Nigeria is no longer contentious. Voter turnout in the just concluded general elections had provided a scientific and empirical evidence of the existence of voter apathy and disinterestedness of sections of the electorate in elections.

'The National Assembly elections, the presidential election, the gubernatorial and state assembly elections conducted in April showed that voters' turnout hovered around 35 per cent. This ugly scenario has implications for popular participation and governance.'

According to him, the commission is determined to increase participation in the election processes.

INEC chairman added, 'We, as a commission, are determined to enlarge participation in the election processes as a well cherished means of aggregating preferences. 'This is because an apathetic citizenry contributes to wastage of investments committed to procuring sensitive election materials as well as money spent on voter education activities and election personnel remuneration.'

He explained that an apathetic citizenry contributed to wastage of investments in sensitive election materials and money spent on voter registration.

The Friedrich Ebert Stiftung Foundation identified lack of transparent elections, election violence and politicians' non-committal to their campaign promises as major reasons for voters' apathy in the country.

In Washington, Obama told visiting Jonathan that since Nigeria had the potential of a great nation, he (Jonathan) should be diversifying its economic base.

A US-based Nigerian news agency, Empowered Newswire, said the American leader again congratulated Jonathan and restated that Nigeria was one of US' strategic partners.

Obama, according to Empowered Newswire, also expressed his appreciation to Nigeria for its contributions to international peacekeeping missions and leadership role in West Africa.

He particularly mentioned the role played by Nigeria in the recent political crisis in Ivory Coast.

Obama told Jonathan that he looked forward to more cooperation between the US and Nigeria in the nearest future.

Earlier, Jonathan had expressed his appreciation for his invitation to the White House and also commended the American government's support for INEC in the build-up to the April elections.

He also asked the US to further invigorate its assistance to Nigeria through the US-Nigeria Binational Commission.

Nigeria's Ambassador to the US, Prof. Adebowale Adefuye, who was present at the meeting, said that Jonathan praised Washington for its statement recognising the positive outcome of the polls.

Jonathan, according to Adefuye, also promised that Nigeria will further the cause of Democracy in Africa and continue to play a leading role in its contribution to the United Nations peacekeeping missions.

While appreciating the US for the US-Nigeria Binational Commission, the President said, 'I want to see the implementation of the Binational Commission invigorated.'