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Youth Initiative for Advocacy, Growth & Advancement (YIAGA Africa), an NGO, on Sunday said that the voter apathy experienced in the just concluded local government election in the state was dangerous to the country’s democracy.

Ms Cynthia Mbamalu, Director of Programme, Yiaga Africa, during a media briefing in Lagos lamented that voters participating in the just concluded council election was abysmally low as residents showed a lack of interest in the process.

The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that the council election took place in Lagos State on Saturday, July 24, 2021.

According to Mbamalu, voter apathy presents a disturbing trend in a state with 6, 570, 291 registered voters and poses a major challenge to the practice of democracy in the state and the country.

“The elections were characterized by similar shortcomings observed in other elections in Nigeria.

“These include the late opening of polls and deployment of election materials, disregard for the electoral guidelines, confusion over the non-inclusion of a contesting party on the ballot, non-deployment of political party agents, and voter apathy.

“With the level of turnout in the council election, governance at the local levels in the state for the next four years will be by individuals who are elected by a very small fraction of the voting population,” she said.

Mbamalu said local government elections were closest to the people and remained important in establishing a political culture of democratic governance and active citizens’ participation at the local government level.

According to her, beyond the abysmally low turnout of voters, the election revealed a persisting capacity deficit with respect to human and financial resources and technical expertise required for successful election administration at the local level.

She added that the poll also revealed the absence of a robust legal framework for council election that could sufficiently guarantee electoral integrity, enable political inclusion and regulate political party conduct in the elections.

“The election also raises major concerns on; the quality of leadership at the local level, the independence, and autonomy of local government structure and key institutions like the State Independent Electoral Commission.

“However, the July 24 election in Lagos state showcased the important role of election management commissions in entrenching women’s participation in the process.

“Yiaga Africa commends the Lagos State Independent Electoral Commission’s (LASIEC) deliberate deployment of women as polling officials across the local governments and LCDAs.

“As reported by Yiaga Africa’s Watching the Vote, on average, 1 of 2 polling officials at the polling units observed was a woman,” she said.

Mbamalu said that LASIEC might have achieved the successful deployment of female officials as there were still opportunities to deepen women’s participation in the electoral process, especially by the political parties.

Mr. Eze Nwagwu, a Board Member, Yiaga Africa, also spoke.

He said the findings presented by the Watching The Vote (WTV) observers of the NGO were based on information received from the polling units observed across the LGAs and LCDAs and from the council’s result collation centers.

“Late deployment of polling materials and opening of polls, election logistics management remains a critical aspect of election administration that has the potential to impact the quality of the election and citizen’s confidence in the process.

“Early deployment of election officials and materials is an important determinant of the quality of election logistics and operations management.

“As observed on election day, the majority of polling units visited were yet to be set up as of 8:30 am, with some polling units without polling officials present by 8:30 am.

“Yiaga Africa WTV observers reported that no polling official was seen in 61 of the polling units visited by 8:30 am.

” The late opening and commencement of polls was a general observation across the state.

“Specifically, Mushin local government recorded late deployment, election officials were still waiting to be deployed to their assigned polling units by 8:16 am. By 10:00 am, only 17 of the polling units visited had polling officials present.

” Secrecy of the ballot not guaranteed: The secrecy of the ballot remains a cardinal feature of democratic elections.

According to him, the secrecy of the ballot in this election was undermined in most of the polling units visited.

Nwagwu added that Yiaga Africa noted that polling units were not set up in a manner that could guarantee the secrecy of ballots.

He said that in polling units visited by the NGO observers,  voting cubicles were placed in positions that enabled voters and party agents to see how ballot papers were marked.

He noted that essential election materials were adequately deployed as WTV tracked the presence of essential materials such as the register of voters, polling official stamp, voting cubicle, ink pad, ballot boxes, incident form, and polling unit booklet in polling units.

Nwagwu added that materials and many more were seen in most of the polling units that were opened.

” However, the WTV observers reported that the majority of the Smart Card Readers were not fully charged.

” In addition, the reports indicate that the Smart Card Readers were not used in some of the polling units visited.

He said that Yiaga Africa noted that non-use of the Smart Card Readers in some polling units was directly related to the quality of election officials’ training.

Similarly, Mr. Johnson Babatunde, newly elected Executive Chairman, Orile Agege Local Council Development Area (LCDA) in Lagos State also said that performance by elected officers remained the panacea to voter apathy in Nigeria.

The chairman who spoke with NAN  in Lagos was reacting to the voter apathy that trailed the local government area election of Lagos state held on Saturday.

Babatunde won the chairmanship election on the platform of All Progressives Congress (APC)  with 9, 019 votes to beat his closest rival of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Mr. Akinyemi  Akintoye who polled  1,616 votes.

He said that political office holders must perform to the levels where residents would be encouraged to exercise their franchise.

“Political office holders must be ready to perform to the uppermost level where the electorate will be convinced to come out and vote during elections.

“Voter apathy is very dangerous to our democracy, and we can eradicate it through performances and regular provision of dividends of democracy to the people,” he said.

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