Voter inducement is one of the significant challenges of the recently concluded General Elections 2019. Reports by observers noted that vote buying, inducement in various forms as well as intimidation and violence were core issues faced by the electorate. Most disturbing of all was the one of vote buying and inducement. How to reduce the incidence of such aberrations should be a focus of the next four years ahead of the 2023 elections.
Vote buying happened in most cases in response to economics. There was the near-market equilibrium of demand and supply working together to make the exchange of value for a vote a central feature of the polls. Items exchanged ranged from the cash of lowly one to two thousand Naira to high figures such as N20000 and on to physical objects like rice, beans, toiletries and apparel.
Cynicism was rife. The electorate in many cases demanded the exchange for their votes. Many claimed it was the only dividend of democracy they were sure of given the experience of the previous elections. Politicians come, promise them the world in terms of necessary infrastructure and then disappear upon receiving the mandate.
This attitude is troubling in itself and for what it represents. It speaks to a deficit of trust between citizens and the political class. Five election cycles and 20 years later, the gap has widened. The chasm is a deep distrust of the political class by citizens at every level. It also showed in voter apathy following a massive turnout for voter registration. The people did not trust enough that their vote counted. So they stayed away.
For the presidential election, for instance, only 34.75 percent of registered voters turned up at the polls. It translates to 28, 614, 190 people. Registered voters numbered 84m.
Further interrogation of the data and comparative analysis confirms a growing and disturbing trend. Nigeria fared worse than other countries in Africa using voter turnout as an index. Our voter turnout is the second lowest of all recent elections in Africa. According to the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (I-IDEA), Nigeria’s 34 percent is only slightly better than the 32.3 percent turnout in the 1996 presidential election in Zimbabwe.
The turnout figures point to a nexus between citizen satisfaction with democracy and trust in the electoral process with electoral participation. Top 10 countries with the highest voter turnout in their most recent elections are Rwanda; 98.2 percent, Equatorial Guinea — 92.7 percent, Angola — 90.4 percent, Seychelles — 90.1 percent, Guinea Bissau — 89.3 percent, Zimbabwe — 86.8 percent, Sierra Leone — 84.2 percent, Kenya — 79.5 percent, Liberia — 75.2 percent, and Burundi —73.4 percent.
The least 10 are Cote d’Ivoire — 52.9 percent, Algeria — 49.4 percent, Mozambique — 48.6 percent, Sudan — 46.4 percent, Sao Tome and Principe — 46.1 percent, Democratic Republic of Congo — 45.4 percent, Mali — 42.7 percent, Egypt — 41.1 percent, Cape Verde — 35.5 percent and Nigeria — 34.8 percent as the last.
More troubling for the country is the worsening of the economic condition of the country and thus of its citizens. It is axiomatic that the economic conditions of man affect his consciousness as well as his perceptions and attitudes to issues. Poverty walks boldly on the streets and byways of Nigeria.
Rather than tackle the scourge of poverty, the political class weaponised poverty against the citizenry. That class thus offered measly sums of money as patronage and inducement to get votes. Citizens responded with demands for more and followed with apathy.
There is now a deepening gulf in inter-ethnic relations. The institutions that should serve as buffers played negative roles, as even a gathering of 75 political parties recently lambasted the roles played by the Nigerian Army and the Nigeria Police Force in the last elections.
The Middle Class are the defenders of democracy everywhere. In Nigeria, the Middle Class has remained indifferent and apathetic. They seem only eager for co-optation into the ranks of those running things so ruinously.
The sociology of the Nigerian electorate shows a preponderance of persons lacking the knowledge and intrinsic motivation to understand the imperative of democracy. The electorate struggles with the physiological need for necessities. More citizens are dropping off the Middle Class that are joining, increasing the numbers of those battling with physiological and safety requirements.
Even so, the Middle Class in Nigeria has an important duty to show more interest and engagement in the political process. We speak here not only of individuals but also of professional associations and groups aggregating the interests of persons who by training, exposure and outlook fit into the description. Their likes have taken up the challenge historically across countries in ensuring the sustenance of democracy. Policies and programmes of government at all levels must ensure more and more citizens move up the Maslow ladder for the survival of our democracy.