The general overseer of The Redeemed Christian Church of God, Enoch Adeboye, is hardly known for making political statements or getting involved in undue controversies. He has, over the years, restricted his activities strictly to the propagation of the gospel of his Lord and master, Jesus Christ, across the world. Everything he says and does, by and large, revolves around his ministerial calling. This, perhaps, explains the astonishment of some members of his church when he recently urged them to ensure that they do all within their powers to collect their permanent voters cards (PVCs). At the recently concluded annual Holy Ghost Congress of the mission, Adeboye emphatically directed his church members to make every effort to collect their PVCs. He described the possession of the PVC as a major weapon for them to have a say in the choice of the political leaders that would rule over them. To really drive home the significance he attaches to the issue and to ensure compliance, Adeboye urged his flock to bring their PVCs to service, in their respective parishes, on the first Sunday of the new year. To demonstrate that he is living by example, Adeboye displayed two PVCs, one belonging to himself and the other to his wife, to an obviously thrilled congregation.
Adeboye’s standpoint on the PVC is quite significant and downright radical. Over time, the practice among religious leaders in the country has been to persuade their followers not to bother themselves with the affairs of this world since they are not of this world. The truth, however, is that being an integral part of the larger society, Christians, as well as adherents of other faiths, have moral, civic and constitutional obligations to perform with regard to taking part in the political process. Unfortunately, the inability of most Christians to understand this is partly responsible for the country’s poor state of affairs over the years. The Holy Bible affirms that “righteousness exalts a nation but sin is a reproach”. Consequently, if Christians and adherents of other faiths continue to stay aloof on political matters and governance, they would continue to live with the reproach of their political apathy. Praying and fasting unto God to change the hearts of bad political leaders could only become acceptable unto God if Christians and others have initially performed their civic responsibilities of taking part in the electoral process.
Universally, democracy is referred to as the government of the people, by the people, and for the people – to emphasise that it is the people that give impetus to democracy. In essence, democracy cannot exist without the people. It is the people that set democracy in motion. It is the people that act as the oil that galvanizes the wheel of democracy. Therefore, democracy cannot where people display an indifferent attitude towards the political process.
A recent statistics from the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) aptly captures the existing trend in the political process in the country. According to the data, only about 35 percent of the over 70 million who registered to vote in the 2011 general elections really participated in the voting process. This implies that over 65 percent of registered voters did not partake in the process that determined the election of the present crop of leaders across the country. This is not good enough. This is a dangerous trend that must essentially be a source of serious concern to all genuine stakeholders in the polity. This growing trend has grievous implications on the prospect of democracy in the country.
For one, it ensures that leaders who attain political power via the votes of the minority rule over the majority. Second, because they don’t get to power through the votes of the majority, they tend to espouse self-seeking agenda. Third, it casts serious aspersion on the kind of democracy we practice. Furthermore, it makes elected political leaders unaccountable to the people since they did not, in the real sense, derive their coming to power from the majority of registered voters. Also, it makes it hypocritical for those who did not turn out to vote to criticize those who were elected through the same process that they shunned. As it is often said, you cannot eat your cake and have it.
A lot of arguments have been put forward in defence of those who shun the political process. One of such is that votes don’t usually count in our country. This is anchored on the notion that the outcome of elections is often pre-determined. There is, thus, a conviction that the electoral process is a sham. Similarly, many consider the political class undeserving of their votes because of their perceived insincerity to electoral promises. Another factor is the failure of political parties to embrace internal democracy as evidenced in the imposition of candidates and other such undemocratic tendencies.
However, irrespective of the genuineness of the argument, as painted above, it is not enough for the people to resort to shunning elections. In any case, when the majority refuse to participate in voting, that does not in any way invalidate the outcome of elections. Sadly, we all suffer the consequences of staying aloof when the wrong people get into power. Active involvement in the political process signifies that everyone is a critical stakeholder, having the best interest of the country at heart. It is a practical demonstration of being a responsible citizen.
It is, however, important that elected political leaders, at all levels, should not take the electorates for granted by not fulfilling electoral promises. Also, the practice of turning elections into a do-or-die affair should be discouraged by politicians to avert marring the electoral process with violence. Additionally, INEC, political parties, the civil society, the mass media and other stakeholders should give greater attention to voter education to re-enact the confidence of the people in the electoral process. On its part, INEC needs to ensure that the electoral process is foolproof and transparent.
One would like to close with the following words of the Lagos State governor, Babatunde Fashola, on the danger of political apathy: “The worst illiterate is the political illiterate. He hears nothing, and he sees nothing. He takes no part in political life; he doesn’t seem to know that the cost of living, the prices of beans, flour, rent, medicine and all depend on political decision. He even prides himself on his political ignorance, sticks out his chest and says he hates politics, he doesn’t know that from his political non-participation comes the prostitute, the abandoned child, the robber and, worst of all, corrupt officials – the lackeys of exploitative multinational corporations.”
is of the Features Unit, Ministry of Information & Strategy, Alausa, Ikeja