• Wednesday, April 24, 2024
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Voter apathy dents legitimacy of 2019 general election


The 2019 general election in all fronts appeared a child’s play compared to previous elections conducted by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). Democracy is a game of numbers. As such, the government draws its power and legitimacy from the number of votes cast in an election.

Democracy is said to be a government of the people, by the people, and for the people. Needless to say; in a democracy the wish of the people carries the day, just like the Latin expression ‘Vox Populi, Vox Dei’, meaning: “The voice of the people is the voice of God”.

However, it is becoming hard, if not impossible to say that the expression makes any meaning any more in Nigeria’s democracy, considering how less and less people participate in the electioneering process. A case study is the level of voter apathy witnessed in the just-concluded elections.

The voter apathy, clearly calls to question the legitimacy of the 2019 general election vis-à-vis the militarisation of the process, ballot box snatching, thuggery, and the way and manner politicians conducted themselves in the entire electioneering process, in addition to the wide spread vote buying by the political class that seems to glorify poverty if not empower it.

But, if the numbers are anything to go by, the 2019 registered voters as presented by INEC is a far cry compared to actual vote cast on Election Day. For instance, voter registration by gender according to INEC data shows that female registered voters are 39, 598,654 that is, 47.14percent, while male registered voters are 44,405,439 representing 52.86percent.

According to INEC, registration by zone shows that the Northwest had 20,158,100 (24.00percent); while Northeast had 11,289,293 (13.44percent); and North central had 13,366,070 (15.91percent). However, the Southwest had 16,292,212 (19.39percent); while Southeast had 10,057,279 (11.97percent); and the South-south region 12,841,279 (15.29percent).

A look further into INEC register for the occupational distribution of registered voters for 2019 general election shows thus: traders 7,568.012 (9.01percent); artisans 4,478,202 (5.33percent); business persons 10,810,006 (12.87percent); civil servants 5,038,671 (6percent); farmers/fishermen 13,630,216 (16.23percent); housewives 11,844,079 (14.10percent); students 22,320,990 (26.57percent); public servants 2,292,167 (2.73percent); others 6,021,741 (7.17percent).

The total number of registered voters for 2019 is 84 million. The numbers when distributed by age group shows that youths between ages 18-35 years old represent 51.11percent; while middle aged people between 36-50 years are 29.97percent; the elderly people between 51-70 years represent 15.22percent; and the old people from 70 and above represent 3.69percent.

But, when compared to previous elections in Nigeria, the number of registered voters for 2019 is the largest at 84 million. In 2015, 68 million Nigerians registered to vote; 73 million in 2011; 61 million in 2007; and 60 million in 2003; while the number of registered voters for 1999, was 57 million.

The next question to ask is: where are the voters? Does it mean that Nigerians are only interested in registering as voters and are not interested in the actual process of selection? Or, does it correlate with the popular saying that, votes don’t count?

For instance, of the 6,570,291 registered voters in Lagos 5,531,398 collected their Permanent Voters’ Card (PVC). However, only about one million of these collected PVCs were used on the Election Day. Also in Kano, of the total 5,457,747 registered voters, 4,696,747 collected their PVC while less than two million of the voters participated in actual voting on the Election Day.

If all of these are considered based on the number of actual votes cast in 2019, then INEC, political parties, National Orientation Agency (NOA), and even the government must start to educate the electorate about the implication of not participating in the electioneering process as citizens ahead of 2023 general election.

It also could mean that a drastic action must be taken by government towards reducing the level of voter apathy witnessed. Maybe, it is high time government considered attaching penalties to curb voter apathy, as such making the people understand that voting in an election is a civic duty that cannot be complied with.

However, for this to work perfectly, government and INEC would have to assure Nigerians that their vote will count. It also means that the current electoral law is outdated and should be updated to meet current challenges and the need of the hour.

Professor Anthony Kila, the director, Centre for International Advanced and Professional Studies, in a post-mortem of the 2019 Presidential Election event held recently in Lagos by the Association of Political Consultants Africa, called for a radical overhaul of INEC following the controversies that ensued after the one-week postponement of the February 16 presidential election over logistics challenges.

According to Kila, “…there is no reason why we should be sitting counting votes for 48/72 hours before we get results. There are ways to handle the whole election of Nigeria like one big master sheet of Excel Sheet, in which wherever you vote from, we can get the results live in real time and it will go to a visible website for example, and more media stations can transmit it just as they are coming in right away.

“We need to outsource a lot of things that INEC is doing; I have proposed and will continue to stand by the proposer that INEC should work with banks – people should be able to collect their PVC in their banks,” said Kila stating that the process of registering for vote and collecting PVC is out-dated.

In Kila’s word, “INEC of today is analogue, slow, confused, not certain, and not transparent. It does not reflect the society of today; this INEC needs a total change,” however, we can only get a desired INEC if and only when the current electoral law is amended and signed by the president. Until then, Nigerians would have to look and continue in the struggle towards building a virile nation, just like Bernie Sanders said in one of his popular quotes.

According to Bernie Sanders, an American politician/Senator from Vermont since 2007 said: “Election days come and go. But the struggle of the people to create a government which represents all of us and not just the one percent – a government based on the principles of economic, social, racial and environmental justice – that struggle continues”.

This quote by Sanders clearly mirrors the Nigerian situation. Election may have come and gone. Winners and losers have also emerged from the whole process. But, the legitimacy of the government and how it rally round to win the trust of the people, is an herculean task for President Muhammadu Buhari administration as it commences its second term in office come May 29.

Franklin D. Roosevelt, former American President said: “Let us never forget that government is ourselves and not an alien power over us. The ultimate rulers of our democracy are not a President and senators and congressmen and government officials, but the voters of this country”.

Hence, the people have spoken with their vote, the type of government they want and should never be victimised for casting their vote either they voted for or against the current government at the federal or state levels. Just like Frenchman, Joseph de Maistre said, “Every country has the government it deserves”.