7:05 AM May 22, 2022

Hurtful apathy: Nigeria’s democracy, where minority decides for majority (II)

In a sequel to his report on the low participation of voters in elections, TUNDE AJAJA examines the efforts being made by some stakeholders to sensitise voters to the need to vote

In a democracy, it is a popular saying, and it is indeed the reality, that the majority would have their way while the minority only have their say.

But the high voter apathy in Nigeria makes its elections a converse example. This is because the percentage of voters has for years been very low compared to the number of registered voters. In effect, the smaller percentage that votes decides for the majority, who only groan over the outcome of the elections.

In the first part of the report, published on December 26, 2021, stakeholders who spoke to our correspondent called on the Independent National Electoral Commission, the National Orientation Agency and the political parties to drive the enlightenment campaign so that more people could vote in future elections.

Speaking to the issue, INEC’s National Commissioner and Chairman of its Information and Voter Education Committee, Festus Okoye, explained that voter apathy in Nigeria is a function of varied challenges, which he said, dovetailed to the country’s democratic development, people’s engagement and their response to issues of governance.

Okoye, in an interview with our correspondent said, “Definitely, voter apathy sets in when people disengage from the electoral process. Voter apathy sets in when the votes do not count or the people perceive that whatever they do and whatever choices they make will not count.

“Voter apathy is present when polling units become centers of violence, intimidation, fear and plain brigandage. Voter apathy sets in where conditions for the free and unimpeded expression of choices are absent. Voter apathy sets in when people believe or perceive that government does not work for them. Voter apathy sets in when people are burdened by other issues and the issue of voting becomes remote or secondary to their main concern.”

When asked what the commission was doing to increase voter participation, Okoye said the commission had increased polling units to boost access and that it had increasingly introduced technologies that would boost the trust and transparency in the elections.

He said, “The commission has increased access to polling units and decongested existing ones. From 119,974 Polling Units created 25 years ago, the commission increased the number of Polling Units in Nigeria to 176,856. Polling units are now closer to the people and have been decongested.

“The commission has deepened democracy through the increased use of technology. We are increasingly tackling and banishing pernicious human interference in the electoral process. The introduction of the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System has reduced identity theft and multiple voting in the electoral process.

“We are gradually reengaging the people with the electoral process and trust and confidence is gradually returning to the electoral process as the people now believe that their votes count.”

He called on the political parties, the media, civil society groups and organisations and the security agencies to play their part, noting that building and increasing confidence in the electoral process is a multi-stakeholder venture. “This present commission is committed to clean elections and all Nigerians must be part of this process and no one will be left behind,” he added.

Also, the National Orientation Agency said it was doing its best to sensitise voters to the need to vote during elections.

The Assistant Director, Press, Mr Paul Odenyi, told our correspondent the agency was using its offices nationwide to encourage voters to participate in the electoral process.

He said, “The NOA has been very active in voter education and enlightenment. Across different platforms, we have done a lot in sensitising voters to the need to come out and vote, whether in off-season or general elections. We have offices in every state and local government, so what we do at the national level cascades down to the local governments. Part of our sensitisation efforts is to discourage vote-buying.”

On the part of the political parties, efforts made to get the views of the ruling All progressives Congress were not successful as he promised to get back to our correspondent. But as of the time of filing this report, he had yet to do so. Subsequent calls to his mobile line were not answered.

But a major opposition party, Peoples Democratic Party, said people’s interest in voting waned because of bad governance.

The party’s National Publicity Secretary, Mr Debo Ologunagba, said, “Voter apathy has been increasing because Nigerians are disappointed with government’s performance, especially in the last six years. That’s why it’s getting worse. The major challenge in the last six years has been security, so people are afraid to go out to vote.

“The only way to encourage people to vote is for them to see an alternative that could change their lives. That’s why I said good governance is crucial. People want an honest government that can give them hope, security, a better life and one that can put in place policies and programmes that would support them and allow them to express themselves without any let or hindrance.

“If people don’t feel secure, they are not likely to risk their lives to go and vote. You describe a people as a dot in the circle, they would ask themselves why they should vote because they don’t believe in this country anymore.”

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