The much-awaited, anxiety-inspiring, variously-predicted 2015 general elections in Nigeria have come and gone, but the ripple generated therefrom continues to reverberate throughout the length and breadth of the federation, and even beyond. It was one election that meant many things to many people.
While a lot of people rushed to collect the PVCs just for possession, and not as the election utility, others scurried for the gift items that were abundantly dished out. The overall result of this anomaly was the poor voter turnout that almost marred the entire process. Suffice to say that the attitude was a terse vote of no confidence on the electorate. It is most disgusting that majority of holders of valid PVCs sold out when it mattered most. How true is the observation that he who is destitute of principles is governed by whims!
It is disappointing that the unprecedented enthusiasm demonstrated by people throughout the country prior to the elections failed to translate into the expected highest voter turnout ever witnessed in the history of Nigeria. Just before the elections, many people did not conceal their support for one candidate or the other. Political parties were preparing as if for a battleground. Candidates vying for various positions were restless, jostled around and did all tricks in the book to court the attention of the electorate. There was a massive voter education campaign embarked upon by the INEC, international donor agencies, state agencies and home based pro-democracy groups. Expectations were high… but many looked up to the INEC to solely deliver a free and fair election while they snooze at home. Most people could not be persuaded to visit polling centres to exercise their franchise as responsible citizens.
The sum total of the foregoing malfeasance was to expose the electoral process to the usual manipulation by the politicians. A careful study of events during the elections reveals that it was a usual game, as one political party tried to outwit another using underhand methods, notwithstanding their pledge to the contrary. Money was extensively deployed by the APC and the PDP in the drive for victory at all cost, just as the temptation to resort to violence was barely resisted. On the whole, the electoral process was as fraudulent as previous ones if the hard truth must be told, an indication that the aspiration for credible, free and fair elections in Nigeria is still a far-flung possibility.
It goes without saying that without full participation in the electoral process elections in Nigeria will remain susceptible to the unholy devices of political schemers aided by greedy INEC collaborators. It was to forestall the evil which was feared could befall Nigeria if all did not go well with the elections that our organization, Democracy Orientation Movement (DOM), along with other pro-democracy agencies and several groups having common objectives, embarked on a vigorous and aggressive voter education campaign. Unfortunately, it turned out that most people’s interest in the whole process was restricted to the gift items that were thrown around by the candidates.
An analysis of the total number of votes cast in the 2015 presidential election reveals glaringly that registered members of political parties around the country constituted the majority of those who reported themselves at the polling centres, while floating voters played only a marginal role. Remember that both the the APC and the PDP vigorously pursued membership registration drive in early 2014, during which the former aimed to broaden its membership base to 28 million. Voter turnout was a meager 30 million out of the 68 million total registered voters, representing about 44%. The figure assumes more frightening dimension when compared with voting age population of almost 88 million from a total population of 177 million. When this statistics is further compared with those obtained from previous elections, it is discovered that voter turnout in Nigeria has been on a steady decline. Since 1999, the rate continues sliding down: the 2003 presidential election recorded a voter attendance rate of 60%, in 2007 it was 57%, 2011 – 54%.
Granted, a 100% voter turnout is inconceivable in evolving democracies when it’s still unattainable even in the advanced ones. But the trend whereby the situation is worsening by the years is worrisome, to say the least. Leaving politics to politicians portends grave consequences to the polity. It is obvious that the results from Muhammadu Buhari’s stronghold in the North-East and President Goodluck Jonathan’s stronghold in the South-South are more than meets the eye. Check out the figures: almost two million ballots ascribed to Buhari in Kano, and over one million in Katsina and Kaduna. For Jonathan in Rivers and Delta, over one million votes. All this in an election that generally recorded a dismal voter turnout. For one, Kano has a similar cosmopolitan composition as Lagos, and both states are tied neck and neck on the states with largest population among the 36 states in Nigeria (both over ten million). But in Lagos, both candidates polled a total of 1,424,780 votes, with GMB having a slight edge over GEJ.
The purpose of this postmortem is not to stir up unnecessary sentiment, since the 2015 presidential election is now history, with President Jonathan graciously conceding defeat. However, rather than sweep the unsavoury aftermath of the elections under the carpet, it’s essential to confront them boldly as to devise a means to overcome the identified pitfalls next time around. Voter attendance at the general elections in Britain held on May 7th, 2015, was calculated at over 66%, a slight increase from 65% in 2010. The turnout rate between 1922 and 1997 was above 71%, with lowest being 52.2% in 1918.
The common folk ought to have realized by now that the process of electing political leaders is more tortuous, involving and complex than what obtains at gatherings on a village square where a few men are handpicked to accomplish a given assignment. It is far more complicated and delicate because a fraudulent election is an invitation to anarchy. It is of utmost importance that the entire populace keyed into the noble cause of ensuring that the rigging spectre is removed from the nation’s body polity in its entirety. The surest rout to realize this objective is none other than a massive voter turnout. This is a self-preservation endeavour because, once the ships are down, nobody can predict the dimension, magnitude or direction that the fallout of fraudulent elections will take. Biometric data capture, card readers, PVCs and whatnot are all of little value in the face of voter inertia.
Subjected to the limits of available resources, we authored some articles, posted several opinions that were circulated in national newspapers and social media platforms, distributed fliers, sent text messages, held discussions with individuals and groups. We entreated the electorate to be steadfast and make sure they register their presence at the designated polling centres. We remonstrated on the evil of voter apathy and cajoled them by harping on their inestimable value in the democratic process.
Come to think of it: who really needed a prodding to live up to their civic responsibility on a crucial national issue, one that bordered not just on their welfare and the future of their children per se, but on how to ensue a peaceful transition at a time when even the blind and the deaf, feeling the foretaste of the negative impact which the political superstructure exerted on the economic substructure, compelled hasty withdrawal of share from the stock exchange resulting in a drastic fall of naira.
Well-meaning individuals within and outside the country had been agonizing over fear that the election might erupt into violence unless proper care was ensured to avert disagreements over credibility. Still, the level of indifference displayed by most people was perplexing.
Democracy is a political ideology anchored on a process the results of which reflect the true wish of the majority. Absence of this all-important attribute means lapsing into autocracy, oligarchy, dictatorship, or any other form of government that focuses on the benefits and power shared by the very few.
Concerns over credible polls in Nigeria compelled the erudite scholar, Prof Itse Sagay, to retort: “We are not yet a democratic society. We are a country governed under civilian rule, but we are not yet democratic because we have never had successful elections. And only through elections can you open the door into democracy”.
Yes, democracy has brought relative improvement to all facets of our society: infrastructural upgrade, security boost, enhancement of environmental sanitation, greater respect for the rule of law and human rights, among other benefits. All this led to an overall advancement in the welfare of the people. More than all these, democracy has afforded the people a say in who presides over the affairs of the nation. Regrettably, voter apathy is poised to erode these benefits and, ultimately, endanger democracy in Nigeria.
The writer, Agenro is coordinator of the Democracy Orientation Movement