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Published On: Tue, Jan 13th, 2015

February polls: Towards curtailing voter’s apathy

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INEC-Attahiru-JegaWednesday Column by Prof. R. A. Ipinyomi

The 2015 general elections in Nigeria are only weeks from now. The stakeholders must be encouraged to imbibe a true democratic culture through presenting credible candidates, campaigning for them, and encouraging electorates to turn out and vote for each set of candidates in high numbers. It is not only up to INEC to ensuring that the elections are credible, fair and free but the other stakeholders have their distinct roles to play respectively. While we would keep encouraging Nigeria electoral board INEC to go back to the drawing board, as necessary, with a view to re-evaluating some of the lapses witnessed in previous elections and to address them, we also have the same mission for politicians to not frustrate efforts of INEC or the electorates in their quests to exercise their own rights. One of such lapses is voters’ apathy and low turn-out in elections. It is a re-occurring phenomenon.

A low turn-out in elections usually results in false impression where the winner or the loser is not the true result. If only a few people turn out to vote the voice of the silent majority may be lost because the small percentage of the electorates that may have come out to vote may not truly represent the wishes of the entire people. In Nigeria the elites that would not vote are usually the first group of people to run to the press in the pens and paper denouncing the results of an exercise they were too big to line up for. In some cases it may not have been the nonchalant attitude of the elites but the politicians whose actions and inaction annihilate voters. Politicians may not believe that it is part of their arts to draw electorates and making the exercise enterprising enough for everybody. They go for the wrong objectives by thinking that it is only the winner of an election that has been successful. Securing 100% attendance in an election is a success not only for INEC but the entire stakeholders. Similarly failure to attract at least 50% attendance is a failure also for all of us. Attendance is a crucial part of democracy as it connotes awareness, participation, freedom and fairness, and an unbiased result at the end. Where less that 50% attendance is recorded any winner can still not boast because those who choose to stay away can still turn the tide.

Avoiding low attendance at each of the elections is going to remain a challenge the commission should not allow to repeat itself in 2015. The INEC must stamp its authority in finding lasting solution to this perennial problem, which is as a result of some perceived inherent factors. Critics have been writing on factors like rigging, multiple registration, and late arrival of election materials to polling centers, overbearing security officers, and so on. In addition we now have to contend with unavailability of the permanent voters’ card PVC, a culture of insurgency in Nigeria, not only in the North East but all over. After all when the chips are down we may be able to trace the insurgents and the sponsors to politics rather than religion. Every religion that practice in the open should have as part of its objectives to redeem and save life, to care and protect the poor and the weak, to create and provide for material and spiritual needs of its members. If insurgents and their sponsors begin to kill and steal, destroy and chase people out of polling boots, then we would suspect that they aren’t what they claim.

The problem these insurgents will create for the 2015 elections are very many and we wish that INEC and the other stakeholders will resolve amongst themselves how to resolve the outcomes when elections are not held in three or more states, ten or more local government areas, fifty or more wards and so on. INEC needs to be ahead of these desperate politicians, who having created the bad situation would still expect that nothing has happened, having littered our streets with innocent people’s blood would be expecting electoral victory and praise from the divine. All stakeholders must be educated that Nigeria is our home and we must jointly make it conducive, Nigeria is our avenue to the world and therefore we must respect it so that the rest of the world can also respect us.

Nigeria is at a bad road-cross where there are no elder statesmen or stateswomen anymore; someone told me there had never been. I thought Samuel Ajayi Crowther, a returnee slave was, and many others too. Those who currently portray to be leading are rather too self-centered, some are products of the military regimes and always thinking of coup d’etat or rather thinking of self protection, others are products of undetected university cultism, and others still are never willing to risk their image even once. No one should sit on the defense at this stage.

We also notice the cumulative effects of yesteryears politics as another factor that may affect voters’ turn out. The yesteryears politics in Nigeria includes factors where each region is gunning for the presidency. Right now we have the impression that the North, apart from being more affected by the insurgency which may cost years of under development and backwardness, has no visible candidate it can call as a fair representation of the interest of the region. The North is thoroughly divided not by insurgents but by inability to read and understand the time, despite the growing number of fortune-tellers, magicians and others amongst them. Hence a part of the North wishes for more time, say 2019, to raise a candidate. On the other side is the South East who is confused whether their close association with the present government will be taken as their turn. They have never had it so good with any previous government in Nigeria. The South West may end up being the biggest winner or loser for their lack of leadership or inability to respect and work in unison. South West is looking for a political leadership that it can project; the journey of some of them to ally with factions from the North may soon reveal the true reality. Meanwhile the South-South knows that it would be a while before the region may have another chance to lead Nigeria. Its prayer is to stay on another four years. This is a region that has consistently gone with the North in the past but whether the North is about to divorce them and look to the South West is another question.

Therefore if there is no INEC official that will compromise on the line of duty, and all politicians would abide by the rules and regulations, electorates should be entice to cast their votes in order to fulfill all righteousness. A large voters’ turn-out has the ability not only to generate valid results but to carry the people along in the attempt to create inclusive governance. Government has a big role to play by using the police as the friend of the people rather than using it as part of the dreaded insurgents, by making INEC truly independent and reducing government interferences in appointment, posting and assignments of INEC staff. Government must see Nigerians as the people that have elected it to govern in fairness not people it should scorn and ignore. Voters’ apathy is a continuing worldwide phenomenal and its effects can be disastrous to any of the main political parties and to new democracies like we have here in Nigeria.

Prof. R. A. Ipinyomi wrote in from the University of Ilorin


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