GUEST Columnist by Tayo Ogunbiyi
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 thrive where people display an indifferent attitude towards the political process.
The revelation that there are about 1.4 million unclaimed Permanent Voters Cards, PVCs, in Lagos State should undoubtedly get every enthusiast of democratic governance in the state and, indeed, the country concerned. According to reports, Lagos state has the highest number of unclaimed permanent voter cards in the country.
According to a latest Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, statistics, Lagos has the highest number of (1,401,390) unclaimed PVC followed by Oyo with 647,586 and Edo which had 449,001, while Kano has 195,941. A further breakdown shows that Bauchi State has the least number of uncollected PVCs, with 15,542, followed by Bayelsa and Plateau which have 28,533 and 25,300 PVCs respectively
2012 INEC data aptly captures the sad trend in the nation’s political process. According to the statistics, only about 35% of the over 70 million who registered to vote in the 2011 general elections really participated in voting. This implies that over 65% of registered voters did not partake in the process. This is not good enough as it portends as it 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, it casts serious aspersion on the kind of democracy we practice .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 what has been termed as the failure of political parties to embrace internal democracy as evidenced in alleged imposition of candidates and other such undemocratic tendencies.
However, irrespective of the genuineness of the argument, it is not enough for anyone to ignore the electoral process. 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, therefore, important that those with the unclaimed PVCs make concerted efforts to collect them at the designated points as directed by INEC. The worth of the PVC in the current political process cannot be over -emphasised. For one, it offers electorates the right to have a say in deciding those who would rule over them. Possession of this all important item, thus, puts an enormous responsibility on the electorate. It places the destiny of the state right in their hands. It is such an enormous responsibility that must be carried out with every sense of honour, dignity and patriotism. It is a sacred task that must be performed with utmost diligence and patriotism. This is because any slipshod choice that is made in the coming polls could portend great danger to the lives of generations yet unborn. It could jeopardize the future of the country.
The destiny of this nation and that of future generations of Nigerians lies in the hands of the electorates. Whichever path the country would follow in the coming years would, thus, be a clear manifestation of the kind of choice electorates make. For our hues and cries over bad governance and poor leadership, we won’t be able to actually absolve ourselves of complicity if we disregard our civic duties.
Unlike other forms of government, the beauty of democracy lies in the ability of the people to have a say in the choice of those who preside over the apparatus of governance. This is the rationale behind the popular affirmation of democracy as the government of the people, for the people and by the people. However, for the people to actually maximize the benefits of democracy, they need to appropriately play their role of selecting leaders of their choice.
Public security, infrastructure development, the economy and much more are tied to the thumbs of the electorates. If we bungle things again, it would take us another four years or much more to get it right again. This is, therefore, not the time to indulge in undue political apathy.
If democracy is to truly be the government of the people and for the people, the people must own the process from the beginning to the end. 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. Therefore, INEC, political parties, the civil society, NGOs, the media and other stakeholders should give greater attention to voters’ education as well as other enlightenment campaigns that could re-enact the confidence of the people in the electoral process.
It is important to stress that the worst illiterate is the political illiterate who takes no part in political process. Sadly, he doesn’t understand that everything depends on political decision. Ironically, he even prides himself on his political ignorance by openly sticking out his chest that he hates politics. He doesn’t know that from his political apathy comes the prostitute, the abandoned child, the robber and worst of all, corrupt and incompetent public officials. At the slightest chance, he blames the government for every woe in the society but never really sees anything wrong in his own apolitical posture.
On a final note, it is imperative to stress that elected political leaders at all levels should not take the electorates for granted. It will only amount to sheer treachery for an elected official to ignore his/her electoral promises while in office. Compatriots who ignore all difficulties in order to participate in the political process ought to be given a better deal. Also, the practice of turning elections into a ‘do or die’ affair should be discouraged to give credibility to the electoral process.
Ogunbiyi is of the Lagos State Ministry of Information & Strategy, Alausa, Ikeja