Editorial: Tackling voters apathy, a challenge for all

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Nigerians went to the polls on February 23, 2019, to elect the President of the country in a poll that eventually resulted in the reelection of President Muhammadu Buhari for another term of four years. Although the election was marred with violence, especially in the southern parts of the country with records of ballot snatching, voters intimidation, riot and thuggery in various states in South-West, South-East and the South-South of the country.

In spite of these pockets of violence and irregularities, the election experienced a generally peaceful process with attestation from domestic and foreign observers. The Youth Initiative for Advocacy, Growth and Advancement (YIAGA AFRICA) through its Parallel Vote Tabulation (PVT) deployed as parts of its Watching the Vote Project agreed with the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) that President Muhamadu Buhari garnered a total of 15,191,847 votes ahead of his rival and runner up, Atiku Abubakar who got 11,262,978 votes. Other international observers have also commended the election as free and fair.

The total number of registered voters eligible to vote in the 2019 general elections according to the figures released by INEC was 82,344,107, while those who eventually cast their votes were 28,614,190 meaning 34.75% of eligible voters participated in the election. This is worrisome and a cause for alarm in a nation faced with various challenges and in dare need of citizens to actively participate in political discuss and trends.

Citizens’ participation in elections since the commencement of the fourth republic in 1999 has been on a fluctuating trend with voters turning out massively in 2003 with 69.1% an increase of 16.8% compared to the turnout in 1999 that recorded 52.3%.

A polling station during the just concluded Presidential and National Assemblies election

In 2007 voters turnout was 58% with a sharp decrease of 11.1% despite the fact that the election was said to be fraught with massive irregularities.

The 2011 elections also witnessed a continued sharp drop in voter turnout with 4.3% drop from the 2007 when only 53.5% of the registered voters turned out to vote out of 73, 528,040 registered voters. In 2015, 67,422,005 were registered to vote in the election while only 43.65% percent of these voted. The higher drop of 9.85% the just concluded presidential election also had a drop of 8.90%.

This trend calls for serious cause for concern among stakeholders especially leaders of thoughts in the country.

Various reasons may have contributed to this growing voter apathy in the country. Insecurity is a serious reason. Elections in Nigeria have always recorded violence and fatal incidences with many Nigerians losing their lives before, during and after the elections.

Major political parties in the country and politicians across all political divides are guilty of inciting violence in their quest to convince electorate. At various political rallies politicians adopt hate speeches that incite religious and ethnic violence amongst followers.

These and many other security reasons contributed to voter apathy during general elections in the country.

More also, the insensitivity of the government to the plight of the common man created a gulf between the government and the people. Politicians after the election lost touch with the people who elected them into office only to go back to the same people after four years despite the promise of heaven and earth during the campaign and canvassing.

For us as a medium this trend must be nipped in the bud. Election in a democratic setting is a referendum on the government in power and a show of acceptance level to the opposition. Therefore Nigerians and eligible voters must not lose touch of this reality.

Voter apathy is the reason politicians, elected and appointed public officials have recourse to take Nigerians who have appointed them for granted in dispensing their duties.

Nigerians must rise to their responsibility and take the nations back from the hands of the politicians who care less for common man but their pocket personal gains.

It is understandable that the 20 year democratic practice in the country has come with its peculiar challenges during elections. The country has experienced massive rigging and violence. While most Nigerians have seen the process and a done deal by politicians, there is the need of the electorate to understand that the trend is changing with each election.

Nigerians adopted the use of card readers in 2015 general elections which to some intended to checkmate rigging associate with elections in the country. With the understanding that ballot box snatching at any polling unit means automatic cancelation of the election in that polling units, that politicians resolved to vote buying is enough indication that the electoral process is becoming transparent and competitive than it used to be.

The electorate must help to improve on this progress.

The electoral umpire on its part most strive to ensure that it generates enough trust from Nigerians. INEC must be truly seen as independent and unbiased in its conducts. Truly, IMPACT commends INEC for opening its Situation Room for the Civil Society Organizations’ that monitored the presidential elections. More should however be done to make electoral process effective and acceptable to the public.

The recurring logistics issues INEC experience should be perfected before the next general elections as this put huge financial burden on the country especially ordinary Nigerians who pay taxes.

Government on its part should also provide a level playing ground for all political parties and should not resolve to intimidate political opponents and rivals with securities agencies. The security agencies on their part must be aware of their constitutional limit during the elections. They must adhere to the electoral acts and respect human rights to the latter.

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