“I can’t remember when last I voted in Nigeria,” a female private school principal in Lagos told BusinessDay on condition of anonymity.
She however, said that she has her Permanent Voter’s Card (PVC) for any “eventuality.”
“I have always tried to get those national documents that may be needed in critical situations, but not to use them for anything like voting,” she said.
On her reason for not participating in real voting, despite possessing the PVC, she said: “Nigeria is like a hell. Sometimes you wonder if those in power are human beings. They don’t have human heart. So, what is the point going to waste my time voting for a government that neither benefit me nor my family? The saddest part of it all is that whether it is PDP or APC, it is the same story.”
The woman, who is in her early 50s, also said: “There is no evidence of government in my entire life as you can see. I went to school on my sweat; I have been working and paying the bills of my children education. I source for the water we use; pay high cost of electric bills, high rent, there are no roads, name it; it is all about sad story anywhere one turns. My husband lost his job owing to bad economy and the company could no longer cope; yet we hear about billions of naira, dollars and other currencies being stolen by those in government. So, tell me, what is the essence of voting?”
The experience narrated above is widespread in Nigeria. Many citizens have grown weary of voting and that accounts for the increasing voter apathy the country is experiencing since the 2015 elections.
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Nigeria in the last 6 years
Before the return to civilian rule in 1999, most Nigerians were helplessly enduring many years of servitude by the junta, which as expected, never cared if the ‘ordinary civilians’, as they derogatorily refer to the masses, are dead or alive.
Sadly, 22 years after the return of civil rule, the masses are seeing worse treatments than in all the military regimes of the 70s and 80s put together.
The talk of the ‘good all days’ sound fable, while the masses have lost faith in the leadership of the country, especially in the last six years.
If there are truly dividends of democracy, the masses have not tasted such in the last six years; rather they have been fed with stone in the place of bread and blood in place of water.
The facts are there.
With two recessions in the last six years, the economy has been in a very bad shape, with the government helpless at any time it happens.
In the last six years, foreign exchange has been more volatile, with Naira losing stability of N160 to the American dollar speedily to about N560 today. In the last six years, which captures the present administration, inflation has risen unimaginably, food security is fable, insecurity has taken deadlier dimensions, corruption, which the government swore to fight, is fighting back and winning more converts, poverty is preeminent as the country infamously ranks as the world capital of poverty today.
For those who encourage the youths to vote in the 2023 elections, there are many reasons not to step out as Nigerian unemployment ranks among the highest in the world at 33.3 percent.
At 33.3 percent unemployment rate, it means 23.2 million of the about 70 million people who should be working in Nigeria are out of work and these are mainly youths who the government said it is after their future, amid promises of job creation, which are never fulfilled.
Of course, the country is witnessing a very high inflation rate, the worst in six years. Though the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) claimed that Nigeria’s annual inflation rate fell for the seventh straight month to 15.99 percent in October of 2021, from 16.63 percent in September, food prices are still rising daily at a very high percentage in the last six years.
Recently, the NBS reported that the annual food inflation rate rose for the 24th consecutive month to 20.75 percent in October from 20.71 per cent in September this year, owing to further increases in the prices of basic food items.
There is no need to ask for what the plights of the masses are now. They are getting poorer daily, one square meal difficult, quality education and healthcare far out of their reach.
With a bag of rice going from less than N10,000 six years ago, to about N30,000 now, fuel pump price being increase more than four times in the last six years, garri now out of the reach of the poor, and building materials untouchable, many are hungry and homeless, and millions have fallen into that category in the last six years.
According to the UN Development Programme (UNDP) new study on the war and its effect on livelihoods published this year, over 350,000 have been killed in the 12-years violence in the North East of Nigeria, with more deaths in the last six years.
According to data obtained from the Nigeria Security Tracker (NST), a project of the Council on Foreign Relations’ Africa programme, in the first six weeks of 2021, over 1, 525 persons were killed across the country.
The 1,525 deaths are about half of the 3,188 lives lost between January and December 2019, according to a report by Global Rights.
Yet, farmers-herders clashes took a deadlier turn in the last six years, with the class resulting in 10 deaths more than Boko Haram killings in the past six years.
Currently, Nigeria is the third country most impacted by terrorism, according to Global Terrorism Index 2020 after Afghanistan and Libya.
Sadly again, Nigeria increased to 149 out of 180 countries in 2020 from 146 in Corruption Perceptions Index of Transparency International, while observers worry that the country will top the rank before the present administration, which claims to fight corruption, finishes its tenure in 2023.
The worst still is the rise in religious intolerance and fanaticism as seen in Boko Haram Islamic sect, tribalism, nepotism, among other forms of injustice that have divided the country. As many rightly observed, “Nigerian has been more divided in the last six years than in its 61 years as a nation.”
With all these constraints, electioneering in the country is hugely impacted as many see no reason to vote, when their votes will not count, when their region is neglected, when campaign promises will never be fulfilled and when the masses have overtime given up on the leadership and the country’s brand of democracy.
Voting the only way out
Donatus Okonkwo, founder, Tetrazzini Group of Companies, recently admonished Nigerians that “Getting involved is the only solution. You don’t have to like politics, you have to get involved.”
In its recent newsletter, EnoughisEnough (EiE), a non-governmental organisation in Nigeria, advised: “Do Not Just Register, Vote!”
It further said: “Completing the Continuous Voter Registration (CVR) process is a demonstration of your intention to participate in the elections! However, when intent is not converted to action on Election Day, the results can be far reaching.”
But no matter how genuine the reasons for not taking part in electoral processes in the country, Nigerians have been urged to change the habit in 2023 in order to have a change of narrative.
“Often times, we hear people say ‘let them go do their voting; I will not get involved’. But these are the same people that would turn around to complain about a government they did not take part in putting into power. Bad governance can be checked at the polling unit. It is not enough to register and collect a Permanent Voter’s Card (PVC) as many Nigerians do today, but they really do not vote on Election Day. 2023 is approaching and presents another opportunity for Nigerians to vote in those they believe have the capacity to turn things around positively,” Tony Uwa, a political scientist, said.
Uwa noted that looking at the situation of things in the last few years, it is difficult to convince anybody to go vote, but that “things can get worse if people decide not to vote. Nigeria is in a critical situation that it must have to be rescued by every well-meaning citizen. This can only be done by our votes.”
“Any sincere person who lives in Nigeria in the last six years will tell you that things have gone bad terribly. The killings along going on a daily basis; abduction and all manner of criminality is mindboggling. In my entire life, I have never seen a thing like that. So, there are too many reasons for every Nigerian to go vote in 2023. Nigerians must take back their country. And there is the need for us to have a breath of fresh air; we are really suffocating,” he further said.
Electioneering is a major component of democracy. It is the main yardstick used to determine the level upon which countries in the international system have been able to embrace social equality.
This process presents the citizens of a given country the opportunity to decide who represents them in governance at the local, state and national levels. It is therefore unarguable that elections are very fundamental to the stability of democracy, as it regulates representation of popular will.
However, despite the progress Nigeria has made in its democratic quest in the last two decades, the general lack of interest among Nigerians in exercising their civic responsibility and voting to elect who leads them is widely acknowledged.
In Nigeria, it is common for people to feel nonchalant and lack concern about the electoral process; the situation has however, become a source of concern to the stakeholders and electoral umpire.
A vivid picture of the situation could be seen in the 2019 general elections where incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari was re-elected with the backing of 15.2 million voters, his main rival Atiku Abubakar also scored 11.3 million votes.
President Buhari had 56% of the total votes cast, in a country with a population of close to 200 million people, including more than 84 million registered voters.
However, observers say that the 15.2 million votes hardly qualify as a huge mandate. The 35% voter turnout was down from 44% in the 2015 general elections and down from the 54% turnout in 2011.
The situation is the same for other forms of election in Nigeria; this can be seen in the July 24 council poll in Lagos State, in which the total number of votes cast was 678,324 out of over 6 million registered voters in the state.
Pundits say that the lack of inclusion, especially the youth population in the electoral process, and the feeling that whoever wins, nothing would change, the corrupt and fraudulent manner elections are conducted in Nigeria has played a significant role in exacerbating apathy among Nigerians.
They advised that there was the need for stakeholders to carry out more political education among the electorate, especially during major elections.
“Nigerians must come to vote, because when you don’t vote, don’t complain when someone who is not fit is elected. But I think the situation is becoming a crisis, it has gone from bad to worse now when you look at the figures of people who voted in recent elections.
“Look at the recent Anambra election, even the by-election held recently. What is the number of people voting? It is a problem that needs a holistic appraisal, we know Nigerians are not happy with governance; also increased violence during elections played a part in scaring people away,” political analyst Kunle Okunade said.
Okunade added that the government must restore voters’ confidence by delivering on good governance and educating the voters and creating awareness before major elections.
“These are some of the issues and the authorities must deal with it and carry out education of the electorate, increase information before election”, political analyst Kunle Okunade added.
Similarly, lamenting the poor voter turnout in last July 24 Lagos council elections, the chairman of the Lagos State Independent Electoral Commission (LASIEC), Justice Ayotunde Phillips (rtd) acknowledge that the commission needs to intensify her voter education strategy to improve on the number of voters’ turnout in subsequent elections.
“The commission would have her voter education strategy to better improve on those numbers in subsequent elections,” Phillips said.
Eddy Olafeso, a former national vice chairman South-west of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) warned that though successive governments had failed Nigeria over the years, there was the need for Nigerians to change their attitude because it is only their vote they can make meaningful change they sort.
According to him, “I know over the years the government has failed Nigerians, but we can’t keep folding our hands, feeling less concerned during elections, would it help anybody? It is through your vote that you can make that change, it is your voice.”
Buhari should sign the amended Electoral Bill
Mounting an advocacy on the Electoral Bill, EiE Nigeria urged President Muhammadu Buhari to give his assent without further delay.
In its newsletter released Friday night, titled: ‘Why is the President silent?’ EiE quoted its ‘Yemi Adamolekun, executive director, as saying: “It is clear that until Nigerians understand their rights and responsibilities and use that knowledge to hold government accountable, our society will continue to be unjust.”
It noted that the Electoral Bill had been transmitted to the President by the National Assembly since November 19, 2021, with no response whatsoever from Mr. President. It wondered “Why the cryptic silence?”
According to the group, “To further complicate matters, the Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Femi Adesina, allegedly stated that the reputation of President Muhammadu Buhari would not diminish whether he passes the electoral amendment bill or not. What a joke!”
The group also wondered if
“Our leaders are up to another mischief.”
It further said: “Chapter 4, Section 58(1) of the Nigerian 1999 Constitution (as amended) provides the National Assembly with the power to transmit a bill passed by the House to the President to sign within 30 days of receipt.
“Again, Chapter 4, Section 58(5) of the Constitution states that if the President refuses to sign, and the bill is again passed by each House, by a two-thirds majority, the bill shall become law, and assent of the President shall not be required.
December 19th is only 9 days away!
Your reputation is already at stake, Mr. President! Break the silence!”