According to Temitope Fagunwa’s paper titled, “Voters Apathy and Nigeria’s Electioneering Process: A Synopsis on 2015 General Elections”, voters’ apathy signifies a general decline in citizens’ involvement in the political activities of a particular country. Simply put, it is a decline in voters’ participation in elections. At the dawn of the Fourth Republic, 58 million Nigerians registered to vote, but in the Presidential elections, 30 million actually voted, that is, 52 per cent voters’ turnout. This increased to a whopping 69 per cent in 2003. However, as at the 2019 general elections, out of the 82, 344, 107 registered voters, only 28, 614, 190 voted, a paltry 35 per cent according to the International Foundation for Electoral Systems. There are theories underpinning the decline. Writers have also expounded on the rationale behind voters’ apathy in Nigeria. Against this backdrop, as the country approaches another period of elections, it is imperative to consider the positive concrete steps to remove the causes of voters’ apathy. Voting rights cascaded down to the nooks and crannies of the country and the effective deployment of technology is the driver for this ‘ease of voting’ in the upcoming elections.
Anthony Downs in 1957 formulated the ‘Rational Choice Theory’ and postulated that voters vote in elections to maximise benefits. Where costs will exceed benefits, they may abstain. The cost may include getting killed, insecurity, etc. Similarly, in a situation, where benefits such as infrastructural, and sustainable development are nonexistent, they may equally abstain from voting. According to Gebhard Kirchgassner, in his political alienation theory, the lack of political accountability, inconsequentiality (powerlessness) of voters, etc could trigger voters’ abstention. Clearly, all the above factors are present in the Nigerian polity and arguably responsible for voters’ apathy. In addition, voters’ apathy has been attributed to failed promises of political leaders; corruption; violence; lack of mobilisation in the electoral process; lack of credible leaders; ignorance; political deception; powerlessness of voters according to a research paper by the Independent National Electoral Commission and Friedrich Ebert Stiftung in 2011.
Remedying all the above shortcomings before the next elections commencing in a few weeks is indeed a tall order. However, both the theories and causes of voters’ apathy are real in Nigeria. Hence, the future leaders of the country must be totally committed to yielding visible evidence of democracy such as employment, infrastructural/sustainable development, poverty alleviation, providing safe environment, and engendering inclusion amongst others. Right now, the parties are vigorously campaigning for the ‘heart and soul’ of the country, brandishing their manifestos. Most importantly, there is a need for them to walk their talk. This represents a significant antidote to voters’ apathy.
Nigerian citizens possess voting rights as they are entitled to vote during elections; being the hallmark of representative democracy. The Electoral Act, 2022 provides for the continuous registration of qualified voters (section 10). To qualify as a voter, the person must be a Nigerian citizen; 18 years of age; resides/works/originates from the local government area/ward covered by the registration centre; presents himself to an INEC registration officer for registration as a voter and not subject to any incapacity to vote under any law in Nigeria based on section 12 of the Electoral Act, 2022. Significantly, many Nigerians, especially the youths, have realised that ‘their vote is their vote’ and gone en masse to register. Graciously, INEC has extended the time frame for the collection of the permanent voter cards to Sunday, January 29, 2023. This writer aligns with the view of Abraham Lincoln that “the ballot is stronger than the bullet.” Hence, on election days, each voter has the responsibility of coming out with their PVC to cast his/her vote in an orderly manner.
As a voter, you cannot give your voter card to some other person to use to vote; and must not impersonate another person on the voter list. You only vote in the constituency your vote is registered. Part VII of the Electoral Offences, Electoral Act, 2022 says that for ease of voting on election day, in the polling unit or a distance of 300m, do not canvass for votes, or shout slogans concerning the election, or wear or tender symbols concerning the election, or loiter without lawful excuse after voting and snatch and destroy election materials.
Generally, INEC is vested with the power to organise elections in Nigeria. According to the Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, in the 2019 elections, “flights conveying essential election materials could not land in some airports due to poor visibility.” Recognising this challenge, last year, Yakubu inaugurated the Election Logistics Committee with the mandate of “ensuring all logistics needed for the smooth conduct of the election are put in place at all times.”The committee has the herculean task of guaranteeing the ease of voting by making election materials readily available across the country, especially in difficult terrains such as remote and coastal areas.
INEC also has the power to conduct voter and civic education. In the writer’s view, INEC has embarked on some laudable initiatives such as publishing a voter education manual, conducting voters’ education outreach programmes, appointing INEC youth ambassadors. However, the reality of Nigeria is that there is a teeming illiterate population who must be reached with information on elections regularly. Hence, INEC’s sensitisation drive must target the grass roots modes of communication such as radio jingles, national and local televisions, and work with the communities’ information platforms through the local governments. Such news can also be translated into local languages by the local governments. It is absolutely necessary for all Nigerians to be carried along in the electoral processes. This will allow the citizens to make informed decisions on the election, reduce vote buying/selling and ultimately validate the integrity of the election.
There is an improved deployment of technology as encapsulated in the Electoral Act, 2022. It gives legal backing to the use of smart card readers or any other technology that INEC may deploy for accreditation of voters and voting on election day. Where it malfunctions, INEC is allowed to cancel an election in the polling unit and reschedule another election within 24 hours. Already INEC has published that there will be no manual accreditation and it will be bimodal (facial recognition and fingerprint), that is, the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System as required in Section 47 of the Electoral Act, 2022.
In a similar vein, INEC is empowered to use electronic means of transmission of results (Section 50 Electoral Act, 2022). Towards this, INEC has posted that all results will be uploaded to the INEC website at the polling units before taking it to the ward, constituency, LGA or state collation centres. Supporting electronic transmission, Muiz Banire(SAN) reiterated that its use in Edo and Ondo states elections eliminated manipulation in the process of collation of results. Success has also been recorded in the recent Ekiti and Osun states elections as it allows for transparency and accountability, hence it enhances the credibility of elections.
Hopefully, the above suggestions will be vigorously implemented. Creating continuous awareness of the roles, rights, and responsibilities of voters will remove the apathy usually exhibited in not coming out to vote on election days, especially in volatile areas. Closely related to this is the constant training and monitoring of law enforcement and security officers on election duties. Their main duty is to ensure the smooth conduct of elections and not to terrorise the people. As we approach the 2023 elections, it is quite significant that Nigerians are aware of the importance of this election. Nigerians will definitely go out to vote, but this writer appeals thus; let our votes count.