17 March 2019

Nigeria: Voter Apathy - Are Nigerians Turning Against Democracy?

Following the lowest turnout of voters for a presidential election put at 34.7% on February 23, the matter of voter apathy worsened in the March 9 governorship election with more than half of those who came out for the presidential election turning their backs on the ballot box on that day.

With the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC yet to conclude the elections, it is generally estimated that the turnout in percentage terms would notably put a dint on the country's electoral culture.

With the issue still resonating Vanguard drew the opinion of a number of civil society activists on the issue and their profound responses were centred on the increasing threat to Nigeria's democracy culture by the country's political actors.

Constitutional lawyer, Mike Ozekhomhe, Awal Musa Rafsanjani, head of Transparency International, Nigeria, Eze Onyekpere, Executive Director at the Centre for Social Justice and a host of others, cited a number of reasons that culminated in the voter apathy witnessed in the governorship polls held on March 9.

Ozekhome blamed logistic hitches on the part of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, amongst other factors for the development.

He said: "The unexpected shift of the elections a few hours to voting by INEC on account of flimsy logistics excuses alarmed many Nigerians. Many Nigerians who had travelled to their respective places to vote, but were forced to return to their bases could not make it back a second time.

"Secondly, the unprecedented militarization of the entire presidential electoral process in which we witnessed Nigerians being killed like chicken, even in their homes, was so frightening and it became a deterrence. Added to this is President Muhammad Buhari's earlier mandate to the military, to shoot at sight any ballot box snatcher."

He continued: "The gruesome murder of one INEC official, Mrs. Amachree and many other Nigerians told many Nigerians that the elections were not worth dying for. The brazen daylight manipulation and rigging of the Presidential elections finally brought it home to most Nigerians that even if they voted, the votes would not count, and indeed would not be counted."

On his part, Onyekpere faulted the sequence of elections as fixed by INEC as one of the reasons voter turnout was abysmally low during the governorship elections.

According to him, "There was no need to unveil the big masquerade (Presidential election) before the others because the people were bound to lose interest. When you play a soccer tournament for instance, the final is played as the last match. Will it make any sense to play a quarter final match after the final must have been played?" he asked rhetorically.

Onyekpere also cited the violence recorded in some parts of the country during the Presidential election as a reason some voters chose to stay indoors two weeks later.

"The violence in places like Lagos and Rivers called into question our preparedness for civil engagement in this part of the country," he added.

Also speaking, Auwal Ibrahim Rafsanjani, Executive Director, Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre, CISLAC blamed voter apathy on what he called "pessimism" on the part of some Nigerians that their votes were going to count.

He also stressed that doubt on the part of voters that governors would work for the people, informed their decision to boycott the exercise.

"Voters in large numbers did not believe there were sufficient reasons to come out and vote. Some of them see the governors as not doing enough and so coming out to vote was a big challenge.

"Again, the militarization of the elections added to the activities of political thugs as witnessed in the Presidential election made some people lose interest in the entire process. This was the experience in Rivers, Lagos, Imo and Akwa Ibom where violence almost marred the polls," Rafsanjani stated, even as he counselled politicians to do away with the practice of "do or die politics."

Adding his voice to the discourse is Inebehe Effiong, Convener of the Coalition of Human Rights Defenders.

In his words, "Voter apathy is an indication of lack of confidence in the electoral process. The Presidential election did not meet acceptable democratic standard. This partly accounts for the lower voter turnout in the gubernatorial election.

"Another reason is that so much power is imbued in the Nigerian Presidency. The President is expected to be patronizing. We need to devolve more constitutional powers to the states to make the centre less attractive."

Effiong called for more involvement of the youths in the political process, saying "I believe that the voting population in Nigeria is not sufficiently enlightened. We need to continue to educate voters on why they should participate in the electoral process.

"Let me also add that the postponement of the Presidential election made it impracticable for many people to vote in the gubernatorial election. Those who travelled from different destinations to vote could not return to do so, "

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