Voters’ apathy has become a great challenge to Nigerian democracy. The issue has become a canker-worm that is refusing to go since we witnessed it during the 2007 general elections in Nigeria. Apparently, the electoral process is a major pillar of democracy as the voter remains the most important stake holder in the procedure. Thus the main objective of electoral process is to confer universal suffrage on the eligibility of voters who would exercise their franchise under an atmosphere of free, fair and credible election which in turn confers legitimacy on those elected. Thus, elections are necessary but it is disheartening that the electorates are losing confidence in the electioneering period.
The just concluded governorship and house of assemblies’ elections across 29 states witnessed a lot of issues like low turnout of voters where less than 40% out of over eighty million registered voters came out to vote. This is not the first time Nigerians will experience this as it is on record that voter turnout stand at 53.7 percent in 2011, 57.7 percent in 2007 and hit the jackpot of 69.1 percent in 2003. Looking at the nexus that exist in vote buying, voter apathy and the declaration of inconclusive results in some states across the country is a clear indication that something is not right.
The practice of do or die game of politics by our politicians and desperation on their side to grasp power is becoming intolerant, unacceptable and a major cause of voter apathy in this country. This unfair game of politics has led to voter inducement, violence, harassment, intimation of voters as well as poll officials and even the observers. Several observer groups reported vote buying especially in Zamfara, Adamawa, Benue, Plateau, Kano, Sokoto, Akwa-Ibom and Abia State where voters were given some small amount of money in exchange with their mandate.
The most important elections that will shape the lives of the people in terms of education, water supply, agriculture and health care system is the one at the grassroots level that is the state elections but Nigerians seem to care lessabout. Some have this notion that State Governors and House of Assemblies are not doing anything apart from sharing the federal alllocation from the Federation account. The reverse is the case; governors are the most important public officers in terms of touching the lives of the common man.
In a nutshell, poverty, ignorance, timidity, frustrations are among what is pushing people away from politics. The politicians enjoy this scenario so as to have their way into public offices and continue crippling the economy of the land. As a matter of urgency, it is not late for us to understand the implication of vote buying and voter apathy in our electoral process. Authorities need to recruit more young people into the system and empower them with more knowledge on politics and also give them more room to participate openly.
Public officials especially at the State and Local level should provide more inclusive atmosphere to the people in order to awake their political consciousness and motivate them to participate more in the exercise. Also the Indepedent National Electoral Commission and other stake holders on the other hand should engage on sensitization and voter education by highlighting the danger of voter apathy to our democratic culture while making efforts to rebuild the confidence of Nigerians on the electoral process.
Idris Mohammed Funtua is Program Officer with YIAGA Africa Abuja