By Oludaisi OMOKUNGBE
Can we confidently boast that Nigeria’s democracy is evolving most importantly when only 35% of the eligible voters decided the fate of the nation? When military are now taking active and disruptive roles in elections as witnessed in Rivers, Kwara, Adamawa, Plateau and several other States? When vote buying is taking central stage preventing citizens to actually vote their conscience? When grassroots people don’t understand how to thumbprint correctly on ballot papers during elections?
When you look at these circumstances in our elections as a nation, it is probably often becoming difficult to congratulate winners after each election. Though, winners not at fault but the majority of our citizens that often refused to participate in the political processes as expected and enshrined in the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. The most painful part from my own point of view after each election – is a situation where the minority always decides for the majority in Nigeria. Either we like or not, this has been our collective fate in the last twenty years and probably why things are not working as it supposes to be as a result of the fact of that majority has accepted mediocrity to take over the entire political process.
To start with, is it not a state of accepting mediocrity for result when only 35% of Nigeria’s eligible voters came out to vote in the 2019 general elections? 35% is always a carry-over in marking scheme. By this standard, it means Nigerians have failed in the 2019 elections by measure of participation which is a core principle of democracy. Low turnout of eligible voters in Nigeria calls for deep concern. Most times, when you try to convince eligible voters to come out to vote during elections they will always tell you that “their votes don’t always count. So, why should they waste their times, energy and resources to participate in a process that will not recognize their efforts”? Digging deep on this shows that an average eligible voter in Nigeria do not trust the Independent National Electoral Commission so to say! This to me borders on the integrity of the electoral umpire.
What then must we do as a nation to building and sustaining the integrity of INEC as citizens who have oversight functions to ensure electoral integrity, accountability and fairness? Nigeria needs to invest in aggressive civic education for Nigerians especially the massive youth population to understand their roles and place in Nigeria’s democracy. Long ago, Nigeria has been left in the hand of politicians. It is time for citizens to take over; elect leaders, hold them accountable and set the pace for sustainable growth and development.
Secondly, role for military in Nigeria’s election does not exist anywhere in our Constitution. It has been established by Court of competent jurisdiction at different times that Nigeria’s military has no roles in our election. Can we collectively question the Federal Government why military is now taking active and disruptive roles in elections as witnessed in Rivers, Kwara, Adamawa, Plateau and several other States? Up till now, as I write, FG is yet to caution the leadership, officers and men of the military forces in those States where it was reported that especially Nigeria Army was disrupting election proceedings. Though, I read the reactive response of the Nigeria Army saying the men in soldier uniforms were not their officers. The question is – has any of these fake soldiers arrested by the appropriate authorities? Election is a civil affair of the nation for her citizens to choose its leaders. Elections are not war for military to fight.
Thirdly, vote buying perpetrated by political parties to induce voters’ choice for their parties is a negative rising fraud that is gradually taking over our elections in Nigeria. I observed this general election at two different locations, political party agents bought voters over with exchange of money to thumbprint for their parties and candidates. Specifically, almost all political parties that participated in the 2019 general elections actively participated in the ugly vote buying negative precedence in our elections. They were even situations during sorting and counting, some voters voted for more than one political party which was assumed that such voters had collected monies from these parties and decided to vote for them all. Vote buying don’t only corrupt our elections but it prevent the best that have no money to share from emerging in our elections. If this is the kind of future Nigeria is heading, more problems are ahead to confront our nation. This is a critical problem to nip on the board now. The media, civil society and patriotic Nigerians have great roles to play to fight this ugly trend that is rising to prevent the best from emerging in our political space.
Lastly, one other thing that is hacking Nigeria’s election is the inability of the most grassroots people, aged, un-educated and first-time voters to thumbprint correctly on ballot papers during elections. Some of the staggering fact I got during my assignment as an observer in 2019 elections showed that out of almost every ten (10) voters, between 5-6 voters doesn’t understand how to thumbprint correctly on the ballot papers.
Imagine a polling unit where some these voters were assisted by INEC officers to thumbprint yet, such a unit could still recorded close to 100 voided votes out of less than 500 votes which represented about 20% of the total vote recorded. What about if there were no assistance at all? This is a critical problem for Nigeria’s democracy. Voter’s education that had been neglected will significantly address this problem if we must get it right in future elections.
We’ve together made choices as a people of Nigeria at different levels of government. The choices we’ve made will only be vindicated by time, performance and delivery either as positive or negative choices. Congratulations to the winners and also to the losers. We have duty to rise and fight vote buying syndrome to guide future elections. As I conclude, I appeal to international agencies and organizations to fund and support social and civic projects to educate Nigerians and defeat vote buying in Nigeria.
Oludaisi Omokungbe is the Lead Strategist of Technocrat Media. Contact me via firstname.lastname@example.org