Voter Apathy As Threat To Democracy ,By Chuks Ehirim

Bala_MohammedNigerians a way of rejecting a system they consider as a failure. They may not appear as revolutionary as the Arabs who take to violent and endless street protests to press home their demands from those who lord it over them.

Not even the   style of the Boko Haram in the North or their counterparts in the Niger Delta[the militants] whose  mode  of expressing discontent lies in  wanton destruction of innocent lives and property, could be taken as a national symbol of protest. No.

When Nigerians hate a system, they display their discontent through silence. Like the people of Guinea did during their struggle for independence in the 1950s by resorting to the policy of non-votes, as was preached by their leaders then, Nigerians   show their dislike for a political system by staying away from polling booths during elections.

They did this perfectly well during the dark days of military dictatorship of the regime of late General Sani Abacha.  As the political transition programme of that era got to a point where it became thoroughly questionable, the populace lost interest in it and began to treat the politicians with disdain. In Enugu, for instance, political rallies preceding   local government elections then, were held only at nights when the  candidates of soliciting for votes were sure of mobilizing a few people to listen to their campaign rhetorics.

It was obvious then to them, that holding such rallies  during day time was going to be effort in futility as nobody was willing to abandon his or her normal activities to go to listen to dry speeches of politicians.

When they found out that at nights however, a few of the people some neighborhoods  would be willing to attend to such rallies, the campaigners changed their strategy of voter education and mobilization. Rallies became a night affair.

That frightening level of political apathy has returned to the scene, with a very large percentage of the registered staying away from the polling booths on election days. This was sufficiently displayed at the Match 16, 2013 Area Council elections in the Federal Capital Territory [FCT], Abuja, during which voter turnout was put below 15 percent of total

registered the territory.

Commenting on this worrisome development, the National Chairman of the United Peoples Party[UPP], Chief Chekwas Okorie , made it emphatically clear, that the abysmal poor response of the electorates in Abuja during that exercise, made the election to lack credibility.

Hear him: “It is generally accepted by all including Independent National Commission (INEC) that the turn out of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Area Council’s Election is very poor, in fact so poor that the election itself lacks legitimacy”.

Analysing the elections the Abuja Municipal Area Council[AMAC],Okorie said “the situation in Abuja Municipal Area Council (AMAC) portrays this assertion very clearly. The number of registered in AMAC is approximately 477,000. The total votes cast in

the election including valid and non valid votes, were approximately 15% of registered voters”.

He added that “there is nowhere in the world that an election with such abysmal turn-out of voters can be regarded as legitimate. The reasons will be commented on in detail later in a separate statement.

“In spite of the several visible hiccups and manipulations of the process we the good nature to congratulate all the parties and candidates that participated in the FCT council elections especially those who won both the councillorship and chairmanship elections.

“We wish to recall that the communiqué arising from the inaugural National Executive Committee  (NEC) meeting of our great party; we took the position that our UPP will canvass for the application of the electronic voting system in future elections.

“We are determined more than ever to embark on a massive and sustained campaign to canvass this important viewpoint.

It becomes clearer as elections are conducted in this country that Nigerians lost absolute confidence in the present archaic method of voting.

He gave what could stand as one of the reasons for the very poor voter turn out during the said polls. “The situation is worsened by the fact that most Nigerians are scared that polling

stations are easy killing ground for terrorists who will take out their grievances to all leaderships in the country on helpless and harmless Nigerians who may wish to carry out their civic responsibilities during elections.

Okorie warned that “if nothing is done by the Executive and Legislative arms of government to introduce more reliable, transparent and safer means of conduct of elections, the turn out of

the electorate in the forthcoming 2015 general elections will be so abysmal that Nigeria will become a laughing stock of the world including much poorer countries in Africa that have reformed their process in line with modern technology.

 “There is no gainsaying the fact that the northern part of Nigeria will be worst hit if nothing is done to reform the process that is in practice now’, he said.

It was really noted that residents of the Federal Capital never took the council elections seriously. In spite of the restriction on vehicle or even human movement on the day of the elections, people bluntly refused to exercise this singular civic responsibility of theirs.

At the major roads along the way to Bwari Area Council, as well as the city , Kubwa, Gwarinpa, Kuje town, Apo,Wuse, etc,young men were seen either playing football on the streets or engaging in other activities that had nothing to do with the election.

The statistical data of that election is actually an embarrassment and a mockery of in any sense of the word. For instance, the total number of registered voters in FCT in nine

hundred and forty-six thousand, six hundred and two[946,602] but at the end of voting on March 16, it was discovered that only one hundred and forty-one thousand, nine hundred and sixty-seven[141,967]people turned out to vote.

A breakdown of this figure will prove more ridiculous. Voter turnout in Abaji Area Council was 17,209, out of 45,239 total registered voters. In AMAC, voter   turnout was 21,000, out of a total   registered voters  of 477,975. In Bwari Area Council, there are 142,978 registered voters but only 19, 798 came out to vote on election  day.

It was worse in other Area councils. Gwagwalada Area Council, for instance, has a total of 114,978 registered voters but only 27,479 persons voted in the election. It is the same in Kwali, with 59,726 registered voters and only 22,262 coming out to vote.  

If you take the break down further, you will definitely be greeted by shock. In Wuse Ward in AMAC,ONLY 1,500 voted, out of 76,ooo registered voters.At the Apo legislators’ polling unit where2,366 voters were registered, only 38 persons turned to vote. It was the story at Life Camp polling unit where only 58 votes were recorded by officials of the Independent National Commission[INEC], out of 1,956 registered voters there. If this you to laugh, wait until you have seen the figure in KARU-NNPC polling unit. The place recorded zero votes out of the 656 registered voters residing there.      

 FCT is not the only place where the Nigerian  electorate    have   displayed their disdain for the current political leaders of the country. In several other local council elections in other states,   the story is the same. In Bayelsa State for instance, the council polls that took place on Saturday, 23rd March, was also reported to have been marred by voter apathy.

According to newspaper report, ThisDay, to be precise, the election “saw a high display of indifference by the electorate”. The report added that “political leaders from the state surprisingly came home to participate in the elections. The election which was held to choose eight Chairmen  and 105 councilors, in the eight councils of the state, was characterized by open defiance of the restriction of movement order  by the state government, with market present at markets to sell”.

The paper added that “but the markets were forcefully shut eventually, by the men of the Nigerian Police . Popular markets  in the state capital, including Opolo, Pancha,Tombia

and Ekeki, were in full operation until armed mobile policemen were deployed to forcefully close them and mount road blocks along the major roads in the capital city.”   

What bothers political watchers in Nigeria today, is what has become of the country’s over 13 years of unbroken . Some who spoke to this reporter, are worried that voter apathy is a clear signal that the people are fed up with current rulers of Nigeria. “Election is the most

important ingredient of any democratic   system. When people shy away from coming out to vote during elections, it speaks volumes.  It is either they no longer believe in that system or they are not sure that the exercise is worth their time”, said John Obidu, an Abuja resent who could not hold back his disappointment over the degree of voter apathy during the FCT.

Like Obidu said, the Nigerian electorate are making their pronouncement, even without a speech, that they are fed up with a system that dose not reckon with their plight. Their non –violent, non-verbal protests are becoming increasingly disturbing. It is fast taking away legitimacy from the

nation’s political office holders.

But for the political class that appears not bothered about its image, this may not make any meaning. Rather it is seen as an advantage for electoral malpractice. Experience over the years  has shown that voter apathy helps to brighten the chances of electoral fraudsters who collaborate with election officials to inflate figures to their own advantage.

It therefore be correctly argued that electoral officials in the country work hard to encourage this phenomenon of voter apathy. How else dose one explain a situation where INEC conducted the FCT council elections without adequate vote education or enlightenment. It was only one week to  that exercise  INEC deemed it fit to inform members of the that it was going to conduct the council elections. The result of this failure by INEC to do what was needful, is the frightening level of voter apathy which attended the exercise.

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