- Photo: Dr. Banire *
The rationale behind this letter is essentially to expose the fraud and iniquities perpetrated by politicians on the people, wittingly and unwittingly aided by the electorate through their actions and inactions, with a view to remedying the ills before the next general election. The class of Nigerians called the electorate is the most difficult and critical to the Nigerian democratic experiment. You wonder who they are? The electorate are the Nigerians who are eligible to cast votes in each successive general election. They are presumably those citizens of Nigeria that have satisfied the constitutional requirements of competence to vote and have presented themselves for registration as potential voters. What this implies is that, regardless of their competence to vote constitutionally, where the eligible voters fail, neglect and refuse to register to vote, they will be unable to exercise any franchise.
Thus, strictly speaking, only those that met the two conditions of eligibility and registration constitute the Nigerian electorate. However, for the purpose of our discourse, I shall be transcending this boundary into other equally material classes of Nigerians essential to the electoral process. In this category are those that registered to vote but failed, refused or neglected to vote; and those that are eligible to register to vote but failed to register and consequentially are unable to vote.
These two categories of citizens, alongside the electorate, affect the success or otherwise of the electoral process. The former two categories are simply those who unscrupulously and, at times, unwittingly impose on us the bad leaders we live with in Nigeria. As at the 11th day of March 2019, the electorate population in Nigeria was estimated to be about 84,004,084, which represents 49.78 per cent of the 200,962,417 estimated population of Nigerians. The majority of the electorate, however, fail to exercise their franchise, thereby availing the politicians the opportunity to manipulate the process. For instance, in the last presidential election, only about 35 per cent of the eligible voters participated in the eventual election of the President.
Ditto in the last gubernatorial election of Anambra State, only 10.38 per cent of the electorate voted. This mirrors the contemporary performance across all elections in Nigeria. The chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Professor Mahmood Yakubu, recently, in 2021, deplored this unfortunate scenario when he said that voter turnout across Nigeria hovered around 30 to 35 per cent of registered voters in the last two electoral cycles. According to the INEC chairman, “While a few elections had higher percentages, some recent by-elections recorded as low as 8.3 per cent voter turnout in an urban constituency of over 1.2 million registered voters located in the nation’s most densely populated city. This unfavourably compares to the average voter turnout of 65-70 per cent in other countries, even in the West Africa region.”
This performance, in terms of apathy, continues to dwindle in the country. The danger of you, as a registered voter, not exercising your franchise is the aiding and abetting of electoral rigging. Politicians capitalize on this lacuna to utilize your vote by way of illegal proxy to vote on your behalf. This encourages also ballot stuffing as well as altering of electoral outcomes. I, therefore, plead with you as a voter to ensure the utilization of your franchise by actually voting at elections.
Your failure to vote would not only attract proxy voting but also enable the manipulation of the results. This is the first crucial aspect of my admonition as the election season is around the corner in 2023, while this year, 2022, dictates the eventual direction. So, it is crucial that you, the electorate, troop out and encourage others that are eligible but have not registered to proceed to do so in the forthcoming elections to forestall these vices.
Again, as per those who actually exercised their franchise, statistics and experience have shown that the bulk is from the vulnerable class, particularly those that are ignorant of why they are voting, much less knowing why they are voting for a particular candidate. They know not anything about the respective contesting political parties and their candidates. They simply vote on the basis of parochialism.
Ask why they voted for a particular party or candidate, you will get responses such as “it is our regional political party” or that (which majority of our ethnic groups favour) “the candidate is from my tribe or ethnic group”; “the candidate shares religious faith with me or attends my religious centre”; “the candidate is an associate of my traditional or religious leader, a family friend or associate”; or “my political or communal leaders directed that we vote for him”.
These are the comments you get to any such enquiry. At the end of the day, this class of voters constitutes the majority and determines the leadership of the country. You then wonder what all the criteria adopted above by this class have to do with provision of infrastructure, quality education, good health service, employment, security of lives and properties etc. As at date, more than seventy percent of those who actually voted in elections are the vulnerable who cannot differentiate their right from the left.
These people are the major pollutants of the system through their actions and inactions and they end up endangering our collective interest as a people. Should you form part of this class, your case is more catastrophic than that of the electorate that fails to exercise their franchise. Therefore, it is imperative that you seek knowledge of the political party/candidate you are voting for, in terms of the latter’s pedigree and competence. This is the only way you can qualitatively utilize your vote. The media and the informed generally owe this class of the electorate the duty of education and enlightenment. We need to assist them in establishing the nexus between their lives and their votes.
This is a crucial assignment for the informed, not necessarily the elites. Not all elites are politically informed to the extent of guiding quality exercise of franchise. Some of them are not better than this vulnerable class notwithstanding their high level of education. Hence, we must desist from equating the elites with the informed as being educated is different from being informed.
It will be a great error to so do. Therefore, embarking and participating in this enlightenment process will be a great contribution from the informed people. As hinted above, this is the first area of ineptitude of the electorate which must be remedied to confer credibility on the elections and shield us from fraudulent manipulation by politicians. The other variant of the vulnerable electorate is those whose freewill are often sapped during elections by the powers that be, the oppressors. They are hardly able to vote their conscience out of fear of the oppressors’ intimidation or victimization. Excellent examples are the market men and women who are usually coerced out of threat of closure of their markets, their means of survival, by the ruling party in government, thereby preventing them from exercising their franchise freely.
Civil servants fall, in some areas, into this category also. Transporters are often threatened along the same line. There are myriads of other vulnerable groups in this circumstance that are under the crushing effect of their oppressors. While appealing to these oppressed class to be more circumspect and ready to sacrifice their comfort for the ultimate goal of good governance, I pray and urge that the strong ones among us rise up in their defence. These are the weak and defenceless people that are not only denied their democratic rights of choice but equally endangered in the process. Examples are the traders in the class of marketmen and women who are usually coerced into not only registering to vote in their market places, as opposed to their homes or other areas of convenience, but compelled to stay overnight at the markets for the singular purpose of voting for their oppressors, usually the ruling party.
Dr. Banire is a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN).