Nigeria and the Challenge of Voter Apathy


Saturday letter1

Voter apathy has become a great challenge to Nigerian democracy. The issue has become a cankerworm that is refusing to go since the 2007 general election in Nigeria. The main threats then could be attributed to ballot box snatching, manipulation of votes at collation centres and the lack of interest in political activities by many. These and others caused low turnout during the voter registrations in 2011 election. Electoral process is a major pillar of democracy as the voter remains the most important stakeholder in the procedure. This is apparent as the electorate tends to lose confidence when democracy is imperilled. 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 electorate is losing confidence during electioneering period.

The just concluded governorship and house of assembly elections across the 29 states witnessed a lot of issues like low turnout of voters: only 34.7 per cent came out of over 80 million registered voters. This is not the first time Nigerians will experience this as the 2003 presidential election also witnessed this setback.  It is on record that voter turnout stood at 53.7 per cent in 2011, 57.7 per cent in 2007 and hit the jackpot of 69.1 per cent in 2003. This is indeed an indication that something fishy is going on in the conduct of Nigeria election.  Looking at the nexus that exists in vote buying, voter apathy and the declaration of inconclusive results in some states across the country, there 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 unacceptable and a major cause of voter apathy in the country. This unfair game of politics has led to voter inducement, violence, harassment, intimidation of voters as well as poll officials and even the observers. Several observer groups reported that, vote buying displayed in almost all the polling units especially in Zamfara, Adamawa, Benue, Plateau, Kano, Sokoto, Akwa Ibom and Abia States where voters were given small amount of money to exchange their mandate is undemocratic.

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 give less importance to it. Some have this notion that state governors and house of assembly members are not doing anything apart from sharing the grant from the federal level. 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 democratic atmosphere to the people in order to awake their political consciousness and motivate them to participate more in the exercise. INEC and other stakeholders 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 in the electoral process.

Idris Mohammed Funtua, Program Officer, YIAGA Africa, Abuja