Lagos LG poll and the challenge of voters' apathy in Nigeria

LASIEC 1

Chairman, LASIEC, Justice Ayotunde Phillips (Rtd.)

By Tayo Ogunbiyi

The recently concluded Local Government election in Lagos State has once again brought to fore the issue of voters’ apathy in the country. According to reports, voters turn out during the last Lagos Council poll wasn’t in any way encouraging.

For instance, reports had it that not up to 18% of the total voters registered actually voted during the election. Recall that the 2017 LG Polls was also ravaged with voter apathy where only 17 per cent of the total registered voters voted.

Democracy is about the choice that the people make. Of all the various definitions of democracy, the most universally famous is the one that refers to it as the government of the People by the People. The implication of the definition is that it is the people that give impetus to democracy. In essence, you cannot have democracy without the people. It is the people that set democracy in motion. But then, in Nigeria, the people don’t seem to understand the democratic power they wield.

The word ‘apathy’, which has its source in Greek, plainly means ‘without feelings’. According to Victor Marie Hugo, French poet, novelist, and dramatist of the Romantic Movement, ‘the apathetic are alive but without feelings, so they are not living. They are the living dead’. Therefore, in line with Hugo’s line of thought, voters’ apathy simply refers to the insensitivity of the people towards the electoral process, particularly voting.

According to a statistics from the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, only about 35% of the over 70million who registered to vote in the 2011 general elections really participated in the voting process. This implies that over 65% of registered voters did not vote. Similarly, ahead of the Local Government election in Lagos, it was revealed by LAISEC that about 1.4 million Lagosians are yet to collect their Permanent Voters Cards, PVC.

This simply connotes that over 1.4 million registered voters in the state did not vote in the 2015 general elections. This is a dangerous trend that must essentially be a source of serious concern to all genuine stakeholders in the polity.

This growing trend has grievous implications on the prospect of democracy in the country. For one, it ensures that that leaders who attain political power via the votes of the minority rule over the majority. Second, because they don’t get to power through the votes of the majority, they tend to espouse self-seeking agenda. Third, it casts serious aspersion on the kind of democracy we practice.

Furthermore, it makes elected political leaders unaccountable to the people since they did not, in the real sense, derive their coming to power from the majority of registered voters. Also, it makes it a bit hypocritical for those who did not turn out to vote to criticise those who were elected through the same process that they shunned. As it is often said, ‘you cannot eat your cake and have it’.

Lots of factors are responsible for voters’ apathy in the country. For one, some of those who shun the polls could be of the notion that their votes do not really count since they believe either rightly or wrongly that the outcome of most elections in the country are pre determined.

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Also, some believe that the electoral process is replete with violence, while some consider the political class undeserving of their votes because of their perceived insincerity to electoral promises. Equally, especially, in the case of Local Council elections, many are of the view that that tier of government doesn’t really do much to deserve anyone’s vote.

However, irrespective of the validity of the reasons, as highlighted above, it is counterproductive for the people to shun polls in a democracy. It should be recalled that some people gave their lives for us to enjoy the democracy that we have today. It is, therefore, a great injustice to their memories, if this culture of voters’ apathy continues.

We need to respect the supreme sacrifices paid by the patriots who laid down their lives for us to enjoy this participatory democracy. This can only be demonstrated through our unconditional dedication to the political process. In any case, when the majority refuses to participate in voting, that does not in any way invalidate the outcome of elections. Sadly, we all suffer the consequences of staying aloof when the wrong people get into elected political offices.

If democracy is to truly be the government of the people and for the people, the people must own the process from the beginning to the end. Active involvement in the political process signifies that everyone is a critical stakeholder, having the best interest of the country at heart. It is a practical demonstration of being a responsible citizen.

To lure the people back to the polls, elected political leaders at all levels, should not take the electorates for granted. It is sheer treachery for an elected leader to ignore his/her electoral promises while in power. Compatriots who ignore all difficulties in order to participate in voting ought to be given a better deal. Also, the practice of turning elections into a ‘do or die’ affair should be discouraged to give credibility to the electoral process.

Additionally, INEC, political parties, the civil society, the press and other stakeholders should give greater attention to voters’ education as well as other enlightenment campaigns that could re-enact the confidence of the people in the electoral process.

It is important to stress that the worst illiterate is the political illiterate who take no part in the political process. Sadly, he doesn’t understand that everything depends on political decisions. Unfortunately, the politically dormant even prides himself on his political ignorance by openly sticking out his chest that he hates politics. He doesn’t know that from his political apathy comes the prostitute, the abandoned child, the robber and worst of all, corrupt and incompetent public officials.

Democracy is best defended by those it is meant for; the people. But for democracy to really serve the interest of the people, they must respect all democratic norms and principles. Today, we all look at some of the advanced democracies of the world with envy.

The truth, however, is that they have achieved greatness through the strengthening of grassroots democracy. Of course, there is no other way through which democracy could be strengthened other than involvement of the majority in democratic process.

-Ogunbiyi is Director, Public Affairs, Ministry of Information & Strategy, Alausa, Ikeja, Lagos.