Voter Apathy as Threat to Democracy

Many registered voters who had voted on February 23 refused to vote on March 9. Across Nigeria – from Lagos to Abuja through Kano and Enugu to Akwa Ibom, Benue and Sokoto – only a few people were available at each polling station. Something similar happened sometime in 1996.

Angry voters interviewed said they were no longer interested in voting because they believed their votes would not matter, an obvious reference to the outcome of the first round of elections (for president and National Assembly) held on February 23. They believed that the results announced by INEC did not reflect the actual results.

Anyone who disagreed with such view could simply be called a liar.

As we stated in this space last week, INEC’s performance during the first round of elections this year was well below average.  But we also admonished: “Many people already discouraged by the events of February 23 should persevere to vote again. Leaving polling stations free for thugs alone will do more harm than good. Eventually, many cases will be decided by election tribunals and higher courts. The courts will need evidence, and one cannot gather evidence without being at the scene of action.”

We are appalled and at the same time frightened that a majority of Nigerian voters chose to ignore us. Voter apathy is a threat to democracy anywhere! Already, many have sworn they would never vote again in the future.

INEC and other government agencies are likely to request funds to enable them educate and mobilise voters for elections in the future. Unless something drastic is done, they are likely to fail in persuading these Nigerians to leave their homes or their workplaces to queue in the sun or rain to cast votes that would not count. Besides, those who lost their relations or friends will like to see justice done to the memories of their loved ones before they would take the risk of taking part in elections again. At least 40 people were felled on February 23; no fewer than seven other Nigerians reportedly died on March 9 -– for no just cause.

Joseph Stalin of Russia is often quoted to have said: “Those who vote decide nothing. Those who count the votes decide everything.” That exactly has been the trouble with Nigeria elections. Results announced at polling stations – where elections are actually conducted – are almost always different from the results taken to collation centres. In many places, result sheets are bought and filled in advance of polling day, and party stalwarts thumbprint stolen ballot papers inside bushes, hotel rooms and fortified residential houses. Such act of vote thievery is, at times, perpetrated by supposed law enforcement agents including soldiers and INEC officials. What is more, during both the February 23 and March 9 polls, armed soldiers flooded targeted states especially in the Niger Delta. They were not drafted to maintain law and order but to break the law and cause chaos. They were sent to intimidate voters in order to whittle down vote numbers in targeted areas.

As expected, the results to be announced or already announced in many places do not reflect the voter turnout in those places. Some result sheets had been filled in already and there was little the vote thieves could do any longer. In most remote or inaccessible villages, there was no need of anyone voting: figures were just cooked up and ballot papers thumb-printed to tally with the figures. Election riggers know that the electoral law does not make use of the card reader compulsory; the legislature wanted to make it mandatory but President Buhari refused to assent to the bill. Politicians who cheated might go free on account of loopholes in the law. They know that rigging is difficult – almost impossible – to prove in the courts.

Power still resides in the electorate. Any candidate who gets “elected” by foul means should not expect to be respected when they get into office. There were warning signs after the polls: the victorious candidates did not see many of their supporters rejoicing in the streets.

All in all, the Nigerian authorities must work to save democracy by curtailing election rigging. Where are the thugs caught in 2003, 2007 or 2011?

The starting point should be a post-mortem: all those involved in election rigging this year should be brought to justice. Open trials (captured live on television) of the culprits will be necessary, so that in the end convicted thugs, INEC officials and military people will be known and ostracized even before they serve jail terms. Those who sponsored vote-buying or thugs should also be identified and punished. Unless we begin to prosecute electoral offenders, rigging will not stop, and voters will continue to be discouraged.

 The judiciary in particular has the duty of reversing dubious victories. As the last hope of the common man, the judiciary should not rely on technicalities to prevent aggrieved candidates from proving cases of rigging. Those who voted already know the truth. And truth cannot be buried.

With: The Oracle Today

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