There has been a tremendous result from efforts by the INEC, civil society groups and other organised groups to achieve the current figure of 84,271,832 registered voters for the 2019 elections.
Agbonsuremi Augustine Okhiria
The challenge of mobilising Nigerians to play their civic roles at elections is enormous. Nigeria is a society with complex socio-political and cultural issues that affect the electoral process.
In 2011, the late President Umaru Yar’Adua had 22,495,187, (58.89 percent) of the total 39,469,48 votes cast. By then Nigeria’s estimated eligible voting population of 18 years and above stood at around 120 million in a population of 180 million.
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In 2015, only 29,432,083 out of the registered 67,422,005 (43.65 percent) came out to vote. Out of the estimated 130 million eligible voters of 18 years and above in a population of over 180 million then, only 15,424,921 voted to get President Muhammadu Buhari into power.
More valid votes were cast in 2011 (38,209,978) than in 2015 (28,587,567) by a 25 percent difference.
The 2011 and the 2015 figures clearly show a drop in electoral participation as far as the tally of the overall voters in the presidential elections is concerned.
There has been a tremendous result from efforts by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), civil society groups and other organised groups to achieve the current figure of 84,271,832 registered voters for the 2019 elections. But how many will come out to vote?
From that figure, though we are still trading in overall deficit from the estimated over 130 million eligible voters of 18 years and above in a population of 198 million, there is a substantial positive leap from the figures of 2011 and 2015 to the current voter population.
Now the challenge is to be sure we have more people at the polling centres in 2019 from the registered population.
Already, there are over seven million yet-to-be collected permanent voter cards (PVC) lying idle at INEC offices around Nigeria. The figures could rise as more cards are printed from the last registration. Fourteen million Nigerians were registered in 16 months of INEC’s continuous voter registration exercise from April 27, 2017, to August 31, 2018.
There is the need, therefore, to develop or factors that have made voting unattractive to the majority of registered voters in the last elections.
These templates must take into cognizance the peculiarities of our environment and be tailored to meet the citizens in their various camps.
For the purpose of addressing the intricacies, complicities and peculiarities of the Nigerian voting public, it may be necessary to take a look at the group classifications for which suitable information and mobilisation templates ought to be developed.
The first groups are those who have made up their minds to vote for particular candidates or political parties. This group has politicians, their followers, bloggers and praise-singers. Their leaders are
the ones that have been in government from time to time. They are basically the same and, over the years, they have had interchangeable roles. They are in and out of power at one time or the other. Some
of their leaders have or have had access to public funds and they campaign with public funds and assets. This group is capable of manipulating the process, could rig election and carry out vote-buying. There are a few of them who have had no access to power but believe that, by setting up political parties, they can make a difference. Unfortunately, not many listen to them and records have shown that they do not make much impact at elections. Some of those in this category are desperate and templates must be developed to reach them to allow the peaceful conduct of the elections. They should not arm their supporters and discourage voters from the polling stations. The anti-vote-buying message must reach this group in an effective manner.
The second category has those who are yet to make up their minds to vote for any candidate. This category of Nigerians comprises those registered to vote and they will definitely come out to vote, if there is no violence. They are the swing voters. They are, in a normal society, the ones to mainly determine who gets the most votes. A large number of those in this group are very sincere and hardworking Nigerians who want the system to run well and who are looking at the best candidate to vote for. In this group, we have those who will demand for money or will not mind some encouragement with money or material things before they vote. Development workers believe that there are so many gullible voters in this group. Their susceptibility is a major problem. And because of the depth of poverty, both of the pocket and the mind, this group is not as potent as it should be. They are the big losers after each election. They are easily manipulated and, thereafter, they grumble and complain to high heavens till the next election, when they come around in the same cycle. To this broad group, the message will be different and town hall meetings of different types can make a difference. They need to be assured of safety at polling stations and tutored on the huge benefits of voting for the best candidates, the candidates of their choice.
The third category includes those who will be reluctant to come out to vote even if you station a polling unit in front of their houses. Unfortunately, they are more in number. By the statistics of 2015, they were more than 70 million Nigerians. Demographic estimates show that, out of the over 180 million people in Nigeria in 2015, at least 130 million should be 18 years and above. And since 67 million Nigerians were registered to vote in 2015, it meant that at least 65 million others did not care to register to vote. Those in this category are many elite who are too sophisticated to stand in the sun or rain. They monitor the voting seriously and repost and share pictures with smart phones. Many of them are not even registered. Some have relocated from places where they were registered and have not bothered to take advantage of existing provisions to move their voting points. Also in this category are the over seven million Nigerians who are registered voters but have refused to pick up their PVCs. In 2015, we had millions of cards that were not picked up before the elections. In this category, there are some who have their air tickets and visas to travel out just before the elections. Some in this category buy enough food and drinks and stay indoors on election day, watching TV and being very active on the social media. A few in this category are professionals who will be at work on election day. They include some medical workers, journalists and media workers, election monitors and observers, security personnel, etc.
For this category, the messages should be structured to build confidence, encouragement and assurance. The messages must be persuasive to achieve the desired results. If the message to this group is effective, there will be a dramatic change in the numbers, and the level of participation will be higher.
This group by far has the most complex of citizens and for those among them who are registered to vote, a lot of work needs to be done to get them out to vote. Civil society groups, international development organisations and INEC must work fast to ensure that a minimum of 80 percent of registered voters come out to vote in 2019.
The campaign ought to have started long ago.