Such government, upon election, should immediately make it a focal point to identify the factors that necessitated the apathy, and find a cure for them. A failure to do this could cause a section of the citizenry to believe that voter apathy is a deliberate policy being encouraged by government.
The most disturbing part of this saga is the stark nakedness of INEC’s assumption of pretentious ignorance. INEC has persistently sought refuge in a manufactured state of helplessness. I say “manufactured” because INEC is equipped with the wherewithal to address these situations but has (maybe deliberately) failed in this regard. I say so because of the lamentations that I hear from the commission regularly, most recent of which was that of Thursday, January 23, 2020. I am aware that INEC has organised voter apathy-focused symposia, eith experts identifing the causes and proffering solutions. Despite all these, INEC has been unable to arrest this insalubrious development. Some would argue complicity on the part of INEC officials, but I see it as lack of focus and prioritisation. The huge sum INEC received in the name of budgetary allocation becomes unjustifiable in the face of the continuous apathy. To me, INEC is not helpless; INEC, in this regard, has woefully failed Nigerians.
At this juncture, it is necessary for me to identify and briefly discuss some of the causes of voter apathy that I have identified. Some of these are: thuggery and violence during elections; votes not counting towards determining the actual winner; political parties sponsoring candidates who lost primary elections and the failure of the electoral body to disqualify this unqualified nominees; complexity in the procurement of voter’s card; difficult location of centres; loss of faith in the system; lack of democratic dividends; misuse of the military and other security apparatus to influence election results; inadequate voter education on voting procedure; money politics and godfatherism.
Complex voter registration process: As noted above, statistically, about 30 per cent of persons eligible to register to vote in Nigeria did not. This is further attributable to the unfriendly voter registration process. It is an acknowledged fact that the process of obtaining a voter’s card in Nigeria is more arduous than a camel passing through the eye of a needle. To register, one would have to surrender a whole day or more to the process. Even when one gets permission from work to register to vote, one would discover that 24 hours is not enough to register (except you are willing to oil the wheels). The fact that registration of voters has not been simplified means not every eligible person would be able to register. Those that are discouraged by the complex registration process would not register. Those that do not register to vote cannot vote. Therefore, it is imperative that INEC makes it easy and friendly for eligible persons to obtain the voter’s card. To the best of my knowledge and in consultation with some information technology experts, online registration, as well as postal registration as done in other climes, is no rocket science and there is nothing bad in working towards this. Although there may seem to be a limitation to online registration and voting in Nigeria. While this may be possible in the urban areas and other areas covered by GSM networks, it might be impossible to achieve the same in many areas not covered by GSM networks and considering that the Internet is necessary for online registration and voting, it is certain that a substantial part of the Nigerian population may not be able to get registered or vote online, and manual registration and voting may be the only means in those areas. This reasoning arose from the perspective that the INEC chairman, Professor Mahmood Yakubu, stated during the last general election that the reason the electoral umpire could not adopt online publication of results from the polling units during the said elections was that about 35 per cent of Nigerian villages were not covered by telecommunications hence limiting the chances of success of adopting this method as a check on electoral manipulation. However, in line with my earlier writeup, this is no reason not to adopt the technology. All that it requires is to maintain the manual back-up, which would then be a matter of choice where technology is available, or alternative where there is inapplicability of technology.
Violence associated with elections: The electorate attach primal value to their lives and assets, which is understandable. In a clime like ours, where our elections are characterised by naked violence and undisguised display of thuggery, any person that places value on his or her life would reasonably take all steps to avoid the violence associated with elections. The best way to avoid this is by not participating in the elections. It is common knowledge that election periods are jackpot seasons for thugs and hooligans who are willing tools in the hands of politicians. The primary victims are the electorate. Every election cycle, the violence worsens, therefore, more people stay away. Another discouraging form of violence is pre-election violence. Before the election day, political thugs invade the houses of perceived political opponents and unleash unimaginable violence. The unresolved murder of the Ife Five in 2011 and many other politically-motivated killings have been cited as reasons for voter apathy in Nigeria. According to the Premium Times of July 30, 2019, an estimated 626 persons were killed across Nigeria between October 2018 and March 2019, that is, in the six months between the start of the election campaign and the commencement of the general and supplementary elections. When the electorate stay away from voting centres, politicians and their thugs, cronies and collaborators have a field day. From this perspective alone, 35 per cent turnout would be considered impressive. Voter apathy is, therefore, a direct by-product of political strategy seemingly deployed by political office-seekers in terms of perpetration of violence. If the state and the organisers of the elections are able to reduce electoral violence to the barest minimum, rest assured that voter apathy would be, consequentially, reduced to the barest minimum. I am not too sure that the country is not ripe for electronic voting. I have agitated this in one of my writeups in this column of September 26, 2019, “Leadership, legitimacy and electoral process (Part 1)” https://www.sunnewsonline.com/leadership-legitimacy-and-electoral-process-1. Postal voting is an additional mechanism that can be deployed to avoid violence characterising electoral process in Nigeria and, by extension, engendering voter apathy.
Votes not counting: Another major factor responsible for voter apathy is lack of assurance that votes cast would count. In the first instance, in the Nigerian polity, the belief and, possibly, conviction of many is that when you have successfully performed your civic duty of casting your vote for a candidate of your choice, it does not mean that your vote would carry any weight at all. Many sub-factors are responsible for this. In a situation where the supporters of a particular candidate perceive that their candidate is not likely to win in that unit, they could resort to ballot box snatching and destruction of votes already cast. Where voting has been concluded, they could also disrupt the counting and computation process. Another tactic is to waylay the election officials conveying the result and electoral materials to the ward collation centre and forcefully deprive them of the results and other relevant electoral materials. With the above is falsification and alteration of election results through various forms of manipulation. The rampant and unchecked nature of all these sub-factors and many more coalesce towards discouraging the eligible voters from participating in the voting process. Equally notable is the perceived role of the judiciary in ensuring that votes do not count.