2023 and voters’ apathy
The recently concluded governorship election in Osun State has once again brought to fore the issue of voters’ apathy in the country. According to reports, out of the over 1,955,657 registered voters in the state, only a little over 800,000 turned out on Election Day.
A similar scenario played out in the last Local Government election in Lagos State where not up to 18% of the total registered voters actually voted during the election.
In the 2019 Governorship election in Lagos State, Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu won by 739,445 votes. Whereas a total number of 6,570,291 voters registered for the election, the overall number of voters that took part in the poll was not up to a million.
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 and for the people.
The implication of the definition is that the people give impetus to democracy. In essence, you cannot have democracy without the people. The people set democracy in motion. However, in Nigeria, the people do not 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.
This dangerous trend must 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 do not 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 it a bit hypocritical for those who did not turn out to vote to criticize those who were elected through the same process that they shunned. As it is often said, ‘you cannot eat your cake and have it’.
Many factors are responsible for voters’ apathy in the country. Some are of the view that their votes do not really count. They believe, either rightly or wrongly, that the outcome of most elections are pre-determined.
In addition, some believe that the electoral process is replete with violence, while some consider the political class undeserving of their time 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 does not really do much to deserve anyone’s trouble.
However, irrespective of the validity of the reasons, as highlighted above, it is counterproductive for the people to shun polls in a democracy. Some people gave their lives for the democracy that we enjoy today. It is, therefore, a great injustice to their memories, if this culture of voters’ apathy continues.
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. In addition, to give credibility to the electoral process, the practice of turning elections into a ‘do or die’ affair should be discouraged.
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 does not 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 does not 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 Deputy Director, Public Affairs, Ministry of Information & Strategy, Alausa, Ikeja, Lagos.