The last 20 years have witnessed an increase in the number of registered voters in Nigeria but the number of people who actually participate in voting continues to decline in every election circle, EMAMEH GABRIEL reports
While the purpose of every government is to develop and implement various policies for the benefit of its citizens, it is also the right and responsibility of the citizen to elect their leaders through the ballot.
In countries where the right to vote is still limited to certain level, it is hard to set themselves on the path of progress. Such countries may have to face widespread discontent among the people as a total lack of transparency and public faith in the policies and activities of the government.
A nation’s political foundations are built on elections. Voting is a basic process that enables the citizens to choose their own leaders and their representatives in the government.
What this entails is that voters have the capacity to influence the policies and programmes of a political party.
In Nigeria for instance where every adult is given the right to vote, irrespective of sex, class, occupation, statistics in the last two decades have however shown that many people do not participate in election even when they have been registered by the nation’s electoral body.
It has also been observed that despite the increased rate of voters registration owing to the rise in population and political awareness, the rate of voting in Nigeria continue to drop in every election conducted in some parts of the country even as the number of unclaimed voter cards keeps increasing.
It is against this backdrop that former Military Head of State, Abdulsalam Abubakar recently in Jos at the National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies, Kuru, during the 2018 Distinguished Annual Lecture for Senior Executive Course 40 participants, called on Nigerians to take their destiny in their hands by going out in their numbers to vote out bad leaders.
He said, “Every citizen has a duty. You must not sell your vote. You must register to vote. Stop criticising the failures of government, go and vote them out if you think those voted are not doing their job.
“We must all try to work on our nationhood through constitutional and policy framework. It is only in this way that we can ignite responsible leadership for the country. It is through this approach that we can truly build national institutions that will enthrone justice and equity.”
According to regional statistics of registered voters recently released by the Independence National Electoral Commission (INEC) in September after the conclusion of the continue voters registration, registered voter population hit 84, 004,084 as against 69,720,350 in 2015, a difference with 14,283,734.
Recently, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in Adamawa state said it has 288,043 unclaimed Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs).
Kasim Gaidam, the electoral commissioner in the state, had disclosed this at a news conference in Yola, while expressing concern over the development, attributing it to lack of proper voter education and enlightenment.
Also recently, a Senate Committee uncovers 400,000 PVCs unclaimed in Rivers. Sen. Suleiman Nazif, Chairman, Senate Committee on INEC, made this known to newsmen after an oversight function of the committee in Port Harcourt.
In Akwa Ibom State too, INEC official had in October disclosed that there were 171, 163 PVCs unclaimed. The INEC Administrative Secretary in the state, Mr Lebari Nduh made the disclosure in an interview in Uyo.
In Benue, there are 400,000 unclaimed PVCs according the Independent National Electoral Commission. The Resident Electoral Commissioner, Benue State, Mr Nentawe Yilwatda, made the disclosure at Walimayo Ward, one of the largest wards in the state, with over 12,000 uncollected PVCs.
Delta State is no different from other states across the country with 265,422 unclaimed PVCs. Rose Orianran-Anthony, Delta State INEC Administrative Secretary, disclosed the figures during the electoral body’s consultative meeting with political parties in Asaba, the Delta State capital.
In Nasarawa, as at November, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in the state disclosed that 238,309 eligible voters in the state had yet to collect their Permanent Voter Cards for the 2019 general elections.
The Resident Electoral Commissioner, Dr Uthman Ajidagba, said that the 238,309 were among the 1,436,768 registered voters in the state.
In Anambra State 150,000 and Ebonyi State 100,000 still unclaimed PVCs that add up to thousands of uncollected PVCs across states in the country.
The inference of the figures taken from few states would leave many wondering why most Nigerians consistently complain and criticise government policies with little or no effort to vote credible political representatives.
From February 1999 Presidential Election to the last presidential election in 2015, there has been sharp decline in the turn-out of voters during election. For instance, in 1999 there were 57 million registered voters out of which only 30 million, which made 52.3% of voters’ turnout.
In 2003 Presidential Election, registered voters increase to over 60 million with only 42 million (69 %) voters’ turnout recorded.
In 2007, there was a sharp decline in the number of registered voters as INEC recorded less than a million new registered voters (61,567036) which was almost the same figure recorded in 2003. Although there were conflicting figures about the turnout of voters in the 2007 presidential election due to reported massive rigging that even the winner, late Umaru Yar’Adua, confirmed, the turned of voters was controversially pegged at 58%, which again recorded another decline in voters participation.
In the 2011 Presidential Election, INEC registered a total of 73.5 million voters with only 39.4 (53.7%) voters turnout recorded.
In 2015, INEC had 67.4 million registered voters with only 43.6% turnout as only 29.4 million votes were recorded in the election. 2015 recorded the lowest in registered voters and voters’ turnout in the country’s presidential election since 1999.
In 2018 gubernatorial election in Ekiti State, INEC disclosed that 909,585 people registered to vote in the election, representing the addition of 174,580 (24%) people to the Ekiti voters register, compared to the number of registered voters in the 2014 governorship election and the 2015 presidential election.
From the record, it appeared then that people are increasingly eager to take part in voting the candidate of their choice, however despite this, a twin challenge still persist even till today.
On one hand, only 73 per cent of registered voters picked their permanent voters card (PVC), while on the other hand, only 45 per cent of registered voters turned out for the election. Although voter registration climbed by 24 per cent from 2014, the percentage of registered voters that turned out to be accredited fell from 50 per cent in 2014 (732, 166) to 45 per cent in 2018 where 909,585 were registered with only 405,861 participated in the election.
In 2014, the total number of PVCs collected, according to INEC before the gubernatorial election in the state was 1,246,915 out of 1,407,222 registered voters out of which only 696,129 (less than 50%) voted with 711,093 which counted for over 50 per cent of collected PVCs.
Why would people who took the pain to register to participate in elections refuse to pick their voter’s card and those who pick theirs will not vote?
Some have attributed it to challenge around registration and the process of PVC collection while others have their own stories to tell.
Hauwa Usman, 31, a registered voter from Edo State told LEADERSHIP Weekend that said she has never voted in her entire life but plan to do so in subsequent elections. Asked why she has not been voting, she said her ‘‘one vote can’t change anything’’.
‘‘What is my vote going to change when nothing has changed despite several elections in the past?,” she asked.
‘‘I am yet to register not because I don’t want to but because of the process one has to go through during registration and collection of PVC’’, Lekan Omoshebi, told our correspondent.
‘‘How can I go and line up in the sun for people who care less about me when I have my business to take care of? I pity most Nigerians when I see them fighting to register for their voter cards.”
On his part, Otaru Emmanuel who claimed to be a registered voter said he only registered because he wanted a PVC for official identification since he has not been able to obtain a driver licence.
According to him, ‘‘I only registered lately in the recent continue voters’ registration exercise just to get a voter card because I need it for bank transaction and as a means of identification. I don’t have drivers licence and national identity card, so I use my PVC as an alternative for now.”
‘‘I have voted just once in my entire life and then I was not even eligible to vote’’, Tochukwu Emeni, told LEADERSHIP Weekend.
‘‘I could recall when we were playing football in the field during one of the elections and my uncle sent someone to come take us to the field. They asked us to deep our thump in ink and press on ballot papers. I was happy then but haven grown up to understand how criminal politicians could be, I decided to stay away from anything that has to do with voting.”
But how then do you want to make a change without participating in election to usher in better representatives? Tochukwu retorted, “The best way is to send all Nigerian politicians to the gallows.”
While others have their peculiar reasons for not voting, Ejiro Pedro, said she trades her vote for money and when there is no one who would be buyer, she stays at home.
Ejiro who speak with LEADERSHIP Weekend in pidgin English said: ‘‘make them give me money first before I will come out come vote. Na all these big men dey chop we money, so me too wan eat part of our national cake. No be so them dey call am now? Na national cake na! Money for hand, vote for box’’.
It is the same stroke for different folks here as Abdulai Idris said he is interested only in money for vote.
‘‘Oga make I tell you. You wey dey come ask us this question, swear say u no dey chop government money? You go school, me I no go and my power now to collect something from government people na my voter card’’.
Abdulai, 35, said he has suffered so much in life and has lost confidence in politicians and has no reason to vote except he is paid to do so, adding that the card reader has spoilt there business of ballot box snatching that use to be lucrative for youths during elections in the past.
‘‘I can’t go and stay in the queue for the whole of the day because I want to vote someone who does not know whether I exit,” said Faith Omoye, 40 and mother of three.
‘‘I have a voter card and so is my husband but I don’t vote even though my husband does. He has tried convincing and even in one occasion in 2015, forced me to go out to vote but I refused. It is my right to vote or not to’’
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