TWENTY-FOUR years into the Fourth Republic, democracy is becoming less participatory, excluding more and more citizens. This harsh reality is highly disturbing. The receding inclusivity is evinced in the latest progress report on the 2023 general elections that nearly seven million registrants had not collected their permanent voter cards as of the first week of 2023. Through these years, Nigerian politicians have messed up the country through their incompetence and self-centredness, so Nigerians need to collectively reverse this and make democracy flourish through their massive participation.
About 6.7 million PVCs were uncollected across 17 states and the Federal Capital Territory as of January 4, a report in The PUNCH stated. With less than 45 days before the presidential/National Assembly ballots on February 25, this is a huge figure. As of December 29, an estimated 1,693,963 PVCs remained uncollected in Lagos State. PVC collection is suffering a similar fate in other states.
In political language, this is self-disenfranchisement. The Independent National Electoral Commission opened the window of collection on December 12; it will close on January 22. As INEC has repeatedly stated, any registrant without a PVC will not be able to vote in the 2023 polls, as only the bimodal voter accreditation system will be used.
For 2023, the umpire’s register contains 93.4 million names, up from the 82.3 million in 2019. Many did not collect their PVCs then. The outcome was that just 28.6 million or 35 per cent voted in the 2019 presidential election. That percentage meant the winner was not truly representative of the whole.
Apart from Zimbabwe’s 1996 presidential ballot that recorded a voter turnout of 32.3 per cent, this is the second lowest in recent elections in Africa. This trend tainted the recent off-season NASS and governorship elections. Among others, the Lagos East senatorial election scored a turnout of 10 per cent in 2020.
Democracy without popular participation was also at play in the governorship ballot in Edo State in 2020, recording a turnout of 24.22 per cent; the Ondo governorship polls (2020) had 31.6 per cent voter turnout; Anambra in November 2021 recorded 10.38 per cent; Ekiti State in June 2022 had 36.5 per cent; and Osun State in July 2022 recorded 42.16 per cent. Plainly, Nigerians are not voting.
In comparison, the highest six African countries by voter turnout from their most recent polls are Rwanda – 98.2 per cent, Equatorial Guinea — 92.7 per cent, Angola — 90.4 per cent, Seychelles — 90.1 per cent, Guinea Bissau — 89.3 per cent, and Zimbabwe — 86.8 per cent. At 53.8 per cent, voter turnout has been increasing since the 2012 presidential ballot in the United States. It was 54.8 per cent in 2016 and 66.8 per cent in 2020, the US Census Bureau says. In the United Kingdom, 67.3 per cent voted in the 2019 general election.
In Nigeria, participation is diminishing primarily because democracy seems not to be working for the majority. Two, it is cumbersome to register and collect PVCs. And three, pre- and post-election violence dissuade voters.
In this, the few public office holders and their cohorts bask in obscene affluence and impunity. Many cite inconveniences associated with registering to vote or collect their PVCs. The majority live in penury, as shown by the 133 million persons living in poverty.
Violence claimed 626 lives in the six months to the 2019 general elections, the Nigeria Civil Society Situation Room said. The massive queues to register; slow data capture; gunmen attacks on registration/collection points; and the time lag between registration and collection are causal factors that cannot be wished away. Between registration and collection of printed PVCs, the time gap is huge.
Really, Nigerian politicians are charlatans; they are after only their own narrow interests. At this juncture of national life, Nigerians should not be disheartened and leave democracy to the politicians because without the PVC, they cannot vote.
INEC, the National Orientation Agency, the civil society, and other stakeholders must devise methodology to incentivise Nigerians to collect their PVCs before the deadline. Elsewhere, political parties are in the forefront of mobilising voters. In Nigeria, political parties buy up PVCs to disenfranchise voters in areas where the opposition appears stronger.
The standard excuse is that in Nigeria, votes do not count. According to INEC, votes will count in 2023. Nigerians must give the commission a benefit of the doubt. Backed by the Electoral Act 2022, it has declared that BVAS, and the electronic transmission of results from the polling unit to the INEC Result Viewing portal as the cure for the rigging that rendered past election results dubious and open to lengthy litigation. Independent monitors acknowledged the credibility of BVAS in the off-season governorship election last July in Osun State.
INEC must intensify this and other technologies before the first set of polls in February, and citizens should turn out massively to collect their PVCs and vote. The youth, who are active on the social media, blaming the leadership for the woes of the country, should realise that they can only express their anger by voting. The social media is no more than a channel to voice frustration, but votes count at the ballot box.
Nigerians should be aware that there is no such thing as a wasted vote in democracy. Even a single vote for any of the 18 presidential candidates makes a poignant statement about choice. It reinforces the tenet of democracy that the winner must consider the interests of the minority.
Elections are held in other places with minimal disruptions. Therefore, the police must take charge of security in and around polling stations before, during and after the polls. There is no point in deploying thousands of security agents for election duty and violence will still occur to turn voters away on Election Day.
The President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), should fulfil his promise to bequeath a clean, credible election to Nigerians by supporting the electoral process with a strong security system.