Voting Apathy among the Nigerian Electorates in 2019 General Elections

ABSTRACT

Independent National Electoral Commission is constitutionally empowered to conduct a transparent election in Nigeria, but the seeming declining interest to participate on the electoral system by the electorates’ calls for questioning. This study therefore aims at establishing the causes of voting apathy among the Nigerian electorates. The study adopted both Survey Research Design and Secondary Sources of Data Collection as Method of information gathering, while Rational Choice Theory was chosen as the theoretical foundation. Findings revealed that poor political and voters education in congruence with low level of education, illiteracy, especially whereby majority of voters (about 50%) neglect to pick up their permanent voters cards; and could not be accredited to vote; that the nature of Nigerian politics is another factor since Nigeria politics is labelled politics of acrimony, bitterness; that since elected representatives fail to deliver on their campaign promises, that the electorates have lost trust in the government and finds it difficult to participate in the electoral process. The study recommends amongst others; the provision of security; ensuring and sustaining justice; and guaranteeing of liberty etc.

I.            INTRODUCTION

Voting apathy in recent times have become seemingly an innocuous issues in the democratic process in Nigeria. While the purpose of every government is to develop and implement policies for the benefit of its citizens, it is also the right and responsibility of the citizens to elect their leaders through the ballot. A nation’s political foundations are built on elections. [1] asserted that voting is a basic process that enables the citizens to choose their own leaders and their representatives in government which entails that voters have the capacity to influence the policies and programmes of a political party and the entire administrative system. In Nigeria, 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 elections even when they have been registered by the nations electoral body [2]. His or her vote and those of others, elects the representatives that form the government and govern the country. 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 the country just as the number of unclaimed voter cards keeps increasing.

[3] asserted that voter apathy seems to have emerged as a major problem in mature and emerging democracies, settled and volatile societies, large and thriving economics, as well as small and troubled ones, among youth, men/women and other marginalized groups as much as among mainstream dominant interest groups. Voter apathy could be measured by the percentage of registered voters and the turnout during the elections. In other words, the percentage of the registered voters who turn out to vote on election day, and the percentage of voting age population, registered or not registered, that cast their ballots on election day [4].

[5] articulated that every election cycle, the number of Nigerians who vote appears to have repeatedly shrunk in spite of the ever growing number of registered voters and this has been the pattern since 1999 when Nigeria returned to democratic rule. In his analysis, between the last election in 2015 and the 2019 election, over sixteen million (16.58) Nigerians according to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), became eligible to vote for the first time; yet preliminary figures of the number of people who took part in the 2019 elections showed a shrinking voter base such that collations by INEC in states such as Abia, Enugu, Ebonyi, Rivers and some others witnessed the lowest turnout, with less than thirty percent (30%) of their registered voters making the ballot. This in stark contrast to the 1999 general election where about seventy percent (70%) of all registered voters turned out to usher in Nigeria’s new democracy.

Attempts have been made to link the above to certain inhibiting factors on voter participation in electoral process in Nigeria. In this regard, [6] lamented that many people have lost trust and confidence in the government and their elected representatives since those elected to represent the people have always failed to deliver on the promises made to the electorate during campaigns. In her view, after they are elected and sworn into office, they turn demigods. This makes people lose confidence in them and as such manifests in voting

apathy recorded in almost every elections conducted in Nigeria [7], [8]. This is corroborated by [9] earlier position that politicians make series of promises during election campaigns; hence most of these promises are far from being fulfilled after they are voted into power. As a result of this, most voters lose interest in any political activities. Voter apathy experienced before, during and after the election could be expatiated on the basis of lack of trust/confidence in the government, fear of intimidation by hired thugs/security agents,  campaign crises, bad governance, election fraud/violence, poor political education, poverty and dearth of infrastructural development in the state, among others. These factors no doubt seem to have contributed to political manoeuvre during the election and as such made caricature of our nascent democracy.

The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) being the institution saddled with the electoral responsibilities of the country has been constantly knocked down on the grounds of low level of voter education to quell the menace of voter apathy in Nigeria’s electoral process. In this regard, [10] ascribed that poor political and voter’s education in congruence with low level of education, illiteracy in Nigeria has been a major bane on voter participation in democratic process in Nigeria. As such, the outcome of elections depicts high degree of voter apathy. He decried a situation whereby nearly fifty percent (50%) of registered voters neglected to pick up their PVC’s and therefore, could not be accredited to vote as a result of inadequate mobilization by INEC.

Statement of the Problem

It has become extremely worrisome that over the years, there seems to be significant decline in the rate of voter’s turnout during elections in Nigeria. Going through the analysis of official records obtained from INEC website, it revealed that 52.3% of the registered voters voted in the 1999 elections; the figure rose to 69.1% in 2003, then went down to 57.4% in 2011, 43.6% in 2015 and only a handful of 34.74% of the registered voters actually voted in the just concluded 2019 presidential elections (INEC, https://www.inecnigeria.org/all-about- 2019-generalelections). The News Agency of Nigeria, 2019 in the same vein reported that the 34.75% of voters in the 2019 general elections represents 26,614,190 electorates who cast their votes during elections and that 33.18% representing 27,324,583 of the 82,344,107 registered voters were valid votes that led to the final decision of INEC, hence the declaration of Muhammadu Buhari as President on the Presidential and National Assembly elections held on 23rd February 2019.

The above scenario presents a gloomy picture of voter participation and democracy in Nigeria especially when recourse is made to the fact that Nigeria’s population has been approximated to about two hundred million (200m) persons. Supposedly, the affairs of Nigeria state is supposed to be run by elected officials whom greater majority of the electorates elected, but the electorates feels disenchanted and allows of the affairs of the greater population to be decided by few inactive politicians.

Again, when very few people vote, the politicians elected do not represent the beliefs and values of the general population. Voter apathy is therefore been compared with a sort of political depression, where one feels helpless and unable to influence important events.

On the basis of this, this study investigates voter apathy and interrogates the role of INEC in improving voter participation in the national electoral process.

The specific objectives of the study are aimed at:

  1. To determine the factors responsible for voting apathy among the electorate in the 2019 general elections.
  2. To examine the effects of voting apathy among the electorates on the development of Nigeria’s democracy.
  3. To establish the role of INEC in reducing voting apathy among the electorates for democratic development in Nigeria.

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