Nigeria desperately needs the current generation to champion the cause of promoting oneness, togetherness, nation building and chart a path that leads to the development of a country that works for all. The admission of the failures and ugly history of the past fueled by self-servicing interest is a starting point for the realisation of a new Nigeria. Nigeria has a long history of political apathy, thanks to the common falsehood of “votes don’t count”. Since the return of civilian rule in 1999, the average voter participation has never exceeded 50% of the total registered voters (and total population), which makes a mockery of majority rule which informs the opinion that if half of the youth population actively take part in elections, they are most likely to have a huge say in the election’s outcome. Young people have an important role to play by taking part in the electioneering process.
Participation of youths in politics
The involvement of our youths in the affairs of our Nation is long overdue. Their participation in the political exercise is not negotiable… the blind among them can see clearly now, the deaf among them can hear loudly about the various pains being decried in the whole Nation… I can say the Youths are more than never before are ready… the mobilisation has started, the orientation has started, the needed energy is available, the needed vigour to face rigour is summoned… the strategy, will power and all the youths required to change the narratives are gradually taking shape. Freedom can’t be won by mere folding of hands. There must be a deliberate and well calculated step to achieve this… it’s not everything one will have to say on air but then it’s necessary to prevent youths from being mere spectators in the political processes that will bring in to power those who will govern us for the next 4 or 8 years as the case may be… Analogy of a loaf of bread and key to freedom… this has been our predicament (no more… Young people are now aware that the key is important than the bread…
Numerical strength of youths
The youths have what it takes to cure the epileptic state/situation of our political system. With over 60% of the population comprising people between the age group of 18-35, according to the National Youth Policy, young people have a demographic advantage over every other age group. Young people must lead the rebuilding project by uniting the nation on all fronts, devoid of ethnic or religious sentiment. The awareness and the decision to vote for the right candidate for any elective office is paramount among our goals more than collection of Permanent Voters’ Card (PVC). Bishop Godfrey Onah of Nsukka admonished those struggling to obtain their PVCs to ensure they get them and be patient, saying further that it’s better to suffer for 8 hours waiting to get registered than to suffer for another 8 years of misgovernance. The political arena has been turned to games village. If they are going to champion a change, they must be there all along the way
The definition of democracy that is most universally acceptable is one that refers to it as government of the people, by the people, and for the people. The implication of this term is that democracy is propelled by the people. In essence, democracy is impossible to achieve without the participation of the people. The people are the ones who set democracy in action. The people are the oil that keeps the wheel of democracy turning. However, there is currently a troubling trend in Nigeria in terms of upholding democracy. This refers to the current state of affairs in the country in terms of voter apathy. The word ‘apathy,’ which has Greek origins, simply means ‘without feelings.’ According to Victor Hugo, French novelist, ‘the apathetic are alive but without feelings, so they are not living. They are the living dead’. Therefore, in line with Hugo’s thought, voters’ apathy simply refers to the insensitivity of the people towards the electoral press, particularly voting. A recent statistics from the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, aptly captures the existing trend in voters’ apathy in the country. According to the data, only about 35% of the over 70 million 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 partake in the process that determined the election of the present crop of leaders across the country. This is not good enough. This is a dangerous trend that must essentially be a source of serious concern to all genuine stakeholders in the polity.
Implications of political apathy
This growing trend has grievous implications on the prospect of democracy in the country. For one, it ensures that leaders who attain political power via the votes of the minority rule over the majority. Second, because they don’t 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 elected political leaders unaccountable to the people since they did not, in the real sense, derive their coming to power from the majority of registered voters. Also, it makes it a bit hypocritical for those who did not turn out to vote to criticise those who were elected through the same process that they shunned. As it is often said, ‘you cannot eat your cake and have it’
Reasons for voters’ apathy
There are lots of factors responsible for the heightened status of voters’ apathy in the country. For one, those who shun the polls readily inform you that their votes would not count. There is this pre-conceived notion among Nigerians that the outcome of most elections in the country are pre-determined. Consequently, they believe that it is not worth taking part in a process that is fraught with deception. Also, most Nigerians hold the view that the electoral process in the country is replete with violence. Those with this opinion point to the high number of people that have died through the political process. Similarly, many consider the political class undeserving of their votes because of their perceived insincerity to electoral promises. The failure of the political parties to embrace internal democracy is equally accountable for the prevalence of voters’ apathy in the country. The culture of imposing candidates without popular appeal on the people is one that most Nigerians do not approve of and this is reflected in their shunning the ballot. However, irrespective of the genuineness of the reasons, as highlighted here, it is counterproductive for the people to shun elections. Some people gave their lives for us to enjoy the democracy that we have today. It is, therefore, a great injustice to their memories, if this culture of voters’ apathy continues. It is important to understand and appreciate that we did not get the present democracy on a platter of gold. We need to respect the supreme sacrifices paid by some patriots who laid down their lives for us to enjoy this participatory democracy. This can only be demonstrated through our unconditional commitment to the political process. In any case, when the majority refuse to participate in voting, that does not in any way invalidate the outcome of elections. Sadly, we all suffer the consequences of staying aloof when the wrong people get into elected political offices. If democracy is to truly be the government of the people by the people and for the people, as it has been famously, and rightly so, referred, then 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.
Overcoming the apathy; the strategies
To lure the people back to the polls, firstly, INEC, Political parties, the civil society, the media 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. Secondly, Seamlessness of the process must be ensured. Given the hardship in the country, with citizen having to financially sort their existential needs, they may not indulge in electoral processes that are difficult. INEC, Political parties, the civil society and other stakeholders can help with mobilising more manpower to more locations to reduce the waiting time on long queues. 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 the involvement of the majority of the people in the democratic process. We are making every effort to instill in the heart of every youth to vote/choose right, not to be fascinated by anything material… I wish to say what lie ahead of us all may be huge, deep and tough but the well meaning youths are unwavering to see a Nigeria that we all desire emerged…However, leadership is not a position, it’s a Moment. As the beacons of hope, we all are challenged to lead. Will you be happy to lead on the frontline?
• Rev. Fr. Gabriel Odunaiya, a priest of the Archdiocese of Lagos is the National Chaplain of Catholic Youths Organisation of Nigeria (CYON).