It was revealed in a report about Nigeria’s election budget published by Premium Times last November, that despite the increase in the election budget every cycle, voter turnout and electoral participation has consistently declined.
Using data from the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, since the dawn of democracy in 1999, there has been a consecutive decline in election turnout, although turnout increased from 52 per cent to 69 per cent between the 1999 and 2003 elections.
As a matter of fact, after the 2003 presidential election, participation in subsequent elections has continued to decline, first to 57 per cent in 2007, then to 54 per cent in 2011, before dropping to 44 per cent in 2015.
The reason for this development especially post 2003 cannot be divorced from the fact that the after four years of a return to democracy, the mindless electoral fraud and violence that characterized the 2003 elections was enough to turn people off and kill whatever hopes they might have had about the country, as well as whatever faith in the electoral system that may have existed.
Even more gloomy, less than four people determined who won in 2019 for every ten eligible voters, the lowest presidential election turnout Nigeria has recorded since independence.
According to SBM Intelligence, Nigeria in 2019 had the lowest voter turnout in its presidential elections in Africa compared to the most recent elections held in other countries.
SBM’s post election report revealed that there is a clear pattern of a growing distrust for INEC which symbolizes the electoral process. The pattern seen in perception of INEC by age is shown in the perception of fairness of security agencies during the 2019 general elections.
The youngest voters have the lowest percentage of positive perception of the security agencies, at 51%, followed by the oldest voters above 40, at 60%. Concomitantly, the pattern for employment status is also the same for both INEC and Security agencies, with security agencies being marginally better in perception.
Among all the findings, the most damning is that during the survey, the researchers found that across board for all questions asked during the survey, the youngest respondents (ages 18 to 22) showed the most apathy to the electoral process, turning in the lowest positive responses for all questions asked.
In places that are real–which Nigeria has no claims or pretensions to–policy makers and politicians alike would be troubled by this reality. We are steady losing our young people, not only to vices such as hard drugs and terrorism, but to voter apathy.
It does not help that in Africa’s largest democracy, less than four in ten people determine who becomes president. Such reality calls into question the legitimacy of our elected officials. It appears that governance by consensus does not seem to be the preoccupation of the political elites. The effect of this is that when policies are enacted, in spite of its seeming good, it is greeted with suspicion, deep distrust and subjected to greater scrutiny especially from the larger section of the public which very much brings it into conflict with the few that may have granted legitimacy to the ruling government through the ballots. It does not help that the 97/5% dichotomy speech made by President Buhari in 2015 further solidifies the disdain for legitimacy and the disregard for inclusive governance.
It is on this same ground of disdain for legitimacy that Lauretta Onochie, an aide to President Muhammadu Buhari has been put forward to become an INEC commissioner and being screened by the National Assembly despite objections from civil society groups and the opposition. The essential disregard for not only the constitution, but the democratic process is tingling, further evidence of the growing disconnect between the strong men and strong institutions, in which case it has shown that the strong man has strong armed the strong institutions. Lauretta Onochie’s sin is not so much the fact that she’s an aide to the president as much as it is that she is a registered member of the ruling All Progressives Congress, a claim which she had refuted in saying that she left the party after the 2019 general elections.
The basis of the corruption of state and the misappropriation of its functions was set when ministers used their ministry’s social media handles to tweet about party activities and attack political opponents. It was a precedent that previous administrations never even dared to set. It wholesome capitulation of the Nigerian state and its sectors such as the economy and the media to dictatorial policies of the Buhari administration, in so many ways than one, is being exemplified by the willingness of the leadership of the National Assembly to even consider the nomination of an openly partisan hack as a commissioner in the Independent National Electoral Commission, which by constitutional standards is supposed to be the least partisan institution in the country.
This further solidifies the anger of young people and fortifies the argument that elections do not change things. Young people who watch these ugly developments are armed with ample reasons to lower their trust in the electoral system. A lesson for political elites in all of these is that actions have consequences. Their inability to see beyond the tip of their noses and not only implement sensible electoral reforms, but also respect democracy is not serving to undermine their credibility in the future, it is undermining it now, the glaring effect in which the trust that the state and its institutions are supposed to take, is being given to leaders of pro secessionist movements of which guns and bullets have only served to harden two times over.