Over the last decade, participation in democracies around the world has remained at an all time low. Many countries report that voter participation in general elections have stagnated at 50%, even in first world countries where there are fewer barriers to voting. But to understand this phenomenon we must understand that voting is one aspect of a powerful democracy; we must also focus on gender inclusion, press freedom, economic dis-empowerment.
What are the external influences that have led to this global decline and how can we use the data and the trends to inspire tangible change. These are the questions governance, communications and consulting firm Statecraft Inc. sought to answer at their inaugural round-table created in partnership with The Future Project to commemorate today’s International day of Democracy.
To help discuss this very complex topic, Shona Olalere and Khadijah Bello of Statecraft Inc. sat with an impressive panel of guests to help provide insight and data-driven solutions. International development strategist Dayo Israel, Paul Anare who is the director of the Model United Nations Academy, Ibijoke Faborode director of TSCN Africa and advocate for Women In Leadership and Segun ‘Segalink’ Awosanya a human rights activist best known for the #EndSARS campaign all drew from their extensive background in politics, activism and governance to enrich the discussion.
They began the Statecraft round-table by discussing the power of an independent electorate. Nigeria’s electorate has been largely impotent in changing governments or holding them accountable after they are elected. There are a myriad of reasons for this but primarily poverty, corruption and ethnic sentiments have fractured the electorate and undermined their autonomy. After a unanimous agreement that Nigeria’s electorate has no autonomy, Segalink offered as an explanation for the lack of interest as thus ” When we have an agglomeration of people who are either influenced or coerced in a specific way to create a specific result, often leads to disaster”.
This sentence rings true when you consider the events of the 2019 elections and accusation against certain governors and their mentors of bulk bribing voters to favour one political party over the other. All conceded that because of the poor management of the educational system or incentives provided for young people to embrace their civic duties. The group was quite to agree that what passes for education in Nigeria is thinly veiled indoctrination. Paul Anare explains: ‘What passes for education is actually indoctrination. And before we can truly press forward, we must shift from indoctrination to enlightenment’.
Civic education is the groundwork of any progressive community. Helping students understand the founding tenets of democracy, the process through which citizens are voted into office, ensuring that politicians have sufficient checks and balances to ensure that every young Nigerian who passes through the education system is autonomous, both in thought and action. Quality education lifts generations out of poverty and until the country has a vibrant middle-class with incentive to hold the government accountable, the fight to move the electorate from a position of indoctrination to one of enlightenment will continue to be a struggle.
Dayo Israel crystallizes this sentiment best this way: “We must raise a generation of people who are easy to govern, difficult to rule, and impossible to enslave.”
The panel segued into the inclusion of women in politics. There is a disproportionate number of men in Nigerian politics and positions of influence, often at the detriment of women who want to participate in politics and represent their constituencies. But to truly understand how gender influences politics, we must understand our history. As Anare explains, it there have always been powerful women who either had political power or had significant influence that they eventually influenced elections. But among average Nigerians, the influence of these women doesn’t translate to support from female voters, who often leave women high and dry because of long term patriarchy. From the party level to the grassroots level, the odds are stacked against them.
Culture is also a strong catalyst for how Nigerian politics operate. A long history of respect and fear of ‘leaders’, a culture that forbids curiosity and questioning makes a docile electorate, eager to make influences for leaders. To change this, we must learn to show more than we tell. Segalink explains that only a persons deeds should be used to gauge their success as a leader. But we must all be accountable to ourselves and our constituents.
There is much work to get through, but with firebrands like these on the Statecraft Inc. Democracy panel, we have a shot at changing our nation.
Watch the full video here.