Two weeks ago, the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, Prof. Attahiru Jega, in his presentation to the council of states, revealed the percentages of permanent voter cards, PVC, collection in the respective states. A look at the percentage of Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs) that have been collected according to Mr. Jega’s presentation shows an indifference on the part of Nigerians towards the now postponed general elections.
Mr. Jega’s presentation indicated that 3,190,417 voters had collected their PVCs out of the 4,975,701 registered voters in Kano State. In Kaduna State, 2,976,628 voters, representing 87.36 per cent, have collected their cards out of 3,407,222 registered voters. In Lagos State, 2,267,039 voters have collected their PVCs out of 5,905,852 registered voters. In Katsina State, it is 2,245,303 voters out of 2,827,943 registered voters. In Delta State, over 700,000 PVCs are yet to be collected. These cards belong to people that registered during the exercise conducted last year. In Enugu State, only 25,914 people have collected their cards in Nsukka, out of the 41,954 that registered to vote in that, the second most important city in that state. Turnout, in that part of the country, has been poor. Bayelsa State has the least number of voters with PVCs. In that state, 386,125 voters have collected their cards out of 610,373 registered voters.
While we acknowledge that there have been problems in the process of distributing PVCs, we cannot fail to observe that this unfortunate development points to an increasing indifference, on the part of the Nigerian electorate, an indifference which has been attributed to several factors such as difficulty in collecting PVCs, an increasing likelihood of violence during the elections, and the migration of people, many displaced by insecurity caused mainly by the Boko Haram crisis.
But, the fact remains that voter apathy has been a recurring theme since Nigeria started her current, democratic experiment in 1999. During the 2011 general elections, only 35 percent of the over 70 million registered voters participated in the elections. According to INEC, millions of PVCs were abandoned in its offices nationwide despite various sensitisation campaigns made to encourage people to participate in the democratic process. It appears that this ugly scenario is repeating itself in 2015.
The question then needs to be asked: for how long do we intend, as a people to experiment with democracy? Democracy is incomplete without the participation of the majority of the people. You cannot have credible elections without a majority of the eligible voters participating in the process.
While inaugurating the National Inter-Agency Advisory Committee on Voter Education and Publicity (NICVEP), which was established to ensure proper coordination and monitoring of voter education nation wide and to ensure participation of marginalised groups, Mr. Jega, had linked the difficulties in conducting elections in Nigeria to the attitude of both the electorate and political class adding that the low level of awareness by citizens was a major reason for voter apathy.
NICVEP was established to educate people, and enlighten them not only about the specifics and mechanisms of the electoral process but to also inform and empower them on their rights and responsibilities in the electoral process. The committee was one of the several events listed in the commission’s Strategic Plan of 2012-2016 to ensure free, fair, credible and acceptable elections in 2015. The jury is out on how effective this committee has been, but we make bold to say that on the evidence of what we are seeing, it has not been effective.
The time has come for all those involved, INEC, the political parties, the media and NGOs at all levels – to come together and invest significantly in voter education. It cannot wait any longer.