“In 2014, the Commission in collaboration with youth organizations conceptualized the idea of identifying from the entertainment industry, the media and outstanding youth influencers, while commissioning them as voter education youth ambassadors”. -Professor Mahmood Yakubu, INEC Chairman (at an INEC Interactive Session/Dinner with INEC Youth Ambassadors/Celebrities held in Lagos in December, 2018)
If there is one politically challenging moment in Nigeria’s chequered history that calls for the widespread dissemination of what it takes for the eligible voters to present themselves to vote for candidates of their choice, under a rancour-free, peaceful atmosphere, it has to be now.
Indeed, more than ever before, members of the electorate should be unshackled from the asphyxiating influences of the political-jobbers, hinged on the base sentiments of religious persuasion and ethnic emotions, as well as intimidation by the desperate, power-poaching, money bags. The reasons for this clarion call are salient and becoming more obvious by the day.
For instance, come 2023 presidential elections, Nigerian voters will be faced with the hard choices to make amongst the candidates with different political pedigrees to count on. And that begins with the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), and that of the main opposition, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) coming from the Northern-Fulani axis, that would have been in power for some eight years by May 2023; and the fast-expanding Labour Party (LP), preparing to turn the apple cart and change the political equation with a candidate hailing from the South-Eastern, Ibo-dominated geo-political zone. That is the part of the country that concerned citizens feel has been unjustifiably marginalized out of the presidential relevance for decades. Yet, still coming into the effervescent political fray is the New Nigerian People’s Party (NNPP) which seasoned analysts insist should be waved off only at the opponent’s risk.
But beyond this unpredictable scenario, there has to be mass voter education and sustained public enlightenment, cutting across a broad spectrum of the electorate, spanning social status, gender, age, in addition to educational background and religious beliefs. This is part of the enormous tasks that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), as established by the 1999 Constitution would have to battle with. That is, if it is to deliver elections that are free, fair and credible starting on February 25, 2023. So, what is voter education?
It is meant to “acquaint the electorate with the basic concepts of democracy and the role of elections in democracy and governance; -stress the importance of one’s vote; -encourage voters to participate in the whole electoral and governance process”. According to the United Nationshttps://www.un.org › wps ›: “In every election, voter and civic education are necessary to ensure that all constituents—men and women alike—understand their rights”.
Interestingly, INEC has in recent years taken some steps notches higher with the enactment of the Electoral Act 2022, the Continuous Voter Registration (CVR) exercise which was devolved to the 8,809 Wards or Registration Area Centers (RACs) across the country. Strengthening all of these are hi-tech innovations including the INEC Elections Results Viewing Portal (IReV), the INEC Voter Enrollment Device (IVED) and the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS). Guaranteeing electronic transmission of results and the aforementioned processes will definitely assist INEC to make transparency the fulcrum of future elections here in Nigeria.
One of the challenges to be confronted in 2023 is that of voter apathy. It is alarming that despite the mass rallies held at pre-election campaigns the per cent of voter turnout for the presidential election in 1999 was 52.3%. It increased to 69.1% in 2003, before it dipped further to the lowest ebb in 2019 to a mere 34.75%! Perhaps, many of the voters felt that their votes would not count. Voter education, right to the grassroots and in the languages that people can understand has therefore, become a necessity. Eligible voters should come to terms with the harsh reality that their future lies right there on their palms on the election day.
Those who blatantly refuse to participate in elections have no moral ground to stand on and complain about bad governance, worsened by serious level of insecurity, mass youth unemployment, job losses, high inflation rate that have combined to the increase in the number of Nigerians fleeing to foreign countries. But the hard truth is that all of us cannot leave this country for mediocres to hold sway over our children’s future. No!
Another critical issue to frontally confront is that of brazen vote trading and buying. It was reported during the FCT Area Council Elections and the governorship election held in Ekiti state in 2022. Such electoral malfeasance violates the ethics of voting right. It disenfranchises the choice of the voters, as otherwise more credible candidates are prevented from emerging as the people’s choices. It is however, encouraging to learn that INEC intends to use disguised special security operatives to monitor and kick against vote buying at the polling booths.
Ahead of the 2023 general elections, the challenges of inadequate funding, manpower and training have to be identified and sorted out speedily. Adequate security is another critical matter, to rein in before it metamorphoses into a hydra-headed monster as those who want to win elections by force are not giving up, even in the 21st century Nigeria.
The hideous attack by arsonists on the office of INEC) in Igboeze North LGA, Enugu State who set it ablaze on Sunday, 3rd July, 2022 should serve as a red-light, danger signal ahead of the 2023 general elections.
According to the INEC’s National Commissioner, Information and Voter Education Committee, Festus Okoye, there were no casualties recorded during the attack. But he admitted that 748 ballot boxes, 24 voting cubicles, office furniture and equipment were destroyed.
It is also heart-warming that Okoye has quickly debunked the news item making the round that the results of the 2023 general elections are to be transmitted manually. He insisted that the electronic transmission of the results has come to stay, as it took place during the governorship elections in both Ekiti and Osun states, this year.
That matters most because Nigerians desire and indeed deserve a country we can truly call our own and the time to choose right is now. Credible elections will serve as a strong, solid foundation on which to erect the strong pillars of the accommodating house of democracy. But INEC cannot do it alone. Every enlightened citizen should therefore, assist the electoral body through sustained voter education.