When Nigeria was returning to Democracy in 1999, with a population estimated at 119,260,000, only 58,000,000 persons were recorded to have registered to participate in the election that ushered in a civilian government after a number of military dictators have ruled the country. However, only 30,000,000 persons voted in that election, representing 52 percent of the total registered voters. In comparison to the 1993 election in Nigeria, there was a significant fall short in the participation of masses, as the 1993 election had more than 60 percent of the total registered voters cast votes on the day of the election. The trend of the reduction in the participation of Nigerians in elections have continued to increase. In 2019, only 49.78 percent of the Nigerians population registered as voters with the Independent National Electoral Commission. And only 34.7 percent of the total registered voters actually casted a vote during the election.
Nigerians have in no doubt feel out of amours in their house of trust for the government and the electoral process. As people the knowledge of the value of election and the right to participate therein have been watered down the memory lane. Regaining the political system where all eligible voters are able to participate in the election will require investment in the voters' education.
The pillar on which democracy as a system of government stands is the saying that “government belongs to the people”. The beauty of this principle is that the government is not detached from the people, as they get to participate in every process concerned in the business of governance. The system of government is the most adopted in the world and doesn’t foster in the absence of a credible electoral system. Thus, in order to establish a democratic system that is devoid of all forms of malpractices, research has shown that all state actors must invest heavily in the spread of knowledge regarding the rights of voters and the essence of the election.
Voter education can be explained as information-driven initiatives aimed at helping the citizens to make the right decisions in respect of the choice of candidate, and when and how to vote. The activities also involve educational programs designed to inform the voters of their right to vote, the essence of election, and how to use the electoral tools. This is the process through which communities and countries like ours can liberate themselves from recording elections marked by malpractices and abstinence from voting, especially by young persons who have lost trust in the government or it’s agencies. The process undoubtedly will enhance the standard of our political system and in-turn help with National Development.
The concept of political stabilisation is closely linked to voters’ education. In order for any society to stabilise its political system and record elections characterised as free and fair, electorates must have adequate knowledge of why they vote, the responsibilities of the people to be elected into the offices opened for contest, how to cast valid votes, the essence of their participation in the electoral process.
Political stability and national development are consequences of educational activities that enhance the notion of electorates regarding the election and the electoral processes. When the citizens or the masses are properly oriented on political involvement or electoral process through direct or indirect outreach, it enhances their political participation which results in good democratic process and political stability. Such activities might involve direct contact with the voters in the pre-election period by the political groups or agents of governmental institutions focused on strengthening our electoral process and ensuring free and fair elections. Over the years, civil societies in our country have equally invested resources in the orientation of Nigerian electorates. Indirect contacts can also be established via the use of print media, social media, radio broadcast, television advertisements, posters and billboards conveying messages aimed at reorienting the public about elections and why they are to participate in the process of choosing the leaders or representatives.
Elections in Nigeria have overtime been described as unfair by political analysts around the world laying emphasis on the fact that people abstain from voting, voters exercising their rights in the face of threats, and commercialization of electorates’ franchise. These factors characterising the electoral system of the country are results of the ignorance of voters about their rights to vote, how to vote, when and where to vote. In most recent years, Nigerians, home and abroad have shown distrust for the government and this has in turn affected their interest in elections or even governance. Many have chosen not to register or vote in the election because of the belief that their votes are inconsequential to the outcome of the election, and as such choose to be out of the process in totality.
Voters’ education helps the nation’s stakeholders to fight against discrimination, onboarding all citizens concerned in the electoral process. Strengthening the position of the vulnerable by ensuring that they know about participating in the poll. Women and persons with disability have often participated less, in elections, than men and able-bodied persons. Spreading information on the right of these persons to participate in the election will have positive consequences on the political system and therefore enhance stability.
As a nation, the country must regain its political stability and establish national development. And in order to do that, all persons who are of the legal age to participate in the elections must be educated regarding their rights. They must be informed that their participation in the election and choice of their preferred candidates in the poll have consequences on the development of the nation. That their choice of who they deem the best candidate for any position open for contest determines the road they ride on, the healthcare services to be delivered in the hospital, the quality of education to be impacted in the schools, the strength of the security agencies and the viability of the Nigerian economy.
Government agencies like National Orientation Agency, Independent National Electoral Commission as well as Civil Society Groups in Nigeria should reach grass root level to disseminate information about political issues to the electorates. This dissemination of political information can also be emphasised through the establishment of community radio stations in every community in Nigeria using their local languages. In addition, organising town hall meetings through the community leaders is also a good instrument to enlighten the voters on political issues for effective democratisation.
Olasupo Abideen is the Convener of YvoteNaija and Executive Director, Brain Builders Youth Development Initiative.