Citizens and the political process The Nation Newspaper



According, to notable sociologists and public intellectuals, there are three kinds of people in any given society. This distinction was first identified by the supporters and founders of democracy in ancient Greece. They are the idiots, tribespeople and citizens. A citizen is someone who has skills and knowledge to live a public life, and able to live a life of civility. He recognizes that he is a member of the commonwealth and thus, strives for the common good. He knows his rights in the society and also his responsibilities. A citizen can demand his rights but always with an awareness and respect for the rights of others, neighbours, smallest of minorities and even the worst enemies. The citizens make up the civilized society. They settle their differences with civility.

One of the rights of the citizens is to vote and be voted for in elections. In Nigeria, a voter is a citizen who is 18 years old and above, duly registered, whose name and details are in the register of voters. Though elections in Nigeria began in 1923 by the direction of British colonial administrator, Hugh Clifford, through a legislative act known as the Clifford Constitution, the country is still struggling with the problem of voting without interference.

One of the major challenges facing our electoral system today is the upsurge of the phenomenon of vote buying, which is escalating in each election. We used to hear of ballot box snatching when manual collation of result was allowed by law. Now that we have advanced to electronic transmission of result, ballot box snatching is becoming increasingly unprofitable. It is quickly being replaced with vote buying, which is manipulation of the poverty of the voters with financial inducement to unnaturally sway them to vote for the less preferred candidates.

Vote buying encourages poor governance and weakens the capacity of citizens to hold their “elected” officials accountable for their actions or inactions. When candidates decide to buy the support of the electorates, rather than contest fairly for their votes, there are strong possibilities that such candidates will disregard democratic norms and deploy illegal means in governing the state. A combination of poverty, ignorance and hopelessness constitute the incentives to engage in vote-buying. As candidates begin to buy their way into office, citizens are beginning to regard their voting rights as useless. Parties that cannot field competent candidates are using vote buying as a way to send their candidates to power.

The obvious implication is that such positions would be occupied by incompetent officials, while at the same time the electoral process becomes expensive and exclusive to those with deep pockets. The recent off season governorship elections in Ekiti and Osun states witnessed high incidences of vote buying among other electoral malpractices.

Low voter turnout is also increasingly becoming a trend in elections. As an instance, the Anambra State off-season governorship election conducted in 2021 recorded 10.38 percent voter turnout. It was the lowest in the history of governorship elections in Nigeria. Similarly, the Osun State governorship election results showed that only 42.16 percent of the registered voters in the state voted at the polls. This is a drop from the 45.74 percent recorded in 2018 and the lowest since 2003.

Low voter turnout is not good as the bedrock of democracy rests on participation. There is an urgent need for the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and political parties to devise methods to deal with this, by sensitizing the voters of the consequences of voter apathy. The upsurge in the number of registered voters across all the geopolitical zones has not translated to better voter turnout. This is not peculiar to off-season elections in the states. The statistics on federal elections turnout, suggests declining voter participation since 2011.

It is unbelievable that our political parties do not have ideological orientation to differentiate one from another. As such, parties are mere platforms to leapfrog into power. A clear evidence of lack of ideology of the political parties is the ease of defection from one political party to another. It is also responsible for the seasonal nature of political activities. Studies have shown that political parties are mostly active during electoral cycle. Unlike, the political parties during the first and second republics, even though ethnicity and religion were key factors, they also had strong ideological content. For instance, democratic socialism was the ideology of the Action Group. The party provided free education and health services. As the ruling party in the then Western Region, it allocated 30 percent of its annual budget to education. The outcome is there for everyone to see. While the focus of the National Convention of Nigerian Citizens (NCNC) was social justice.

The political parties in the Fourth Republic are only interested in winning elections without political ideologies. Consequently, citizens vote for candidates based on popularity. The importance of ideology cannot be over emphasized as it determines the priorities captured in the manifesto and policy preferences to be tackled by the ruling party. The commonly held view that the problem in Nigeria is not the absence of party ideology, but an unprincipled ruling elite may not be totally correct. Without a clear ideology as a guide, even the most principled are placed in a difficult position.

The role of opposition political parties, to hold the government to account is, in our case, either ignored or diluted. There is this culture of servant mentality in which the citizens see the ruling class as “big men” who can do no wrong. Rather, than criticize the high profile elite and hold them to account, the citizens praise them to attract their favour. They are always ready to pick the crumbs that fall from the master’s table.

Though the democratic culture is designed in such a way to ensure that individuals take charge of their political decision but in Nigeria and other African countries, it is not so. This is because citizens have mortgaged their right to independent choice to ethnicity and religion. The day Nigerians stopped looking for eternal enemy and realize that they themselves are the problems is the day they will begin to get closer to finding a home grown solution to the problems that have kept the nation down. According to William Shakespeare, the fault is not in our stars but in ourselves. But the citizens are too scared of self-criticism, they look for scape goats. Why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye but do not consider the plank in your own eye? First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

 

  • Anyasi sent this piece from Abuja.

 

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