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Where are our numbers?

Eight years ago, on a similar weekend like this, I woke up in the morning, charged with energy. I had slept fitfully the night before,…

Eight years ago, on a similar weekend like this, I woke up in the morning, charged with energy. I had slept fitfully the night before, as I anticipated the day ahead- election day. After Subh prayer, I hurriedly had my bath and dressed the part in trousers, complete with a sunhat, sun glasses and trainers. I remember stuffing snacks, apples and bottles of water in my gym bag before I walked hurriedly out the door. Together with my neighbours, we strolled to our polling unit, while knocking on gates and encouraging others to go out and vote.

Four years ago, I repeated a similar exercise. Fast forward to last weekend.

I woke up around 8:20am to a very quiet house. Everybody was asleep. From the window, I could see that the streets were also quiet. I checked my phone, nothing. None of my neighbours had called. Lazily, I went about the day doing my chores and even did some spring cleaning. Finally, around 2:30pm, my son asked me: ‘Mummy are you not going out to vote?”

Realising this was a teaching moment, I cast my apathy about the elections aside and replied: ‘Wear your shoes, you can accompany me to go and vote’. His face lit up in excitement and I watched as he hurriedly went to get ready. His youthful exuberance reminded me of the first time voting in this country. Watching him bounce happily next to me, bombarding me with questions about the electoral process made my apathetic heart soften momentarily and doused my feelings of disenchantment about the futility of the whole voting process.

At my polling unit, people were scattered and sparse. They were loitering under trees, eating watermelon slices and arguing about the candidates. Women with babies on their backs, queuing at ballot boxes and sucking on the popular agbalumo fruit. Young men and women with large signs hanging from their necks declaring them as agents of political parties. Where’s the crowd, I wondered? Where was the crowd I encountered eight years ago? Where were my neighbours? Where are our numbers?

During the week, as I watched the numbers come in from different states, I realised that it was not just my neighbourhood that was affected by voter apathy, it was the entire country! In a country that boasts of a population of more than two hundred million, less than twenty-five million came out to vote. According to a statistic from the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, only about 35% of the over 70 million who registered to vote in the 2011 general elections really participated in the voting process. This implies that over 65% of registered voters did not vote!

Hian! This is a dangerous fa!

But first, how did we get here? What happened to us as a people? What happened to me? Where is that person with so much political enlightenment and thirst for good leadership? And who is this woman who cannot be bothered about who the next president of her country is?

I do not like who I have become.

The collective cloud of voter apathy that has transformed us into disillusioned, disenchanted, and embittered Nigerians is this government’s greatest achievement. Many factors are responsible for voters’ apathy in the country. Some are of the opinion that their votes do not really count. They believe, either rightly or wrongly, that the outcome of most elections is pre-determined. The lack of cash also contributed greatly to low voter turnout as many could not travel to their villages. Many also anticipated electoral violence and decided it was safer to stay behind closed doors.

In addition, some consider the political class undeserving of their time because of their perceived insincerity to electoral promises. Like my house help said: ‘Why should I spend my hard-earned money to travel and vote for leaders who do not care about me?’

I had no answer to her question. Quite simply, we have seen shege!

The memes that people were putting up, calling Kano, Kaduna and Katsina the ‘Kardashian States’ because of their figures with some implying that the numbers were fabricated made for a humorous smile (Smile I say, because nothing about this election is funny). As far as I am concerned, the North did not even vote! The figure from Kano alone is not up to the population of Sabon gari and Kwari market on a good day.

Apart from the South East and some parts of the South West, whose numbers showed a slight increase from previous figures, most states recorded a decrease in voter population from previous years. The reason for the increase is of course because of the ‘Obidient’ movement. Like many Nigerians, I am proud of this movement. For someone who was considered an underdog and who joined the presidential race at the last minute, he has done fantastically well. Going forward, this movement can only do better. Gradually, my apathetic mood continued to rise as one by one, I saw political warlords being thrashed.

This election was not business as usual.

Over the last few days, we have all heard various political analysts dissect the voting pattern of Nigerian states. Ethnicity and religion have again been postulated as major catalysts for voting and not merit or leadership qualities of the candidates. I do not disagree with this. However, my issues are with the many Nigerians like me who have developed voter apathy and even worse, those who did not vote despite being eligible and having a voter’s card.

Democracy is about the choices that the people make. Of all the various definitions of democracy, the most universally famous is the one that refers to it as the government of the people by the people and for the people. The implication of this definition is that the people give momentum to democracy. In essence, you cannot have democracy without the people. The people set democracy in motion. However, in Nigeria, the people do not seem to understand the democratic power they wield.

This sad trend of low voter turnout has grievous implications on the prospect of democracy in the country. For one, it ensures that leaders who attain political power via the votes of the minority rule over the majority. In essence, only 28 per cent of people who collected PVCs decided for the rest of over 200 million Nigerians.

Secondly, because they do not get to power through the votes of the majority, they tend to promote their egocentric agenda. In other words, they are not accountable to the majority.

Thirdly, it makes it a bit hypocritical for those who did not turn out to vote to criticize those who were elected through the same process that they shunned. You did not vote- so how can you complain?

Lastly, it casts serious disparagement on the kind of democracy we practice.

If democracy is to truly be the government of the people and for the people, the people must own the process from the beginning to the end. If nothing else, the elections we witnessed last weekend has taught us what can be achieved when we come out en masse to vote.

Let the results of these elections motivate us and shake us from our collective apathy. There is still more work to be done. State elections are around the corner.

Ultimately, we Nigerians, are the real winners in these elections.

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