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Political Apathy in Nigeria: Which way forward?

According to a resource site “Political Apathy is the lack of interest displayed by a citizen of a country towards political activities”. It is total indifference towards political activities.

I had a persistent cough and my mummy dragged me to the family doctor. Seated in the office, they both made small talk ranging from the receding economy to the weather. Soon, a program came up on the television. The chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in Oyo State was being interrogated as per the readiness of the committee towards ensuring a free and fair election in 2019. The show quickly introduced discussions about politics between my mummy and the doctor. The elderly doctor spoke about the pros and cons of the 2019 elections as he had envisaged. He spoke about the differences between Buhari and Atiku. 

In the long run, it was concluded that whether or not people turned up to vote, the winner had already been decided. I usually don’t interfere in the discussions of elders but I discarded the phone that earlier had my attention and spoke up. I told them that it was best that they vote so as not to lose their right. My mummy laughed and replied me with “ewo le wo?” (which is which?) What she meant by that statement is that all politicians are the same. They are all crooks who promise and fail. She maintained the fact that they all go into the office to savour the national cake and not because they intend to help the masses. According to her, she cannot suffer under the sun as she did during the last elections only for things to remain the same and even get worse. 

The doctor laughed and said that he fell ill for a week just because he went to vote. He turned to me and asked, “who do you want to vote for?” I told him that I cannot vote due to some reasons. He then asked, “who will you vote for if you can vote?” I kept mum and said nothing for reasons best known to me. The doctor smiled in triumph.

A few days later, there was a discussion going on with some friends. The conclusion was that most of them are not going to vote because they can risk their lives for nothing. The ones that are going to vote said so because of the bounty they are sure to partake in if they play their cards right. The bounty is sure to be made available by the ever ready “to serve” aspirants. 

From my tiny cubicle of the nation, political apathy is prevalent. The population in my street is very minute to the population of the country but I have cause to believe that the same thing goes through most hearts. My neighbours don’t even know other presidential aspirants apart from Buhari and Atiku. From the state elections down to the local government elections, they are clueless. Why is apathy prevalent?

One, there is no provision for their comfort during the electioneering process. Taking the 2018 Osun State election as a case study, most of the electorate was on edge and irritant. When the Presiding Officer of the Ipetumodu Town Hall polling unit attempted to attend to invalids, aged people and pregnant women first, shouts of disapproval rent the air. People claimed to have been on the queue under the sun for hours while the supposed invalids just arrived. People who dared to leave the queue to sit for a while or buy drinks had to fight their way back to their positions on the queue. As far back as I remember in the history of elections, people always get back home very tired and hungry after elections. Most prefer to stay back at home than getting stressed in vain.

The second major reason for political apathy is that the electorate does not trust the officials of the Independent National Electoral Commission. They believe that voting is entirely a waste of time because INEC, which is supposed to be independent, dances to the whim and caprices of highly placed individuals. Those who come out to vote to watch the officials with eagle eyes hoping to catch one of them in the act. Using Ipetumodu Town Hall polling unit as an example, the electorate kept on shouting down the Presiding Officer. They starred clearly at each ballot paper during the sorting and counting. This is because of their profound distrust for the committee. The committee is not the only recipient of distrust. The electorate also immensely distrust the aspirants. I wish to refer to this as the ewo-le-wo syndrome. It is a general belief that all politicians are liars, thieves and crooks. Their campaign promises sound so mouthwatering and nice but they refuse to fulfil these promises in the long run. An online poll presented was by Premium Times, (“Buhari’s approval rating rises slightly in April – Poll – Premium Times Nigeria“). The question “what are the reasons for your disapproval of how President Buhari is handling his job?” was asked. One of the highest response percentages was that he has broken his campaign promises. Politics in Nigeria has gotten to the stage of little or no difference between the proverbial known devil and the unknown angel. 

What is the way out? There are solutions to every problem. According to Bayo Oluwasanmi’s “Independent National Electoral Criminals (INEC) And 2019” on Sahara reporters, “For 2019, INEC will spend N242 billion to conduct the general elections”. After surfing the net severally, I found nothing on the electorates’ welfare. From my search, Punch published an article titled “Is N228bn budget for the 2019 election justified?” on the 27th of July, 2018. The reason for the 19% increase as compared to the 2015 election was seemingly justified but… Don’t you think electorate welfare should be budgeted too? From my Osun state experience, shelter from the sun and chairs were made available for only the INEC officials. Imagine standing on a queue terribly thirsty. I can’t leave the queue to get water for fear of losing my space. A party agent walks up to me and hands me a Chilled Coke and a doughnut. He smiles pleasantly and flashes his party logo. What would I do? What would you do? What would we do? We are all humans who live for the moment and often times don’t think of the next four years. This is a petition to INEC to kindly assist in making the process less tedious. Individual Income Tax constitutes a quota of the country’s revenue. Help people with their money.

As to the second problem, I believe INEC has tried to be transparent even though some bad eggs among them prove unrepentant. It is just not certain whether the bad eggs are only among the junior members of staff. The headline going round of recent is that President Buhari has refused to sign an Electoral Amendment Bill submitted to him by the National Assembly. My attention was drawn to Jude Egbas’ article on tilted “This is why President Buhari refused to sign the Electoral Amendment Bill for the 4th time in 2 years”. According to the article, “Presidency sources have told Pulse that Buhari also had a problem with a provision in the bill that gave the polling electoral officer the power to just “announce” results. The extant Electoral Act said the polling officer should “count and announce” results. Presidency saw the “announce” results clause as providing room for vote manipulation and rigging”. If that bill is eventually signed by Buhari before the 2019 elections, I believe the security agents will have their hands full from 2 pm when voting ends until God knows when. How do you expect to educate the electorate that the ballot papers will not be counted in front of them but just announced? You counted and they still don’t believe you. You don’t want to count and you expect them to take it well? You expect to end the election on a peaceful note? During the Osun state election, a young man was almost mauled because he was at the polling unit with a phone. The rule is that it must not be taken into the voting booth not that it should not be brought to the unit’s grounds. It took the intervention of the security agents to wrest him free and allow him to leave safely. Their eyes soon turned to me as my phone rang. I quickly used my initiative and backed out before I was pounced on. Why? Ignorance!

I urge the Independent National Electoral Commission to win the electorate’s trust by being as transparent as humanly possible. This will reduce the political apathy which is growing like cancerous cells through the country. I also urge the successful aspirants who will get into office to win their people’s trust by fulfilling the promises that got them into power.

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