By Femi Falana
It is public knowledge that out of the over 93 million people who registered to vote in the 2023 general elections, more than 87 million collected their Permanent Voter’s Cards (PVCs). An overwhelming majority of the registered are demographically youths, according to the Independent Electoral Commission (INEC). Yet despite the great momentum that heralded the elections only about 25 million persons voted. For instance, in Lagos State more than seven million people registered to vote, the highest number in the country. But out of the 6.2 million voters who eventually collected their PVCs, only 1.2 million voted.
It is curious to note that five million registered voters who had collected their PVCs boycotted the exercise in Lagos State for reasons best known to them.
This trend of conspicuous voter apathy has been the elephant in the room which all the contenders in the post-February 25 debate seem to be ignoring. The fundamental question for politicians of various hues in Nigeria is this: why did tens of millions of voters across Nigeria shun the elections? The explanation does not lie in spreading prejudice by any side to the debate. Scapegoating any group will definitely not provide the answer.
The indubitable fact is that participatory democracy is severely impaired when more than 60 million voters, who collected their PVCs nationwide, did not show up at the polling booths on the election day. But since the results of the February elections were announced, ethnic champions and religious bigots on all sides have given their respective interpretations to what happened. The unfortunate development has caused unnecessary tension among people who as a matter of material imperative of their daily existence are bound to live in harmony in the various communities.
In order to diffuse the growing tension, the Lagos State Commissioner of Police, Mr. Idowu Owohunwa held a meeting with community leaders and the human rights community a fortnight ago. At the meeting the Lagos State Police Command assured Lagosians of the security of every person in the State.
It would indeed be helpful if similar fora could be held in other states for the police to engage various stakeholders and communities before the March 18 elections.
Having regard to the fact that many young people drawn from various ethnic groups voted according to their convictions and as a matter of constitutional right, it is misleading to subject the any community to any form of hostility because of electoral choice.
It is sad to note that voters were subjected to degrading treatment in some states for voting for candidates of their choice during the last election.
Since the oppressed people are not involved in the diversionary politics of ethnicity and religion, the candidates of the ruling party and the opposition should be compelled to base their campaign on the crises of unemployment of young people, mass poverty, insecurity as well as lack of access to education, health and other social security. Those who are playing the ethnic card should realise that voters are demanding dividends of democracy which have not been extended to them for the past 24 years of civil rule in the country.
While we appeal to the oppressed people in the country not to allow members of the political class to divide them for the sole purpose of maintaining the status quo, it is pertinent to note that there are hundreds of thousands of Nigerian professionals who live in foreign countries and are doing extremely well. Apart from contesting elections, some of them are holding important positions in the governments of those countries.
Simply put, this potentially combustible situation has been foisted on the society by the failure of the various factions of the ruling class to play the politics of issues. Instead of debating solutions to the problems of collapsed public education, lack of universal healthcare coverage or the scourge of youth joblessness, religion and ethnicity were dangerously posed as the issues of the election. Now, the bitter fruits of this politics of mass distraction are ripening with all the ominous consequences for social harmony.
Since it is the fundamental right of every citizen to live in any part of Nigeria, we are compelled to call on the Nigeria Police Force to guarantee the security of the life and property of every citizen living in any state. The police should not hesitate to arrest and prosecute the anti – democratic elements who are implicated in threatening fellow citizens on account of political differences. Therefore, the human rights community will collaborate with the police to ensure that all registered voters in Nigeria are allowed to vote for the candidates of their choice without harassment or intimidation.
Femi Falana SAN,
Alliance on Surviving Covid 19 and Beyond (ASCAB)