How Many Nigerians are Choosing Neutrality?
On a recent taxi ride in Abuja, I asked the driver whom he would be voting for in the upcoming elections. He said he preferred the incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan because he believed the main opponent, General Mohammed Buhari, was too much of an Islamic fundamentalist. He narrated his various issues with the former dictator, which are echoed by most of the opposition. On the other hand he expressed his dissatisfaction with the current administration and the worsening levels of impunity of government officials and the ruling class. He concluded by saying that they were just as bad as each other and he would not be voting for either.
This view has over the weeks running up to the election been one shared by a surprisingly large number of people. That is, citizens who have the required Permanent voter cards (PVC) and are choosing not to exercise their right to vote. Our cynicism nurtured by a culture of low expectations is at an all time high.Voting is generally seen as a civic duty, as well as a right. Although voter turn outs are expected to be much higher than the previous elections, it is interesting to analyse the cross section of registered voters who choose not to vote, not out of disenfranchisement or fear, but out of a disbelief in the democratic process. Most Nigerians have an active interest in politics and young Nigerians are a lot more aware of the political process compared to the Western world. Despite this, the general feeling is that neither party or candidate will considerably improve their lives.
Neutrality seems a lot more rampant amongst the educated and well informed population, as they are less likely to vote based solely on religious, ethnic or social lines. The distrust of the political system, politicians and the entire democratic process seems unfortunately to be at an all time high. The mass cross-carpeting of politicians along party lines in the run up to the elections also seems to have further re-enforced the feeling that there are no fundamental principles guiding the party’s policies.
There is little to no difference in the manifesto, agenda and promises of both political parties and candidates. In the sixteen years of democratic elections in Nigeria, the parties have campaigned on key issues that have plagued the nation since its birth – poverty reduction, insecurity, better infrastructure, improved electricity supply, education, adequate healthcare and more recently job creation and tackling corruption. The Nigerian economy has grown to become the largest in Africa and there has been an emerging middle class. There have been marked improvements in a number of sectors over the past decades, with Nigeria’s economy growing at a rate of 8%, much higher than predicted and thus cementing itself as the African giant. Unfortunately, none of the previous governments has been able to deliver on one of those campaign promises. All programs and policies that have been put in place have overwhelmingly failed. The electricity situation in particular has not seen any marked improvements despite its privatisation and the millions of foreign investments that have been pumped into it. This state of affairs holds true for most of the other crumbling sectors in the economy.
It is therefore unsurprising that a large number of Nigerians, especially those who voted in the previous elections, have chosen to stay neutral in the coming elections. A number of those who have never voted also believe that the electoral system is corrupt and voting will be rigged despite the use of digital card readers. This disillusionment goes beyond the electoral and political system alone. There is discontentment with the candidates, their manifestos, agendas, parties and the entire democratic system of the country.
Whoever emerges the winner on the 28th of March has an uphill battle, not only because of the large scale economic and socio- political problems they will inherit, but also the ongoing war against militants in the Northeastern region of the country. The winner will have to instil confidence in the electorate that democracy is the only system that can achieve the goals of the nation. This might seem like an issue for the back burner, but the continued dissatisfaction of the populace in the democratic process is unsustainable at best and dangerous at worst.
The Arab spring and the Syrian war are recent catastrophic examples of what happens when nations refuse to feel the collective pulse of the citizenry, and examine what it is crying out for. The Biafran war is another example closer to home. Over time disgruntled Nigerians who are unhappy with the system might no longer choose neutrality, but choose to take actions that will not be in the best interest of the nation.