As the 2019 election is just days away, providing electorates with basic information about their participation and making their votes count in the February 16 and March 2 elections remains sacrosanct, especially with the event that played out during the Osun state gubernatorial election. SOLOMON ODENIYI and SIKIRU OBARAYESE write.
Apart from being a major component of an electoral process, there is a common agreement that voters’ education before an election is essential to ensure a stable democracy in countries world over. This is based on the premise that voters’ education encourages citizens to participate in democratic processes, provides them with the knowledge to understand and accept political principles, as well as necessary skills to become politically engaged.
No doubt, there has been a quantum leap in the number of voters’ registration in the country even with the introduction of the PVC. For instance, the 2011 general elections had about 73,528,040 registered voters of which the invalid votes was put at 1,259,506 representing 3.19 and valid votes 39,469,484, representing 96.81 per cent. In 2015, 67,422,005 registered to vote, the total votes cast was 29,432,083 while the invalid votes was 844,519. For the 2019 election 84.2 million prospective voters were registered. The analysis shows that the figure of registered voters is increasing from time to time, which may not be unconnected with the increased in voters’ education and subsequently guarantee political participation and voters’ turnout.
However, with the event that played out in the Osun state gubernatorial election where about 49,000 votes were recorded as void, the election served as a litmus test for the forthcoming elections which is an indication that more emphasis needs to be placed on enlightening the electorates on how to vote in an election which majorly has to do with thumb printing of ballot papers.
Just like in Osun gubernatorial election, the thumb printing on ballot papers incorrectly made such a number of vote and this must be as a result of the misrepresentation of electorates during voting.
Clearly demonstrating how the ballot papers are to be correctly filled out becomes more important than ever with the presidential election having about 72 candidates and political parties on the ballot sheets.
Should this high proportion of valid votes repeats itself in the February 16 and March 2 elections, the validity of the election might be questioned .
INEC Roles At Reducing Voided Votes
The law empowers the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to conduct civic and voters’ education in preparation for elections in Nigeria. This is provided in Sections 2 and 154 of the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended), which states that , ”In addition to the functions conferred on it by the Constitution, the Commission shall have power to- (a) conduct voter and civic education; (b) promote knowledge of sound democratic election processes which makes it a matter of compulsion for the electoral umpire to carry out voters’ education.
The spokesman of INEC in Osun, Olusayo Adedokun said the commission had since the beginning of the year been embarking on voters’ education in manner prescribed by law.
The commission cannot go into elections without educating the populace on how to go about voting.
The electoral umpire revealed that the commission had gone to both print and electronic media houses and in its meetings with the stakeholders to educate the electorates.
The commission spokesperson added that, “We have a particular program running on Monday, Tuesday and Friday on GOLD FM, OSBC and RAVE FM, we call it INEC Half Hour. We are sensitising our people on voters’ education, we are still on it and we have called all political parties, we sensitised them on the election. We have sent them to their members and to the communities. INEC has carried out market rally just to educate our markets men and women.”
She said with this, the huge invalid votes recorded in the Osun gubernatorial election would be averted.
The Osun state Chairman of Nigeria Union of Journalists, Kehinde Ayantunji who described as sad, and a reflection of illiteracy, the report of the huge voided votes in the state governorship election said, all hands must be on deck to make sure that such do not reoccur.
“From our own side, we understand our role and we have since been trying our best through our various platforms both the electronic and print media. At various gathering of journalists we have emphasised on this to our members. It is a very sad thing that we experienced such a huge number of voided votes. This is a wake up call for political parties to understand that voters’ education is key.
“If all those votes were valid, the controversy surrounding the election would not have occurred. It is not enough to be telling people we will do this we will do that”
He said another area that attention must be focused on is the issue of vote buying, saying this has led some voters into thumbprinting on two parties they received money from.
“INEC tried their best by preventing the use of phone from the cubicle. In the past, voters take shot of their votes to claim money from their buyers, so when they don’t have the evidence to show, you may not be able to get paid.
The NUJ chair said to curb this, voters must be made to understand that election is a serious business so as to have the full consequence of what await them if their votes are voided as well as sold.
Group And Civil Society Move
The recently completed Strategic Plan of the INEC identified improving voters’ education as a cardinal strategic objective. To achieve this objective, the Plan proposes to formulate and implement voters’ education programmes, and to institutionalise the National Inter-Agency Committee on Voter Education (NICVE). At the inauguration of the Committee, those in attendance expressed the importance of partnership between INEC and other stakeholders in civic and voter education, which is one important best practice identified by this study.
Besides, the Buhari Support Group in the Southwest under the leadership of Prince Felix Awofisayo last week put together a workshop on voters’ education with just days to go to a pivotal presidential election. This is not an academic exercise, it is at the very heart of the democratic process.
Awofisayo while speaking at the gathering said, the training exercise was crucial not just to deepen, but also to guarantee the defense of democratic process especially as predominantly youthful demographic segments was reaching the voting age for the first time.
“The issue of illiteracy, an uneven education system and inadequate public enlightenment of the electorate are the challenges we have come to tackle today. The challenges are real and if not sensibly tackled in a pro-active manner, could derail the democratic process. A recent illustration of the problems involved can be seen from the fallout of the recent governorship elections in Osun.
“It is profoundly disturbing that out of 49,000 votes voided, 89% were votes cast for the APC. This did not in any way reflect the composition, dispersal and spread of the voting. It means that something is either very wrong or there is something fishy, it simply doesn’t make sense to say that APC voters have lower literacy rates or are less coordinated, this is what we are trying to avoid by putting together this training programme.
“With about seventy presidential candidates on the ballot, the ballot paper itself will be cumbersome. The voters have to be trained and directed to avoid the pitfalls so that they themselves will be the pivotal trajectory in a massive coordinated voters’ education framework. It is important because there is far too much at stake.
“The effective use of enlightenment frameworks including the social media must be deployed and the traditional media have to be engaged for the widest dispersal of information and indeed monitoring on Election Day itself “, he added.
Ademola Adebisi, Executive Director, Value Reorientation for Community Enhancement said in the next few days more than 20 civil society organisations would be working with INEC in various local governments to sensitise people on voters’ education.
He added that the civil societies have been going through rigorous move for volunteers who have been sent to various locations in the state enlightening the voters on how to vote.
He believes with the voting template deployed, the voided votes would be reduced, adding that “the Electoral Act that allows multiple party system must be put to check”. Too much political parties, some with similar names and party logos can distract illiterate voters. To me, if we can return to a two party system I think it will be fantastic. You will know if you are not going for party A, definitely it is party B”.
Political Parties Speak
The People’s Democratic Party (PDP), attributed the high number of votes in Osun governorship election to curiosity by voters to choose their preferred candidate in that gubernatorial election.
The party indicated that many electorates void their ballots because of their deep impression on the column for their choice of candidate.
PDP Presidential candidate spokesperson in Osun, Sam Segun-Progress said the party was not happy about the volume of void votes which was recorded during the governorship election in the state.
He then emphasised on the appropriate way to thumb print, saying the party has been educating its supporters to use the index finger instead of the thumb since some people have fat thumb and it crosses the margin for their preferred column.
The PDP said it has established a strategy by making voters’ education part of its campaign at all the meeting and rallies.
”We also tell our people that they need just little ink on the ballot; most void their ballots because they want deep impression which rubs on another party once the ballot is folded. We have made them realise that the way they fold the ballot also affects the thumbprint. So they should fold carefully.
When asked if the party has reach a peak on the voters education, Segun-Progress affirmed that the party has score high, saying, “I can say yes, much more than that of the gubernatorial election. Our candidates have met groups and even travelled into the hinterland to see individuals. It’s been more strategic than the usual funfair which was not as effective.”
Speaking , the All Progressives Congress (APC), spokesperson in Osun, Kunle Oyatomi said his party had started the voters’ education for its members especially on how to thumbprint on ballot papers, adding that the party has involved all the groups in the party to strategically execute the voters’ education across the nooks and crannies of the state.
Oyatomi said the party has resolved to closely monitor its votes, blaming the opposition party for being responsible for the high void of ballot during the gubernatorial poll, as he alleged that the opposition voided the co-contestant ballot papers just for its candidate to emerge.