Yes, democracy is loosely defined as the government of the people for the people by the people. The “by the people” part is very crucial. It means that any government that leads THE people must be a government that the majority of the people voted for. By extension, the agenda of that government should be reflective of the wishes of THE people. The only way you can get THE people to decide the government that leads them is to ensure that the voting process gives every single one the opportunity to participate. Any process or issue that hinders voting is undemocratic and in many cases throws up “leaders” who are not the desire of the people.
Now, having set the stage above, here is my gripe and why. A contemporary of mine who lives with his family in Lagos and has done so for a long time had to travel to the Southeast, where he is from, for the presidential elections. Because of the high stakes of the presidential elections, prior to the elections, he had declared that nothing would make him abstain from voting. But because he registered to vote in his home town in the East, and with the complications inherent in trying to change his registration location, he just decided to go down to the east and vote. He has a business in Lagos that requires his attention 24/7 but he made out time and travelled on a Wednesday. On Saturday, he went out early, stood in line, braved the periodic rain on that day and eventually voted. On Monday, he headed back to his base in Lagos.
He had done his patriotic duty by many standards but then, his duty was not fully completed. Why? Because the subnational(gubernatorial and state rep) elections were still outstanding! They were slated for March 11 before they were moved to March 18. According to him, he cannot afford to be away from his business for a second time to vote for the subnational offices. This issue is not unique to just my friend, there are many people who cannot afford to take off two chunks of their time away from their businesses to vote. Yes, voting is important and I have trumpeted that in my writings but not everyone has the ability to travel away from their businesses for large chunks of time and not experience hardship. This includes financial hardship with respect to transportation costs. I am simply saying that there are many Nigerians, like my friend, who will not be able to participate in this upcoming election on Saturday just because of that.
I realize that the arrangement of voting at the national level on a date different from the sub-national level is codified in the Nigerian system. But I disagree with that arrangement. I think that it creates inadvertent voter suppression because many people that would have wanted to vote at the gubernatorial level will not be able to. After all said and done, the system will throw up many who did not win by majority. This arrangement needs to be looked at again.
Also, just before the presidential election, public schools were closed so that students would go back and vote. Two days ago, I communicated with a student in one of the tertiary institutions only to find out that they are still on break because of the elections. Frankly, that is very disruptive educationally. If all elections were held in one day, schools could afford to give students two days (Thursday and Friday off to go home and vote and return Sunday. This would create minimal school disruptions. In a nation where students enrol in four-year courses but end up spending six years because of strikes and all, every day they can stay in school matters. To send them home for two weeks, in this case almost four weeks because of the date change frankly is counterproductive.
Furthermore, this election arrangement creates an unhealthy bandwagon effect. What happens is that once the presidential election is conducted and results released, a phenomenon takes hold. People whose candidates lost, become disappointed and decide not to go back out and vote. Or, the phenomenon could be that people would say, that a certain party’s presidential candidate has won, let’s just vote for them at the gubernatorial level. It is likely to happen in Lagos state. I was listening to an APC member on TV who was asked how Labour Party was able to win Lagos at the presidential level. His answer was that they were taken by surprise. But then he added that they have learned what happened and were now ready to plug the holes during the guber elections to avoid a repeat. This could mean many things including that they will increase voter suppression, intimidation, ballot box snatching and the rest of the anomalies they foisted on voters in Lagos during the presidential elections. This is all because of an opportunity created by the two-part voting process.
I hope that this would be looked at and remedied but knowing Nigeria, once it favours those in power, they will never see it as something to correct.
Here I stand!
Alfred Obiora Uzokwe, P.E. is a professional engineer licensed to practice in the states of Pennsylvania, Maryland and Washington DC and has over 33 years of combined architectural and engineering experience in both Nigeria and the United States. He is the Author of two books – 1. Nigeria: Contemporary Commentaries and Essays, 2. Surviving in Biafra: The Story of the Nigerian Civil War, email: email@example.com, Harrisburg, PA, USA
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