This article, ‘Implications of Political Apathy for Nigeria’s Democracy’ examines the dangers posed by political apathy to Nigeria’s democracy. It begins with definitions of democracy and political apathy, then examines the causes of political apathy in Nigeria, before, considering the consequences of political apathy to Nigeria’s democracy.
Democracy is the government of the people, for the people and by the people. Democratic politics everywhere stands on certain minimum principles.
These principles include:
Where these principles are upheld and observed, one can pronounce a government constituted in such a polity as democratic. Thus, from the above, one can see that a democratic government ensures participation and inclusiveness; and is responsive and accountable to its people. Otherwise, there will be apathy in the political system.
For the purpose of this article, political apathy is the deficiency of love and devotion to a state. It is the indifference on the part of citizens of any state as regards their attitudes towards political activities such as elections, public opinions, and civic responsibilities. Political apathy is therefore absence of interest in, or concern about, sociopolitical life. Thus, an apathetic person lacks interest in the social and political affairs of his country.
A study of the election from 1999 until date had yielded important findings. Four major factors associated with voters apathy in Nigeria include:
Indeed, INEC had failed to operate as an independent, competent, autonomous, and impartial umpire of the electoral process.
The question often asked is ‘Does voting really count?’. Some electorates believe INEC had already printed the results, and that “the power of incumbency will always prevail. The belief that a single vote is not important since the return of civil democratic rule in 1999 had been promoted and entrenched among voters in Nigeria.
INEC administration of election had witnessed massive riggings, in favor of the incumbent and election results were concluded before elections in most states of the federation. Consequently, majority of the voters stayed away from poll thereby disenfranchising them.
The impact of this is the progressive weakening of the democratic culture of the Nigerian political system and lack of confidence in those in power. It also indicates that election could hardly act as an agent of change and those elected will no longer feel indebted to the people.
Moreover, voters lose interest in participating in election because of the degree of unemployment in the country.
There are many unemployed graduates who had resorted to kidnapping and stealing because of unemployment just to make ends meet. Poverty sing choruses in most Nigerian homes .
The major problem is that voters no longer have the urge to vote and this has serious implication in a developing country. With this type of situation, the democratic process and development would be adversely affected. Little wonder, since the return of civil democratic rule, the country had not made much progress. The country had persistently been considered as one of the most corrupt and poorest countries in the world.
Furthermore, the political environment had a lot of role to play in voters’ apathy. Unfortunately the political parties of the present dispensations were quite different from the old order political parties.
Furthermore, most voters refused to vote because political parties in Nigeria imposed candidates on them to contest in the election. Unfortunately, in more than eighteen states in the country, it had been the tradition for one to run two terms in office and then ascend to the next position irrespective of the person’s capability or performance in the previous regime. The selection of acceptable candidates through primary elections had failed in Nigeria hence selection was based on patronage and followership as regards the party. This had led to imposition of unqualified candidates who had consistently failed to deliver.
Another reason for voters’ apathy was because of the violence associated with the electoral process that had created atmosphere of fear in the electorate. The violence is either intra or inter-party. The intra-party violence was particularly pronounced during primary elections while the interparty violence took off during the electoral campaign activities. Unfortunately, the violence did not only end between party supporters and members but, it was perpetrated against members of the general public and prospective voters. The scale of the violence that characterized the 2007 general elections was unprecedented. The inter-party violence was aggravated by the controversies surrounding the proposal for constitutional amendments to allow Obasanjo contest for a third term.
Similarly, the battle as to whether Atiku should be allowed to contest in another party was also part of the problem.
It is not healthy for any state to have only few people who are willing to participate in civic activities. In Nigeria, political apathy has manifested itself from 1999 to till date in a number of forms.
These include refusal to register in voter’s register; refusal to vote; refusal to protest against rigging; and refusal to assist the security agents with useful information.
Registration of voters is necessary before an election can take place. In Nigeria in 1999, the total population was put at 108,258,35. Out of this, the actual number that registered was 57,938,945.
As at 2003, Nigeria’s population had increased to 129,934,91. However, the number of people that registered was 60,823,022.
In 2007, Nigeria’s population was 131,859,73. Out of this, only 61,567,036 registered.
By 2011, the table indicates that Nigeria’s population was 155,215,57. The voting age population (VAP) was 81,691,751. However, only 73,528,040 registered.
Registration is one thing, while voting is another thing. Many people registered from 1999 to 2011 but did not vote. Out of the 57,938,945 that registered in 1999, only 30,280,052 voted.
In 2003, out of the 60,823,022 that registered, only 42,018,735 cast their votes. In 2007, out of the 61,567,036 that registered, only 58% voted. In 2011, out of the 73,528,040 that registered, only 39,469,484 cast their votes.
Even for the number of people that voted, their votes did not count in many parts of the country due to rigging. Rigging of elections is very dangerous for any democracy. This is because it allows unpopular, dictatorial, unrepresentative and irresponsible leaders to emerge. It retards national development, people therefore must protest against rigging; their refusal is a form of political apathy.
In Nigeria, elections were believed to have been rigged. Yet, there has never been a massive protest against rigging except in 2011. Even the 2011 protest was not seriously considered as a massive protest because it was limited to only some states in the North.
Given the prevailing security problem in the country, Nigerians are supposed to assist the security agents with useful information. Some information especially related to crimes is necessary for orderliness or even for the survival of the state. Many Nigerians today are not willing to share such information with the security agents.
Considering democracy and political apathy in Nigeria between 1999 until date, we found that democracy could be the best form of government only if we adhere to its tenets and principles. Non-adherence to these principles could lead to political apathy due to bad governance. The article discovered that bad governance is manifested in leaders who are not truly representatives of, and responsive to, the peoples interests. Bad governance makes people less concerned about their political affairs. This has been the case with Nigeria from 1999 until date.
This article therefore suggests that, for the purpose of peace, unity, security and development, the Nigerian government must understand that it is duty bound to fulfill its expectations efficiently. When it does this, citizens will discharge their responsibilities to overcome the dangers of political apathy in Nigeria.
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