The concept of universal suffrage confers the right to vote in an election on every person of legal voting age irrespective of their gender, beliefs, race, education, social status, etc. Voting  remains the primary means of political participation. The goal of any voting system is to establish the intent of each individual voter and translate those intents into a final tally or reality. Periodic elections and citizen participation in the electoral process are critical components of any successful democracy.

I wish to remind you that voting is both a constitutional right and a privilege. It is best to make use of that right instead of treating it with apathy. Voting is the first duty of democracy. Your vote is your voice and a representation of what you stand for and believe. It is a civic obligation that has far-reaching results, positively if applied well and vice versa. Voting in an election is a demonstration of your commitment and care for your country. The future of our country depends largely on the quality of leaders that emerge from any electoral process. But to be able to vote, you must be registered after meeting the basic eligibility criteria for registration which essentially is that you must have attained the age of 18 or above and you are ordinarily resident in the place where you register as that is where you will cast your vote.

As at today, the 10th day of July in the year 2018, the 2019 general elections in Nigeria will commence on Saturday 16th February 2019 which is exactly 220 days away. Section 15(e) of the Third Schedule of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) gives the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) powers to arrange and conduct the registration of persons qualified to vote and prepare, maintain and revise the register of voters for the purpose of any election. INEC is further empowered and guided on how to carry out this very important activity by Sections 9 and 10 of the Electoral Law 2010 (as amended). Pursuant to this, INEC commenced the Continuous Voter Registration (CVR) exercise on 27th April, 2017 in all the 774 Local Government Offices across the country. The CVR is meant to cater for all those who turned 18 after the last registration exercise; those who for one reason or the other could not register in previous exercises; those who wish to transfer their points of registrations to other places and those who have lost their PVCs and require new ones. The importance of CVR cannot be overemphasized.

The CVR exercise has been going on since then and the response, according to the information released by INEC, has been reasonably good, with over 2million new voters added to the voter database. However, the fact remains that there are millions of eligible Nigerian voters who will not vote in the elections because they have not registered for the Permanent Voters Card (PVC) which will qualify them to vote. This situation is forced on some people by difficulties that may be due to some challenges that INEC has not been able to overcome or natural circumstance that inhibit them to register. There are yet others who will not vote because they simply refuse to register. For these ones, they could not care less about politics and elections. Do you fall under this category?

In spite of the laudable efforts on voter education by INEC, political parties, civil society organizations, and other stake holders, it is really astonishing to observe that there is still a very high level of apathy by some Nigerians towards the electoral process. One often hears expressions like “it’s the politicians’ business”; “my vote won’t make a difference”; “they will still rig the election, so why should I bother”; etc. For a country of over 180million people, majority of who are 18years or above, it makes for sober reflections to discover that in 2011, 22million people elected President Goodluck Jonathan while 15million people elected President Muhammadu Buhari in 2015. This represents 12% and 8% respectively of the total population.

The implication is that the choices made by a very small percentage of the population has far-reaching implications on lives of the larger majority, including those that did not vote. The generally accepted narrative is that Nigeria is grappling with the challenge of enthroning a leadership that clearly understands and is willing to tend to the yearnings and aspirations of Nigerians. The indifference of some has paved the way for the choices of others to prevail, with the attendant consequences which, inevitably are felt by all. These choices have so far left so much to be desired. Ironically, most often than not, it is those who do not vote that are the most vocal critics of leaders that emerge from the electoral process that the refuse to participate in.

So after 15 months of the CVR exercise, INEC has recently announced that it will suspend the exercise on August 17, 2018. This decision, which was reached with all relevant stakeholders to the country’s electoral process is to allow INEC enough time to process the data collected from the field and produce the PVCs for collection ahead of the 2019 elections, in line with timelines stipulated by extant regulations. What this imply is that anyone who has not registered has the next 4-5 weeks to do so. Are you still uninterested in voting?

Voter apathy may be linked to unwillingness or even illiteracy. As we complain constantly about the state of affairs in the country, please bear in mind that inaction cannot bring about the desired change. It will only worsen the situation as it continues to make our country vulnerable to incompetent and irresponsible leadership with the associated perils. Not voting is an indirect vote against democracy.

Even the most ardent critic will agree that there is a gradual improvement in the transparency of our electoral process. A lot of reforms backed by legislative frameworks are being instituted and followed up with actions. Unarguably, there is still a lot to be done but things can only get better with your participation. Your one vote can make so much difference. So have you registered for your PVC? As we head towards the next elections in 2019, are you sure that you will (can) vote?

 

Sunny Udeh

A very concerned Nigerian

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