One of the most critical ways that citizens can influence governmental decision-making is through voting. It is a formal expression of preference for a candidate for office or for a proposed resolution of an issue.
Voting generally takes place in the context of a large-scale national or regional election. In Nigeria for example, presidential election takes place simultaneously in the country same with the governorship election which usually hold in only 29 states at the same time, whilst election in the remaining seven other states of Edo, Kogi, Ondo, Ekiti, Anambra, Osun and Bayelsa are staggered and conducted off-season by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
Presently and according to INEC, the 2023 presidential and National Assembly poll is set for 25 February and governorship and other subnational elections scheduled for 11 March; the countdown is well underway for what will be the seventh consecutive elections since the return to democracy in 1999 after military handover. This apparently represents 23 years of unbroken democracy; the longest period in Nigeria’s history.
The process is also considered to be significant as the 2023 election will be conducted under a new electoral legal framework. The Electoral Act 2022 allows INEC to review results made under duress or financial inducements, extends the time for campaigns from 90 to 150 days, and provides for the use of technology to determine the mode of voting and transmission of results. Pundits believe these measures can help manage situations where inaccurate results are returned, expand the opportunity for politicians to visit the nooks and crannies of the country if they so desire, and can cure the chaotic, vulnerable manipulation and unnecessarily opaque process of the aggregating result.
Meanwhile, there is need for citizens’ awareness during the performance of this civic responsibility. It’s so important for the people to adequately understand what they are voting about and the need to accordingly make informed decisions. The 2023 election goes beyond who will be president. Citizens’ votes should be their eloquent voices to react to issues affecting housing, education, employment and healthcare, etc.
It is also true that citizens through the strength of their votes have the power to decide on the quality of life they want for themselves and future generations. Voting is an extention of the opportunity to stand up for improvements on issues like public transportation, raising minimum wage, or funding local schools, etc and it is essential at a time like this to also take the time to help decide what’s best in deepening our democracy.
More pointedly, elections are decided by the people who go out and vote on the day of election, however Nigerians owe themselves the responsibility to take some time and learn about the candidates; trace their antecedents and carefully evaluate their capabilities on the strength of their previous accomplishments in their various field of endeavors, know about their criminal records (if any) the premium they place on transparency, prudency, justice, fairness, decency, charitable course for humanity, etc.
In the forthcoming 2023 poll, there are two things electorate should demand from INEC. One of them is their PVCs. The second one should be delivery of an electoral process that would be transparent, credible, free, fair and acceptable.
This election is expected to be a defining moment for Nigerians, having experienced two recessions in the last seven years, the economy has been in a very bad shape, with the government helpless at any time it happens.
Without being antagonistic to the present leadership, it is a widely known fact that in the last seven years, foreign exchange has been more volatile, with Naira losing stability of N160 to the American dollar speedily to about N650 today at the parallel market. In the last seven years, which captures the present administration, inflation has risen unimaginably, food security is fable, insecurity has taken deadlier dimensions, corruption, which the government swore to fight, is fighting back and winning more converts, poverty is preeminent as the country infamously ranks as the world capital of poverty today.
Similarly, the country is witnessing a very high inflation rate, the worst in seven years. Though the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) claimed that Nigeria’s annual inflation rate fell for the seventh straight month to 15.99 percent in October of 2021, from 16.63 percent in September, food prices are still rising daily at a very high percentage in the last seven years.
There is no need to ask for what the plights of the masses are now. They are getting poorer daily, one square meal difficult, quality education and healthcare far out of their reach. Staple food like garri now out of the reach of the poor, and building materials untouchable, many are hungry and homeless, and millions have fallen into that category in the last seven years. Yet, farmers-herders clashes took a deadlier turn in the last seven years.
Currently, Nigeria is the third country most impacted by terrorism, according to Global Terrorism Index 2020 after Afghanistan and Libya.
Sadly again, Nigeria increased to 149 out of 180 countries in 2020 from 146 in Corruption Perceptions Index of Transparency International, while observers worry that the country will top the rank before the present administration, which claims to fight corruption, finishes its tenure in 2023.
More worrisom is the rise in religious intolerance and fanaticism as seen in Boko Haram Islamic sect, banditry, tribalism, nepotism, among other forms of injustice that have divided Nigeria.
However, judging from the constraints itemized above, citizens must still not be deterred in excercising their franchise in 2023 which is their constitutional right, electorate must also be optimistic that their votes will count, and they must never give up on the leadership and the country’s brand of democracy.
Citizens’ impact, participation and ownership of the 2023 electoral process will definitely give room for paradigm shift in the larger interest of Nigeria and of course it is expected to be a referendum against bad leadership to usher in growth, socio-political and economic renaissance and national coehesion among other purpose driven interventions. May God bless and prosper Nigeria.