Nigeria is at the threshold of another election. As our democratic process matures, it is expected that the 2019 general election will distinctly showcase that maturity. One major way in which that can happen is for all votes to count, and reduction of voided votes to the barest minimum will benefit the electoral process in that regard.
It is no longer news that elections in Nigeria are sometimes characterized by large number of voided votes. For instance, in the 2015 Presidential Election, 844,519 votes were rejected as invalid out of 29,432,083 total votes cast. It is quite often the case that a lot of our voters, especially in the rural areas, are not exposed to adequate continuous voter education so as to equip them with the knowledge to exercise their right to vote by voting correctly at elections.
The Director General, National Orientation Agency (NOA), Dr. Garba Abari, while addressing a press conference on voter education recently, noted that in discharging its statutory responsibility of public enlightenment and voter education, the Agency remains conscious of the fact that “the ability of citizens to participate in elections free from the fear of harm is essential”. If voters feel no sense of threat while they vote, they are less likely to make voting errors that will invalidate their votes. Participation in inclusive and credible elections is a citizen right protected by our constitution. In many African countries, unfortunately, this freedom from fear during and after elections has not been a reality for many citizens. As the general election approaches in Nigeria, we have seen cases of fake news and hate speech, especially in the social media and these have potentials for misleading citizens into unleashing violence if not checked through proper nationwide citizen awareness programmes.
It is worthy of note that the National Orientation Agency has been making concerted efforts through its various sensitization programmes to ensure enduring peace in our communities. As part of its efforts, the Agency has carried out sensitization campaigns on peaceful co-existence to various communities across the country. It has also run campaigns against Hate Speech and Fake News on the social media. The NOA Director General has personally held a number of “Facebook Live” sessions addressing the public on the dangers of fake news and hate speech in the recent past and the Agency has run a number of social media campaigns on Twitter and Instagram. In the same vein, NOA had in recent times produced and distributed flyers sensitizing against Hate Speech. Naturally, these campaigns now serve as formidable foundations on which the Agency is building its current voter sensitization campaign.
Consequently, the National Orientation Agency has fully mobilized its staff in the 36 states and the 774 local governments to carry out mass sensitization campaigns to address three critical issues – reducing the challenge of voided votes, sensitization for peaceful general elections and sensitization against vote buying and selling.
In order to vote correctly and ensure that votes are not voided for lack of knowledge at the forthcoming general elections, NOA says voters must clearly note and be conscious of the following:
- Nigeria now has a total of 91 political parties
- Know the name and symbol of the party you wish to vote for (as contained in NOA Information, Education and Communication materials)
- Thumbprint once in the right box beside the party logo on your ballot paper
- Your thumbprint should not be outside the space inside the box
- Do not allow the ink to spill into another box
- Do not vote for more than one party or candidate
- Never leave your ballot paper empty, i.e. without thumb printing
- Do not write or sign on your ballot paper
- Make sure the ink is dry before you leave the polling booth
- After ink is dry, roll and then fold your ballot paper once
- Do not squeeze your ballot paper
- Place your ballot paper in the correct box
Many Nigerian voters express frustration that their votes will not count and this, no doubt, contributes to voter apathy and low turnout of voters at elections. It is reassuring, however, that necessary measures have been put in place by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and other stakeholders to ensure that all votes count. This is the more reason the electorate needs to turn out en masse and follow the above guidelines in casting their votes.
It is also reassuring that the Federal Government has repeatedly affirmed that the security of lives and property remains its paramount concern and all is being done to ensure that Nigerians are safe throughout the electioneering season. However, the electorate is admonished to maintain orderly conduct before, during and after voting to avoid preventable breakdown of law and order.
Nigerians should also be wary of fake news and hate speeches which have been on the rise in this electioneering season. We should not compose, send, share or rebroadcast any message without first of all verifying the content of such message. This will go a long way to prevent the inflaming of passions and forestall any possible outbreak of violence.
It is true that election is a social transaction in which the people elect, contract and mandate representatives to hold power and act on their behalf and in their collective interest for a given period. Yet, the transaction of election is social, not financial. It is therefore an aberration to buy or sell votes for whatever reason or inducement. Nigerians should use the 2019 general election to make a bold and clear statement that the much condemned trend of vote trading no longer has a place in our elections. This we must do by refusing to sell our votes. Let us bear in mind that if you sell your vote, what you actually sell is your conscience, your right to quality leadership, good governance and development and your courage to demand the respect of this right. Your vote is your power; do not sell it.
Fellow Nigerians, lets join hands to make sure that every vote is valid and counts.
(David Ofurum is a Principal Press Officer at National Orientation Agency and writes from Abuja)