The result of the 2006 population census in Nigeria shows that Delta state has a population of 4,098,391 people. Also, a 2005 report by a Rating Company indicates that 47% of the total population of Deltans is under the age of 16. A good assumption from this report would be that 60% of the total population of Deltans is below the age of 18 and the remaining 40% (i.e 1,639,356 people based on the 2006 population figures) are above the age of 18, and are eligible to participate in voting exercises in Nigeria.
In 2007, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) conducted a nationwide voter’s registration throughout Nigeria and it is expected based on the 2006 population figures that more than 1,500,000 people would be registered in Delta state alone.
The voter’s register compiled by INEC in 2007 was recently used for the gubernatorial re-run election in Delta state in which Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan was declared the winner. Although 14 candidates were to contest in the re-run election, majority of the votes casted were shared between 2 of the 14 candidates. According to an online source, official results of the election released by INEC shows that Dr. Uduaghan of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) secured a total of 276,759 votes while his closest rival, Chief Great Ogboru of the Democratic Peoples Party (DPP) secured a total of 138,244 votes, bringing the majority of the total votes casted to 415,003. If votes obtained by other candidates are added to this figure, the total number of votes casted would not be more than 500,000.
Considering that about 1,639,356 people (based on estimates from the 2006 population census) were eligible to vote in the Delta state re-run election, but only about 500,000 people actually voted, a question that comes to mind is; where are the remaining 1,139,356 eligible voters in Delta state?
Possible answers to the question above are;
1. The population estimate obtained from the 2006 census exercise in Nigeria was incorrect and the number of persons counted as dwelling in Delta state was over estimated. If the population estimate given by the 2006 population census is taken to be correct, then the next possible answer to the question above is that;
2. A large number of eligible voters were denied their rights to register (in 2007) and/or vote in the Delta state re-run election and this casts a shadow of doubt on the legitimacy of the re-election of Dr. Uduaghan as governor of Delta state based on a faulty electoral process. If it turns out that all mechanisms were put in place to allow for all eligible voters in Delta state to register (in 2007) and vote in the re-run election, then the next possible answer to the question at hand is;
3. Few people in Delta state turned up during the voter’s registration exercise (in 2007) and/or few people casted their votes in the re-run election.
While imploring the authorities and agencies concerned to look into options 1 and 2 above since they hinge on factors outside the direct control of the voter, the third option is solely a function of the attitude of the voter towards the electoral system. These attitudes stem out of thoughts such as; “we already know who will win”, “why waste my time queuing to cast a single vote?”, “what difference does my vote make to the while exercise?”. The attitudes finally manifest in the lackadaisical action of the voter towards the electoral process, thereby leaving a critical decision of who gets elected into an office in government to the hands of a few people. In the words of Obafemi Awolowo, “The citizens owe enormous duties to the state and to its fellow citizens”.
As the Nation gears itself up for another period of elections, it is important for all stakeholders in the project called “Nigeria” to rise up and exercise their civic responsibility. The stakeholders are many and varied, cutting across all tribe, religion and gender; as long as they are Nigerians and are above the age of 18. Each and every citizen of the country who is eligible to vote must participate in the elections. Each one must participate in the ongoing voter’s registration exercise and each one must vote when the time is right. Our civic responsibility does not end with voting alone, it transcends beyond the voting period. Each citizen must begin to take responsibility for the growth of the nation. Each one must be accountable to the nation even as much as we want our leaders to be accountable for the resources entrusted to them. Chinua Achebe in his recent interview on BBC focus admitted that there is enough blame to go round everybody for the state of how things are in Nigeria. Each individual must understand that the task of nation building is a responsibility of the masses as much as it is of the leaders.
This is not the time to despair and call Nigeria a failed project. Whatever becomes of Nigeria is a responsibility of you and I. If we think we would see the positive changes we desire for our nation without thinking positively and acting to effect these positive changes, then we think amiss because we are the change we want to see! We are the ones who will bring about change to our nation whether for good or otherwise.