The usual voter apathy experienced during elections seems to deserve some re-examination, given the disparity between the number of votes recorded in the recently concluded Big Brother Naija and the usual low voter turnout in general elections. In this piece, TUNDE AJAJA examines the lessons the Independent National Electoral Commission could learn from the reality show
For the past 99 days that terminated on Sunday, October 6, there were, arguably, very few topical and social issues that dominated public discourse for a reasonable length of time like the happenings and updates from the Big Brother Naija house.
It was a 24/7 show that kept many people – in Nigeria and abroad – glued to their television sets and made some other fans navigating different social media and news platforms to get real-time updates. The reality show was a huge delight and amusement to many.
But, on the other hand, some individuals and groups expressed deep reservations about the programme, saying the show should be scrapped ‘for promoting immorality.’
For example, the Muslim Rights Concern, a prominent Muslim body in the country, had less than two weeks after the programme began called on President Muhammadu Buhari to shut down the airing of the reality show, saying it wondered why the Ministry of Information and Culture and the National Orientation Agency did not do anything about the airing of the show.
But, in spite of the reservations and open criticisms by concerned individuals and groups, the programme has continued to gain traction from the first to its now concluded fourth edition.
Meanwhile, beyond the excitement and razzmatazz that surrounded the grand finale on Sunday, the host of the show, Ebuka Obi-Uchendu, announced that this year’s edition recorded a whopping 240 million votes and that in the final week of the show alone, a ‘record-breaking’ 50 million votes were recorded.
Many people, on hearing that, appeared shocked while describing the number of votes as incredible, especially as they compared the volume of votes with the usually low turnout of voters recorded during the all important general elections in the country.
But, while the comparison is quite understandable, it is instructive to take a cursory look at the voting pattern in the reality show and that of the elections.
Information on the website of Africa Magic showed that voting could be done in four ways; the first being via SMS from any of the three participating networks in Nigeria. Each SMS cost N30 and a maximum of 100 votes per user.
Also, voting could be through Africa Magic mobile site, its website and through MyDSTV or MyGOTV App, all of which are free, except for data costs. The maximum votes per user were equally 100.
Even though voting in BB Naija did not require any age qualification; a voter did not need any form of pass or identification card and did not need to have registered with any electoral body, one could still safely conclude that the number of votes was huge, especially in a country of 180 million people.
The volume of votes also showed commitment and dedication on the part of the voters, regardless of the fact that multiple voting per person was allowed.
But looking at the performance (voter turnout) in the general elections in Nigeria over the years, especially the presidential election, which has the widest coverage, the reverse has been the case. For years, less than half of registered voters usually vote in the elections.
For example, in the 2019 elections, out of the 82.3 million voters (as collated by INEC), only about 29.3 million voters did accreditation, which represented an abysmally low 35.6 per cent of the voting population.
In fact, at the end of the exercise, the total number of votes cast dropped to 28.6 million, while the total number of valid votes cast dropped further to 27.3 million votes, which implied that 33.1 per cent of the eligible voters elected the President.
In the Ekiti State governorship election, which held on July 14, 2018, out of the 913,334 registered voters in the state, over 280,000 did not collect their PVCs. And of the about 630,000 voters that collected theirs, only 405,861 were accredited while the total votes cast was a mere 403,451. This implies that only about 44 per cent of voters with PVCs partook in the process of choosing the next governor of the state.
Likewise in Osun State, out of the 1,682,495 registered voters across the state, only 1,246,915 voters collected their PVCs. And at the end of the exercise, including the rerun, the total votes cast were less than 600,000.
Also in the November 18, 2017 Anambra State governorship election, INEC revealed that only 22 per cent of eligible voters in the state voted. Out of the 2,064,134 registered voters in the state, only 457,511 voters, which is less than a quarter of the registered voters, came out for accreditation, while only 448,771 voted eventually.
In the 2015 general elections, there were 67,422,005 registered voters across the country, but only 31,746,490 (less than half) of the registered voters were accredited, while the number of votes cast was a mere 29,432,083, representing about 43 per cent. It was even lower than the 52.3 per cent of voter turnout in the 2011 election.
Understandably, many reasons have been adduced for the low turnout of voters, including fear of violence, loss of faith in the system, fear of intimidation and harassment, apathy, fear of manipulation of the results, ballot snuffing and snatching, the stressful nature of the voting exercise, like being in the queue, sometimes in the sun or the rain, for minutes or hours before voting and the beliefs that the votes may not even count.
In fact, for the young people who occupy a chunk of the registered voters, it is common for most of them to stay at home and watch television while some take to playing football on the streets instead of going to vote.
But, drawing from the BB Naija voting experience, some persons had advised that it was high time the country adopted the option of electronic voting, which they said, would address some of the problems associated with the manual voting method as well as save cost.
Interestingly, the idea of electronic voting is not new in Nigeria’s electoral system. The idea of e-voting was muted for the 2019 elections but the House of Representatives rejected the idea.
But, thankfully, INEC had said that the commission would have no choice but to employ e-voting in 2023, noting that retaining the paper-based voting system might overwhelm the commission.
Speaking during a 2019 post-election review workshop in Ibadan in April, INEC’s National Commissioner, Mr Adedeji Soyebi, pointed out that it was the logistics burden that made the commission to postpone the 2019 elections.
No doubt, the cost of paper-based voting system is huge, with N189bn approved for INEC for the 2019 elections and N108.8bn for the 2015 elections.
Soyebi said, “Transforming from paper to electronic-based voting system is the way to go and it is inevitable. Whether we like it or not, it will meet with us and stare us in the face. Paper-based system will overwhelm us such that we have no other choice but to go this (electronic) way.”
Meanwhile, speaking on the compelling need to embrace electronic voting in the 2023 elections, a legal practitioner, Mr Jiti Ogunye, who is an advocate of electronic voting, said if the country fully embraced electronic voting, elections would be cheaper, the process would be more efficient, it would engender accuracy, creditability and integrity.
He said, “I’m not saying that it would totally be free of manipulation; everything that man does is capable of being manipulated or abused, but I’m insisting that there are a number of malpractices that are inherent in our current electoral system that would be cut out.
Ogunye advised that any amendment that needed to be done to the Electoral Act should begin in earnest.
Also speaking, the Chairman, Partners for Electoral Reform and member, Working Group of Watching The Vote, YIAGA Africa, Mr Ezenwa Nwagu, said while reality show and general elections could not be compared because of their different variables, it also reflected what was of interest to young people.
He pointed out that until voters were made to see the nexus between their permanent voter card and basic things like the cost of bread, quality of education and everything around them, they might continue to trade their PVCs and downplay the importance of their participation in the voting process.
He added, “I agree that electronic voting is the way to go as it will eradicate malfeasance in the electoral process. Thus, the bottlenecks around it in the constitution and the Electoral Act should be resolved. But remember that e-voting is not a pre-condition for a free, fair, and credible election if you look at the issues that followed the allegations of manipulation of the election in a developed country like the United States.
— SUNDAY PUNCH