Millennials were yet todllers in August 1983 when the elections which ushered in President Shehu Shagari was held. Their parents probably had to leave them at home while they went all out to exercise their franchise. Sadly, the results of that election did not hold to be valid for too long as the civilian administration was upturned by a military coup in December 1983.
People counted years going by, waiting patiently for another opportunity to have a say in who governs them. By 1985, one junta under General Muhammadu Buhari had passed; and General Badamosi Babangida who oversaw another junta, in a show of twisted altruism, decided that politicians can now contest into the various political offices across the nation. Millennials too were gradually growing into the consciousness that someday, they will cast a vote for a candidate they love what s/he represents.
The period between 1990 and 1993, when the elections were held while Babangida was head of state, marked a particular peak of political awareness in Nigeria’s history. Citizens were greatly relieved that they would be returning to civilian rule; coupled with the revolutionary campaign which the candidate of the Social Democratic Party (SDP), M.K.O Abiola ran with, there was all indication that people were ready to turn out to vote and were politically active again. Barely 13 years old, the oldest millennials were still too young to vote as at then. Then the polls of 1993 got annulled.
Fast forward to 1998, when the sit-tight despot, General Sani Abacha, had died; another opportunity to return to full civilian rule presented itself and elections were scheduled for February, 1999. By now, the first two batches of millennials were ready to vote as they have now attained the voting age of 18.
It was not a surprise that despite the unfortunate way the 1993 elections ended with how it was annulled, the elections in 1999 had one of the highest voter turnouts in recent times. In 1999, there were 57 million registered voters out of which only 30 million voted thus giving us a total turnout of 52.3% of voters of those who registered to vote. And since then, there has been an intermittent decline.
The last presidential elections held on February 23rd had an average voter turnout of 35%. But what could be the cause of this? A number of complexly woven factors might have been responsible or contributory to this steady decline of Nigerians participating in active politics or even voting itself.
It is easy to point at rigging – be it systemic or brazen, violence, militarization, voter suppression and intimidation as direct causes of voter estrangement, but are there not other indirect causes inherent? It is not surprising to see voters living in Nigeria, and who are of the age of those earliest set of millennials who have refused to vote still. I have noticed that there are a lot of citizens who have shut anything Nigeria out of their system; they do not only abstain from voting, they actively avoid discussing politics and/or criticizing any politician or just stereotypically lump them all together as thieves and liars. Perhaps, these crop of people have decided to shut out issues around politics from their whole being; but would such a decision really be a strategically beneficial one for them on the long run? I doubt it.
Has the political zeal which ran so high in the blood of Nigerians in the 80’s and 90’s finally dried up? Are we only going through a temporary phase which our huge population will soon recover from? Are Nigerians simply just tired of the abusive relationship they have had over the years with politicking and governance or they are simply fed up of the lies of politicians?
The voter turnout in the coming gubernatorial and state house of assembly elections this weekend, March 9th, might finally help in directing us better to the root of this stubborn cankerworm.
Featured image source: Leadership Newspaper