1.1 BACKGROUND TO THE STUDY
In liberal democratic theory, an election is a viable mechanism for consummating representative government and voting is the main form of political participation in democratic societies; the study of voting behavior is a highly specialized sub-field in political and social science. There is no gainsaying that credible elections constitute a major factor in democracy, democratization and good governance globally. Elections in democracies help to promote representation of popular will and to secure legitimacy of the political system. However, there is an indicative evidence of the decline in voter electoral participation- the lack of psychological involvement in public affairs, emotional detachment from civic obligations, and a somewhat reserved attitude towards political activity even at the global level. It is imperative therefore, to understand the sources and character of political abstention. Voter electoral behaviour, a subset of political behaviour, has thus emerged as a major problem in mature and emerging democracies, settled and volatile societies, large and thriving economies, as well as small and large ones.
Why do people vote? Why do they not vote? This is a pertinent question; there has been much concern in the past few years that the citizens are disengaging from the political process, as shown by the continuing decline in voter turnout at all levels of elections. This leads to serious questions of legitimacy. If fewer than half of all eligible citizens vote and a winning candidate receive a little bit above 50% of the vote, what can we say about mandates and about the power to govern? Are non-voters completely disengaged, or simply engaged in other kinds of political activities that they find more satisfying and more likely to affect their lives?
Voter participatory behaviour impacts upon the electoral process and its outcome. Any serious effort at electoral reforms to bring about free, fair and credible elections must take into account the challenges, especially of voter declining participation in the electoral process. Thus, it became imperative to do a study on the nature, causes, dimensions and consequences of declining voter participatory behaviour, with a view to being adequately informed in designing future strategies to tackle its challenges in the Nigerian context. In a country trying to consolidate democracy after a long history of authoritarian military rule, strategies for mobilizing people for popular participation and effective engagement in the electoral process have to be well conceptualized and carefully designed. In doing this, peoples’ perceptions and attitudes have to be studied, analyzed, understood and taken into consideration. In any case, liberal democracy is in crisis in many countries, developed and developing (Adejumobi 2002).
In the developed countries the level of citizen participation in the electoral process is dwindling, largely because real choice is limited and the people feel a sense of powerlessness rather than satisfaction. In developing countries, especially in Africa, elections are riddled with tension, conflicts, crises and fraud such that it is difficult to use them as a barometer of the peoples’ choice. Hence, the euphoria of the second wave of democratization in Africa is fast receding. Yesterday’s icons who led civil society in the struggles for democratic renewal have been transformed into the images of those against whom they fought. They have assumed dictatorial postures; they manipulate elections and tend towards sit-tight regimes (Adejumobi 2000).
Nigeria is in the league of less successful countries in the area of election management and outcomes: the electoral rules are either unclear, ever changing, or easily subverted; the electoral body is structurally weak and perennially ineffective; the political actors and agencies are like gladiators in their conduct; while the people are often powerless in an environment of political and electoral misdemeanor. Voting does not amount to choosing in the Nigerian environment, as electoral choices are made by political barons outside the environment of electoral norm, rules and procedure. In such circumstances, ‘winners and losers have often been determined before the contest, and voters merely go through the charade of confirming choices already made’ Fawole (2005:15).
A research initiated by the Independent National Electoral Commission and Friedrich–Ebert-Stiftung, a German non-governmental organization, has identified government, INEC, the media and politicians as largely responsible for the decline in voter participation in Nigeria. This was made public by the Lead Researcher and Professor of Political Science, Adigun Agbaje, during the public presentation of the report entitled, “Voter Apathy and the 2011 Elections in Nigeria,” in Abuja, the report was based on a nationally representative sample of 1,200 respondents randomly selected across 12 states in the six geo-political zones within 27 local government areas and 103 wards. According to him, the research showed that some of the respondents did not consider election as an important assignment. In statistical terms, 49.4 per cent of respondents believe that votes do not count in Nigeria, 28.7 per cent were discouraged by unfulfilled promises by politicians while 14 per cent believed that there is corruption in the system. About 7.9 per cent see violence during elections as an obstacle. The report also showed that 57 per cent of the respondents rated the activities of elected officials as “not satisfactory’, 32 per cent rated them as “fairly satisfactory” while 11per cent rated them “satisfactory.” As a way out of the problem, Agbaje recommended that, “Government should provide support to INEC, fulfill electoral promises, engage in public enlightenment campaign, ensure adequate security for voters, stop corruption, and enforce law and order in the society and non-interference in the electoral process’’. “Politicians should fulfill the electoral promise made during campaign, stop violence and do or die politics, educate their supporters and organise peaceful political rally, accepting election results without manipulation, avoiding bribery and corruption’’. “The Press should assist in voter education; provide timely, accurate and factual information, unbiased report, equal coverage and avoiding bribery and corruption.” (Alechenu, 2012).
The electoral system of any given country plays a fundamental role in sustaining and molding the political behavior of its citizens (Okolo, 2002). The way election is conducted in a country determines to a great extent the level of political culture, political participation and good governance in the country. This obviously depends on the effectiveness and efficiency of a county’s electoral system. Since democracy means rule by the people, people are supposedly able to choose politicians they want to represent their interest in the government through election; although history has it that it is usually difficult to hold elections that are completely free and fair. In 2004, the election that gave victory to former President George W. Bush of the United States was alleged to have been marred by irregularities in the state of Florida (Falana, 2009). But that is not to say that a country cannot experience free, fair and credible election, at least the election that brought President Obama of United States and late Prof. John Atta Mills of Ghana to power bear testimonies to this. However, we must admit that conducting elections has been the major bane confronting African countries. Studies on elections show that transiting from one regime to another is often the problem in most African state (Falana, 2009). The violence that occurs before, during and after elections often brings about instability in the political system of most African countries, with Nigeria inclusive. No doubt, election violence has been one of the major banes of Nigeria’s democratic sustainability since 1964 general elections.
Several factors that affect voter electoral behaviour have been highlighted in relevant literature. Some of these include broad psychological factors and collective memory of historical and contemporary events. Others are patterns of trust, feelings of efficacy, political engagement and disengagement at individual, group and regional levels (Fawole, 2005). In spite of the empirical evidence that the global trend has been toward a decline in voter turnout, there is lack of grounded and sustained scholarly attention to voter apathy in the context of voter turnout in Nigeria despite the challenges plaguing the country’s electoral system. Therefore, this study intends to fill this gap by undertaking to study and find out the reason(s) for the decline of voters participation in the electoral process.
1.2 STATEMENT OF RESEARCH PROBLEM
Democracy should be a celebration of an involved public. Democracy requires an active citizenry because it is through discussion, popular interest, and involvement in politics that societal goals should be defined and carried out. Without public involvement in the process, democracy lacks both its legitimacy and its guiding force (Russell, 2002). In recent years voter participatory behavior has reached worrying levels worldwide. Through the various generations of elections, declining voter participation, especially among the youth, has steadily and increasingly become a major issue of concern that has been equally affecting emerging democracy and consolidated ones.
Decreasing voter participation trends are a cause of concern because voter turnout is one of the main indicators to measure the levels of democratic development and robustness of a country. Low voter turnout can be related to and originated by many different factors closely related to the democratic, economic and social development of a country. The lack of genuine democracy in a country, peoples’ perceptions of not being able to influence the political agenda and the lack of interest in political life are all factors that can influence the levels of electoral participation considerably. Other factors may include:
• low confidence in the political candidates/parties due to unfulfilled promises;
• insufficient levels of accountability of elected candidates to their constituents;
• the lack of political maturity of parties;
• violence during the electoral process; and
• the low levels of “democratic culture” and awareness of the electorate and
• other stake-holders
Low voter turnout could also be occasioned by flaws in the electoral process in two different ways:
1) Lack of trust, confidence and credibility in the electoral process and in the electoral institution responsible for managing elections.
2) Administrative hindrance to access and participate in the voting process due to poor management and poor electoral procedures.
Lack of confidence in Electoral Management Bodies and electoral processes can depend on a wide variety of factors, such as:
• the inadequacy of an electoral system;
• a biased election administration;
• lack of transparency in decision making and electoral procedures; and
• the way in which electoral disputes are being dealt with by the relevant body(ies).
Administrative hindrance due to poor management and procedures can for example depend on factors such as:
• inadequate electoral procedures and voting arrangements/facilities;
• poor voter education and information;
Any of these factors alone, or in combination, could significantly affect voter participation. After all, to participate, voters must have full trust in the electoral process, in the way in which elections are administrated, in the candidates/parties they are going to vote for, in the overall outcome of the voting exercise, in the way in which those elected can be accountable to deliver the commitments they took before being elected, and in the way in which those who don’t deliver can be voted out.