By Kayode Emola
Many people in Nigeria wonder why the country is the way it is now. However, not many people have actually asked themselves if they truly have the power to make the changes needed to transform the country. Several countries like Nigeria have suffered what the country is going through right now. Some of them have overcome it, but not all of them were able to turn the tide. Take for instance France: the ruling elite did not know that their highhandedness of the country would lead to what we now know to be the French revolution. So, before I go into what happened in the French revolution, let me explain how power is skewed in Nigeria today.
Between 1900 to 1960, when the British were ruling Nigeria, they did not envisage that we would ever rise up to govern ourselves, let alone make decisions based on the popular majority. The British government appointed the Governor-General as well as the other officials so there was little that any of the natives could do in terms of choosing who actually governed them. When the British government handed over power to the natives in 1960, a system was created to disenfranchise the people from choosing their leaders and this system continues to used even to this present day.
Consider: it was recently revealed, in an interview with Harold Smith in 2018, that the British government manipulated the census figures to skew the 1960 Nigeria election in favour of the north. This ideology was handed over to the new native colonial masters of Nigeria who have exploited it to advantage themselves to the detriment of the people. By perpetuating the false idea that the population in the North outnumbers those in the South, this allows those tallying the votes to artificially inflate the Northern vote without suspicion.
Nigeria today has a population of over 200 million people, with a little over 50% over the legal voting age of 18. The number of voters in Nigeria who were registered at the time of the 2019 elections was around 82 million people. Compare this to the 27 million people who actually voted, and we see that only around 24% of the eligible population (12% of the total population) took part in electing the leaders of the country.
On the surface of it, it may appear that it is the apathetic attitude of the voters themselves that is disabusing them of their rightful power. A reasonable government might be expected to seek to create an enabling environment to encourage greater voter participation in elections, thereby putting power into the hands of the people. However, this is not the case in Nigeria; rather the government intentionally makes it difficult for voters to register for any election. Even those that manage to register to vote haven’t circumvented all the hurdles: the government also makes it difficult for registered voters to exercise their democratic rights by putting machinery in place to thwart the exercise. This is the true root cause of the voters’ apathy, and this is what enables the governing powers to continue to rig the elections in their favour.
Back to the French scenario that I mentioned earlier: these were the same tactics adopted by the royal families in France prior to the revolution of 1848. The royal families used their power to ensure that there was no suffrage for the poorer classes of the people, allowing the royal family and elite classes to continue in their way of life in perpetuity. Charles X of France in 1830 abolished freedom of the press, reduced the electorate by 75 percent and dissolved the lower house in a bid to strengthen his own authoritarian rule. Although his successor tried to undo his actions, it was too late to save the royal house in France, as the preceding decades of oppression of the masses had already destined them for doom.
When the ‘have nots’ are more than the well-to-do, it does not take long before the people begin to band themselves together for change. Once the French Prime Minister Guizot resigned on 23 February 1848, the people wasted no time in joining together, convening on 24 February 1848 to organise a provisional government. This constituent assembly sought to achieve two major goals: universal suffrage and unemployment relief. When the universal suffrage enacted on 02 March 1848, over 9 million people were added to the voters register. With the people now able to exercise their rights to vote, they opted for a presidential system of government, thereby abolishing the French monarchy.
The Yoruba peoples’ agitation to leave Nigeria has mostly been spearheaded by the people. I hear a lot of criticism from the youths against the elders and traditional rulers, as they expected the elders to be the ones spearheading the fight for freedom. However, just as our problem did not just begin today, we must realise that those that have permitted the current system to continue do not hold the keys to change. The failure to speak out of the leaders and traditional rulers was what allowed the mass exodus of our people during the slave trade era. If we are to win this battle for self-determination, the Yoruba people and other nationalities must realise that we have to redouble our efforts ourselves to get out of this mess. Once we have our nation, we must ensure that the power remains with the people.
The way we can ensure that power remains with the people is to insist that the electoral system is not so cumbersome that it discourages people from exercising their voters franchise. For instance, in the UK, you don’t even need to show any ID to cast your vote on election day. You don’t also need to wait for a special period to get on the voters register. Once you move to an address, you can write to the electoral commission or register online with your new address and within two to three months, you will be on the electoral register and are able to cast your vote come election day. It is obvious that the British intentionally did not introduce to us their own system of electoral process, as this in a way puts power in the hands of the people. They know that had they done so, it would amount to their own economic suicide as they continue to benefit, both directly and indirectly, from our woeful electoral process that does nothing but puts the mediocre in power.
Countries like Australia, Belgium, Austria and others across the world have even gone one step further by making voting compulsory for the people. This no doubt encourages the people to exercise this subtle power they possess, allowing them to have a voice in making the changes necessary for a decent society to succeed. Although the rules vary between the different countries, in general a small enforceable fine is introduced to ensure full compliance. If the Yoruba nation is to succeed where Nigeria has failed, we need to ensure that there is a framework to allow people to register to vote all year round. We must ensure that when people move house, they are not, through no fault of their own, disenfranchised from exercising their fundamental human right to elect their leaders. That is the only way we can ensure that power is placed in the hands of the people, and remains there to safeguard continuing positive change.