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Stacey Abrams: voter education and functional electoral system in sync

Published by The Nation on Sat, 09 Jan 2021


By Nnedinso OgaziechiDemocracy is a game of numbers. In any democracy, the people are the mandate givers and that is done through the votes they cast for candidates standing for elections. However, the civic duty of voting to choose the executive and legislative members is often the difference between winning and losing of elections. It often defines the level of popularity or otherwise of candidates.Every adult has a stake in viable democracies and as such, everyone is expected, under normal circumstances to participate in the democratic process of voting. Because political parties are the vehicles that ferry candidates to their political destinations, they often are expected to campaign for votes. However, the level of involvement of individual voters in elections depends on a number of variables.Most people though aware of the value of good leadership often do not feel the need to be involved in the political process like registering to vote and actually voting on election days. A plethora of factors often lead to voter apathy. Some feel that their votes do not matter probably due to some irregularities in past elections. Some see voting as too much of a duty on their side being that the candidates might be unknown to them and they feel they have nothing to gain. There are also valid cases of systemic exclusion in most global democracies. However, for good political analysts, every vote counts and must be counted for democracy to thrive.Stacey Yvonne Abrams the American politician, lawyer, voting rights activist, and author who served in the Georgia House of Representatives from 2007 to 2017, serving as minority leader from 2011 to 2017 has been credited with turning the historically red state of Georgia into blue for the democrats due to her exceptional works at mobilizing hitherto minority voting blocs; blacks, Hispanics, millennials, single parents etc. in a predominantly white state. This won the Presidential election and the two senatorial seats that took the majority seats from the Republicans in the 2020/21 elections. Her voter-mobilization effort is now being celebrated around the world.Nigeria since 1999 has had some of the most litigious elections in the world with the courts often stepping in to decide the winners of elections, an aberration in a democracy. The elections are often fraught with irregularities that often start from the party primaries that often see external influences in local and federal elections.Even though the Nigerian electoral processes do not always throw up the best candidates, a lot of voter education is left undone as most voting age individuals either register or do not vote even if they register because most times they feel their votes would neither count nor be counted. This attitude is however not baseless as there have been records of overt and covert rigging of elections that have negatively impacted the faith of the people in the electoral system.Voter education is a vital democratic duty that must be invested in by every political party and other civil society groups for balance. Even though Nigeria has many registered and unregistered civil society groups, voter education and mobilization still remain at a very low level. The illiteracy level, ethnicization of politics and other socio-economic and cultural factors contribute to the little information adults of voting age especially women and the youth have about the power of their voice.The RoundTable Conversation had a chat with Hon. Princess Titilayo Owolabi-Akerele, a former member of Ekiti State House of Assembly and Director of Programmes, League of Women Voters of Nigeria (NILOWV) who says that the organization is working hard to educate voters. Most voters do not really understand what power they wield and so they have taken it upon themselves to use their NGO as a powerful advocacy organization especially as regards the mobilization and empowerment of women in ways they can understand their power and how to wield it through voting. They equally lobby stakeholders like traditional rulers, religious and political leaders for an inclusiveness that does justice to women when it comes to elective political positions.She said that lack of economic power often affects the participation of women in politics and it is one of the reasons the League of Women voters seeks to empower women given their population so that instead of continually voting for men, women too can have the capacity to contest and be voted for by fellow women who must also be adequately educated and empowered to play political and economic roles in the society.The League of Women Voters has branches all over the country and have signed some MOUs with some stakeholders. They have equally been raising the consciousness of Nigerian women and mobilizing them to register towards 2023. Advocacy is a collective effort and the League often collaborates with other organizations and political parties to achieve results. Their interventions in gender based violence are targeted at supporting abused women while helping them to be aware of their voting rights and for them to be economically empowered to actively participate in elections and positively change the narrative.Hon. Titilayo believes that the present leadership is determined and always ready to liaise with some stakeholders in women political empowerment both locally and internationally to assist the Nigerian women to assert their positions in the political field in ways that can empower them for economic growth and socio-political liberation. They are equally working with most political parties to be more gender and youth friendly.Cynthia Mbamalu, a lawyer, co-founder and Director of Programmes of Yiaga Africa a civil society organization committed to supporting sustainable democracy and development in Africa says her organizations activities in the last thirteen years has been development focused as a nascent democracy like Nigerias needs a lot of support. They have been deeply involved in voter education, advancing political inclusion, advocating for credible and monitoring elections and legislative strengthening.Basically their core programme of legislative engagement is because they understand that the legislative arm is a strong pillar in any democracy. They have been working with various House and Senate Committees to achieve their goals especially in matters that affect women and the youths inclusiveness. Having fought for the popular #NotTooYoungToRun movement, they succeeded in getting in more young legislators who still need to be supported at both state and federal levels given our political realities.Cynthia says they support the Young Parliamentarian Forum (YPF) affiliated to the Inter Parliamentary Union (IPU) which is the global union of parliamentarians that are 45 and below. The political horse-trading in national politics often affects these young parliamentarians more than the public realize. We work with them to bridge the gaps and give them the needed support. Most of them have sponsored bills and some of them have been signed into law. Yiaga Africa has been fighting for the independence of the legislative arm of government because we have noticed that due to the flawed structure and lack of financial autonomy, the executive seem to be breathing down on the legislature.We want real autonomy for the other two arms of government, Legislature and judiciary. We hardly see the different legislature standing up to the executive and it is not healthy for our democracy. The organization has also been fighting to enlighten voters about their rights and the elected to remember their duties to the people.Having monitored elections, we notice that voters are still not exercising their civic duty of letting their voices to be heard. We want people to own the democratic project. We know the history of the military in Nigeria and its effect but Nigerians must decide to grow. Younger and other Nigerians must not sit idly by and run to the social media to complain of bad governance; we want a good followership as much as we encourage good leadership.We observe elections, mobilize voters and try to push for legislation that can positively affect our getting the electoral processes that can develop our democracy. Working with the Young Parliamentarians has been very encouraging as they have infused their energy into the National Assembly. The victory with the #NotTooYoungToRun has been veery rewarding. A good number of them have sponsored very progressive bills. We might not be there yet but we are making progress.Yiaga Africa has been on the field and even though its not yet uhuru, we are steadily making progress as we can proudly say that voter awareness is more pervasive now than before. Our elections are not perfect yet, but there are improvements. The people must own the system and participate. We believe that to have real legislative duty of checks and balances to happen and enhance our democracy the awareness must be created by the younger legislators who must be ready and be supported by everyone.The #NotTooYoungToRun bill today stands as the right step in the right direction for the growth of democracy in Nigeria. It speaks to an inclusiveness that is excitingly democratic. Yiaga Africa and The League of women voters and other groups, political parties and Civil Society organizations must continue to work towards a comprehensive voter education, mobilization and the much needed advocacy for the best tenets of democracy to be upheld.The RoundTable Conversation believes that Nigeria cannot exist outside the global best practices in their practice of democracy. An illiterate and predominantly poor population cannot push growth. The enlightenment of voters, the respect for functional electoral processes, the justice of inclusiveness of youths, women and other minorities can only push the nation to better prosperity.An American Stacey Abrams succeeded in her quest to include the excluded from Georgia because there is a fairly functional system that gives a voice to every voter. The margin of human or technical errors seems very marginal. It is not rocket science to make a system work for everyone. The prerequisites are a functional system with the needed infrastructure and a people ready to deal with a transparent and honest electoral system. Nigeria will begin to work the moment the voices of the people begin to speak at the polls. This can happen with a deep and pervasive voter education and mobilization an example that Stacey Abrams has clearly set.The dialogue continues
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