Voter education on proper handling of the long ballot paper

February 12th, 2019

With 24 party emblems on each of the three rows of the 2019 presidential election bal­lot paper, there is no doubt the ballot paper is clumsy. Unlike past elections, where just a little over 10 candidates contested in the presidential elec­tions, the craze by political parties and their mem­bers to be counted on the ballot paper, introduced more problems for both the Electoral Management Agency (INEC) and the electorate.

The implication is that both the parties, their mem­bers and the entire populace are confused. Handling the long scroll-like document and yet avoiding mas­sive invalid ballot is now the headache. And that’s the issues.

The configuration of our presidential election bal­lot paper has once again exposed the negative impli­cations of the absence of ideology in our politics. It has also exposed the gullibility of our political lead­ers. Some people posit it is purely an abuse of liberal democracy. Even though the idea of clamping liber­alism in democracy is not good, even our inability to raise a Third Force has further underpinned the entire saga.

In countries where politics is driven by clear-cut ideology, there is no way an armada as many as 72 political parties would have submitted candidates to the electoral umpire. What would have happened is that the parties would have found common ground, thus pruning down the issues and avoid a clumsy po­litical space.

But where political parties are bereft of ideology and often, where parties do not even believe in their manifesto, what usually emerge are a staccato of voices and the kind of confusion we experience at the moment in Nigeria.

Again, where politicians are propelled more by greed than the knack to serve, there normally exist the mad rush to gamble with the ballot. The emer­gence of 72 presidential candidates at Saturday’s presidential election clearly shows that majority of them are on a gamble. Already, some of these gladi­ators have thrown in the towel, but the ballot paper would not shrink because of the eleventh hour with­drawal. The damage had been done, not even the last minute withdrawal can provide any remedy

With the apparent problems, it was expected that political parties would have realized the confusion they created and start early enough to educate the electorate about their party symbols and the loca­tion on the ballot paper. With the high level illiteracy in the country, it leaves to wonder how the political parties assumed erroneously that the teeming illiter­ate Nigerian electorate would easily distinguish the plethora of party symbols on the balloting day.

No doubt the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has star-studded Voter Edu­cation and Enlightenment Department, but there is an extent they could go enlightening the electorate, limitations of resources and manpower taken into consideration.

Equally, there is the National Orientation Agency (NOA). But, this agency has arguably outlived its usefulness as major catalyst for public enlightenment due largely to over-politicisation of its top hierarchy. With politicians placed at the helm of NOA instead of technocrats and academics, the agency lost its very essence and have since deviated from set target.

Aware of the handicaps faced by public institutions charged with public enlightenment, it was great won­der that political parties remained so cold at taking up this assignment. Even if such public institutions were operating at their optimal level, it was still ex­pected that political parties should engage the elec­torate especially at the hinterland and properly edu­cate them on their symbols and how to cast ballot that would remain valid.

But from the consternation expressed on the faces of party leaders during the last INEC Stakeholder Meeting with Political Parties, especially when Prof. Mahmoud Yakoub, the INEC Chairman, was dem­onstrating the procedure for casting valid ballot on the scroll-like paper, there was no doubt the party leaders are not even aware of what they would be confronted with on Saturday as they file out to cast their ballot.

It is expected that after the engagement with INEC the party leaders would modify their campaign mes­sage and structure so as to garner maximum benefit using the specimen ballot papers handed out to them by the INEC Chairman at the meeting.

None the less, The AUTHORITY is yet to see the parties rise up to challenge. And except they wake, they would be shocked there could be immeasurable void votes when the ballots are being counted. The political parties need not pretend that all is well. They should change tactics at this last minute and carry out strenuous ballot paper enlightenment. There is no need for the political parties to blame the ballot papers when they failed to play their part.

With the challenges posed by the current 72-space ballot paper, the parties have no option than to get to work immediately and do the needful. Public en­lightenment is key and only game changer. The re­maining days to the elections can still make the dif­ference.

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