There is no doubt that any nation’s growth, development, and progress is intricately tied to its ability to harness the resources that abounds within and around it. And, perhaps unarguably, the best resource from God is the human resource, without which other resources come to nothingness. Thus, harnessing the human resource becomes an underlining factor for removing societies from the shackles of devastating impoverishment, social milieu, backwardness, and total failures. Indeed, any failed society could always be traced to the human angle; hence the people in every society must be interested, deliberate and decisive in determining how its leaders emerge; because obviously, leadership and governance cannot be extricated from societal stability and national growth and development.
From the foregoing, it should be deeply appreciated that humanity can only be bettered by its own actions. And, since the irrationality of the human mind is evidentially manifest, it must be subject to checks and balances. This to me, seems to be the basis upon which leadership and societal controls were invented in the form of elections. Interestingly, participation in such important events as political elections is enshrined as one of the duties of every citizen of age 18 and above. However, it all seemed a choice and not binding. But there are enormous consequences for such complacencies.
Paul David Webb stated that, the election is the formal process of selecting a person for public office or for accepting or rejecting a political proposition by voting. The origins of elections in the contemporary world lies in the emergence of representative government in Europe and America in the 17th century. At that time, the holistic notion of representation characteristic of the Middle Ages was transformed into a more individualistic conception, one which made the individual the critical unit to be counted. Nevertheless, societies where elections are not needed to determine its leaders still exist till date. Interestingly, in spite of nature’s imposition of leadership on such societies, not many have been
known to be critically dysfunctional. Notwithstanding, in such societies, it is not unlikely for there to be some forms of danger looming, because absolute power corrupts absolutely. This is why it is now almost a universal trend to lead societies by electing leaders in what is known as democratic governance.
It therefore presupposes that elections can either make or mar the progress of nations. So, why do the people, especially the average Nigerian view elections as the business of a few that are either politicians, their sponsors, associates, and their relatives? Why do the elites and religious bodies shy away from it? Why does it always end up being that almost every election records far less than anticipated voters? Why really do we see so much complacency and apathy with the supposed electorates? There is a popular saying that those who refuse to vote in good leaders help to enthrone the bad ones. So, who really voted in a bad leader, if not those who sit on the fence?
Elections into public offices in Nigeria have often been associated with malpractices and riggings. In some cases, there have been high waves of ballot snatching and ballot paper stuffing. So much evil characterises our public elections, but the one that has now assumed a monstrous proportion is vote buying. If urgent measures are not taken to curtail this electoral leprosy, it could turn out to worsen our present state and keep us in perpetual propinquity to perdition. It is a give and take exercise with both parties being guilty of crime. Just like bribery, there can never be a giver without someone to receive.
Further research has revealed that elections make a fundamental contribution to democratic governance. Elections enable voters to select leaders and to hold them accountable for their performance in office. Accountability can be undermined when elected leaders do not care whether they are re-elected or when, for historical or other reasons, one party or coalition is so dominant that there is effectively no choice for voters among alternative candidates, parties, or policies. Nevertheless, the possibility of controlling leaders by requiring them to submit to regular and periodic elections helps to solve the problem of succession in leadership and thus contributes to the continuation of democracy.
Moreover, where the electoral process is competitive and forces candidates or parties to expose their records and future intentions to popular scrutiny, elections serve as forums for the discussion of public issues and facilitate the expression of public opinion. Elections thus provide political education for citizens and ensure the responsiveness of democratic governments to the will of the people. They also serve to legitimize the acts of those who wield power, a function that is performed to some extent even by elections that are non-competitive. Elections also reinforce the stability and legitimacy of the political community. Like national holidays commemorating common experiences, elections link citizens to each other and thereby confirm the viability of the polity. As a result, elections help to facilitate social and political integration.
Finally, elections serve a self-actualising purpose by confirming the worth and dignity of individual citizens as human beings. Whatever the needs voters may have, participation in an election serves to reinforce their self-esteem and self-respect. Voting gives people an opportunity to have their say, exercise their franchise and civic duty, express partisanship, and to satisfy their need to feel a sense of belonging. Even non-voting satisfies the need of some people to express their alienation from the political community. For precisely these reasons, the long battle for the right to vote and the demand for equality in electoral participation can be viewed as the manifestation of a profound human craving for personal fulfilment.
Whether held under authoritarian or democratic regimes, elections have a ritualistic aspect. Elections and the campaigns preceding them are dramatic events that are accompanied by rallies, banners, posters, headlines, and television coverage, all of which call attention to the importance of participation in the event. Candidates, political parties, and interest groups representing diverse objectives invoke the symbols of nationalism or patriotism, reform or revolution, past glory, or future promise. Whatever the peculiar national,
regional, or local variations, elections are events that, by arousing emotions and channelling them toward collective symbols, break the monotony of daily life and focus attention on the common fate.
• Uwayah writes from Delta State, Nigeria