Thursday, 5 March 2015

Public awareness: A necessity for success at the polls


Public awareness is the term describing the act of making known what is hidden or unknown to a large populace through the use of the various means of communication as is applicable to recipients’ understanding. For any national objective to be successfully achieved, public awareness plays a paramount role in fostering understanding, supporting mobilization and aiding compliance to the set goals hence, public awareness cannot be downplayed in matters of national issues including the forthcoming general elections. 

The role of public awareness in the forthcoming elections is to sensitize Nigerians on that which has not been known to them prior to the fixed dates for the electoral conduct. That is, what Nigerians should know and do before, during and after the elections; their rights, duties and obligations included. While it is not false that a good number of Nigerians know a thing or two about the electoral procedures, there is doubt that what held in the past is still obtainable today owing to changes in administration, literacy level as well as the improvisation of voting equipments and facilities hence, the need for re-enlightenment of citizens before the D-day. 

The political scene in Nigeria equally indicates that the educated also need to be sensitized for a sustainable democratic process. As mentioned earlier, the tools for voting have been improvised and several changes have been effected over the years thus, one can no longer be satisfied with yesterday’s voting standards and procedures. A lot of renovations have come up and the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) laudably, have adapted to these changes. 

However, noting much has been done to see to the enlightenment of the public on the usage of these devices which may likely cause confusion to alien users. Advertising as a means of raising political consciousness has not gained enough grounds in Nigeria because INEC has not utilized political advertising messages enough to persuade the electorate on how to vote. The Nigerian electorate is not getting more politically enlightened and voters have therefore not become knowledgeable about the voting process. Not much has been done to dissuade the electorates from being less-inclined to vote on religious or ethnic affiliations. This suggests that ethnicity is still a salient feature in electoral politics and that the dysfunctional role of ethnicity in undermining democratic governance and competitive electoral policies appears to be far from waning.  

In 2003, after the elections, one of the major criticisms leveled at INEC was the charge that there was no adequate enlightenment for voters who were disenfranchised due to their inability to vote at their home polling units. It was gathered that several citizens were informed by INEC officials at polling stations that they could register anywhere and still vote in their home polling stations. However, the Director of Registration in the same locale countered that people were supposed to register at their known polling units.
This lack of clarity could well be a barrier to people expressing their right to vote. Having registered somewhere else because thy could not find a registration unit open in their area, voters may show up to vote on polling day in their usual location and find that they are not on the list. 

Again, under the terms of Electoral Act, voters are allowed to change their place of registration by written application to INEC but INEC has not conducted any effective campaign to inform voters of this possibility or of the need to do so. This will likely create difficulty for travelers and those who will find themselves in places very far from their polling stations during the election period as well as those who do not even know how to get their PVCs, having registered in places where they where formerly domiciled. 

One way to reduce possible confusion that may erupt on polling day would be to publish the register in each polling station ahead of time to allow voters check whether their names have been included and to challenge the names of others that they feel may not have been included on the list but again, INEC has not done this. 

This therefore, poses a challenge to the absolute success of the forthcoming elections and INEC is again called to act fast by telling Nigerians all that they need to know and do before next month. By utilizing the various media platforms, a number of advertorials can be done to re-educate the people. Interviews can also be conducted to enable for citizens’ interaction with INEC officials as it pertains to clarity on salient matters. While this piece aims at pointing out the need for INEC to carry the masses along in the electoral procedures, it does not intend to bring down the efforts of the Electoral body. The inclusiveness of community leaders will to a large extent promote community education and the awareness can start from there.

 Community education is endowed with the philosophy of citizens’ involvement in decision-making, sharing and participation of community members. The attributes of community education as a non-formal and informal approach with the commitment of fulfilling the needs of the whole society moreso, a democratic society is not inimical because, it makes it appropriate and can be given through public sensitization on mobile phones, Radio, Television sets and even in classrooms and Community Learning Centers. It is considered beneficial and appropriate to use this medium as it has the potential of reaching all without necessarily disrupting or interrupting economic, social and political activities of everyone. Youths, women, the populace and all will be reached. 

As Nigeria approaches its next general elections, INEC is implored to learn from its past failures and provide the needed prerequisites for the total success of the March and April polls. This includes concrete public awareness, mass education and general guidelines on the how-to-go of the election. Frequently Asked Questions should be answered in public foras to enable like-minded questionnaires participate in the learning process. By so doing, the success of the elections will be unquestionable.

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