Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Taking a look at how illiteracy contributes to electoral malpractices

Benjamin Carson

According to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), Nigeria has an adult literacy rate of 56.9% with huge variations amongst states (Lagos having 80.5% and Yobe having 24.2%). This means that almost half of all voters are illiterate in Nigeria, which is a rather unfortunate development. However this sad situation presents a unique opportunity for politicians during elections. “This low level of literacy has translated to high level of poverty, ignorance, diseases, insecurity and a non-virile democratic practice because people cannot vote effectively”. It is not surprising that there are more illiterate people in the rural areas than the urban areas.

This is feasible since most developmental efforts are concentrated in the state capitals and big cities. One of the interesting experiences in some elections is that the voter turnout in the rural areas on a percentage basis is usually larger than that of the urban areas. Some reasons for this are as follows:

The Urban areas comprise more educated and financially better off electorate who cannot be easily hoodwinked by politicians with clumsy rhetoric and a little money.  The rural communities are usually poor and see the handouts from politicians as their only benefit from government so it is an opportunity not to be missed.

Election Observation efforts are usually concentrated in state capitals or large cities. Most of the election observers (especially foreign observers) focus on the big cities for the observation exercise. This is perhaps as a result of the high cost of observation, inadequate number of personnel and security risks associated with observing the hinterland.

Relaxed media attention. Like the observers, media houses for similar reasons proffered above do not do a good job of covering rural areas. This creates huge opportunities for politicians to perpetuate atrocities, which may go undetected.

Bandwagon Effect / Community Voting. It is possible for a whole community to vote for one party in a pseudo-consensus type way. In this case a community or village is encouraged by the dominant politician in the area to vote in a particular way with certain expected social benefits. This occurs and is only possible because the rural people are majorly illiterates and poor. It is inconceivable for this sort of thing to happen amongst educated and financially self-sufficient people in urban areas.

In the 2012 Gubernatorial election in Cross River state, the two Local Governments with highest number of registered voters had the lowest turnout of voters. Calabar Municipality and Calabar South are amongst the largest and most urban LGAs in Cross River state. However the voters’ turnout of 7.94% and 12.14% in the 2012 Gubernatorial Election rewspectively is incredibly low and at a significant variance with the state average of over 40%.

While politicians will continue to exploit the illiterate and poor in the country, it is important that efforts are made to provide low-cost ubiquitous access to education to enable better quality participation in the electoral process.

The media and observation teams should also endeavour to visit more rural areas during elections.


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