While in Nigeria, where he was born and schooled, Jaè Yalley, 27-year-old Nigerian-Ghanaian, did not vote in the elections he was eligible to participate in.
Mr Yalley, a creative director and producer who says he is more Nigerian than Ghanaian, did not vote, despite registering, because he does not believe in elections in Nigeria and he feared for his safety.
“I never voted while I was in Nigeria because it is not safe. Also, I do not believe in the system of voting in Nigeria,” Mr Yalley, who had his ordinary and higher national diplomas from electrical and electronic engineering at Yaba College of Technology (YABATECH), Lagos, said.
If Mr Yalley’s citation of violence and disruptions during elections is singled out, it lends credence to a 2018 report by Crisis Group which estimated that between 2006 to 2015, about 4,000 lives were lost during elections in Nigeria.
But less than two years after Mr Yalley relocated permanently to Accra, the capital of Ghana, a presidential election was held in his second home.
Born to a Fante father, in western Ghana, and a Yoruba mother, in south-western Nigeria, not only did he vote in the election that was held December 7, all his family members of voting age voted too.
“The election in Ghana is very transparent compared to Nigeria,” he said of his motivation to vote for the first time since he came of age.
“The participatory spirit of the youth here and that of women is a motivation,” he added. “The incumbent president’s implementation of free high school education is another.”
Professionally known as Doctor Jaèy, Mr Yalley is one of the over 13.4 million Ghanaians who turned out to vote at the nation’s presidential election about a fortnight ago which re-elected incumbent Nana Akufo-Addo. The 13.4 million who voted were from the 17 million eligible voters, representing about 79 per cent turnout, as announced by electoral chairwoman Jean Mensah.
The latest election turnout is Ghana’s third-highest rate since the West African country returned to democratic rule in 1992 – the highest being in 2004, 85 per cent and 2012, 80 per cent.
Another Ghanaian, Harry Ahovi, said he voted because “it is my right to vote… I want my vote to count because one vote can cause a change.”
According to the data from the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA), turnout in the 1992 election returned a conservative figure of 50 per cent; in 1996, it increased to 78 per cent; by 2000, it fell to 62 per cent; in 2008, it rose again to 73 per cent; and fell to 69 per cent in 2016.
On the average, this means that about seven in ten Ghanaian eligible voters have voted in all its eight presidential elections in the past three decades.
To Ghana’s East, and separated by only the Benin Republic and Togo, is Nigeria — a country about four times the size of Ghana and seven times its population — where about five in ten have turned up to vote since its transition to civil rule in 1999.
Relative to its population, the turnout in Nigeria for elections is less than five in ten. In Ghana, it is more than seven in ten.
Since the 2003 presidential election, participatory levels of Nigerians in subsequent elections have continued to decline, first to 57 per cent in 2007, then to 54 per cent in 2011, before dropping to 44 per cent in 2015 and 34.75 per cent in the 2019 presidential election, according to electoral umpire, INEC.
Ghana mirrors Nigeria’s political history. Both countries, in the past decade, have seen an incumbent president die in office; his deputy completed his term, got elected; and then failed to be re-elected.
While Ghana gained independence in March 1957 from British rule, Nigeria had a three-year wait. Their transition to the current democratic rule was also separated by seven years with that of Ghana coming earlier in 1992.
The longest streak of democratic rule in the history of the two African neighbours has, however, been matched by varying show of interests in their respective elections.
Ghana’s last election recorded about eight in ten attendance compared to less than four in ten in Nigeria. Relative to their respective population, it is a ratio of eight to three for every ten.
Absenteeism in elections in Nigeria is on the rise despite the huge amount sunk into them. Nigeria’s 2019 elections budgeted the highest amount in history, yet returned the lowest turnout since independence.
About a dozen Nigerians interviewed for this report were consistent with their reasons for boycotting elections: torturous voter registration processes, deliberate civic rebellion due to failed electoral promises, and fear of electoral violence.
Khadijah Adisa, 34, has always had her mind made up to vote, but her experience in obtaining a permanent voter’s card (PVC) discouraged her.
After she eventually got the card and relocated to Abeokuta from Lagos, she was told she had to undergo the same rigour as she did in her first procurement.
“There was no chance I would do that,” Mrs Adisa said. “I wanted to get it (PVC) because of its importance, but the stress was too much for me. I gave up because I have an international passport,” she added, noting that the latter can supplant the PVC in case she needs it for a key registration.
A large category of Nigerians who do not vote during elections are journalists observing the elections and election officials.
Unlike in Nigeria, in Ghana, such citizens in special categories like security, media and other officials who are on duty on election day voted a week before the main elections. Mr Yalley, the Nigerian-Ghanaian, said he voted despite being an electoral official.
Like him, Usman Khalilulahi, 23, a development journalist from the Ashanti region of Ghana, said this option offered him a chance to vote in both the 2016 and 2020 elections.
“It is the tradition,” he explained, saying the process was seamless. “(In) less than five minutes I was done, from the COVID-19 temperature check to the voting,” Mr Khalilulahi told PREMIUM TIMES.
“Turnout should increase in 2024 to 80 per cent or more,” he added, noting that the urge to vote was on the rise in his country.
Democratic practices have been entrenched among Ghanaian people and they believe it is a system that offers them basic social goods, the executive director, Center for Public Discourse Analysis, Etse Sikanku, argues, a view shared by a tutorial assistant at the department of political science, University of Education, Winneba, Abdul-Majeed Yakubu.
“Citizens now want to play a very active role in the governance of their country because it is the way to go,” Mr Sikanku noted. “People trust the system. They are at least hopeful that democracy will achieve certain results for them.”
For Mr Yakubu, the ease of voting and the expansion of registration centres by using campuses during the elections served as an incentive to voters.
More than that, the incumbent president’s free education policy for high school students bolstered the morale of Ghanaian electorates to turn up, Mr Yakubu added.
“The free education policy triggered the magic for the first-timers who were more beneficiaries of the policies to vote,” he said of Ghana’s youth who form 60 per cent of its population.
Support PREMIUM TIMES' journalism of integrity and credibility
Good journalism costs a lot of money. Yet only good journalism can ensure the possibility of a good society, an accountable democracy, and a transparent government.
For continued free access to the best investigative journalism in the country we ask you to consider making a modest support to this noble endeavour.
By contributing to PREMIUM TIMES, you are helping to sustain a journalism of relevance and ensuring it remains free and available to all.
TEXT AD: To advertise here . Call Willie +2347088095401...