VOTER EDUCATION AND AWARENES CAMPAIGN 

 TOWARDS THE GENERAL ELECTION IN NIGERIA 2011, 2015 AND UPCOMING 2019 BY DR ALBAN AWARENESS FOUNDATION

"An informed voter is a powerful voter"

Background

Education in support of the electoral process has become known as "voter education" where the primary target is the voter. There are a number of other areas of education required if an election is to be successful, but these may variously be conducted by political parties and election administration officials. Voter education, on the other hand, is considered to be a separate and discreet function.

It is usually identified as a function of the electoral authority and is occasionally subcontracted by them to private companies and civil society organisations. It is also fostered by public interest organizations independent of any mandate by the election authority.

While voter information is certainly the responsibility of the election authority (INEC in this case), voter education can easily be viewed as the responsibility of both of the election authority and civil society. A variety of other government agencies may also have some role in informing and educating citizens. The mandate of the election authority or other government agencies may be determined through law, while civil society organizations may have, as part of their mission, a commitment to voter education and political participation.

What is a voter education ?

At its core, voter education is an enterprise designed to ensure that voters are ready, willing, and able to participate in electoral politics. It has been assumed that this entails election literacy and confidence that the electoral process is appropriate and efficacious in selecting governments and promoting policies that will benefit the individual voter.

Voter education is essential to ensuring that voters can effectively exercise their voting rights and express their political will through the electoral process. If voters are not prepared or motivated to participate in the electoral process, then questions may begin to arise about the legitimacy, representativeness, and responsiveness of elected leaders and institutions. At the same time, voter education is a much focused undertaking. It is targeted at eligible voters and addresses specific electoral events as well as the general electoral process. While voter education is a necessary component of the democratic electoral process, it is not sufficient for democracy.

As the democratic world moves toward a universal franchise, however, voting is viewed as one of the many ways in which citizens participate in and support democracy.
That there is a need to educate people to take part in elections is not at issue. Whether these people are children or adults, there are many educational needs that relate to the conduct of elections. But there are also the needs related to active participation in competitive politics.

The scope of voter education efforts required in any given country will depend upon a variety of factors.
• Does the country have a long history of democratic elections, or is this a founding or transitional election?
• Is voter registration mandatory or voluntary?
• Who is responsible for voter registration?
• Has the franchise been extended to include new groups of voters? Have there been changes to the system of representation or the voting process?
• Do the electoral process and political institutions enjoy the confidence of the electorate?
• Is the election campaign open and competitive?
• Have voter education efforts been undertaken in the past?
• Is there an on-going civic education effort?
Answers to all of these questions and others will impact the nature and reach of the voter education programme.

Aims of the campaign

The aim is to create a climate of knowledgeable participation by all potential voters in the forthcoming general election.

Is also seeks to enable potential voters to cast their votes with confidence.

Objectives

The objectives of the campaign are to inform the public about the general elections and providing voters with an understanding of the election process. Others are to inform the public about the date of the election, the responsibilities of those elected and key features of the new voting system.

These objectives may also be achieved through other interventions, and educators will want to establish programmes that work in conjunction with initiatives that address such issues as voter security, basic voting procedures, accessible voting stations, and lively but nonviolent and least intimidating campaigns on the part of candidates.

Methodology

Messages will be passed across using the following

• Use of TV jingles and adverts
• Radio Jingles and adverts
• Newspaper adverts
• Posters, handbills, stickers
• T-shirts, Faze caps
• Bill boards etc

Messages and Methods

Helping citizens understand and participate in elections other than as a contestant or supporter of a contestant (an important and under exploited form of education)--requires concentration on a few key concerns. These seem to have somewhat universal significance, although each election may have its own special features.

There are therefore certain general messages that this voter education campaign will communicate. These are:

Elections and democracy. It is impossible to conceive of democracy in a modern and complex organisation or society being possible without a system of establishing the choices of large bodies of citizens through voting procedures. Elections are one of the defining events of modern democracies, and with periodic and fair elections come the additional prerequisites that citizens will have choices between individuals, parties, and policy options.

They will also have the freedom to make these choices without undue intimidation, and will have the right to put themselves or others forward as candidates for office. Finally, they will have the necessary freedoms to discuss policy options and to form associations that will compete in elections, endorse certain candidates or parties, and/or provide them with the information and discussion they need to make their election choices at the ballot box. They will also have the freedom of movement to campaign on behalf of their cause or candidate throughout the country.

The role, responsibility and rights of the voter. The second message area provides motivation for participation in elections by citizens. They learn how individual participation in elections establishes representative government and ensures accountability by those who are elected.

It is not enough, however, merely to concentrate on roles and responsibilities. Educators must also consider the rights to a free and fair election. Helping voters understand these rights facilitates election monitoring by all citizens and not just specialized groups. It ensures oversight of both candidates and the election administration.

Your vote counts. While all systems present the principle that every vote counts, there are some nuances in message depending upon whether first past the post or proportional representation systems are used. In first past the post systems, electoral success or failure may be determined by a small number of votes where there will be a marginal winner and loser. In systems that use proportionality, every vote counts toward building up the proportional representation of the voter's preferred candidate.

Apart from the numbers game, voters need to be made aware that each individual vote has weight in determining the rights that they have over the elected party or representative once the election has been won or lost. If a representative relationship cannot be formed between citizens and elected officials, citizens may begin to feel that their vote does not, in fact, count for much.

Your vote is secret. There are many circumstances where it is essential that voters be protected from intimidation and fear of subsequent political and personal consequences. In such circumstances, the message that a vote is secret has to be conveyed and, to the extent that it is possible, proved. Secrecy has both positive and negative connotations, and in societies that value community, secrecy may be suspect. Or there may be societies that consider secrecy to be impossible, whether as a result of dysfunctional administration or prevailing belief structures.

In these circumstances, examples of matters that are secret, or that cannot be found out, provide educators with potential metaphors for the voting process. And there may be alternative approaches. Perhaps the most powerful is when elections are repeated and no dire consequences befall voters. But election legislation will have to back up the message by considering carefully the manner in which counting of votes takes place and results are announced. An individual vote may be secret, but a community preference may not, and this can have equally important consequences.

Activities

1. Official Launch of the initiative to unveil the messages and materials to be used in the campaign in Abuja and Lagos.
2. Distribution of the campaign materials to the six (6) geopolitical zones of the country.
3. Monitoring and Evaluation
4. Report Writing

M&E
The campaign effectiveness will be assessed through a series of FGDs to be carried out across the nation so as to determine if the campaign had a real impact on the electorate and whether it met its key objectives These are:
• Did voters go to the polls?
• Did they have an understanding of their powers and voting system?
• Did they cast an informed vote?
• Did the campaign reach a broad cross section of the electorate?
• Did it provide a comprehensive range of information?
• Was the timing of the campaign judged right?
• Did early information create awareness of election date while later information provide more details about voting system?
• Any other observations

Program for the lunch

1. Arrival of invited GUESTS and registration of participants
2. Opening prayer
3. Introduction
4. Purpose and official unveiling of DAAF
5. Entertainment
6. Brief presentation of a Media report on history of voting in Nigeria
7. Launch of the materials and Zonal Representatives
8. TV Jingles
9. Goodwill messages
10. Vote of thanks
11. Lunch

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