THE CHURCH AND HER FRANCHISE


What is Voting?

Voting is the formal process by which people express their choice about the way government should be run. The word “vote” comes from a Latin word which means “wish.” Whenever a citizen cast a vote, that citizen is expressing a wish or choice. When citizens refuse to vote, it implies that do not have their wishes considered. Voters may express their wishes in a couple of ways and the most obvious way is by electing their leaders at national, state and local levels. The citizens who present themselves to lead or who are running for office are called candidates. Voters normally vote for candidates who share their own views about how a government should be run or administered. Sometimes elections are meant for bringing about change or ousting an incumbent leader. In such instance, the voters can vote against candidates whose views they oppose or who have failed to live up to their electoral promises.

 

Who Can Vote?

Section 12(1) of the Electoral Act, 2010, (the current law which takes charge of all election matters in Nigeria) provides that a person shall be qualified to be registered as a voter if such a person –

  • Is a citizen of Nigeria;
  • Has attained the age of 18 years;
  • Is ordinarily resident, works in, originates from the local government area councillor ward covered by the registration centre;
  • Presents himself to the registration officers of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) for registration as a voter; and
  • Is not subject to any legal incapacity to vote under the law, rule or regulation in force in Nigeria.

In other words, you must register before you can vote. Registration implies that you must have your name placed on a list of qualified voters in your voting ward. Citizens who are qualified to vote, make up the electorate. It is important for Christians and the church, in general, to note that unless they present themselves to INEC for registration, they will never be qualified to vote. In general, the only people who cannot vote are:

  • Persons under 18 years of age
  • Convicted criminals, and
  • Non-citizens.

Although there is no constitutional provision that bars prisoners from voting, the reality on the ground is that they have not been permitted to vote in the past. The Constitution protects the right to vote of a citizen, eighteen years or older. It cannot be taken away because of the citizen’s community, ethnic group, and place of origin, sex, religion or political opinion (See Section 42 of the Constitution). If your eighteenth birthday falls on the day of the election, you are qualified to vote in that election, provided of course that you were registered before that date taking cognisance of your upcoming birthday and its implication on your franchise.

 

What is the Ballot?

INEC’s Election Manual defines a ballot as a vote cast or recorded in an election and a ballot paper as an instrument on which a voter marks his or her choice. The names of the candidates who are running for office are listed on a ballot, an official list. Section 44 (1) of the Electoral Act provides that INEC shall prescribe the format of the ballot papers which shall include the symbol adopted by the political party of the candidate and such other information as it may require. Subsection (2) provides that the ballot papers shall be bound in booklets and numbered serially with differentiating colours for each office being contested. Traditionally, a ballot paper has columns for a party name, party logo, and the voter’s mark. There are also rows which list out the party names. Section 43(1) of the Electoral Act provides that INEC shall provide suitable ballot boxes for the conduct of elections. The ballot may also contain issues – such as constitutional amendments – to be decided by voters.

 

Why Accreditation Before Voting?

In the words of INEC, “All persons wishing to vote must have their names on the register of voters. The Poll Official in-charge must certify this before being allowed to vote. Electors must be accredited prior to voting. It has been designed to restrict unauthorised movement. It will be simultaneous across the country. It is also to prevent multiple voting.”

  • Step 1: Go to the Polling Unit you were registered with your voter registration card and join the queue
  • Step 2: Present your Voter registration card to the INEC official and ensure that your name is the register
  • Step 3: Your finger would be marked with ink to show that you have been accredited – See INEC’s website.

 

What’s the Qualification for Vote Casting?

You Must:

  • Step 1: Join the queue with the intention of casting your vote
  • Step 2: When it gets to your turn, ensure your name is ticked in the voter register
  • Step 3: You would be given a ballot paper listing out the political parties
  • Step 4: Enter the booth and select your preferred candidate
  • Step 5: Place your ballot paper in the ballot box

–        See INEC’s website (supra)

 

 As a Christian, what should Guide my Choice in the Voting Process?

Christians should be cautious when exercising their franchise. By voting, we assume some responsibility for the decisions that our elected candidate will make; whether good or bad. Thus, we must not vote without careful thought and attention to the issues at play during elections. We should never vote blindly or out of a sense of party or ethnic loyalties. All too often today, selfish policies and sentiments rule in place of principles of justice and truth. Christians have no business voting in candidates who have little regard for core Bible values. In voting, as in every other activity, Christians should seek divine wisdom and then vote according to the leading of their spirit, as directed by the Holy Ghost.

The biggest challenge that faces Nigerian Christians in voting today is that they lack omniscience. Even if they vote intelligently and conscientiously, they may still vote wrongly. However, this is true in all facets of life. Where Christians never to act unless they are certain they are right, both the government and perhaps the church would be paralysed, for no one is infallible. Timid leaders would hold back, doing nothing lest they do the wrong thing. In the meantime, the devil and his forces would occupy the field. In voting, as in every other activity, the summary is that Christians should seek divine wisdom.

Christians may not only vote in good conscience, they also may seek and hold public office. The Bible reveals that some of God’s most noble men participated in secular government. Joseph was one of such noble men. Serving a top post in a heathen Egypt’s government, he considered his appointment the direct result of God’s plan. For Speaking to his brothers, he assured them that God hath made him lord of all Egypt (Genesis 45:9). And the purpose was to preserve their life (v.5). Daniel was another servant of God who filled an important government office in Babylon. Daniel was such a successful administrator under the Babylonians that when the succeeding empire took over, he was continued in office. He earned a second term which our politicians are desperately looking for. Darius recognised the leadership qualities in Daniel and made him first of three presidents of the whole kingdom (Daniel 6:2).

Imagine a scenario wherein upcoming election, Christian brethren are found on opposite sides, voting for opposing candidates. Should this lead to strife and hatred? In advanced countries, a husband may vote a candidate different from his wife. That does not make them less of a couple. They were only exercising their right to choices. So, if in the same church, brethren vote for different candidates competing for the same office, it should not lessen their confidence in one another or their love for those who differ with them. We must not permit personal antagonism or prejudice to embitter us against any of the believers in Christ because of politics. Furthermore, whether one chooses to vote or not, they should receive no criticism because of their decision to abstain from voting.

Thus, it is obvious that Christians, without sacrificing principle or compromising conscience, can fulfil their obligation to their government. They may, without becoming involved in political strife, cast their ballot. Simultaneously, nothing stops the, from longing for a better world, and praying, “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven” (Matthew. 6:10).

 

As a Christian, must I prefer Christian candidates to candidates of other religions?

All things being equal, a Christian candidate should be preferred to a non-Christian. However, I need to point out the following:

  • A candidate’s profession of the Christian faith does not necessarily imply that that candidate is a matured and Spirit filled individual of sound character who will preserve order and promote justice in the land if elected. It is an open secret that many politicians who profess the Christian faith are regular clients of native doctors and traditional shrines.
  • Religious professions and convictions are not tantamount to competency and qualification for the job. In the words of Pastor Paul Adefarasin: “If I am in an aeroplane, it’s good to know that the pilot is a born-again Christian but I am also concerned about his competence and certification to manage and guide the aeroplane.”
  • Our Constitution does not recognise or provide a religious test for public office. Openly expressing political choices based on religion or ethnicity is heating up the polity and political process.

But where voting for competence and qualification would imply ushering into office, a religious despot who hates Christians and is bent on marginalising our faith; then it would be safer for Christians to vote for candidates based on religion. Of course, we need not brandish this fact. Always conduct a research of the candidate’s past. It will help you fathom how he or she will act once they take the reins of power. A politician who has had a history of religious fanaticism and who believes in “religious wars” is a threat to the secular provisions of the Nigerian Constitution. He should never be voted into power.

 

Should I bother going out to vote where I feel insecure about the polling environment?

I have always insisted that the act of voting when exercised on behalf of equity, justice, and development, is blameless and appropriate. At the same time, Christians should avoid participating in the spirit of party strife and unsavoury political debates. Some wise Christians have decided not to engage in any political agitation or discussion, privately or publicly. They do not engage as the supporters of any political party. Their goal is always to recognise Christian principles apart from and above the candidates and the manifestos of political parties. If they vote, they do not link their interests with such parties. They cast their votes for the candidates who in their judgment are best qualified for offices, without reference to party affiliation. As Christians, we should never be indicted for electoral offences listed in Part VII of the Electoral Act 2010. If we arrive at a polling station and sense chaos, the best option is to walk away. I recall an incident where I went to vote for a cousin who was a candidate at a ward election. From the commencement of accreditations that morning, I sensed that there was trouble in the air. By noon a bloody fight broke out between members of my cousin’s political party and members of another rival party. I left the scene immediately. But for consanguine loyalties, I may not have even stayed that long at the scene. Once you sense trouble, leave the polling station and return home. If you live in the insecure regions of the North East of Nigeria, you should not even bother going out to vote because government assurances of safety will not bring you back from eternity should a bomb blow your body into pieces.

Nevertheless, voting is needful because every voter exerts a measure of influence on his society. The church should have a voice in determining what laws shall control our nation. Our votes should not be withheld because of fear. God has not given us the spirit of fear.

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