The storm seems to have calmed since Reuben Abati last took to writing. In a manner very typical of him he made swingeing criticisms of past political leaders in his last article titled, The Hypocrisy of Yesterday’s Men. He cited with implicit allusion a number of former serving members of government describing their shortcomings while they were in office and contrasted it with how well the present administration is doing. This, of course, led to a flurry of reprisals. Perhaps, the most fervid of the rejoinders came from Mr Femi Fani-Kayode, who claimed in his own wordy write-up to have seen through Abati’s thinly-veiled insinuations and responded accordingly. I do not say Abati is wrong or that Fani-Kayode is right; I write this piece because an episode like this represents what our democracy will need by 2015.
During the run-up to the 2011 elections there were ample campaigns by political activists and human rights personnel to ensure we had free and fair elections. The goal was to make the outcome of the polls a true representation of what Nigerians want. The question I asked then, and I am asking now is that Nigerians know what they want generally but do they really know what they want at the polls?
Before any untoward insinuation is drawn out of that question I should tell a story a friend told me. It was 2011. He was a corps member helping INEC with the elections in Kano when a young Hausa man came to cast his votes. He seemed rather impatient with the red tape of pre-registering, standing in line, having computer finger scans taken and whatnot. He came across to my friend as an opinion leader, gesticulating pointedly in livid Hausa to those around him. When it was finally his turn, he walked up to the polling counter and from a question or two it became apparent he could not read English. However, he had an important question for my friend: Which one be Alhaji?
This is the Nigerian story. A person, supposedly politically-opinionated, decides who will be a political office holder on the premise that he or she has been to Mecca! It does not matter if EFCC is on his trail; it does not matter if his health is frail; it does not matter what skeletons are locked up in his or her cupboard so long as he has been to Mecca once or more he is the politician of choice. That is what one Nigerian wants. Lord knows how many others voted like this!
So, back to Reuben Abati and Yesterday’s Men. It may have appeared like political ruse to have politicians trade words in the light of day but what mattered to me was the engagement. That Abati made claims and Fani-Kayode countered it with his own claims, and then the press jumped in and made breakfast out of it. My suggestion now is that the people on the streets are engaged in discussions like these. They need to know the facts and counter-facts. They need to see beyond the addendum of Alhaji or Otunba or Sir. This is the 21st century; we cannot allow nincompoops into office just because someone on the streets saw a banner of his proclaiming ‘Transformation 2015’. The facts must be out there on the streets, beyond twitter and the spread sheets of newspapers, we must find alternative means to reach out to the masses.
My proposal is not ground-breaking. I simply wish that we had more town-hall debates and meetings. Communities need to come together and hear out potential candidates. It would be in the lingua franca of the community. Pressmen will be there to dig out dirt and throw questions at them. It will be almost akin to press nights which we used to have at student elections back in my days at University of Ibadan: “You said this but did this”; “You had a car when elected. Now you own seven”; “How are you sponsoring your political ambition?”…
Every office holder is accountable to the people so I find it hard to believe suggestions that politicians will abscond from such meetings. It is the height of unaccountability – and when Mr Goodluck Jonathan absconded, so to speak, from the first presidential debate in 2011 I could already guess how his presidency would be if he won. And I was right. Also, we know politicians will not always be honest but with town-hall meetings we have something we can refer to ahead of the next elections. For Goodluck Jonathan there are still YouTube clips of an empty lectern bearing his name while other contestants, conscious of accountability, debated.
There are market-women, tailors, carpenters, busy corporate men, students who did not even hear of Reuben Abati’s article and the reaction it got. So, perhaps I shouldn’t have called it a storm. But come 2015 we shall need to create a mega storm by letting Nigerians know the facts and go to the polls with those facts handy.
Folorunso David is a Pharmacist. He can be reached on twitter @funsodavid