Kingsley Ohajunwa: Sentiments And The Nigerian Electorate

Published:22 Dec, 2016

One of the most popular words associated with modern day governance at any level is ‘democracy’. The entire concept behind this word was first practiced in classical Athens and Greece in the 5th and 6th century when the people came out to “put” their representatives in office since everyone couldn’t govern at the same time. The practice meant power of the people in which every adult could influence group decisions. This therefore empowered an individual to directly influence outcome of elections and ultimately quality of governance and service delivery. Going beyond this point to more recent times is the definition of democracy by a onetime President of the United States of America, Abraham Lincoln, which presents it as being the government of the people, for the people and by the people. This perhaps captures the totality and efficacy embedded in this pattern of governance stating what should be the obvious in terms of enabling the average franchised individual to decide who represents their interest at different cadres of administration.

Over the decades most countries have come to adopt this system of governance due to the magnitude of power citizens have to continuously assess performance and delivery by their leaders and the compelling mandate leaders on their part have to ensure effective and efficient administration is felt by the citizens. For this reason such citizens have the right to periodically make changes that seek to protect their interests by virtue of their votes. Indeed this may be considered the most powerful tool which the citizens have. For this reason the citizen or voter may just be considered the most important force in the entire electoral chain because his decision determines to a large extent what becomes of the political entity in subsequent times. Little wonder the two candidates in the recently concluded American Presidential election, Donald Trump and Hilary Clinton did the needful to gain acceptance among the most powerful umpires- electorates. On 8th November 2016 Americans therefore decided whom they think best represents their interest in the White house- Donald Trump. Of course the two aspirants had divergent views on a number of issues and separate programs on their manifesto; the principal factor was in these aspirants seeing that their ideas for the future America after November 8 favourably capture Americans.

While it may be suggested that the American Presidential election shouldn’t form the basis for comparison when talking about Nigeria, it is also vital to point out that several common features are shared by the two countries, some of which include- system of government, tenure of office for elected public officials and type of legislature. These are sufficient enough to be used as basis for comparison. As a keen political observer issues such as immigration, defense, equality, security and human rights formed the core of campaign manifesto of the two aspirants and on November 8th the people came out to decide who their preferred candidate was. While many had predicted and thought Hilary Clinton will emerge winner judging from outcome of pre-election polls, the world was to be put in a state of utter consternation and bewilderment, billionaire businessman, Donald Trump had won the keenly observed American Presidential polls and even certain religious pundits had missed it in their “revelations”. How on earth could this have happened? What exactly went wrong? At what point did Hilary miss it? At what point did Donald strike the cord? Who exactly where those that voted for Donald Trump? Could there have been any form of malpractice or irregularity? Would Donald Trump now fulfill some of the coarsely communicated campaign “messages” he had for several months maintained? What becomes the fate of Clinton and women at large in the American society? What will Trump’s foreign policy agenda look like? What becomes the fate of millions of illegal immigrants who are resident in the US and have known no other home? These instantly became just a few of the questions that formed the core of discussions which held sway globally shortly after the polls. The most important thing however was that Americans had chosen their desired leader.

As earlier stated it cannot be considered grandiose juxtaposing all of these with Africa and particularly Nigeria. This comparison presents sharp contrast which calls for very serious concerns. In very recent times and within the present democratic dispensation a couple elections have been held cutting across the presidential, national and state houses of assembly, governorship and local government councils. In particular emphasis this writing has been necessitated due to the elections which have conducted between February 2015 and November 2016. It instructive at this point to recall events which occurred prior to the 2015 Presidential elections in which the candidate of the APC didn’t turn up for a debate for reasons still unknown. This to many political observers was an affront and open disregard of electorates and a mockery of the magnitude of stewardship the office of the President bestows on its key occupant. Humorously within the same country this to some others was a way of showing acceptance and endorsement as whether or not he turned up for the debate he would still win. Yet this gesture to some others was perceived as preconceived arrangement to subject their “brother” to some sort of ridicule and lay him as an easy lamb for sacrificial slaughter. The gravity of any debate set up for Political aspirants cannot be undermined as this provides the vehicle through which thoughts, insights and desires of the aspirants are tested and brought to bear when placed paripasu with those of their rivals within the same atmosphere.

Although it may be instructive to reiterate that Nigeria is a heterogeneous society with its citizens being faithfuls of varied number of religious beliefs and causes, these divisions in fact have seemed to pose a large part of the problem. Especially for campaign purposes politicians are usually in the habit of emphasizing the need for unity in diversity which in actual sense may be a complete misnomer in itself and seldom occurs. It is worrisome that the average Nigerian electorate takes into cognizance the religious and tribal affinity he or she has with the aspirant and completely trivializes the candidates’ portfolio of past efforts in administration at any level, importance of competence and zeal for purposeful service delivery. All of these are thrown into the trash and enthroned with the mendacious desires of giving such very important mandate to one with whom they share a similar tribal or religious connection. How ridiculous!

We need to understand social class and its place in electoral victory. The Rich care less about who becomes the leader since they enjoy a certain level of comfort that seldom gets affected from administration to administration because infact in many cases they “anoint” such leaders before they are put forward and are of course a very minute number, those of the average class seek greener pastures and are desirous of a more improved lifestyle. As such they have a level of responsibility in who emerges as the leader. While they form a sizeable number, they can garner support for the leader projected to them as their messiah, influence group decisions and outcome because they are usually educated and enlightened, though they can’t anoint leaders. The poor are in the vast majority of those who form the citizenry. They are sparsely educated, have very meager means of income, have retired to a life of abject lack and penury, obviously look haggard and emaciated due to decades of poverty, have no iota of self-worth and can barely afford the basics of life, do not even understand who their real enemies should be and so go after killing petty thieves but worship and adore with so much sacrosanct idiosyncrasy political and religious leaders who rob them blind at every given instance. All of these hold sway in Nigeria and may continue to hold sway.

It’s ironic but true. While the decision to choose credible leadership is one that requires very extensive use of words in convincing electorates towards winning their support as it is done in many countries, the media was awash with sorry pictures of laughable products and food items which were used as baits towards getting the support of electorates- obviously the poor. Products such as branded t-shirts, face caps, key holders, books, pens were distributed, while food items as branded bread and bean cake balls popularly called “akara” was prepared and given to people. What an insalubrious situation! People selling their destiny for mere edible commodities! What a country! What a pitiable pisma disma (in the words of a former federal legislator). Since the politician gave you gifts and food, perhaps he has fulfilled his side of the bargain even before getting into power. So what more can be required of him! It’s therefore insane for anyone to demand accountability from such public office holders who can obviously not be accused of any act of perfidy.

To say that Nigerians are among the most educated people on the surface of the earth is not in doubt. What is questionable here is how analytical people can get in talking about the problems, like they always have anyway. Very often are solutions which are proffered stuck to. Regrettably it should be known by the eggheads who occupy leadership positions in the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) that preparations for the next elections should commence as soon as the current elections are concluded. However we have repeatedly had situations where elections were postponed due to the unpreparedness of the electoral body and other supporting agencies. Cases which come to mind here are the 2015 general elections and the just concluded gubernatorial election in Edo State. For very many reasons INEC should understand the complexity associated with conducting elections in a country like Nigeria and put in measures to portray preparedness. Yet, with the passage of time and caliber of people in the commission the same scenario keeps re-occurring. For how long!

My friend once said “law makers are usually the biggest law breakers”. His statement may not be far from the truth. What happens in Lagos during election campaigns for the purpose of publicity is a complete contrast from what the state critically promotes. While monitoring the conduct of the last two general elections in the state it was observed that campaign posters and banners of political aspirants were used in “decorating” major streets and roads around. This in no small measure continues to create a society of excrescence which the state itself struggles to contend with. What’s more disturbing is the braggadocios temerity with which some megalomaniac politicians who had held various positions display these banners and posters for a return to power. Yet it is intriguing that these politicians more often than not get “re-elected” into power. So who elected them? Who gave their mandate for their return to power? Who are those that fueled the entire campaign process? What was contained in the manifestoes of these politicians that made them clinch power again? Too many questions with very few answers. Ordinarily it should be clear to the electorates that a person who disregards laws of the land while contesting will do worse when he has the keys of power entrusted to him. Therefore it shouldn’t come as a surprise when we see cases of flagrant disregard of laws, court orders and summons, intimidation, thuggery and high-handedness being displayed.

Nigeria’s power situation has continued to defy all solutions. Various individuals have occupied the position of Minister of Power- both those described as technocrats, academics and politicians. Yet nothing has happened. Absolutely nothing! All we keep getting are excuses and re-assurance. Yet again for how long? This same issue has now crept into elections. A device known as card reader which should ordinarily make the electoral process fast, smooth, easier and more transparent is usually part of the objects of much debate. All manner of debates both for and against its use during elections have been advanced. But two things are pertinent- firstly, what is the main hindrance to its use? Power! Secondly, why has its use continued to be discouraged? Corruption and electoral fraud! Ironically a lot of Nigerians know this, yet they still vehemently vote for those that won’t even allow the most infinitesimal level of transparency during elections take place. In addition to right to life, right to own property, another right which shouldn’t be taken from an eligible person is the right to vote. This right as subtle as it may be considered accounts for the possibility of all other rights being respected or trampled upon. All because the individual has been disenfranchised from performing his or her civic responsibility.

Kingsley Ohajunwa is a Nigerian writer. Reactions to this and other articles of his can reach him via kingsohajunwa@gmail.com

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