I have never failed, using any opportunity that comes my way, to express disdain and disenchantment over the gullibility and vulnerability of the Nigerian electorate. Yes, gullibility, vulnerability! Contest that if you wish; it is your right. But we will be doing the nation and ourselves a great disservice if we failed to accept this fact wholeheartedly and work conscientiously to obliterate it from our body politic. Forget all the grandstanding toward 2015: It can only make sense if the electorate (on whose delicate shoulders rest its success or failure) turn a new leaf.
I have done a private survey of the voting patterns in some democratic African nations, particularly in the West African sub-Region, and have come to the sad conclusion that Nigerian voters are among the most vulnerable, gullible and malleable. These negative tendencies have constituted a great threat to the effort to entrench sustainable democratic governance and drive development on the continent.
Let us take a cursory look at Mali, Ghana, Sierra-Leone, which have successfully staged elections in recent times. The last general elections in Ghana were adjudged by independent observers as free and fair. Even the Supreme Court of Ghana last week unanimously endorsed the outcome of the elections, despite the plots by the opposition to upturn it. Malians also went to the polls on July 28, 2013 to elect a new president. Former Prime Minister and Speaker of the National Assembly of Mali Ibrahim Boubacar Keita defeated Soumaila Cisse after a keenly contested election and second round run-off of August 11, 2013.
Let us migrate to East Africa, where elections are a big deal. Though usually volatile and tension-packed, elections in East Africa have always produced mixed results. Take for instance, Kenya. The last general elections were hotly contested by all the registered parties. It was the party that positively provoked the consciousness of the people that pulled through. The emergence of Uhuru Kenyetta as President would not have been possible if not for the die-hard stance and resoluteness of the electorate who stood up to defend their votes. It is the same story in Zimbabwe. For those who read my personal account on the elections in that country last month, it would have been a pleasant surprise to hear that it was free and fair. But that was the truth. Contrary to speculations in the media about the sitting President compromising the outcome of the elections, it was well-organised and peaceful.
The truth many people did not know before now is that elections in Zimbabwe provoke a serious national alertness and eagerness in the electorate. They form strong voting blocs which in turn influence, to an appreciable level, the final result. One of the most powerful of such groups is the farmers. They are the life-wire of elections in Zimbabwe, especially after the exit of the white farmers that hitherto owned over 70 per cent of arable land in the country. So, the eviction of the white farmers by the Robert Mugabe administration is still viewed by them as a heroic act, for which they will be eternally grateful to him. This is the magic behind the seeming invincibility of Mugabe – a brutal fact his acerbic critics have opted to gloss over at their own peril.
What of North Africa? The voters here are more enlightened, courageous and watchful than voters in West Africa. The Arab Spring, which has claimed the lives of thousands of people since it began, has remained a constant imprint on politics in the territory. The ouster and killing of Muammar Gaddafi could not have been possible without the courage put up by Tunisians in dealing with the corrupt and oppressive regime of former President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali that ignited the insurrection in Libya. Egypt was the first to taste the bitter pill of the revolution in North Africa after Tunisia. The removal of Hosni Mubarak, after 31 years in the saddle, and the subsequent installation of Mohamed Morsi of the famous Muslim Brotherhood as President on June 30 last year have not helped much in dousing tension in Egypt. There have been numerous clashes between irate members of the Brotherhood and security forces since the overthrow of Morsi. The continuing clashes have been exacerbated by the high level of awareness among the masses whose opinion will always count in major socio-political decisions by any post-Mubarak and Morsi regimes.
However, the backlash of the developments in Egypt is constantly reflected in the burning desire by other nations on the African Continent to toe the same revolutionary line. It would have been impossible to contemplate, let alone undertake, any such foolhardy mission some 15 years ago. We could recall the audacity and viciousness with which Gaddafi and Mubarak governed their people. In fact, they saw their positions as a private estate, with the people at their mercy. Nonetheless, when the people’s might came to bear they scampered for safety. When death stared Gaddafi in the face, he did not what hit him forcing him to recall, in split seconds, the numerous lives he wasted in his many years of suppressive and oppressive leadership.
Now the question is: why have voters in Nigeria remained docile, baleful, compromising, gullible and vulnerable? Right from the 50s when political party system gained ascendency in Nigeria, voters have always exhibited cautious and measured courage in the discharge of their civic responsibility. This has unfortunately accounted for the high turnover of incompetent and corrupt leaders who have emasculated the people and pillaged our common patrimony. Governance in Nigeria, painfully, has been turned into a money-making enterprise for some egocentric individuals whose appetite for ostentation and sleaziness is bottomless. Their main goal for assuming political power, in the first place, is for self-enrichment and adulation. This morbidity in desire is amply exemplified in their lifestyles, mode of governance and general comportment. It is easy to see their latent devious intentions and endless appetite to rule at the detriment of their people.
It has bothered me so much, especially in recent times, that the Nigerian voters have not learned anything from the avoidable mistakes of the past. Rather than change and refocus they get deeper and deeper into the mess they created by themselves. The retrogressive politics and backwardness prevalent in our nation today are products of poor choice of candidates. Sadly, many of those elected since the 60s to run the affairs of this nation have not lived up to expectation. It has since been proved that many of them are grossly incompetent, lack fineness, integrity and deep knowledge of their functions as elected representatives. This is responsible for their low productivity, garrulity, ineptitude and the general amnesia that characterize their conduct as well as service.
What the Nigerian voters have refused to appreciate, though, is the huge harm they have done to themselves by voting for the wrong people. If rules are applied strictly, some of the current elected representatives would have no business being there. Strangely, many of them found their way into the hallowed chambers of the state or National Assembly through the back door. The same situation is applicable to some governors who exhibit untoward conduct and demeanour in the discharge of their duty.
In any case, the argument some commentators have constantly made in defence of the voters is their helplessness in the face of brutality and brigandage unleashed on them by unscrupulous politicians during elections. They claim many of those elected wangled their way to be where they are today. They also claim that voters are usually hamstrung and intimidated by power-hungry politicians, forcing them to queue behind a line they never contemplated.
As far as I am concerned, the foregoing reasons hold no water. They lack conviction and logic. Why should anybody be intimidated, for that matter, simply for voting for a candidate of his choice? Where then lay their faith and courage? Politicians look down on voters for the simple reason that they have allowed themselves to be intimidated and used. This is where the difference between us and Arab nations lies.
I do not want to be cajoled by the pretentions of politicians. The unassailable truth remains they have not been fair to the Nigerian masses. Is it not wicked for an elected representative to disappear into thin immediately he is declared winner of an election? He makes himself incommunicado and pockets every dime he makes on the beat. A few of them that have managed to embark on not-too-impressive constituency projects do so to fulfill all righteousness. Remuneration for elected representatives, for instance, has been in the front burner of public commentaries in recent times. While some critics do not see anything extraordinary about the emoluments of political office holders, especially members of the National Assembly, others see no moral justification for the jumbo pay legislators take home. In my thinking, everything is wrong when elected members conduct themselves mawkishly and engage in demeaning adventures. It makes no sense to spend a huge percentage of the national recurrent expenditure on the emolument of elected officers at state and national levels, when a majority of Nigerians live below the poverty level. What I think should form the key criterion for anybody seeking election in Nigeria is his commitment to service, not for self-enrichment, which is the case today.
So, what are the voters expected to do now that 2015 is fast approaching? The answer is very simple: engage in attitudinal change. There must be a change in the way we reason and act. Agreed, there is poverty in the land. Should that cause us to mortgage our conscience for a mere mess of portage? Have we considered what damage we do to our reputation, conscience, nation and the future of generations of Nigerians yet unborn each time we shirk our civic duty and embark on self-serving acts? Are we just contented with the crumbs that fall from the master’s table when our citizenship confers on us inalienable rights to choose who governs us? We need to answer this question to appreciate the incalculable and collateral disservice we have done to ourselves.
What probably many of us have not considered is the enormous change we can bring to our lives and nation if we turned a new leaf today and do what is right and needful whenever we are called upon to discharge our civic responsibility. Think about what will happen if we decide that whoever will seek our votes henceforth must be a man or woman of proven honour and integrity. The bitter fact we have always glossed over is that we knew that most of those we voted for in the past were not competent and morally qualified to ask for our votes ab initio. Why then did we close our eyes to their shortcomings and go ahead to elect them, then turn back to complain?
It is morally wrong for one to consciously subject oneself to manipulation in the hands of crooked-minded people for the sake of what one will get in return. When we engage in such a debasing act all we have signed for is suffering and, if care is not taken, death. After all, many of our people have died out of poverty, diseases and deprivation brought upon them by their greed and avarice. Is it not written in the Holy writs that what one sows is what one reaps?
Again showing of apathy on the day of election is another worrisome phenomenon associated with the Nigerian voters. Many of us tend to forget that whenever the cat is asleep the rats have a field day. The same thing is applicable to us: when we are not vigilant, the enemy overcomes us. What will it profit you if you gain all the money you need momentarily from politicians and subject your children and grandchildren to perpetual suffering?
The time has come for all of us to decide collectively to bring change to the way we vote, and watch over our votes. It is meaningless for you to vote and not ensure your vote counts. It is only when your vote counts that the right calibre of leaders emerge.
Nigeria is blessed with rich potentialities. What we lack are competent, God-fearing leaders to harness the resources for the well being of the people and growth of the nation. If we want change, we have got to work for it fearlessly and vibrantly. Cowardice in the face of adversity is the Achilles Heels of our national development. The moment we banish fear and take our destiny in our hands, we will see how things will change for good for us and our nation. Recall that cowards die many times before their death.
History will not judge us well if we failed to adhere to the continual entreaties and remain adamant in our evil ways. Then we should not blame anybody when the Law of Karma haunts us. Haunt us it must.
He who has ears let him hear.