Mistake or not, we are stuck with them for four years. Unless he resigns. Which is rare in our clime. Or unless he’s impeached. Which is uncommon.

Banji Ojewale

In all science, error precedes the truth, and it is better it should go first than last

— Horace Walpole (1717-1797) English writer and politician


If we go by what our politicians (the major presidential candidates notably) are saying about each other this campaign season, we can’t but conclude that they are all ‘misfits’ for office in 2019. They have smeared themselves. They have used invectives dug from the gutter to paint themselves. They have cancelled one another from the log of men and women of integrity.

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They have thrown away their gloves and bruised their faces with bare fists. They have either asked the umpire to stay off or have left the ring altogether to slug it out in the mud. Now it’s a bloody street fight all the way. When the vote is cast and the result declared, both the winner and defeated and spectator would be losers, none a victor, even if there is a coronation. Why? It would be a pyrrhic triumph, where you’d ask yourself if you haven’t run all this marathon race only to end up with a mistake as your leader.

But that is our cyclical experience. We hail our leaders when they come in. Soon, the scales fall off our eyes. We then begin to see them again in the soiled garment the opposing side put on them before the poll. Mistake or not, we are stuck with them for four years. Unless he resigns. Which is rare in our clime. Or unless he’s impeached. Which is uncommon.

Some worried compatriots have said that we don’t have to be glued to an underperforming leader for four years, if they wouldn’t leave on their own or allow themselves to be removed legitimately. They are suggesting a new constitutional provision to make way for midterm polls to serve as a referendum on a ruling party, as it is done in the United States near the midpoint of a president’s four-year term of office. Dissenting critics however argue that because it generates a lower voter turnout, a halfway ballot cannot be a valid or democratic gauge of the mood of the electorate.

They refer to the history of these ‘sub-elections’ in the US. Less than 36% of the poll-eligible community voted in 2014, said to be the lowest in 76 years. In 1966, only 48% were available to vote. The 70s were worse, recording severe drops, reportedly because of the Watergate scandal of President Richard Nixon.

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I think no matter what these statistics point to, they send powerful signals to a leader, a faltering one especially, that his days are numbered if he doesn’t sit up. That’s the instruction from the recent midterm poll in the US. Rulers must be put on their toes. They don’t daily realize they are in power only because the people want them there. But the people’s vote can’t be taken for granted. It is capricious; it can swing the opposite way to correct an electoral error.

And in Nigeria, we have inflicted serial ballot blisters upon ourselves that we futilely attempt to cure in quadrennial elections. Nigerians say each new government they usher in is worse than the previous one voted out. They loathe the fresh administration and begin to grumble it is not catering for their interests. Then in a year or two, the traditional parting of ways occurs. As the government prepares for its fourth anniversary, expecting a second term, there is open rebellion that sounds its death knell.

It is a pattern that we have lived with in our recent history. It is astonishing that members of the pools community in Nigeria have not discovered an inherent-business of subjecting this predictable succession trajectory of our politics to a betting game. They could have made a merchandise of this, seeing we’re a country of commercial risk takers with excessive faith in luck or fate. After all, other less fickle human activities such as the top football leagues of Europe have not only emptied the pockets and bank accounts of Nigerian fortune seekers, but also they have occupied their days and nights.

Some of our compatriots fear this seasonal search for the ‘right’ man at the helm would be an endless journey, that generations to come would be trapped in a similar will-o’-the wisp, that we are tethered to a jinx to last forever.

False prognosis, according to science! There is hope one day we shall get the right man.The great scientific and technological discoveries of our age never came as finished products. They went back and forth as one failure to another failure, receiving knocks and rejections that finally brought them into some level of acceptance, which, as time has proved, would itself be displaced for a more suitable acceptance.

So let’s draw immeasurable solace from what we gather in these castles of science and technology. That is what moves us to continue to go to the poll, despite the challenges thrown at us before, during and after elections, knowing most on offer are ‘errors’ preparing us for the ‘truth’ hidden in the close future.

So, as the politicians go on the hustings, spewing scurrilously searing side issues, ahead of the 2019 ballot, we ask: who will be our next mistake?

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Ojewale writes from Lagos