By Josef Omorotomwan
THIS column is today dedicated to the down-trodden masses; the Low Income Group, otherwise known as the LIGs; for their total dedication to the success of the on-going registration of voters.
Indeed, if we were to ask anyone who has seen the four walls of any classroom what the current registration of voters in Nigeria is costing, he would readily tell you that it is in the range of N94 billion, representing the original sum of N87+ billion and the supplementary request of close to N7 billion to cover the one-week extension.
Some who have argued that this is a huge amount have pointed to the fact that it is far more than the real annual budget of many state governments and that such sum would go far in fixing many of our dilapidated roads.
We, however, think that it is a lot healthier to remain at the psychological level where some have attempted to rationalise the sum as infinitesimal, maintaining, after all, that in recent history, single individuals in Nigeria have hauled more than that into their personal pockets from the public treasury. One does not need to get to the Ports Authority or the Police High Command to find living examples.
Neither do we intend to restrict ourselves to the banks and the oil industries. When it comes to using the foolish things to confound the wise, our good Lord has been quite busy here. He gave us abundant resources and also gave us the men to scatter those resources.
It is instructive that the average Nigerian has become so immersed in the political system that he is willing to bear a lot of hidden costs in the on-going registration of voters, which hidden costs put together, would perhaps far outweigh the known costs. Going by past examples, it would have been unimaginable that people would troop out in such large numbers. Since the exercise started, even peasant farmers have abandoned their farms and other related endeavours.
Between waiting for the DDC machines to arrive and getting them to work well after arrival, Citizen Osagie only got registered on the tenth day. When he got to the farm on the eleventh day to meet the bush pig caught by his trap had turned big flies and fat bones, he was not perturbed by the enormous loss of income that would have accrued from the sale. After all, he is registered. Nothing else matters.
In the past, people looked up to the government for everything. But this time around, as soon as the registration officials complained of not having generators to charge the batteries, not only did communities provide generators, they also provided fuel to run the generators and people to operate them. Where the people could not afford fans to cool the fragile DDC machines, communities provided youths to manually fan the machines. They made sure that the registration officials lacked nothing.
They cared for them just as Catholics took care of their visiting Reverend Fathers of those days. They appointed people to transport the registration officials from their residence to the registration centres and back, without counting the cost. It was on Saturday, January 15, which was to be the last day of registration going by the original schedule. We were attending a traditional marriage in Benin City.
At the middle of the ceremony, a phone call came to the man who was giving out his daughter in marriage that the ink in the printer in one of the registration centres at faraway Igbanke in Orhionmwon Local Government Area of Edo State (a distance of more than 70 kilometres) had gone dry.
The man abandoned his ceremony, went to Mission Road in Benin City, bought the ink and rushed same to them at Igbanke. As far as this man was concerned, the registration was by far more important than the marriage and that’s the type of seriousness with which people all over the country have handled the on-going registration exercise. There were deliberate attempts here and there to rubbish the efforts of the Youth Corps members involved in the registration exercise, even where it was clear that these youths brought the programme to fruition.
Then comes the bogus issue of the closure of schools for the purpose of the registration exercise. The hidden cost of this singular error was enormous but Nigerians were not bothered since they were told that it was aimed at ensuring a hitch-free exercise. Added to this was the fact that state governments also had to declare additional public holidays in their various domains, all to ensure that nothing, absolutely nothing, came between the registration exercise and the desired success.
Even at the crudest level, the most important loss to a community is the loss of the lives of its citizens. It is now history that the registration exercise took its toll in human lives. There were instances where people suffocated to death after they had queued endlessly in large crowds, waiting to be registered. The hidden cost of such losses cannot be quantified in terms of Naira and Kobo. Nigerians paid these prices, all in search of voters’ registration that would lead to free, fair and credible elections.
While hoping for the best, we must also provide for the worst. What would be the implications of all these preparations in the event of unfair, unfree and incredible elections? Certainly, the people who have put in their best also expect the best in return but if you are giving them counterfeit in return for their gold coin, you must be mistaken to think that they will not react.
True, speaking metaphorically, there can be no Tunisia without a Bouazizi. Mohammed Bouazizi was the 26-year-old Tunisian who, when he got frustrated by the goings-on in Tunisia, gave himself a petrol bath and set himself ablaze. That sparked off the revolution, which today is moving across the world. Whether it is in Tunisia or Algeria; whether it is in Egypt or, for that matter, even in Nigeria; the circumstances that give birth to the Bouazizis are virtually the same and the reactions to them could also be similar. We just hope our leaders are listening.