HAVE you ever been embarrassed beyond measure? Don’t ever pray for it. That is exactly what happens when you invite say 500 people to a party and only about 50 reluctantly turn up.
Our lesson for today is drawn from the experience of one of our friends, Araka, in the late 1960s, just before the end of the Nigerian civil war. It was in Lagos before the advent of the Pentecostal movement and Nigerians were not seriously born again, the modern way. The Towns’ Unions and their youth accompaniment were in vogue then.
Araka had a lot of money. He was in the ‘Pay and Roll’, where they paid some and rolled some. Such a man thought he had no reason to begin to associate with less significant mortals of the towns unions. After some five years of marriage, a baby arrived for the Arakas and it was time to celebrate. Our friend slaughtered a big cow and took a big band. On that fateful day, the party was scheduled for 1 p.m. But at 4 p.m. virtually all the seats were still empty but the band was already playing. The street children had started assuming the seats on the high table.
Our friend became visibly worried. “Joe, where are the people, the town’s union people and the youths?” he kept asking me in a tone that seemed to suggest that I was keeping them. I went on my Vesper machine and flew round, trying to appeal to the people to come and chop but it was already too late.
The people had made up their minds that if hunger was on assignment to kill the poor, then, hunger must learn to meet the poor in his house. That was how Araka had the best party that never was. After that day, our friend became a self-appointed agent of Saint Luke who, in Acts of the Apostles (chapter 20 verse 35), opined that: “It is more blessed to give than to receive”.
We have gone at this great length to illustrate what Nigerians are
doing to the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, in a
way, the modern day Araka. We gave INEC the serious assignment of organising some elections for us. Preparatory to this, INEC registered some 70 million people. The embarrassment for all of us, particularly the INEC, is that the Commission proceeded to the market, bought all the fat cows, procured all the available bags of rice, the yams, the oil and the necessary condiments and prepared dinner for 70 million people but alas, only 25 million came for the dinner.
This portrays INEC in bad light: as a tax eating parasite, overpaid and underproductive. We are quick at imagining that the billions of Naira allocated to INEC has flown into the individual pockets of the officials; whereas a good part of the money went into preparing the dinner for 70 million people. The cure for hangover, they say, is more drinking. In the same vein, the cure for the colossal waste now staring us on the face is more waste. INEC must now spend more money to dispose off the debris of the dinner that would have been eaten by the 45 million people who were absent. That’s not all. We have now sent INEC running from pillar to post, trying to find out why the 45 million people were absent from the dinner. They are now holding all shades of seminars and workshops, resulting in wastes and more wastes. INEC must take heart because things must get worse before they get better. In just the same way that God uses the most foolish things to confound the wise, it is taking the very negative aspects of these elections to indicate that we are beginning to arrive at the desired results. The avalanche of invalid votes and the perceived voter apathy, although undesirable, are the most visible indicators that we are beginning to get real votes as against massive votes of the massive rigging era. In that era, records could easily show 90 percent voter turnout because all available ballot papers were simply thumb-printed and dumped into the ballot boxes. The propensity to rig bears a direct correlation with voter turnout – the more rigging there is, the higher the voter turnout figure.
Again, what we are seeing as voter apathy could also indicate that there is something wrong with our voters’ registration. We must quickly go back to the books and find out whether there are still cases of the registration of the Mike Tysons and others based on newspaper photographs because under the free and fair elections, which we are gradually approaching, those ones are not going to show up in any polling station. In a general election, though, 100 percent voter turnout is impossible anywhere in the world. If we were to conclude registration in the evening of one day and go for an election the following morning, 100 percent turnout would still be unattainable.
This underscores the need for regular review of the voters’ register. Nigerians must be told that despite the imperfections of our systems, elections still remain a critical part of the democratic process; and the existence of free elections provides a major difference between democracies and totalitarian or authoritarian regimes. Refusing to vote is voting against yourself and each time this happens, you shall have lost the moral right to complain about whatever form of government you get. Herein lies the daunting task before the political parties and their candidates who are, after all, the principal beneficiaries of informed voting.