By Sheila Sand
Joshua sat at the edge of his six-spring bed, listening attentively as the Electoral Commissioner announced the results of the just-concludedgubernatorial elections. He had not had a good sleep for days but he needed to hear these results because it would shape the future of his career. He was forced to choose between progressives and conservatives and he chose the former.
He was committed to free and fair elections and that was what progressivism was all about. One man, one vote and he worked tirelessly for that during the campaigns and realised it was almost impossible.
The six spring bed creaked and squeaked as strange figures were reeled out by the electoral commissioner. He wondered if it was the same result he covered with his lens or the result of another election that was being announced.
Dismay masked his face as Chief Okitipupa eventually emerged winner of the governorship election. He sighed several times before burying his face on his palms, a deep groan escaping his throat.
“ So much has gone wrong in Plantain Republic and there would never be a remedy,” he told himself sadly. Despite the good image parried by the Peoples Election Commission and the promises made by the new commissioners said to be without spots and wrinkles, no difference was recorded in the just-announced results.
Only two days ago, from the balcony of his Third Floor apartment on Sign Street, he had taken several shots of what would have been award-winning photographs of men in police uniform thumb-printing ballot papers on the eve of the election. The photo was yet another exclusive shot captured by his lens but it had shocked him when the editor of Headline News the newspaper he worked for as photo journalist turned down the photo for publication as had turned down several of the shots he took during the elections.
Joshua knew it was not ordinary. Something must have transpired between his colleagues and some personalities involved in the elections. Money must have changed hands and the top editors of Headline News always made his exclusive shots look like dirts not worthy of publication. It always pained Joshua whenever any of his exclusive shots for which he had won several international awards were thrown into the trash can of the newsroom by his bosses for flimsy excuses.
It was no longer news that politicians and money-bags bought the conscience of some newspaper editors and senior journalists who in turn’ killed’ stories and photos of scandalous events that occurred during the electioneering campaigns of Chief Okitipupa.
A sob escaped from Joshua’s throat again. All those shots that captured Chief Okitipupa’s thugs shooting sporadically in the air, hoodlums wielding matchets and guns in broad-daylight; corpses of victims of political violence lying in the streets and thugs making away with ballot boxes never got published. Rumour had made the rounds that Chief Okitipupa of Democratic Action Party could do anything with his money. He didn’t disappoint those who believed in the power of his money and the pressmen on his payroll complied with his exclusive design.
He was a believer of the fact that it was better to win an election than go to the elections petitions tribunal and he was right about that. He fought to win. He did all it required for him to win and he did exactly win and the press was silent.
“Something has gone terribly wrong”, Joshua sobbed again.
At Headline News where he worked as a photo journalist , he had noticed many things since the transition programme of General Jagbajantis kicked off. All the pages of the 72-page tabloid published by Chief Ogidi , a war -journalist in the 1990’s had gone for sale to the highest bidder. Politicians sponsored lies on the pages of newspapers for a very high price.
Political journalists had become millionaires. Agents of political parties paid journalists and editors to publish lies against their opponents. Some got employed in newspapers as spies and freelance journalists. Joshua had been offered money by money-bags to withhold publication of some offensive photographs but he always turned down their monies. His superiors had collected the dough and shoved his photos in the waste-paper basket.
Joshua knew the system was worse than he thought. Journalists have made mess of the war against corruption. They have compromised. His colleagues now cruised about in posh cars and dress like fashion models. Some male journalists and their female accomplices lived in mansions and owned property all over the state. Their appearances were like pictures taken off GQ and Playboy magazines. Their annual salaries would never afford their monthly expenditure. Those who could play the game got rich while the decent ones languished in poverty.
It pained him that journalists have betrayed their enviable position as members of the fourth estate of the realm. People no longer believed what they read on the pages of newspapers. Even photos told lies. Money answereth all things.
Joshua sighed and walked to the window of his bedroom and looked outside. Everything about Plantain Republic was a lie. Corruption had eaten deep into the system. It had become institutionalised.
Joshua had hoped he would help effect a positive change in the society through his lens. That dream had become a mirage. Integrity had ceased to be a virtue. Incorruptibility was no more a virtue. Honesty no longer had laurels. And to prove it ,he had remained poor while his colleagues were buying mansions, posh cars and living it up.
Many of his colleagues could not understand him, or why he chose the path of poverty in a country where fortune was literally lying on the streets. In Plantain Republic, everyone had a choice to make. If really, only fools ventured where angels feared to thread, that saying would not be appropriate for Plantain Republic where there were no lines between angels and fools. In Plantain Republic, fools were celebrated. The morons were the barons. Thieves were chiefs. Might was right and injustice the order of the day. Power-drunkenness was the in-thing and those who had it flaunt it. If anything was being frowned at in Plantain Republic, it was the inability not to belong among the wielders of power.
But it was his choice. In life, everything had a price. In Plantain Republic, the price of incorruptibility was poverty.
And with Chief Okitipupa emerging as governor, Joshua knew corruption had become institutionalised.
It also meant he had to quit or remain poor. Or join them to be a winner !