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Big men, blind followers and Nigerians’ fledgling commitment to democracy

By Tabia Princewill

ON the surface, Nigerians are politically active: the front pages of our newspapers mostly report political events and we have more registered parties than most other countries.

Yet the uncollected voters cards tell a different story, so do the statistics in regards to voter turnout: in October last year the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, bemoaned the consistently low turnout in Nigerian elections.

He gave the following example: during bye elections in Lagos, the turnout was around three per cent meaning that out of 83,000 registered voters in a particular local government, only 6,000 voters were accredited.

He went on to state that during the Continuous Voters Registration, CVR exercise, Rivers and Lagos topped the list of new Permanent Voters Cards, PVCs requested, with 151,398 and 144,076 requested respectively.

In Gombe and Taraba only 26 and 139 new PVC requests were made, respectively. Ironically, these states have been affected by one form of crisis or the other but their citizens at the time the report was filed were still not politically engaged and ready to use their PVCs to make their voices heard.

Collective amnesia

Even a state like Lagos still has too few new voters given its population. The truth is that Nigerians are not politically active enough or conscious of their true power.

We are poorer today than we were in 1999 when Nigeria returned to democracy, despite nearly $300 billion in oil sales from 2010-2014 alone, according to a former senior NNPC executive, Tim Okon.

Our collective amnesia has killed many innocent Nigerians; from bad roads to violent community issues, our problems are a result of corruption and bad governance. Politicians, in any society, only do what they know they can get away with. We should all be ashamed.

I was listening to a conversation in a gathering of young people the other day and what I heard startled me. They were showing off not their own achievements but their bosses’ social standing. Some even went as far as describing their bosses’ cars, where their families went on holiday etc. as if they were invited along with them!

Talk about living vicariously, or glory by proxy! But ask anyone of those young men and women how much they earn, if their hours or treatment are fair in comparison with their efforts, one would find their reasons for worshipping these “successful” people difficult to fathom.

It simply confirmed what I already knew: not only are we a status and money obsessed society, we are mostly unwilling to band together to demand either accountability from our governments or fair treatment and wages from our employers. Social consciousness is generally low in Nigeria. We come alive during electoral campaigns then go right back to sleep again once whatever there is to be “shared” has been properly (or improperly) disbursed. In fact, suffering in Nigeria is a badge of honour.

We love to trade tales of hardships, rewarding each other with pitying glances and prayers: “you will overcome”, “it is well”, “God will do it for you”.

No complaint or injustice is met with concerted action, only prayers. I am an ardent believer in young people and their ability to change this country for the better but with certain caveats.

One commonly hears the following cliché saying: “more women, more young people in positions of power or responsibility will change Africa”. Yes, if their mind-set is different from what commonly obtains. Patricia Etteh, the former speaker of the House who often said she was a former hairdresser, or Diezani Allison-Madueke (who came from the private sector) are both women whose track-record is debatable to say the least.

Yet, the former’s personal background, her self-proclaimed experience of poverty, like the President who “wore no shoes”, should have encouraged performance and compassion for the poor.

The latter, a former minister of petroleum, was well acquainted with the standards, procedures and contracting protocols of the private sector. The reader is free to judge whether this made a difference to her record or not.

Good governance, a democracy that delivers tangible benefits for all, isn’t the result of appointing people to any position simply because they are young, female or tell a good story about their life before they came into office.

As elections approach, Nigerians must become more discerning and demand to know candidate’s plans rather than promises: if the plans are well thought out, the odds of a leader appointing competent people to carry them out increase.

We must make choices based on each individual’s capacity to deliver and eschew sentiment. Many have grown up with the normalisation of exploitation as our mental background.

So we are taken in by big, empty words and promises. We love to fawn over society weddings or any gatherings of the powerful and never stop to question where the money for such lavish spending comes from. In short, we are quite alright with exploitation, so long as it is at the hands of someone rich or famous enough to incite admiring glances. We have complete disdain for the poor, who in turn disregard their fellow man.

Not every young person is innovative or open to change, simply by virtue of being young. The Nigerian educational system, as currently constituted, does not encourage independent thinking.

It produces clones, who mindlessly blend in, accepting the current dysfunctionality of the system, as opposed to producing strong-minded individuals with well-thought out views who could possibly pose a challenge to the status quo.

Independent thinking

However, we must be wary of generalisations: some young people do try to stand out, to do their best and to make a difference.

Many are pushed aside, therefore learning that what the Nigerian establishment wants from them is their quiet obedience and not fresh ideas, no matter how trendy it is to claim to support youth empowerment. Many of us celebrate the success of the “Not Too Young to Run” campaign.

We don’t realise it is still the “Your Parents Are Rich Enough to Help You Run” system. Of course, there are political dynasties around the world. But their existence does not impede the progress of new comers: would Barack Obama or French President Emmanuel Macron’s story have been possible in Nigeria?

We the people are yet to fully embrace the true meaning of democracy outside of holding elections: justice, equality, fairness, equal opportunity – these are all hollow words in our society where many would still prefer to shield certain people from scrutiny by making excuses for their misdeeds. In so doing, we are all complicit in holding Nigeria hostage.

 

EFCC

THE Acting Chairman of the EFCC, Ibrahim Magu, hasn’t received much support, either from the political establishment (for obvious reasons) or from Nigerians: many of us are still too easily manipulated.

Many of those under investigation possess huge funds and sponsor counter narratives, manipulating the gullible into defending their so-called human rights which are ironically in conflict with the common man’s own rights and needs.

Magu says with elections coming, the “movement of huge sums of money” leading up to political activities will be monitored, to prevent “sharing money” at party conventions etc. which is how inferior candidates are put up for election. Interestingly, the PDP was quite vocal in its condemnation of Magu’s new objective. One wonders why.

 

Money politics

IT was reported that a 13- year-old boy died during a legislator’s visit to his constituency in Bauchi. He was hit by a car during the scramble to collect the money a federal lawmaker, Halliru Jika, allegedly threw at the crowd.

Although the allegation was later denied by Jika, stampedes during such visits are a regular occurrence across Nigeria.

One cannot blame the poor who are desperate to survive. As for the elite and the middle classes who support or excuse the suffering of the masses at the hands of their would-be masters, the day of reckoning will come as a shock to us all.

 

Tabia Princewill is a strategic communications consultant and public policy analyst. She is also the co-host and executive producer of a talk show, WALK THE TALK which airs on Channels TV.


Disclaimer

Comments expressed here do not reflect the opinions of vanguard newspapers or any employee thereof.