By Banji Ojewale
BECAUSE Nigeria has a near-naughty knack for nibbling at the past, history is also going full circle to dish us troubling traditional tricks and torments. One such is the dithering act we’re taking straight from English playwright William Shakespeare’s historical classic, Hamlet, as the ballot day approaches.
The tragic hero, Prince Hamlet, isn’t sure which path to pick at a crossroads, the same way Nigeria and her citizens seem to be uncertain about the coming polls in February and March, 2023. Will the ballot hold, or it won’t? Should it hold? Shouldn’t it?
Shakespeare’s character is held in thrall by indecision. He soliloquises: ‘’To be, or not to be?” “Whether it is nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or to take up arms against a sea of troubles, and by opposing them end them,” is the question.
A long tale of consuming vacillation told in 29,551 words(Shakespeare’s longest), Hamlet is the tragedy of meandering procrastination resulting in the deaths of most of the actors, including the prince himself.
More than four centuries after Hamlet, a Nigeria given to seeking solace in senescent politicians and their style is sliding again into tutorials from the past. We choose our leaders from the community of the superannuated; from among those who have receded into the shadows of bygone days, those whose proper clime is history. They can’t help but take us back to that time, when what we need is the dynamism of the present, with its promise of a better future. Now, they’re giving us some of the dilatory language of Hamlet.
Some citizens are singing the old, unhelpful, and fatal “To Be or Not to Be” song of Shakespeare’s actor. We’ve dredged Hamlet from the past, as we usually fetch relics to reorient us when we wobble. So, despite the claim of Bola Tinubu, one of the presidential poll aspirants, that it’s his turn to occupy Aso Villa, Hamlet, a man residing in the past like him, is insisting that it’s really his turn to occupy Nigeria’s political territory. He has brought in the wavering act. To be or not to be? To hold the poll or not to?
We’re throwing ourselves in the same boat that shipwrecked him. After inconclusive introspection, he lingered in decision-making and paid dearly for it. Some of us are also taking an uncertain stand, suggesting we shelve the poll or put it off until we restructure the federation. They’re citing nationwide insecurity and inadequate preparation by the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC.
It was the poll umpire that sparked this atmosphere of prevarication. INEC’s training institute said the ballot may not be a reality if some conditions are not met. Chairman of The Electoral Institute, TEI, Abdullahi Abdu Zuru, said: “If … insecurity is not monitored and dealt with decisively, it could ultimately culminate in the cancellation and/or postponement of elections in sufficient constituencies to hinder the declaration of election results and precipitate a constitutional crisis.’’
Many interpreted the statement as a ploy to test the waters. But for it not to build up into a flood that sweeps us off our feet, Lai Mohammed, the Information and Culture Minister, who had been away from the scene for some time, surfaced suddenly to dismiss the idea of delaying the election day.
His assurance: “Let me use this opportunity to respond to inquiries from the media over a widely-circulated report, credited to an INEC official, that the 2023 general elections face a serious threat of cancellation due to insecurity. The position of the Federal Government remains that the 2023 elections will be held as planned. Nothing has happened to change that position.’’
Nothing has also happened to change the position of Afe Babalola, a senior advocate of Nigeria and university founder. On several occasions, he has advocated for a change in the polls to allow for a six-month interim government. During the hiatus, he argues that “a new course for Nigeria’’ will be worked out”. Babalola says “any election that holds under the present… 1999 Constitution foisted on Nigeria by the military… will end up producing transactional and recycled leaders, with no ability to turn (us) around.”
It’s been an unending game played between those who want the poll held, regardless of the gathering clouds of insecurity and those who seek a ballot postponement over fears that the overhanging pall might release a cataclysmic downpour on polling day. Nigerians have had to put up with ballot day alterations in the recent past: 2011, 2015 and 2019. The reasons ranged from insurgency to logistical hitches. However, we were spared a grave impact on the system, and there was no consequential constitutional crisis. The waiting periods hardly left a permanent dent in the economy.
It wasn’t so in an earlier era, during the medieval ages of our history. At that time, there arose a man, a billionaire, named Francis Arthur Nzeribe, who sought to decapitate the 1993 electoral process. Riding in a locally-made jalopy he called the Association for Better Nigeria, ABN, Nzeribe didn’t simply look for a postponement of the make-or-mar ballot.
Waving a clandestine court order his ABN got from a midnight ruling by Justice Bassey Ikpeme on June 10, 1993, Nzeribe called for the outright cancellation of a poll only two days away. He failed; but he had his way in the long run because, although the ballot took place as scheduled, its outcome promising a new dawn was nullified.
It amounted to what ABN requested. The country hasn’t recovered its composure since. No other election, thereafter, has offered our land greater prospects, despite the presentation by the victorious party of a Muslim presidential candidate with a running mate of the same faith.
Now, 30 years later, we’re at the threshold of another crucial plebiscite. And the parties are engaged in sardonic games. A Hamlet from a historical drama performs his sing-song of “To Be or Not to Be”. He says it’s his turn to play the Pied Piper of Hamelin, effectively displacing the presidential candidate, who had swamped the space with a tune of entitlement.
While these bygone ages are obtrusively at work in the present, our unceasing prayer should be that their pregnant belly does not deliver an abiku pair of Francis Arthur Nzeribe and ABN.
*Ojewale, a veteran journalist and author, wrote from Ota, Ogun State
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