By Femi Oluwaseye.
Ohimai Godwin Amaize’s excellent article (http://www.signalng.com/issues-2019-votes-waste-time-ohimai-godwin-amaize/) on why our votes are, and have always been a waste of time refers.
The essay pointed out why the curse of corrupt leaders won’t stop plaguing us anytime soon. Since political candidates are the product of the political system the party operates, they can never rise beyond the ideologies of the system that produce them, no matter how laudable their initial intentions are. We must have heard time and again, that perennial excuse given for failures of our political leaders: “He has good intentions, but is surrounded by evil people”. By “evil people”, they mean the very people on whose back, the “good people” ride into office. These “bad people” are only actually fulfilling their part of the bargain, trying to recoup their investments. For that’s what running for political office is all about in Nigeria. An investment, that is expected to yield returns.
There’s no intention whatsoever to counter what Godwin wrote. It is an excellent piece. I just think the assumption that Nigerians aren’t aware they’re wasting their time is not altogether correct. I’ll explain.
15 million voters thumbprinted for President Buhari in 2015. About 13 million more voted for then incumbent Goodluck Jonathan. That’s less than 30 million Nigerians altogether. Forget about the other names on the ballot. The country, from available records has well over 100 Million Nigerians in the voting cadre, and more than 70 million that actually have registered as at the 2015. That means only about 30% of Nigerians were interested in voting at all. The same statistic is often maintained at state level. At the local government stage, the turnout, compared to registered voters is always abysmal. There can only be one reason for this apathy. Voters know their votes don’t count at the end of the day, so they hardly bother at all.
The recently concluded elective convention of the PDP was a broad-daylight confirmation of this abnormal norm. In someone’s sitting room, according to reports, the list of preferred candidates were drawn, publicly distributed, and in the charade that followed, that exact list was declared elected. The entire list. The question then arises. Why organize an election when you’ve already made up your mind on the winners? That’s often what elections are in Nigeria.
Nigerians who go out to vote often do so out of mere necessity and not convictions. The politicians only need voters to help them validate their choices. That’s why many elites and middle-class Nigerians often don’t bother voting. And they’ve been castigated for being so disinterested. They don’t need government for anything anyway. They provide their own water, education, electricity and healthcare. There’s no need helping a businessman fulfill his quota for returns when he won’t ever be accountable to them. Elected officials are only loyal to the godfathers that field them, and not the voters that thumbprint for them. Because, while the godfathers invested the hundreds of millions of naira, part of which was even used to pay-off the so called voters; the voters simply “voted”.
Of course, not everyone is paid to vote. Some are cajoled, others are really convinced by campaign promises (which are often promptly denied once they’re sworn in), some fell for propaganda and outright lies against other contestants. Only very few do it out of their civic responsibility. The question is, if that’s the case, why thumbprint for only either APC or PDP? At the last election, there were over ten parties on the ballot paper, some of them represented by people of some level of integrity. Why did the elites, or oppressed populace not vote for them. Gani Fawehinmi once ran for president. Everyone knows Gani would most likely do a better job than the career politicians. How many votes did he ammass? Profs Utomi and Sonaiya did poorly as well. Why do people who seem to have better ideas at governance never get the chance? Because people who would naturally have voted for them know the votes would hardly count. So why bother?
Nigeria runs a multiparty democracy which is the best chance to make our voices heard. But corruption won’t allow it to be so. It has to start from party finances. In advanced democracies, not only is there a limit to how much can be spent during an election, the party finances are also scrutinized by ethics agencies. That ensures that no party is allowed to use availability of funds monopolize the electorates. In such a situation, once a credible candidate is found, the process itself going through a rigorous primary where candidates articulate their plans, and a blueprint is presented, the finances to run the campaign is raised from multiple sources. Obviously, there will always be the big, big donors, but the fact that they can get a lot of people to buy into the project gives citizens a sense of ownership from the word go. Until there is a reform on how money is spent during elections, even if saints from heaven form a party in Nigeria, the moneybags would likely suffocate it. And if they find the party getting too popular, they won’t mind going to the extreme. They may assassinate the leaders.
Our political participation would start from being involved financially. It would amaze us how much money we can raise if we all support a genuine purpose-driven candidate. That was how Barack Obama, a first-term senator, ran against the WallStreet establishment and won the Democratic party primaries in 2007. The American people bought into his vision for change. From students to artisans to business executives, they all contributed financially to match the war chest of Hillary Clinton, the favorite of the party. The people owned the race. Obama had no godfather. The people were his godfathers. And they didn’t need to tell him how to run his presidency. All they wanted was good governance.
Nigeria has lots of brilliant politicians who are stuck in the corruption of their parties. Many of them have ideas that can never be implemented as long as their godfathers are the ones sponsoring them. Senator Adeseye Ogunlewe recently said elections are not for the poor. He said if you’re not rich, you don’t need to participate. Nonsense. Barack Obama was worth only some tens of thousands of dollars when he took on the Clinton machinery without corrupt backers. So where did the money come from? The people.
Until we the people are able to decide that we’re tired of allowing moneybags decide for us, we would never enjoy real political change. The decision is the money! Until smart, talented and visionary politicians who are tired of allowing godfathers sit corruptly on their visions say “enough”, and come out to the people, it would remain business as usual.
I believe very few people waste their time at the polling stations. Many people are paid to vote. Others, like those at the long queues in Kano in 2015, actually wanted their “own person” to win as against the other person on the ballot. Those queues were replicated in the south-south, for the “other person”. Those voters had a motive to vote. Others are politicians themselves who mobilize as many people as possible. But honestly, majority of other Nigerians do not care. And would still not care. Because they never like the candidates they are left with. And so, they simply resign to fate. They don’t have to waste their time.
But its a wrong stance to take. As corrupt politicians know our docility is their greatest weapon. They are afraid of us discovering that if we unite to choose a correct leader, they won’t be able to match us. Money for money, zeal for zeal. With the help of social media, we can break barriers, and pass our message. We can raise a lot of money. We can run a campaign that will break the back of the corrupt establishment. They know we can do it. After investing into a future we want to see, we won’t be discouraged from voting. Rather, we’ll go out in our numbers, to thumbprint our dream. At that point, even if we fall short, we would have broken the glass ceiling, and opened the gates for our redemption. That’s why they’re doing everything not to let us discover it. They are bribing us to forgo our right to own, and choose our own leaders.
So, for now, only few people waste their time voting. Because they know its actually nothing but a waste of time when it always comes down to a choice between two corrupt camps. Either of which would only leave us worse off.
Femi Oluwaseye can be reached on Olufemisp@gmail.com, or on Twitter @olufemisp.