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As we go to the polls this Saturday

Perhaps at no time has the fate of Nigeria hung in the balance as it does now. But then again, you have heard that before.…

Perhaps at no time has the fate of Nigeria hung in the balance as it does now. But then again, you have heard that before. You have heard it at every election and during one national crisis or another.  

On Saturday, Nigerians will go to the polls to vote for a new president. It will be the second time in our history that a president would complete two terms and will be handing over to a newly elected president.  

The first time this happened, the president was rather reluctant to leave and caused a tsunami of bile that swept away a good number of those who scuttled his third-term ambition.  

Fortunately, this second time, we have none of that drama as the president already seems to have been in retirement years before his tenure began counting down to an end. We have had one president die on us (May Allah have mercy on his soul) and another voted out of office. Perhaps we can say as a democracy, albeit a young one, we have seen it all. 

Yet, every election day, this one being no exception, presents as a defining moment for the country. On Saturday, Nigerians will choose between two septuagenarians who have been in politics for four decades and are viewed rightly or wrongly as being part of the fibre of the problems that plague the country or a sexagenarian who is being cast in the robes of a different breed, even if a year ago he had been in the same much-vilified PDP. 

Despite several attempts to restart the system, we are still at this point where again, the pressure to reboot the system is bearing down upon us, no thanks to the baffling policies of this administration—policies that have unfortunately unleashed financial chaos, fuel scarcity, failed to address insecurity and inflation, failed to implement education reforms or even improve education standards and failed to create employment or to do many things, including giving Nigerians an improved sense of belonging.  

So we keep coming back to this place of trying to push the reset button principally because previous attempts have failed to trigger the desired change.  

This should come to us as no surprise. We have often hinged our hopes on one individual who will take the side of Nigerians and fight the corrupt demons gnawing at the roots of the country. That messiah doesn’t exist and we have failed to be deliberate about changing the country, ourselves and the people who govern it. 

The three major contenders have presented their arguments for why they should be voted for or not, some more eloquent than others. This paper (Daily Trust) has done extensive pieces and profiles on the candidates this week. I contributed two of those profiles and would simply refer the curious reader to them. 

I suppose by this time most Nigerians have decided who they will be voting for and one questions the merit or rationale of recommending candidates. I confess my disenchantment with Nigeria’s politics has been long and sustained, and since 2007, (or was it 2008 in local council elections that ended in violence and needless loss of lives) the last time I voted, I have not been convinced by any candidate to take the trouble to vote.  

We have mastered the art of making things difficult and life-threatening, including the simple act of voting and democratic participation, the dividends of which have been rather abysmal. The state of the country today is enough evidence of this. 

But I suppose more than enough has been said, written and recorded about the candidates. Not nearly enough has been written about the most important cog in this wheel—the people. 

These people who queue up at INEC offices to get voters’ cards, and then for hours and days at banks to get money and for hours at filling stations to fuel their cars and generators. These people who are going to be the employers of whoever wins the elections on Saturday. They are the ones these politicians should be reporting to. But this is not the case. 

For far too long, the electorate have been treated like indentured servants. We have been subjected to all sorts of degradations and violence. Our commonwealth is withheld from developing infrastructure to be invested in the ‘mobilisation’ of rented crowds to cheer and clamour for politicians. Packs of noodles are thrown at us or in some instances, as happened in Ogun State, the governor would have his campaign team dole out old bank notes to voters and ask them to vote for him. 

My position has always been that until the generality of Nigerians have a greater say in deciding who emerges a candidate from party primaries, we will continue to have this abusive system and Hobson’s choices we are left with. 

The Nigerian electorate is not only abused by those they elected to protect them but also by those they trust to guide them. So, we end up with faith and community leaders often inspiring a narrative of hate that then dominates discourse ahead of elections instead of real issues. 

Every election has been daubed with the colour of ethnic and religious hate. The threat of violence is omnipresent and that sadly is the case again with these elections. It is 2023 and Nigerians are preparing for elections as Americans would when a hurricane is going to make landfall. It hurts that we simply can’t have elections in Nigeria without people needlessly dying. Those who died in the 2011 post-election violence or the elections before or after that have still not been properly accounted for, compensated for, or memorialised and their murderers have gone scot-free. The worst thing is that their sacrifice, or rather the sacrifice of them, has been for nothing. The country they left at the time of their deaths is perhaps better off than the country we have today. 

In case it hasn’t sunk in yet, the whole point of my column today is that if you are going out to vote, and you should as good citizens of the country, please do so with the best interest of the country and your fellow Nigerians at heart. It doesn’t matter if you have five thousand naira in your account, which you can’t access or you have a lot more than that but certainly, way less than any of the candidates, remember that you are the hiring manager and your vote is going to give one of them a job. Remember that whoever you vote for should be answerable to you, as a citizen of Nigeria.  

Exercise your duty with civility and most crucially, remember that in the final analysis, you are chiefly responsible for your safety. Vote and go home. When results are announced, if it is not to your liking, please allow complaints to be channelled through legal means. We simply have not learnt how to protest in this country without turning violent and burning down things or people, and our security operatives have been equally bad at managing protests. Every crowd control situation presents itself to them as an opportunity for target practice. Please do not put yourself in the line of their fire. We all want and dream of a great Nigeria. But a great Nigeria, if ever achieved, will be greatly diminished by the loss of you. 

I pray and hope for peaceful elections this weekend and whatever the outcome, I hope Nigeria will somehow find a way to heal and recover and that Nigerians can somehow find a way to unite.  

 

God Bless Nigeria, Nigerians and the choices we make. 

 

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