As we enter the electioneering belt, I thought I should drop these thoughts here. Not that it will make any meaning to those invested in selling their candidates to the unsophisticated. But, hopefully, for the average voter who may come across it to understand that we are about to make the bed that we must lay on for the next four years, from May 2023.
There is something worrisome about the way we mislead voters during each election season. I suppose it is the case worldwide that the majority of voters are not politically sophisticated and are, therefore, easy to convince – and convict! When voters make mistakes in choosing a candidate, the mistake convicts and sentences them to spend the period of tenure in a self-imposed prison term.
In mature democracies, this is the reason civil society organisations, NGOs and the media exist. They let voters know what the issues are, and the candidates’ positions on those issues. They educate the voter to come to a better understanding of how candidates stand in relation to the issues. It is a fact that some of these agencies engaged in advocacy and publicity during the elections are themselves not immune from partisan leanings. However, they focus on issues they care about and target their advocacy and publicity messages to voters with similar interests to protect or promote.
Not so in Nigeria, sadly. We have more CSOs that focus on operations than on advocacy. NGOs are also more invested in the equally important social welfare and governance advocacy than elections. Very few of them are coming forward with advocacy campaigns to educate voters on the issues. And yet poor election choices by voters are at the root of the problems they address. It is the role of the media to fill this vacuum but, unfortunately, most are yet to step up their game. As we have argued repeatedly, the best way the media can do this is to stop reporting the election like a horse race.
Unfortunately, and as predicted, the media have once again lapsed into focusing on the candidates’ age, fitness, ethnicity, religion and sundry matters that have no bearing on what the people should know. Which among the candidates has the capacity and competence to get Nigeria out of the woods? The job of the media is to identify the issues and use them to validate or disprove the candidates’ various claims to capacity and competence. The media, sadly, leave the voters like sheep without a shepherd.
Left without guidance, voters spend the pre-election season angsting over personal, group and national sociopolitical and economic challenges. They approach the election season lamenting how the country took a turn for the worse. We wonder how to survive the plunder by elected officials who are gleefully breaking and entering the treasuries to loot. We complain about how hard life has become, how useless our politicians are, why we must never vote again for the persons at the wheel. We also generally resolve to no longer trust the party that selected a bad manager and promoted him to us as a safe choice. Nigerians of all religious, ethnic and economic persuasions come to an agreement that they have had enough.
Our complaints orbit around inability of elected officials to make our country the dream that they promised during their campaigns. But when the election season dawns, our songs of sorrow mysteriously end. What happens next is nothing short of magical. Yesterday’s lament miraculously disappears, replaced by today’s ethno-religious praise songs on campaign grounds. To illustrate with the current election season, it appears as if the economic hardship of yesterday no longer has the impact as the election pre-season only a few months ago, which is strange because nothing has changed. The price of bread, cooking gas, charcoal, firewood and kerosene are still sky-high. Millions of youths are still jobless. We are still under hostage by kidnappers and highway robbers. Poor living conditions continue to keep the disadvantaged company. Still, there is a 360-degree turn, a habitual volte-face almost guaranteed to take us back to those we blame for our problems.
In the 2018 electioneering that preceded the March 2019 vote, Nigerians swore that they had had enough of President Goodluck Jonathan and his band of alleged looting aides. You could count a couple of upstanding ministers. The opposition characterized most ministers and presidential aides as “chop and clean mouth.” Sensing the national mood, smart chop-and-clean-mouth politicos moved into the opposition from where they fought to dislodge their previous government. The surprise was that we acted surprised when the “new” government decided to outdo the previous administration in official kleptomania.
As it was in 2014-2015, so it became in the subsequent 2018-2019 election season. The pre-election season found a nation deeply divided, lying economically prostrate, with citizens of every region fearful for their safety and security. The PDP migrants returned to their vomit, seeking election to the highest offices of President, potential Senate President, and House Speaker combined. They had everything going for them. It ended with the President and most governors re-elected with comfortable majorities.
Today, we have once again and in anguish boarded the national bus to Eldorado. Anyone who loves the country will always wonder at the transformation that occurs when elections are around the corner. Before this election, we raised our faces heavenwards in supplication, praying that the current leaders will somehow magically disappear. We prayed for a messiah to descend from on high to make our problems disappear. But when the opportunity presents itself, we go to our inner rooms to search for and wear our ethnic and religious battle dresses, ready to fight for that moneybags who is our brother, kinsman and friend.
Wisdom is knowing that someone is not running for office for altruistic reasons and denying them the mandate to do the evil we know they will. Foolishness is having the knowledge but doing otherwise on account of ethnicity, religion or financial inducement.
It is not too late for the media to refocus on an advocacy role during elections. The media should not bother about how and where the candidates are exercising, what schools they attended, where or how they worship, and all such inanities. We should ask the candidates to borrow a leaf from the Labour Party candidate and tell us what they intend to do about our situation.
And how they intend to do it.