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2023 Election Postscript By Lasisi Olagunju



2023 election postscript

By Lasisi Olagunju

(Published in the Nigerian Tribune on Monday, 20 March, 2023)

Under the cover of darkness, a dish was placed on a highway in Lagos at the weekend. It was food for the gods but it was a madman that we saw eating it on Saturday morning. The video trended online in competition with the shrieks of electoral madness which thundered through the Nigerian skies on that election day. Were there symbolic and spiritual relationships between that scene, that character and the elections we held at the weekend? Some people have sat on two hundred needles and got up feeling no pain. They are the special ones who would understand that breakfast at the intersection of life.

We held elections and have got results. Winners and losers have learnt and relearnt lessons. In the north where it is still largely a haram to educate the girl-child, a lady called Binani took Adamawa State by storm. In Lagos, fathers whose mis-trained children cannot speak and write Yoruba now know that they either reeducate them or they become aliens for life. The Lagos governorship election did not get strongmen panting for nothing. It has dramatically provided a redemptive moment for a culture under the distraining siege of ‘modernity.’ And many of today’s victors will soon be victims. They have children who are too learned to understand the language of their fathers. It is not only in Lagos; they are everywhere in Yoruba land flaunting sagging swags and blowing pidgin Yoruba. It is a tragedy in epidemic proportions. The Labour Party governorship candidate has got mortally singed because of his competence as a Yoruba. But his immolation won’t be a one-off political sacrifice. Judgement day will come very soon tomorrow for magisterial aliens in the shrine of Oduduwa.

I stumbled on former governor, former minister Rotimi Amaechi on the television on Saturday and froze. After almost eight years of being in government and in power, the former transportation minister opened his eyes and told the world that “There is a total failure of governance in the country, complete failure.” He said even much more. He also told us that Mahmood Yakubu was made INEC chairman not by the president but by someone in “Bola Tinubu’s camp.” Amaechi is a younger friend of Professor Wole Soyinka. The Man Died is the title of Soyinka’s prison notes. Has Amaechi ever used the opportunity of his closeness to the Nobel laureate to ask him the circumstances of his going to jail? If anyone has been too scared to chew Soyinka’s books, at least, they can manage to nib at the quote: “The man dies in all who keep silent in the face of tyranny.”

Soyinka went to jail because he spoke what he believed was the truth when it should be said. He could wait till after the civil war in January 1970 and then say those things that took him to jail in 1967. If he did that, he would not be in jail for 27 months; he would be as safe in Yakubu Gowon’s Nigeria as Amaechi was in Buhari’s government. At what point did Rotimi Amaechi realize that Nigeria under the watch of his boss had failed completely? Why was he telling us on March 18, 2023 that Mahmood Yakubu is a dependant-beneficiary of one of the contestants in the February 25, 2023 presidential election? Amaechi, unlike Soyinka, his idol, kept silent in the face of wrong. The ‘death’ he was afraid of when hurricane APC repeatedly slammed into cities and homes eventually came for his own “camp” in Saturday’s governorship election in Rivers State and he shouted “people are being arrested and nobody has spoken. The Inspector General of Police is doing nothing, nobody is doing anything.” I laughed. Did arrest during elections not happen in 2019? Did Nigerians not “contest against INEC and the police” in 2019? Why should 2023 be different?

These past three weeks have badly divided us along religious, ethnic and sub-ethnic lines – especially in the South. The garment is rent front to back. It is so bad that even friends in the media are struggling to salvage their long-maintained friendship; party men in political parties have stopped partying together. For everyone, it is my ‘tribe’ first, others, maybe, later. It appears to be a burden the black man will carry forever. What we had on Saturday was not an election; it was a war of many theatres. ‘The Foreign Affairs’ is a publication of the United States-based Council on Foreign Relations. In a piece in that magazine in 1997, its then Managing Editor, Fareeq Zakaria, wrote on “the rise of illiberal democracies” with a particular focus on emerging trends in Sub-Saharan Africa. Zakaria quoted some scholars who concluded that democracy “is simply not viable in an environment of intense ethnic preferences.” There is also Andreas Schedler who observed that what was emerging in Africa was “electoral autocracy.” We also meet Richard Joseph (1998) who said Africa’s democratization had mostly proved illusory and the reigning political system a “facade of democracy.” That was about 25 years ago. I do not want to imagine what name those people would give what we have in Nigeria now. If anything has changed since those comments were made decades ago, it is that the floundering ship of democracy has sunk.

The elections are over. The youths who thought their voter cards were more than the pieces of plastic they are made of should be wiser now. They thought they could use the cards to change the course of history; they now know what their fathers have always known. If rescue efforts work like that, the Titanic would not have sunk. Probably if they had listened and taken a cue from Bola Tinubu’s hard-stone-on-hard-palm nut anecdote during the campaigns, there would have been a kernel for their effort. Probably the story would not have been as ghastly as it has turned out. Now, the struggle is muddled up. Local ethnic rivalries have most effectively poisoned the pond of patriotism. That is politics; it is dark and dirty. Author of ‘Politics is a Dirty Game’, Afra Schmitz, published a piece in ‘Violence in African Elections: Between Democracy and Big Man Politics’ (2018). His choice of title is instructive: ‘Once they all pick their guns you can have your way’…” It is a quote from a Ghanaian politician’s confession on the good old African trick of setting one ethnic group against another to create a pathway to election victory: “They will feel that they shouldn’t allow anybody from one tribe to be an overlord over all of them,” the man told Schmitz. It is exactly “like Ghana, like Nigeria.”

The war wasn’t just inter-ethnic, inter-religious. Enugu State is Christian with only one ethnic group but sub-ethnic passions ruled its governorship election last Saturday. Friends there told me that the Nsukka people, who constitute the largest voting bloc in the state, voted largely for the Labour Party candidate in the gubernatorial election because he is their son. The outgoing governor, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, is their son too. The existing principle of rotation of power in that state did not matter at that point. Religion then came into the mix. Across the country, the church and the mosque ‘guided’ voters on whom to vote and how to vote. Some desperate people tried it in Oyo State but it didn’t work. They failed and Seyi Makinde, easily the best of the candidates, won. But politics of religion worked elsewhere in the country. I have Kaduna in mind; I have Benue; I have in mind the South-East in general. In some instances, specimen voting papers were taken to worship houses to teach congregants how to thumbprint. Labour Party in the South-East was quite ‘brilliant’ in its interpretation of its logo of ‘Papa, Mama and Pikin.’ They said the logo represents the spiritual triumvirate of Joseph, Mary and Jesus. The message, therefore, was ‘voting LP is voting for God.’

“If you won’t vote for us, don’t come out to vote.” It wasn’t only in Lagos we heard that stern order. Indeed, it is the greatest legal invention of this election season. In several states across the six zones of Nigeria, this new electoral rule was variously pronounced and the state nodded its approval with conspiratorial silence. The enforcers had a free reign. You don’t have the king on your side and cower in cowardice. Someone said even before Lagos’s MC Oluomo’s godfather is sworn in as the commander-in-chief, the chief enforcer in Lagos is already the law. All laws about hate speech and profiling, inciting and incitement melted days ago when MC stepped out to be counted among the Generals of the new army. The law and its enforcement stood before the man; they became as dumb as an ass. We will soon get used to things, stuffs and matters like that from May 29, 2023. But, there is a limit to which I will blame MC for saying and doing all he has been credited with. I was only disappointed by his attempt at eating his Mama-Chukwudi-if-you-don’t-want-to-vote-for-us-sit-at-home words. He was called to serve just like all those before him. Long before MC Oluomo, there was Adebayo Success (Adebayo omo Ogundare) who pioneered the leadership of the NURTW and its politics, and dutifully served the grand old NPN, the original owners of the northern structure that has given powers to the APC today. Adebayo Success’s ways are the ways of today. Political power in Lagos resides in motor parks and, to some extent, in markets. Those who cultivate the yams of power know this fact and are ever wise enough to put the right guards there. For MC, when history has a mission placed on your shoulders, it will be betrayal of the ancestors of your union to be lily-livered at the battlefield. The history of the transport union he leads has assigned to him a duty and he must perform that duty. And he has satisfactorily done just that this election season. So, let him be. You don’t kill a dog because it barks; you don’t kill a ram for using its horns (enìkan kìí toríi gbígbó kí wón p’ajá; won kìí toríi kíkàn p’àgbò). MC will do more for Nigeria now that his eagle has wider wings and his nest will soon be moved into the Presidential Villa.

We held the last leg of the 2023 elections across Nigeria at the weekend. Winners have been announced. Congratulations to them all. But while the process was on, videos of the crime and criminality that ruled the process in some states, north and south, littered the internet and shocked those who could still be shocked by Nigeria. “Elections are useless in Africa. We should devise a different way of choosing leaders,” a popular columnist and university teacher based in the United States commented to me on one of the bloody scenes. I did not reply him because I didn’t know what else we should try. Before democracy, we had kings who ruled and ruined their kingdoms and sold their people into slavery in exchange for mirrors and razor blades. Along with the kings later came colonialism with its own leprosy. We had parliamentary democracy which worked briefly but soon burnt out like a candle in the wind. We’ve had several doses of military rule. None worked for us. Today, with us, elections are thoroughly useless but what can we do?

What is there again to do? Leave the madman with the corpse of his mother? Ibrahim Bangura and Mimmi Söderberg Kovacs published a journal article in 2018 on ‘Local gangs and foot soldiers of violence’ in Sierra Leone. They carefully documented the stark truth they saw about the youths of that country: what drives their today and their vision of tomorrow. Bangura and Kovacs wrote that “…many young people are pessimistic about their prospects and see compliance with the wishes of the elites as their only way out.” They noted an emergent patronage system referred to locally as godfatherism which is seeing the “youths turn to the elites and those with perceived economic resources and ask ‘Bra u borbor dae? (Boss, is there anything for your boy?)’.” We have this in greater abundance in Nigeria. The elites of Sierra Leone and their menial youths probably schooled here. The authors are not done with their story of sorrow and surrender. They spoke with a young poor miner who explained how easy it was to lose all hope and submit to the owners of his country: “There is nothing to fight against in the system. In the end you fail; you can never beat them. You can only survive with the help of a patron. When they say jump, you ask how high. When they say throw stones at the other party, you do so. Don’t question them, just do it and when they trust you, they give you some money and even help you to get minor jobs. Our youths have learnt this survival strategy and they are effectively using it.” But, here in Nigeria, there should be an alternative to surrender. And there will be.

Nelly Agwu is an educationist, a journalist, a Blogger, graduate of History. Very dynamic and a realist. A mouthpiece of the oppressed. Easy going and a Philanthropist.

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