Until we are able to stand for ourselves, and calmly evaluate which systems of government is good for us, we will probably flounder all over the place and continue to toxify our society. Somehow, the most vocal amongst us are also the ones who have been wired and conditioned never to think of any alternative to the Western idea of democracy. And the Westerners have continued to put money behind this democracy – perhaps unwilling to entertain any variation to it – thereby precluding the system from changing. What do I mean by this? Our democracy is too expensive. These 4-year elections are killing Nigeria financially. We have spent trillions running these elections since 1999. And we are not even building a more cohesive society therefrom.
Expensive, in terms of time and money indeed. As the elections drew near, I realized that many people had taken leave from work. Two of my small team of staff came to take permission to take two days off before the elections. As I type this on a Monday, they are yet to resume. I actually asked one of them who was headed east whether he was certain of the safety of his journey. The problem is that some people like to vote in their native land, while others don’t mind transferring to vote where they reside. I belong to the latter group. Why would one have to take days of leave and spend so much for transportation, just to vote. Voting in Nigeria is actually quite stressful, to the extent that we must have to start evaluating this process, to ensure sustainability. I recall once voting while I lived in London. It was the easiest affair. I merely went to a voting unit at Belsize Park on a Tuesday, and went about my duties for the day. It took less than five minutes to complete the process. Now, I don’t expect that we attain that level just yet. But it looks like the process of voting here is getting more and more tedious. I and my family stood for at least five hours just to vote on Saturday 25th February.
I believe we have tried to use technology to achieve what is behavioral, sort of giving up on ourselves and the possibility of mental reform. I believe that we are also giving up on gradualism in this matter. We are now using sledgehammer approaches to deal with issues and thereby causing more damage to the system in the process. For example, President Buhari – in his bid to leave a legacy of free and fair elections – decided to lock down the banking sector into the elections, with the connivance of the leadership of the central bank. We had people being deprived of their monies, having to climb fences to retrieve tiny fractions of what they need. People died in hospital because electronic channels seized up and cash was inaccessible. The underbelly of the banking sector was exposed – as a sector where players declare billions in profit yearly but where they operate on very flimsy infrastructure. Apart from the sheer thoughtlessness of running such a caper into an election – because of the angst, agony, and anger it generated amongst voters – the meanness of it all was galling. The human cost was unnecessary, and the damage to the people’s confidence in the financial sector, quite considerable.
The lesson to learn, for our politicians, is that they should spend more of their time and efforts concentrating on the long-term efforts that will impact the most people, rather than these kneejerk responses. Rather than inflicting more pains on the people by seizing their money because you are targeting politicians, a leader should go after mass education and ensure that standards of living improves all over the country. This is why I disagree with those who say it is not the president’s duty to tackle basic education and ensure that the 20 million odd out-of-school children problem is wrestled down. That is a problem that should keep a president awake at night. And between himself and the governors down to local governments, the president should ensure nobody rests until a huge dent is made on that problem. He should also ensure that some unstoppable processes are put in place such that even at his departure, the train keeps moving. I would advise that never again should such a thing happen before and into an election. It was just unbelievable. The people felt punished for no reason, and that provided a groundswell against the ruling party. Reckless.
Even the idea of always buying all sorts of gadgets to try and solve problems created by human beings, is egregious. We forget the principle of ‘garbage in-garbage out’. Humans can screw up any gadget. INEC has spent probably trillions importing all sorts since we went back to democracy in 1999. Many gadgets have been bought that were supposed to be our lifesavers, that should totally cancel out fraud, that should finally sanitize the voting process. I’m sure INEC owns some of the largest warehouses of condemned devices in all of history. Many of the gadgets seize up on voting day. Many make it into the homes of political gangsters and their leaders. Many get smashed by thugs, not minding that some cost millions per unit. By the next cycle, another device will be introduced which is a gift from the heavens. This time, it is the BVAS – the Bimodal Voters’ Accreditation System. This was widely deployed. In my polling unit, there was 3 hours delay before election started because they said they forgot one and had to go and retrieve it. We were told the one on ground could only capture people with surnames starting with letters A to D – which we later found out was utter nonsense. In many places, the BVAS was totally ignored – like where one lady was busy helping old women to thumbprint for a particular party. If there would be litigations this time, they will never end. It looks like there are guys who specialize in making billions every cycle from selling gadgets.
Other anomalies noticed this election cycle include:
- The umpires – unfortunately including youthful youth corpers – seem not to understand that they should never show bias. How can you be a referee and openly show you support a side of the match?
- Youth corpers and professors were caught trying to twist results for parties that paid them.
- There was obvious intimidation especially in the SouthEast and SouthWest, with people being beat up for not voting for their popular candidate. One video showed that a polling unit was locked up and people required to identify who they wanted to vote for. Even where I voted in Abuja, there were boys who intimidated anyone who wanted to vote for the ruling party. Other people placed curses on such people openly.
- There was violence, especially in the SouthEast and SouthWest, but not enough to invalidate general elections.
- There were children voters as usual – more in the north. But there is a video of child voters even in the SouthEast. No evidence for such in the southwest – yet.
- There was mass thumbprinting everywhere, including in the cosmopolitan areas of places like Lagos. Evidence shows that indeed even the upstart opposition party got involved.
- There is evidence to show that political bosses, governors and others attempted to muscle votes. I listened to one voice note that showed it may not have worked for a particular governor down south.
One good thing this time is that there are smartphones everywhere and therefore a deluge of pictorial and video evidence for people to pore through in the coming days. There will be a lot more coming in from everywhere I reckon. What is obvious is that we are not improving as a society. And in this election, the ill-feelings of the past reared its head – especially between the east and west. The north seem stoic in its position as kingmaker with its numbers, but there was of course massive rigging even by a particular new party that has grassroots influence. Honestly, it was a dog’s meal. But at the end, the final result, stripped of the grime, still indicated a winner. Better next time. Let Nigerian leaders work on the minds of the people. We need a real revolution of ideas, policies and actions that will positively impact millions of our people and shift our thinking away from all these negativities, mutual hatred and suspicion, sense of scarcity rather than abundance, and loss of hope in an otherwise hopeful, abundant, graceful, blessed, country. I say that our younger folks need to delve into history to know that if they harbor ill-feelings against this country, it is their fault. There are too many opportunities here to make impact and live a great life. May Nigeria succeed