Epiphanies don’t come any better than that. It is my 51st year of life, this 2011, but it is also my first ever vote in an election in Nigeria. I had previously registered to vote in the long-drawn out transition process of the Babangida period, but eventually could not vote. My name disappeared from the electoral roll.
In 2011 we wanted our votes to determine who ended up ruling us, so loads of people had returned home to be registered for the election.
I was not left out of that determination to make a difference; and in Kwara, there was also the small question of breaking the stranglehold of the Saraki clan on our lives and their control of resources that could turn round our society for the better, but which in the past 8 years, had been frittered on projects without meaningful impact on the lives of our people. We have been run by the Saraki clan very much like a conquered people, and so the determination to make history, by changing a status quo, built in the name of the father, the son and daughter, had driven the determination to register and vote!
So last Tuesday, April 26, 2011, I got the opportunity to finally participate in the process. We had a unique situation in my family; many of my cousins played an active part in the Saraki administration over the past eight years, and had become very rich.
They naturally felt obliged to defend the administration they are a part of, by delivering the votes from the two polling booths in our house and the others in our ward. On the other hand, I have been the protagonist of change, spearheading the campaign of another cousin, Muhammed Dele Belgore, who was challenging the Saraki sidekick, Fatai Ahmed, a candidate, precisely for the purpose of protecting BukolaSaraki from any scrutiny of his eight years in the saddle in our state, from 2003.
I was therefore participating in the process of accreditation, which did not start on time, just as much as I wanted to have the near-objective detachment of a political scientist and journalist, to be able to appreciate what I was participating in.
The first thing that struck me was just how young the electorate was. According to the oft-quoted statistics, 70 percent of Nigeria’s population today, is under the age of thirty. Furthermore, thesegenerally unreliable figures say that 44 million young people are unemployed in our country, as of 2010.
It meant that the majority of the young people who turned out to vote, were most likely to be unemployed; or are attending schools where the basic minimum standards do not exist and they have never experienced a country which worked in the interest of the people.
They were born in the years of military dictatorship and have become adults, able to vote, within a civilian administration that is an elaborate fraud; a grand narrative of plunder of national resources; violence; the deepening despair amongst the majority of our people; the overtly aggressive expression of religious and ethnic identities as laager against nebulously or ill-defined “others”, etc. They were very enthusiastic to vote, yes, but were very disorderly and rude!
The effort by the Youth Corps members in charge of the process, to explain basic steps was often shouted down. They were impatient and their attitude told a story of the near-complete absence of a civic culture amongst the younger generation today.
Nigeria’s years of locust, represented by the pillaging and break down of practically every aspect of the state and society, which characterized military dictatorship, and the ascendance of a new political elite, cultured within the excesses of that dictatorship, like the chicken in the proverb, has now returned home to roost in the dysfunctional society we live in today.
In the twelve hours that I spent out there I saw how serious our problems are, which in fact justified the need for a break with the status quo in our country. After what seemed like eternity, under the scorching sun of day, I was finally able to do the accreditation and I got number 474, which I was told would aid a seamless process of identification for the vote a few hours later.
That done, my left middle finger got its first blue colour; the first time ever! In the period between accreditation and voting, we were treated to various sideshows and expressions of power, what Fela would describe as Power Show.
Those in government had distributed money, cloths and bags of rice to induce voting in a direction thatfavoured them. It was do-or-die politics without let! They had lost in the first set of elections and the shock was clearly unbearable, especially since Bukola had pulled all stops to nick the elections.
Traditional rulers and civil servants were allegedly warned to deliver their communities to the PDP or face the risk of dethronement or loss of jobs. The threats followed the distribution of huge sums of money. Those who distributed money did not trust that they had really bought people’s allegiance; they sent agents to ensure compliance, just as security people went back and forth, hoping that the implicit intimidation their presence conveyed, would be sufficient to affect how people voted.
But not the majority of people on this line; they were determined to vote according to their conscience, even if they collected the money and other inducements. As people told each other openly, “it is our money, so collect it. But vote for change”! Elderly people were given the permission to go to the head of the queue to vote, like the Madakin Ilorin, retired Justice Saidu Kawu, the Imam and others like them.
At about 1.49pm, I got to the head of the line and was given two ballot papers: a longer one for the House of Assembly vote and the shorter governorship slip. Then the second colouring for my right middle finger! I entered the cubicle where the voter’s ink was placed on a stool and marked the voting slips, came out to stuff the marked papers into the ballot box that rested in a corner somewhere in the open. That completed my epiphany.
Now I have received the imprimatur of the voter; so after half a century of life, I was finally able to vote for the first time. In many ways, my life represents the story of our country. I was born in the last month of colonialism but grew into consciousness in the best and tragic phases of Nigerian history.
My generation had the best of the services and commitment which came from the First Republic leadership of the Sardauna in Northern Nigeria. We attended public primary and secondary schools in the provincial settings of Ilorin and those schools functioned very well indeed. I recall that in primary school, we were taught lessons which were piped through the Rediffusion Service of Radio Nigeria, and that was in the 1960s! What progress won’t we have made, if we kept at it?
The secondary school I attended, Government Secondary School, Ilorin, had a library which will be the envy of the mushroom universities all around us today. And there were incredibly focused seniors we all could look up to and emulate for success in academia, just as the society had an ethos of work and respect for value, which meant that walking the straight but narrow path, was the best way for my generation.
Unfortunately, most of the young people on the queue with me on Tuesday have lived in a most disturbed era of our lives. They have grown up in an atmosphere of instituted violence; the privatization of the state to serve private ends and the collapse of the public space in our country. The ethos of hardwork has died and the role models that these young people encounter in a world of social media, consumerism, bling, and delusional religious experiences, are crooks!
Our collapsed structures cannot aid the normal formation of rounded individuals. These structures include open spaces that long ago disappeared from our urban centres, thus precluding possibilities of expression of physical being amongst young people in urban settings.
In the same manner, that many schools in our country today, do not even have the requisite spaces for physical activities anymore, yet I attended a secondary school which had two football fields; a track and field facility; squash and fives; lawn tennis and badminton; volleyball and basketball; hockey pitches and cricket facilities! Yes that was the Nigeria these young voters did not inherit.
We decisively won our constituency, but the PDP stole the state as it is wont! So I carry blue-coloured fingers, just as the governorship election result has left me feeling really blue! Can an epiphany be any more incisive? How can Nigeria continue to defy political logic? The PDP ruins Nigeria yet it continuously “wins” elections massively. Now, something is very wrong!