There is something fascinating about Nigerians. As a people, we hardly disappoint even our worst detractors. For too long, many in the international community have come to the conclusion that nothing good can come out of Nigeria. And at every given opportunity, we have proved them right.
But there comes a time when, even an insane person feels shame. With the events of the past two weeks, no self-respecting Nigerian can afford not to be mortified. We have once again been disgraced by those who call themselves leaders.
It is not as if, though, we expected they will ever be weaned of their chameleonic predilection. No! But the fact is that, this time, they clearly overreached themselves. You need to be outside the country to feel the real shame which President Olusegun Obasanjo has brought on all Nigerians through the fraudulent elections which he superintended in the past two weeks.
At every turn, people ask you why Nigerians behave the way they do; why it is impossible to hold free and fair elections; why people maim and kill others in order to get to public office; why Obasanjo is bent on subverting the democratic will of the people. The questions are legion. You answer some, parry some and others, you ignore outright. Not because you don’t want to answer, but because you have no answers. For instance, how do you explain that a human, being with thinking faculties, would declare with bold face the result of an election suggesting that the number of people that voted is more than those registered? How can anyone claim that what happened in Nigeria on April 14 and 21 is an indication that democracy is alive and kicking?
But what perplexes me most is the penchant of Nigerians to rationalise even the worst absurdities. Once again, the country is suffused with calls by “super patriots” that nobody should do any anything to “overheat” the polity. We are being told that anybody who is aggrieved should go to the courts to seek redress. Sooner than later, the victims of the electoral heist will be portrayed as the aggressors; as enemies of the Nigerian state and democracy.
It has already started. The very undemocratic duo of Generals Ibrahim Babangida and Abdulsalami Abubakar who foisted Obasanjo on Nigerians in 1999 and consequently brought us to this sorry pass have offered their unsolicited and highly patronising advice. Abdulsalami has condemned some individuals who want to bring the nation’s democracy to mockery. And you ask; which democracy? When did gangsterism become a synonym for democracy? Even if we say for the sake of argument that our political process could be adjudged democratic, what could be more odious than the way and manner the elections were conducted? What could mock our so-called democracy more than state officials snatching ballot boxes at gunpoint like armed robbers? Even armed robbers have more honour. They know what shame is. That explains why they carry out their nefarious trade stealthily, under the cover of darkness. Even those that operate in daylight, most times, disguise themselves.
Then Babangida was reported to have said that the protests which greeted the announcement of the so-called results of the April 14 elections was because Nigerians have not learnt to accept defeat and winners have not learnt to be magnanimous in victory. Of course, they are birds of the same plumage and nothing better should be expected from them. But Babangida’s rhetoric over the highly flaw polls is a testimony of our penchant to resort to cheap blackmail in trying to browbeat victims of our callous actions into accepting their fate without a whimper.
But it is too cheap. What if the people he is chastising for their inability to accept defeat are not losers of the polls? What if they are indeed the real winners whose votes were purloined? How then do we tell a man who has been robbed of his electoral mandate not to protest? Is it not the height of cruelty to slap a child and prevent him or her from crying?
Sooner than later, the din of this highly dubious advice will be raised to a new decibel. People will drag the name of God into acts emanating from their moral depravity. Very soon, we will start hearing that power comes from God and he gives it to whomever He pleases. Therefore, if anyone was cheated, then it was not God’s wish that he should win. That was the same argument bandied by those who denied Chief MKO Abiola his mandate and subsequently murdered him in detention.
It was the same argument used to rationalise the anomalies that characterised the 1999 elections. Again in 2003, the spurious argument came in handy and Obasanjo was the greatest beneficiary. In 1999, those who rightly felt they were cheated were told not to do anything to scuttle democracy, even when there was no democracy to scuttle. They were told their agitation would bring back the military. Some were advised to wait for 2003 when things would normalise or even get better.
2003 came and it was worse than 1999. Emboldened by the indescribable ability of Nigerians to stomach the worst of indignities, Obasanjo orchestrated worse electoral fraud.
Those who complained were branded enemies of democracy. They were accused of subversion and attempt to commit treason. General Muhammadu Buhari was especially pilloried for even daring to go to court and challenge the result of the election.
Again, we were told to wait for 2007. We were told that this year’s election would be better because Obasanjo and indeed most of the governors will not be eligible to contest. And here we are at last. 1999 polls have turned out better than 2003 and 2003 far better than 2007. In Nigeria, like I noted last week, nothing changes for the better.
Yet, we are being told again to wait till 2011 because Obasanjo will no longer be in power. But even as we blame Obasanjo for all these malfeasance, it is also good to point out that in a sense, it goes beyond him. Our problem is systemic and fundamental and needs radical solution.
Who says the man who will superintend over the 2011 elections will not behave like Obasanjo or even worse? Wasn’t the 1983 elections rigged? Who can be meeker that President Shehu Shagari? Who says the governors will not be as powerful in 2011 as they are today? Who says local government chairmen will not still be powerful as to hijack ballot boxes at gun point without any repercussions. Who says politicians will no longer kill and maim innocent people in a desperate bid to “deliver” their states? So, by 2011, just because Obasanjo is in Ota or wherever he chooses to be, Nigeria will become heaven on earth?
No! It won’t get better unless we collectively force a change and we can’t force that change by throwing up our hands in self-resignation. It won’t get better because the vicious struggle for power is not about us. It is about the oil and the free booties which they enjoy in power. It is about the slush funds like the PTDF that nobody accounts for. It is about self.
That is why I marvel when otherwise intelligent people blame victims of the electoral heist for even daring to complain. But the good thing is that what goes round comes round. In 2003, the then president of Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Comrade Adams Oshiomhole endorsed the sham elections and accused the opposition candidates, especially Buhari, of wanting to scuttle democracy. He led organised Labour into endorsing the flawed election. When Buhari and others called for mass action, he denounced them, saying that Labour would not be part of it. Today, it is his turn. He is leading a road walk in the streets of Benin to protest his “stolen mandate.”
In 2003, Dr Chris Ngige was used to subvert the electoral will of Anambrarians. For three years, he usurped another man’s electoral mandate. Today, he holds the wrong end of the electoral stick. The moral lesson to be learnt from all these is that injustice is an evil wind that blows no one any good. We either collectively fight evil or it gets back to us.
And that is why all hands must be on deck in redressing the shame of the past two weeks. It is not about any particular person, it is about us. It is the fate of our country that unconscionable people are toying with. They are playing ping-pong with our collective destiny.
Failing to challenge the atrocities visited on us all in the name of elections is to hand over our country completely to the dogs. To believe that, one day, things will get better just like that is the worst of illusions.
We must fight for every inch of our country. The only way to completely stop or at least reduce to the barest minimum the atrocities of the past two weeks is to send unambiguous message to whomever that Nigerians have had it up to their neck and can no longer take it.