Dele Akeem Sonubi
Long-Term Election Observer,
People’s Republic of Bangladesh
Last Update from Bangladesh 5
How are you and how are things with you back there in Nigeria? From your previous emails where you had expressed gross reservations about things going on at home- Nigeria, I know asking if you are fine or not is just a rhetorical question that needs not be answered because the answer will be the same. Anyway, this perhaps will be the last email I will send you from the country where I have come to observe elections. As I pack my bags tonight and remove all the cables of my computer and other electronic gadgets to organize my exit, I realize that this might be my last chance to email you from this “soil”. Even though it is so late in the night now and I am so very tired and my feet hurt from over-use after going through 10 polling stations and about 35 (+) polling booths, but for sure I need to send you the last email and hope you get it in good enough time. I probably will read your reply as I board the plane heading back home to Nigeria where all my beloved reside.
I have completed my assignments here in the Islamic People’s republic of Bangladesh and I am ready to start coming home in matter of days. I wanted to speak with you before I arrive but because of the huge time difference between Bangladesh and Nigeria, I do not want to wake you up since it is early morning hours at your end and we are in our late evening time here. I wanted to tell you- no to beg you that you should please help prepare the best “welcome home” dish you can organize for me. Usually I should not be telling you what to do but I dare the risk of not getting what my appetite for “home food” desires now. Please consider making a big bowl of “amala,” to be complemented with ewedu which is already spiced up with local beans seeds-iru. After the amala and I had taken a big shower, please let “ebiripo” the delicious food favorites of the Remo people in the Ijebu area of Ogun State steam-warm and placed side by side with egusi soup which is already spiced up with iru and ogiri Ijebu. Please allow me the option of mixing the egusi with okro or ewedu (ogbona will be much later in the day) as I consume the sumptuous meal which is to be complemented with cow-tail or liver/edo, abodi, shaki or fuku and “roundabout.” Please, do not bother yourself to put appropriate cutleries on the table, I will be glad to eat with my fingers and eat even from the pots. Knowing full well that I had been fed to the point of “fed-up” on rice grains, with food that is heavily spiced on curry and some weird smelling garlic here in Bangladesh, please note that these dishes you prepare for me must not include rice and the stew must be devoid of curry, and or garlic. I had been fed consistently on these for 8 weeks. I am surely not looking forward to eating it when I arrive in Nigeria for the next one month.
When I arrive at home, we will get to talk extensively about the elections that I just observed here in Bangladesh. It was a great outing for all of us as international election observers. We were looking for an election that would be marked by gross abuses and inconsistencies. But alas, what we got instead was free, fair, transparent, and a great election that was opened to all and friendly to everyone who came to the polling station. When I got your sms wishing me luck as I go for the elections, I was already out of the hotel then and was on my way to the first polling station where I would open the election. It was some 6.30am when we set out for the elections and elections were not to start until 8am. Yet, by the time I got your sms message, the station was already filled with women and few men who were already waiting to enter the station and to cast their votes. It was so encouraging watching the enthusiasm of these people and the fact that though very poor, they still expressed the optimisms that this particular election might be the end of the road of their poverty. And they came out en-masse to express their democratic rights through votes.
I remember that during the last general elections in Nigeria, the April 27th elections which the Nigerian Supreme Court just declared free and fair, you were totally nonchalant about voting. Your argument then was that you had no faith in any of the candidates who were vying for the presidential positions. You did not want to be forced to make a choice between the “evils” presented. Interestingly, here in Bangladesh, there is an option of “No Vote” which is the last column underneath the entire presented candidates or political parties. With the option of No Vote, the electorate didn’t have to disenfranchise himself /herself, s/he can thick “No Vote” which means none of the candidates is good enough for the voter. And “No Vote” is counted-not as a canceled ballot- but as a valid ballot and it is aggregated at the end. Imaging if we have the option to use “No Vote” in Nigeria in our future elections when presented with OBJ, Atiku, Buhair, Obanikoro, Yaradua or Alao- Akala….it will be nice wont it? You wouldn’t have to stay at home and disenfranchise yourself and allow any of these ones to determine your future; you will just use No Vote. Ah… very nice.
The parliamentary election as we observed it was not totally devoid of hiccups here and there. The problem is that these hiccups are not systemic, they were mere naivety of the polling officers but soon as they noticed, they quickly corrected the errors. So you couldn’t say the errors we noticed were caused by the electoral commission who wanted to truncate the election. If you ask me to name a specific observation we made, then I will tell you that we noticed that political parties were still mounting campaign on the day of election through their volunteered assistance to the electorates who were too illiterate to find their voters registration numbers. This couldn’t have been a problem in Nigeria; Nigerian electorates are fairly well educated to know how to read their names on voters registrations and to know how not to patronize touts on election matters. However, we all realized that poverty was not the bases for organizing chaotic election like Nigeria did in April 2007 at the general election. These Bangladeshi pulled through a truly free and fair election and taught even me, a Nigeria observer a great lesson and showed me reasons to be optimistic about the future in Nigeria. As you might have heard already in various press briefings from Bangladesh, the election results showed a huge landslide victory for the opposition who won significantly 85-90 % of the votes cast.
It was an Old Russian leader Joseph Stalin, who once said that election is not so much about those who vote; but it is so much about those who count the votes! (Those Who Vote Decide Nothing, Those Who Count The Votes Decide Everything- Joseph Stalin) I understand that you heard over the CNN and Aljazeera News that the losing party complained of electoral fraud. I know that you might be scared of this not knowing what is going on and might even be scared of the remote chance of a by-election which might keep me longer in Bangladesh. But be
rest assured that we are safe here. Political parties all over the world are mischievous and behave alike. They will never agree when they lose but will approve only when they win. There are no fights here, there are no disagreements. The party that won, won because the people truly wanted change. I dare say that the Obama revolution (or as I once called it; “collective illusions syndrome”) has caught up with folks here because they all spoke loud and clear that they wanted change; and they got it. So please do not worry, I am safe here, there is no election violence, all is well and on the very date specified on my flight ticket, I will jet out of the city of Dhaka and head back home-to Nigeria and to you.
Ah, before I forget, please help me make sure that you have sufficient fuel in the house to propel our noisy generator. I can live with the noise and fume pollution of the generator provided that it is sufficiently placed at a far distance, but I surely cannot imagine coming into the darkness which Nigeria has subjected her people to in the past few weeks since I had been gone. I read all about these electric power failure in the online newspapers. You see my dear; once you drive out of the city of Dhaka (the capital of Bangladesh), the rest of the country is a conglomeration of villages. You could drive several hundreds of kilometers and all you would see are villages. In the particular village where I lived, I did not witness a moment’s electric power failure in the 8 weeks I was there. I don’t know how these people organize themselves so effectively but things seem to work and to work very efficiently. I touched the wall and there was NEPA, I turned the tap and there was water, I step out, and the streets are clean, I looked curiously out expecting to see rubbish dumps everywhere in the street and all I see are people who wanted to touch me and no filths (election related posters cannot even be paste on the wall; by law politicians are to hang posters of a regulated size and in black and white only)… You went out of the city center to the core villages and you see that everywhere had road networks. There was no where that was inaccessible because of road, or light, or basic infrastructures. Here, barbers, petty traders, artisans are the sole income providers for the local government because they have electricity with which to work. In Bangladesh you would be ashamed to be a Nigerian. Here, when you see the system work, you will weep that although we have the resources, the fact that Nigeria does not work is a huge let down. And please let me add, that there had never been “no fuel” signs anywhere here, nor would you hear of an impending fuel strikes, or the phrase; panic buying. Nothing that will make you think of life filled with frustrations. Our office was even thinking that the government might switch off mobile phones on or before the day of election. So they provided us with satellite phones. I am happy to report that here, there are no “network failure” no, “network jamming” and no “please try again later” all mobile phones work and they work effectively. So I never had to switch on my satellite phone beyond the day we learnt how to use them.
I am sure you would have noticed from the tone of my voice that I am already missing this place. Tomorrow I will head out of Faridpur and go to Dhaka and wait for my flights. I intend to spend the three days sitting inside my luxurious room, alone and finding the space and time to assess and re-assess all that I gained here in Bangladesh. It is so far from Nigeria for me to come back so, I will just take the time to remember the good, the bad, and the ugly tales here and situate all within their different contexts. In the beginning, when I arrived here, I felt things were difficult for me to comprehend. At the end now, I am having nostalgic feelings and I haven’t even left the country yet. It shows how deeply involved I must have gotten.
I look forward to returning to Nigeria. When I do, I will sleep like a child and shave the grey hair off my head. Then I will send the people of Bangladesh a poem I wrote for them.