My Country, My Vote, My Money – Did You Spend It Properly?

by L.Chinedu Arizona-Ogwu

Nigerians are working to avert a repetition of the June 12, 2003 incidence at the forthcoming 2011 general elections; inside nigeria4betterrule organization; a forum to prepare a mid-term development vision and to initiate a campaign to select clean and honest nominees for the forthcoming general elections is on the way. The decadent and corrupt state of governance has compelled a typical Nigerian society to address the malaise, hands-on. We have welcomed the move, conveniently politicians think of themselves being there; forgetting that this unprepared ground is testimony to their failures as politicians. It is time our African way of face-saving traditions be re-examined; and people incapable of taking care of their own integrity and dignity, should not deserve latitude from others.

There is twelve-point guideline for nominating honest candidates for the next general election come April 2011. We expect that within a month candidates should be screened and nominated, and electioneering should commence. These candidates will act as deterrents to corrupt candidates, ensuring that they do not get elected. I believe that the involvement of the whole society in the electioneering process will act as a counterbalance to the existing malignant political environment.

Before the process of screening potential candidates begins, it is imperative that an awareness raise campaign on election issues be initiated. Nearly half of our population lives in abject poverty. Poverty clouds one’s judgment, and our existing corrupt electioneering process evolves around bribing voters for a brief period during elections. These bribes range from building a few culverts/mosques on a societal level to distributing bags of wheat or clothes on a personal level. The beneficiaries are made to believe that these are acts of personal charity rather then routine affairs of a government.

Unfortunately this tactic works. Established politicians establish a hierarchy of interests comprising of elite’s of the society in different tiers. This age-old practice is well entrenched. To break it requires a sustained campaign reaffirming existing truths in a clearer light. Voters need to be educated in their rights as owners of state goods and services. Therefore, the culvert built is no personal charity of the State Assembly or party stalwart, rather why was the culvert not built sooner, how much did it cost and whether it is well constructed or not should be questions generated to ensure accountability of elected and state officials. The movement to nominate honest candidates should be broadened into a movement to ensure transparency, accountability and sense of ownership of local people to state activities; otherwise a narrow focus would impede the selection of the right person to represent the people.

In Nigeria, a semi-feudal agrarian society, the power to exploit is also a measure of one’s legitimacy and eligibility to be powerful. The greater your power to influence the state machinery, to divert public resources for private needs and remain immune from the law, the greater you are feared. And in a Machiavellian way the more you are feared the higher the probability of your being elected. A nation campaign geared to change this mindset of our electorate is necessary. The capability to steal state property, as an indicator of power, should be projected to the people as the workings of a thief, more despicable then the local cowhide lifter. It is time to deconstruct agrarian myths of power and influence. The people should first be re-educated and made aware of their ownership of all state activities. The image of the elected representative as the benefactor should be replaced by his true role as a caretaker and facilitator of state expenditure. The people through a properly conducted campaign should be empowered to demand transparency and accountability from people seeking their vote.

The media can play a positive role in generating such an awareness raising campaign. Firstly local resources need to be mobilized by a locally constituted body of social activists. The activists will for fairness sake recluse themselves from seeking electoral nominations. This will discourage potential disruptive elements from infiltrating the local committee. The media should highlight the activities of the local committee, to ensure that the committee is not harassed by vested interest groups. If necessary the national committee can provide the research material and campaign literature for each locality. The campaign material should include information on development projects of the locality, government disbursement sector-wise, life span of physical constructions, special allocations for the locality and a list of elected representative and concerned officials responsible for managing specific projects.

By pinpointing on government resource allocation and persons responsible for it, the electorate can judge for themselves whether they have been served properly or resources targeted for them have been usurped by their elected representatives in cahoots with state functionaries. By creating transparency in local resource management, the campaign should create an environment where identified thieves feel discouraged to meet their electorate and the honest section of society resurface to claim public positions. The media as a watchdog should closely monitor any reports of intimidation, official repression and use of public resources to bribe communities. The national committee should ensure necessary legal aid for activists involved in this social awareness campaign.

There is the need for anthropologists to research the emergence of dynastic rule in our democracy. The gradual politicization of our bureaucracy, the criminalization of our political process has created disastrous consequences on this nation; Nigeria. People with no moral propriety have presided over our destiny. I believe that this mis-rule, this corrupt governance should end. Corruption like cancer has pervaded the whole society in its vice-like grip, threatening to terminate its life. Therefore the fight for existence is a total one. Dislodging vested interests, entrenched through hundreds of years of bad governance through one election is difficult. However with a nation, desperate for fair governance it is not impossible. Let this first step of our civil society be a giant leap for the nation. Through time the people will eventually prevail, in the meantime let civil society force uncivil people to cower in their incivility, without the benefit of an African face-saver. With social ostracism, these vested interests will be easier to dismantle and the path to good governance will be easier. Let not our middle-class senses of propriety jeopardize our battle against thieves and criminals, responsible for keeping seventy million Nigerians in poverty. With these ‘Politricking’ thieves out of governance we can once again resume our Nigeria decency. Till then let us call a thief a thief, an impostor an impostor, a charlatan a charlatan and a liar a liar. If this is too much for any of our civil society leaders and too close for comfort, let them make way for someone made of sterner stuff. Then we can afford to be truly gentle, the peaceful Nigeria we are.

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