Opinion: Back To Voter Education – By Ayo Oyoze Baje
‘’Nigeria is by far the largest and wealthiest
Of the British African dominations,
The most exciting country
I have ever seen in my life.
It is extravagantly colossal and turbulent
And its politics are incandescent’
-John Gunther (American author and globe-trotter, 1953)
One of the noble, and I dare say, patriotic gestures taken by the distinguished members of the Guild of Public Affairs Analysts of Nigeria(GPAAN) is the decision to embark on the sustained political re-engineering of the long-suffering Nigerians, across the country. Voter education is of course, part of it. In fact, the time is now for the consistently marginalized masses to come to grips with the elusive fact that power truly belongs to them. That is the way the pendulum swings in a democracy.
As it was in Ancient Greece (about 500 BC), Nigerians must rise to the full realization that they have had enough of the concept of Monarchy (when one person rules), and Aristocracy (when a few wealthy people rule) and embrace the real principles, precepts and policies of Democracy (when the people rule). With regards to Greece, though ‘’their cities were small enough to enable all the citizens to meet together to make decisions, and they did not need to elect officials as we do’’, programs of government were carried out by the officials made up of the people who took their turns in their execution. That is according to H. A. Vincent, the author of ‘The Story of the Ancient World’.
Notably, the leadership scenario back then was a far cry from the present day Nigeria where the political- cum- economic equation is overtly skewed in favour of the highest bidders and audacious few favoured citizens, driven more by the Machiavellian mantra of the end always justifying the means than selfless service to the people. Thus, one administration after another the ordinary Nigerian is left to stew in preventable poverty, questionable insecurity, low educational and healthcare delivery status, infrastructural decay with most of the political actors grossly failing to live to their primary purpose. And that is to guarantee security and provide for the welfare of the citizens, as expressly enshrined in Section 14, Sub-section 2(b) of the 1999 constitution (as amended).
Incidentally, that constitution which should be the ground norm for governance never emanated from the wishes, dreams, desires and dictates of the people who should hold the levers of governance in a democracy. Reflective of the anomalous leadership structure it came from the wishes of a favoured few Nigerians. Concentrating enormous political powers at the federal centre, beginning with the presidency, Nigeria’s democratic structure in the 21st century is at the whims of one man and perhaps a few acolytes in power, reminding us of both monarchy and aristocracy which the ancient Greeks out rightly rejected.
If not, how do we explain an aberrant situation that has the people asking for political restructuring, to bring power closer to the people but the All Progressives Congress(APC)-led government is blatantly refusing to acquiesce to the wishes of Nigerians. Worse still, restructuring was an issue the party made as one of its campaign promises back in 2014/15 but does not see the wisdom in its fulfilment. So, what is democracy when the critical element of Trust is openly violated?
Now is the time therefore, for the people to begin to ask the most pertinent questions. For instance, do the politicians, most of who keep presenting themselves for positions of leadership at every election cycle understand what the word ‘leadership’ truly means? Are they spiritually, physically and mentally ready for the onerous tasks and rigours that political office demands of them? Are they academically equipped to understand the nitty-gritty of office and not contest for office to satisfy the agenda of the individual, his ethnic group or that of his religious persuasion? What about the moral perspective? Going by the manner of criss-crossing from one political party to another, at the drop of a hat and the lack of binding political philosophy for each of the parties as well as the poor performance of our political elite since political independence in 1960 the answers should be obvious to us. Unfortunately, they are not!
If they were, voters would not be collecting peanuts of small packs of rice, beans, indomie and an insulting N5,000 or less to sell their souls to their very oppressors during campaign periods. It is indeed, the right of every voter to demand from every contestant what he/she intends to actualize for the community, or country, as the situation may be. That is once he/she mounts the political office and to have a binding vow to that effect. Some observers have been suggesting the deployment of traditional worship tools to effect their promises. But then, most of them who have sworn by either the Holy Bible of the Koran as oath to office were hardly aware of the grave consequences of such action. One is not surprised therefore, that hardly have they ended well, years after office, even with all the millions of Naira stolen! The law of retribution or Karma always comes into full play.
Beyond all that, the current humongous pay package of the politicians, as approved by the Revenue Mobilization Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC) is antithetical not only to the economic wellbeing of the people in a democracy but also to the enthronement of good governance. Series of warnings have been issued by both the World Bank and The Economist Magazine of London with regards to Nigerian lawmakers and Ministers being ranked as the highest paid in the world. Paradoxically, that is in a country OXFAM Report has consistently ranked as home to the poorest people in the whole world since 2018. But no group of political helmsman has deemed it wise or exhibited the moral remorse to call for a change of narrative. But we cannot go on this way; to the extent of running the machinery of government by listless debts and looking for N85billion loan to buy mosquito nets! One cannot believe this is playing itself out in the 21st century Nigeria.
According to the Report of the International Bank Mission to Nigeria in 1953, as reflected in the book, ‘Storms on the Niger’ by Mokwugo Okoye: “ Production methods are still primitive, the great majority of the population is illiterate and standards of nutrition, housing and medical care are low. The people are anxious to live better and hence to produce more goods in a greater variety; they want to become better educated”. That was some 68 years ago! Are we much better as at this day? The answer is there for all to see.
The Human Development Index of the average Nigerian would have been at par with India, Malaysia and Singapore, countries that gained political independence at about the same period if power has been given to the people, instead of the crop of avaricious and restless locusts that have stripped our fertile forests into broom-like spectacles of international shame.
This is therefore, a clarion call to all enlightened Nigerians, including Human Rights activists, the mass media and even political parties to begin to engage in mass voter education. Power must return to the people. The time to act is now.
When all its work is done,
The lie shall rot;
The truth is great and shall prevail,
When none cares whether it prevails or not.’