Posted by News Express | 11 March 2023 | 593 times
The words of elders will always be evergreen irrespective of when they are uttered. Some four and a half decades ago, in 1978 to be precise, I had asked Julius Nyerere, the then Prime Minister of Tanzania, about the break-up of the East African Economic Council which was set up to promote the economic interests of some land-locked East African countries. He held my gaze for a while before saying in that soft voice that the late African Elder Statesman was known for ‘You don’t drop an egg and lament that it is broken’. Although it was a cryptic answer to my question, I have remembered that phrase ever since along with some other deep quotes from personalities I met in my journey as a journalist. They come in handy when circumstances throw them up. Like now.
Nigeria had its Presidential election about two weeks ago. Just about 10% of its estimated population voted. Just about 25% of its registered voters went to the polls. Again, just about 25% of those who went to the polls and 10% of registered voters chose the declared winner. The figures don’t look good however you look at them. And if you compare them to many other democracies, especially those of the Western World, they are abysmal. The figures point to disenchantment, disenfranchisement, possible intimidation, general lack of requisite preparation and complete dissatisfaction with the major candidates the system threw up. The figures also showed that the declared winner is not an overwhelming choice of the people. In fact, a whole zone of the country completely rejected him. And rather than unite the country, the figures showed the election has further fragmented the country. Yet, figures don’t always reveal everything. Unfortunately, Western media which is ever so eager to latch on to negatives in Africa, has gone to bed with these figures. Some have described the election as shambolic, characteristically emphasizing the negatives while refusing to see the positives. They have highlighted violence, snatching of ballot boxes and police brutality. In reality, these were probably at the lowest we have had on an election day in recent times. Many have clothed the declared winner with yards of allegations that remain largely unproven and are downright disrespectful in the circumstances. But we put ourselves up for the ridicule. I have said it before that the system we operate does not throw up our first eleven for elections. Many Nigerians did not have any strong belief and therefore, deep emotional investment in the candidates that emerged and those who invested emotionally, did so on basis other than character, competence and capacity. We also put ourselves up for ridicule when we sabotaged ourselves. Around the election period, under the guise of stopping vote buying, we sucked money from the people and fuel from the streets. This is like sucking air from the lungs of an election, any election. Elections everywhere require logistics and logistics require funds and mobility. INEC Chairman had to beg for money to be released to him. This was not released until a few days to the election. Yet people turned around to say arrangements were shoddy and voting didn’t start in some places until noon. What were we expecting. A miracle? We have almost 200,000 polling units. They will be supervised by INEC and observed by party agents. They will need money and mobility. Fuel and cash were deliberately made scarce. What did we expect? People put their polling units in their hometowns and villages for a variety of reasons. One of which is to be engaged in local politics and mobilize people in their community. The cash crunch and fuel scarcity denied them the right to go home. A colleague who lives on the outskirts of Lagos had planned to go home to the South-south to vote and also celebrate his 70th birthday. He was denied the pleasure. All of these created apathy if not antipathy. I had warned Emefiele and the CBN in a previous article to be wary of unintended consequences. One of them was this low voter turn-out. Now, some of those who went on TV and the social media then to support the cash suction called currency swap are lamenting the ensuing disenfranchisement. We dropped the egg on INEC and the people. We should not lament that it is broken. Expecting so much from INEC and the electorate after sabotaging both is ridiculous. We simply reaped what we sowed.
But there are positives and we should not throw the baby out with the bath water. In the past, political heavyweights simply allotted votes after buying the conscience of officials. That reduced this time as many top politicians lost in their areas of influence. 20 Governors lost control of their States. That has never happened before. Both the incumbent President and the President –Elect lost their States to different opposition parties. That is telling. Some Party Chairmen and Campaign Director Generals lost their polling units. That is an eye opener. The northern votes were reduced significantly. That shows something worked. Going forward, we need to work on voter suppression which happens in most democracies and voter intimidation. Elections all over the world are works in progress and hopefully we have learnt a few lessons, one of which is never to score an own goal as it happened in this election. It never bodes well when you formulate a policy which punishes a vast majority of people just because of a handful. But what we should not do is follow foreigners who don’t wish us well in condemning the election wholesale.
The highest court of the land tried last week to correct the injustice of the currency confistication. When the Supreme Court adjourned sitting until after the Presidential election, something in me felt aggrieved because I felt it was politically motivated. How do you adjourn the hunger people are feeling? How do you adjourn the deprivation people are suffering? How do you adjourn emergencies where cash is needed? The grandmother who sells groundnuts by the wayside for a living doesn’t really care about politics. All she cares about is the day’s meal. I hope all and sundry will get some reprieve through the judgement and be able to meet their most existential needs. Though welcome, I personally believe it is too little too late given the extent of damage the ill-advised policy has caused our fragile economy and the poor.
•Muyiwa Adetiba is a veteran journalist and publisher. He can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org
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