I am speaking directly to the Nigerians born in the 1980s and 1990s. As a member of this generation, we have watched Nigeria emerge from its dark days of military dictatorship into a fledgling immature democracy. The purpose of this piece is to implore, coerce, beg, cajole and guilt you (if possible) to exercise your right to vote in the forthcoming elections.
My generation occupies a very special temporal space in Nigeria’s history. Some of us were born towards the end of the Buhari/Idiagbon tenure; most were born in the Babangida years and the youngest of us were born in the Abacha’s regime. We remember tuning in to our television sets to watch our military leaders promise elections and transition to democracy year after year. We also remember the excitement that surrounded the 1993 elections. Or, who can forget “Hope 93”? We saw the two main parties run a spirited campaign that culminated in the freest and fairest election Nigeria has ever seen. Unfortunately, we also watched M.K.O. Abiola get arrested, languish in an unlawful detention and eventually die under mysterious circumstances.
Fast forward to 2015, we have enjoyed an uninterrupted 16 years of democratic government albeit with a lot of imperfections. The process has been ugly and the results are reflective of that. When kingmakers impose candidates using all the powers at their disposal, we end up with rulers and not leaders. Worst of all, we end up with rulers whose main goal is to reward their benefactors and thereby ensure self-perpetuation at the expense of the masses they took an oath to serve. In 2010, when Acting President Goodluck Jonathan was sworn in, I wrote an article urging him to have just a one-point agenda: Ensuring credible elections. Unfortunately, Mr. President had his own agenda.
Democracy is not a native form of government to most groups in Nigeria historically. The Igbo people’s council of elders form of government is the closest thing to a democratic form of government in pre-colonial Nigeria. Democracy was birthed in Athens around 600 BC and now perfected by the United States of America. However, the largest democracy in the world is India which shares many similarities with Nigeria like a heterogeneous, diverse population with multiple religions and multiple party system that features a main ruling party and a coalition of smaller opposition parties. When we adopt a system of government that is not native to us, there is a learning curve associated with it and we must expect some growing pains. That is why I get irritated when people compare us with the USA (whose bi-cameral legislature and presidential system of government we adopted- wrongfully or rightly? That’s a debate for another time). The USA has had over 200 years to perfect their democracy and we are less than 20 years into ours.
This brings me to my main point, even in the USA, election malpractices do occur. From the election of John F. Kennedy in 1960 to the election of George W. Bush Jnr. in 2000. Again, my generation is old enough to remember how close the votes were in Florida and how we were disappointed about how the whole recount issue was handled.
In the end, George Bush won Florida by only 537 votes! Can you imagine if those 537 people decided not to vote because they thought that “their votes would not affect the outcome of the election”? That is why I am pleading with you to go out there, get your Permanent Voter Cards and vote. Even if they rig, they can only rig so much. My fellow young Nigerians, rigging is hard; rigging is expensive and rigging is becoming increasingly more difficult to execute. Even in Florida, during the recount, they found out that there was evidence of over-voting (when 100 per cent of registered voters vote and one candidate gets 99 per cent of the votes).
There was also evidence of convicted felons voting illegally and lastly, there was evidence of dead people voting (which I found to be especially embarrassing).
I decided to write this article as a concerned Nigerian in the Diaspora. I had the opportunity to participate in the last elections as I was back home doing my youth service and it felt amazing. Unfortunately, our electoral institutions are not strong enough to allow absentee ballots yet and I will be unable to vote this time round. However, in my discussions with my friends in Nigeria, there is a new way of disenfranchising people- making it impossible to get a PVC. My fellow Nigerians, this is only a ploy and we will not allow systematic rigging. Even in the USA, some southern states have been creative in filtering which Americans are eligible to vote.
The most famous one again is Florida in the 2012 election. The Tea Party Republicans put up rigid voter ID laws to disenfranchise African-Americans and other immigrant population. The result was a backlash that saw President Barack Obama winning Florida handedly with 74,000 votes. In fact, there was a 102-year-old African-American woman in Florida who went to the polling station multiple times and had to wait almost four hours in order to cast her vote. There was another 92-year-old man who waited four hours to cast his vote. These are people who remember the days they were legally ineligible to vote. They saw their friends die for the right to vote and they are willing to do whatever they could to ensure that that right was never taken away from them by ridiculous “new voter suppression laws”.
We have been a very lucky country, we have never really had to fight for anything (apart from the civil war). We did not have to fight for independence like South Africa and God intervened on our behalf in those dark days when Gen Sani Abacha was going to transform into our own Robert Mugabe. We watched with admiration when youths took over Tahir Square in Egypt to demand change and I think that inspired our finest hour- when we took to the streets to protest the abrupt removal of fuel subsidy in 2012.
We came together as one, irrespective of ethnicity or religion and we made a change. We shook the government, they panicked and we won. I want you all to remember that feeling. That is the beauty of democracy and that is why it is worth fighting for. Please get your PVC even if it takes five hours to wait, you have no excuse if a 102-year-old woman could do it. You have your phones with Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat.
Waiting in a queue has never been easier; or read a book. Your country is worth your time. Without the youth and minority votes, I dare say Obama would not have won the presidency especially in 2012.
I want to urge you to make up your mind on who you want to vote for. Your vote does matter and will count. Even if they rig, because you voted, you will end up making it harder for them to rig the votes in their favour. When you vote, and each polling station counts its vote right there in your presence, then you can manually add up all the returning numbers from the different polling stations.
Also, they cannot report anything greater than 100 per cent of registered voters in a particular state, so, when you don’t vote or participate, you make it easier for the election to be rigged!
Obviously, I am not campaigning here for any particular candidate. What I am campaigning for is civic duty, the right to exercise your inalienable right to choose the future direction of our dear country. This is the ultimate expression of love, not just for your country but for our future and our unborn children’s future.
- Dr. Jimoh wrote in from Tennessee, USA. for PUNCH news