Over the last few days, twitter has been “lit” over THIS article by Chude Jideonwo wrote. As a rule, I do not address certain Issues publicly with people whom I can reach privately. The exceptions are when such access ceases and/or where the issues at hand violate some of the principles I call my personal guiding lights — for example when a person maliciously lies about the work of another person, irrespective of how close we are, I will call you out. So, this piece isn’t a commentary on Chude’s piece, there is a lot of that already for and against.
Why then am I writing?
I am writing because I think this is a critical period, and my generation needs to realize where we are and begin to take the long view about power in our democracy and making it work to deliver a better nation, maybe for us, but without fail for our children. The thought that drives me constantly is this — I do not want my children to be handed a Nigeria worse than the one I have grown up and continue to trudge on in.
If you intend to read this within the frame of APC vs PDP or GEJ vs PMB and simply who you supported in the 2015 elections and are still unable to extricate yourself from this way of thinking, this is the time to stop reading. There have been multiple incarnations of this party dichotomy in our history, so discussing our democracy simply within such a frame is limiting. You can read my piece on framing HERE. This is about my view of the big picture and explains why I took and continue to take the positions I do.
First, understand that the issue is not between two political parties, but between our political class, and the rest of us, Nigerians. Their aim is to use us as the pawns in their game of thrones, and they move fluidly across platforms frequently enough for the discerning to see that from their view, there is no real divide, they simply present the illusion to Nigerians. THIS PIECE I wrote in 2013 explains this point using alcohol as an analogy:
There is also a second thought that my alcohol research threw up. Within the same locale, alcohol means different things to different people. To some, it means paraga or burukutu or ogidiga or ota piapia or some other local rancid brew that the lowest of the lowly can afford. To others who are slightly better off, it means alomo and its likes. To others yet higher up the ladder, it is beer and cheap wine. But some think of nothing more than fine wines and champagne and expensive drinks when you say alcohol. You see, irrespective of this beer map, the elite champagne class exists across all the areas and the links between them are strong. It recognizes not boundaries and regional ties beyond manipulating them for personal interest. Their interests are what interest them, beyond their region or people. The people must realize this. While we can quarrel amongst ourselves for the type of beer we drink and all that symbolizes, champagne is the same across all places. We must not think their wars are our wars, we must be wise. While we do not necessarily need to give up the beer we love, we must guard against this champagne class manipulating these differences to cause us to fight for their interests and their champagne money. Hero, Star, Guinness, Harp, Heineken, all na beer. There is more that binds us, more that is the same than our differences if we make the effort to find out
At the helm of this political class is the class of 1966 who have held on to power directly or behind the scenes through proxies since then, whether in military or civilian regimes. If one thing is clear, it is that this generation has failed us and that they have delivered a Nigeria to our generation that is worse than the one they were born and grew in.
The following views are those I have shared privately with friends on both sides of the partisan divide like and non-partisan folk alike. I chose not to mention their names here but they can decide to attest to this fact when they read this piece.
In the years approaching the 2015 elections, I pondered what would work to strengthen our democracy and move it closer to one which worked to deliver a better life for its citizens. I thought about popular revolution. But as I studied history, I realized quickly that where revolutions happen, the group that usually takes power post-revolution is always the next most organized group outside that which the revolution takes out. In Nigeria, that group is the military, and in the event of any revolution, I concluded the military would take over. This clearly wasn’t an option. I therefore concluded that systematically improving our democracy is the way to go.
With this in mind, I looked at our democratic journey. Some hurdles had been crossed already that resulted in improving the democratic process. Obasanjo’s attempt at a third term had been defeated. Rather than resort to widespread violence of the 1960s that birthed things like Operation Wetie, candidates sought to resolve electoral differences in the courts of law and court rulings on elections were routinely obeyed. In spite of drama and due to pressure from vigilant citizenship, after the death of an incumbent, the constitutional order of succession was followed and the then Vice President Goodluck Jonathan was sworn in as President. All these were milestones in our progress as a democracy.
From about 2012, it was clear that the ruling party was complacent. I spoke with many of my PDP friends and they were convinced that it was impossible to defeat an incumbent Nigerian president. As I interacted with non-PDP Nigerians on this matter, I found that this belief about not being able to defeat an incumbent president was widespread. Incumbent governors had been defeated in the past, but many Nigerians had been straight-jacketed into a mindset of the inevitability of a win for incumbent presidents. Even the PDP high-ups made statements like “The PDP will rule Nigeria for sixty years”.
Another belief that was widespread was that what Nigeria needed was a “messiah”. People were looking for the person that would come in and totally change Nigeria. Someone who would promise heaven and earth and deliver same to Nigerians. The belief was that Nigeria is such a special case of bad that only such a messianic leader can save us.
These two factors led me to take a long view on our democracy’s evolution. First, I realized that what would be best for us as a nation was a defeat of the incumbent. The PDP’s complacency and its taking of Nigerians for granted needed to be shaken off. It was also important for Nigerians to begin believing that an incumbent president could be voted out. It was important for politicians to realize that it was possible for this to happen. When I had discussions with my PDP friends, I told them clearly that they would lose the elections. Many of them found it hard to believe; such was the firm belief in the power of incumbency of the president.
I looked to see who the APC would produce as its candidate in spite of all the party’s contradictions. When it produced General Buhari, I realized that the 2015 elections would offer a unique opportunity to liberate my generation and Nigerians by extension from the two fallacies and evolve our democracy in the process. If there was anyone who fit the messiah bill in present day Nigeria, it was General Buhari. Many foisted on him messianic proportion hopes, in spite of facts to the contrary. These facts were clear to me hence I didn’t think he was the best choice.
Based on the above, I took the position not to actively campaign for any of the two candidates. The vitriolic atmosphere the campaigning became was unhealthy anyway, and while I kept in touch and in the discourse, I chose not to campaign. I firmly believed that 2015 would deliver a defeat to the ruling PDP and shatter the myth of the impossibility of defeating an incumbent president if it was the will of the majority of Nigerians. That happened. I also believed that 2015 would deliver the messianic president many Nigerians had placed their last hopes on in the person of President Buhari who would definitely not deliver on his promises. I also made up my mind to critique Buhari’s administration from the get go because I didn’t think many of the voices that critiqued the past administration would continue to do so. Those that follow me on twitter will know that I have consistently done this on the basis of firmly held principles from even before it was sworn in, up to the point of being accused of being a closet PDP member, as many people chose not to see principle but to attempt to label people in order to make them viable targets of vitriol. They never learn. It was my belief that President Buhari’s inability to “save Nigeria” would shatter the messiah myth from our political discourse. Again, this is currently happening and it has become clear to many who suspended logic to openly support Buhari that no messiah will deliver Nigeria building a healthy cynicism in the citizenry with which they will engage the political actors going forward. My view is that our democracy will be stronger for it and it will move us closer to applying the necessary rigor to selecting candidates at the party level and electing them in general elections.
I speak to my own generation in the hope that we have learned these lessons and will apply them in the coming elections. We are in the last year of full governance before election season fully kicks in and decisions and alignments must be made. I have seen fatalistic thinking beginning to float around such “Buhari is not Jonathan, if you think you will be able to vote Buhari out, you are on a long thing”. This is fallacious. If it is the will of the majority of Nigerians in 2019, in the same way Goodluck Jonathan was voted out, Buhari can be voted out. This must be clear and resounding. I’ve also seen “is it not the same pool of politicians we have to choose from”? Again, we must have learned the lesson that there are no messiahs and we must interrogate every candidate and refuse to be shut down where we have questions about anything on candidates. No bandwagons. In due time, the generation that failed us will be cleared and it will be up to us to deliver the Nigeria of our dreams.
So for 2019, as a generation, what should we do to begin to get the true dividends of democracy and negotiate a better deal for ourselves and our children?
No politician has winning guaranteed —
Realize that anyone at any level can be voted out and approach them with this knowledge. We have voted out incumbents at every level of our polity before and we can do it again and again and again. Let no one tell you otherwise.
Interrogate everything about candidates —
Their policies and plans, their past, their wealth, their ideology, their statement, their alliances, their associates, every single thing. There are no messiahs. It is competence and vision across a broad spectrum of leaders that will deliver a better Nigeria to us and to our children and we must do our best to ensure this is what we get.
Interrogate every voice that arrogates itself as your voice —
People will always rise claiming altruism and to speak for you. Our generation must not surrender our voices to anyone. We must all speak and refuse to be shutdown. It is why I like the varied voices that have risen on social and traditional media. No bandwagons. Where people speak, interrogate what they say, why they are saying it and for whom they say it. No issues with being paid, but do not allow anyone assume altruism if they are paid
Get Involved and Organized —
Power, political power, is not a bad thing. Our parents have etched this thinking into many of us, our employers make it seem undesirable and those who wield power now make it look like the preserve of the scum of the nation. But power is important if we will shape the future and we must seek it within the structures in which it is currently available. Our current situation is a reflection of the capacity of those we have surrendered power to in the years past and our future will reflect those who we allow take power in the next couple of election cycles. A caveat here; never allow anyone to narrow your involvement possibilities to joining a party or their party. There are broader, more nuanced avenues for involvement in the political process. Not all of us can be or should be politicians.
Take the long view —
Realize that the political class led by the class of ’66 see us as pawns and there are no real party divides. If they have held on to power for that long, it is because they are skilled at taking the long view and execute to such a degree that they attack anything that can undermine them, up to the level of under-educating whole generations to keep them subdued. So wherever we find ourselves as a generation, we must negotiate hard and negotiate with our generation in mind. We must collaborate more and not allow ourselves to be used by the champagne class to fight their battles which only their champagne class children will benefit from. You breaking into their class does nothing for our generation — getting a better deal for our generation does.
Get Skill —
Nigeria is changing. Many don’t see this yet but if you are taking the long view, you will see it that if you are not skilled, you will eventually not be able to play at any level in Nigeria, whether politics or outside of politics. Those who have entrenched the cronyism that drives everything in Nigeria today are leaving the scene, whether due to death, old age or being swept aside. That system will fade away and it is those that are skilled that will take over. Already, if you look at the youths that got called to the table to participate in governance after 2015, you will see a marked difference between the roles given to those who were skilled and those who weren’t. The gulf is going to get wider. In all your getting, get skill.