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No, no, no. I am not about to write a tribute to U.S. President Barack Obama for winning a second term, although he more than deserves some praise. In 2008, his victory owed largely to the novelty of his candidature. This time around, it is fair to say he has earned his stripes in a very tough battle with Mitt Romney. Obama came of age, if you will. His victory speech set me thinking about our dearly beloved country, Nigeria, yet again. As he spoke, every word stirred up something in me about our politics and our politicians. I will comment on certain aspects as they relate to the Nigerian condition.
“We [Romney and I] may have battled fiercely, but it’s only because we love this country deeply and we care so strongly about its future…”
Nigerian politicians fight to the finish, as if there would be no tomorrow. Although they usually disguise this as a struggle for democracy, the truth is that they are mostly desperate for power. They would rather the country/state/council burns to ashes if they cannot get their wishes. If our politicians deeply love this country as they claim, there would be no violence at election times. Many of them know in their hearts that they don’t have enough support to win an election, but they nevertheless stir up ethnic and religious sentiments. How can killing, maiming and burning be a fight for democracy?
Romney only delayed accepting defeat because he was still doing his math. As soon as Obama breasted the tape, Romney called to congratulate him. He addressed his disappointed supporters, saying: “I believe in America. I believe in the people of America.” How I long for the day Nigerian politicians will learn to lose! Most are bad losers; they never allow love for country to guide their next steps. They will incite violence and disorder. They celebrate every misstep of their rivals in power, forgetting that all Nigerians will suffer the consequences. Where is the love for country?
We got close to civilisation in the June 12, 1993 presidential election. Alhaji Bashir Tofa initially congratulated Bashorun MKO Abiola after seeing the result. Mysteriously, he withdrew his statement, allegedly under pressure from those who were preparing to annul the election. Dr. Alex Ekwueme, an unusual Nigerian politician, also congratulated Chief Olusegun Obasanjo after he was beaten to the PDP presidential ticket in 1999. Ekwueme went on to chair an election fund raiser for Obasanjo. He even campaigned for Obasanjo in the South-east! I’m afraid there are no other instances to cite.
“In the weeks ahead, I also look forward to sitting down with Governor Romney to talk about where we can work together to move this country forward…”
In Nigeria, once you win an election, your next step is how to destroy your opponents and chase them out of town. There is always the feeling of hubris, a strong desire to “show them”. You go after their businesses, revoke their C of O, mark their houses for demolition, and cancel any contracts their companies are doing with the government. Or you may even co-opt them. You give them contracts. You turn them to your praise singers. Meanwhile, misrule continues. Where is the love for country?
“What makes America exceptional are the bonds that hold together the most diverse nation on earth… I believe we can seize this future together because we are not as divided as our politics suggests. We’re not as cynical as the pundits believe…”
There are so many Nigerians who are obsessed with the thought of breaking up the country. To them, that is the solution to every problem. Breaking up Nigeria, in their thinking, is what will stop council chairmen from looting! Schools are bad? Break up the country! No potable water? Break up the country! Governors are not performing? Break up the country! Drainages are dirty? Break up the country! Your wife’s soup is stale? Break up the country! In their thinking, breaking up the country is what will fill the potholes and sink the boreholes. That is what would equip the hospitals!
To be honest, I can never understand this obsession with balkanisation. America is one of the most diverse countries in the world. But Americans always put America first. In Nigeria, all that excites us is whipping up ethnic, religious, regional and geo-political differences at the slightest opportunity. Yet, any honest appraisal of our diversity will reveal that Nigerians are not incompatible. I have lived and made friends with Hausas, Fulanis, Igbos, Urhobos, Ibibios, Tivs – name them. I have observed ordinary people at close quarters. I am convinced beyond reasonable and unreasonable doubt that we can live together in peace and harmony.
It is the politicians and their intellectual agents who play up our sectional differences to promote their selfish agenda. Unfortunately, our poor and gullible people fall for this trick always. What a shame. I belong to a generation of Nigerians who will continue to maintain that despite the crushing challenges around us, our country can become great. I harbour hope that Nigeria is going to be a land of delight. Every ingredient to make Nigeria a great, united and prosperous country is here with us.
Nigeria is like this today because the enemies of progress have been calling the shots in critical positions. The day the right people are in authority over us, our story will change for good. How and when the good guys will get to power and turn this country around, I honestly don’t know. But I totally reject the defeatist word: “impossible”.
And Four Other Things...
Something always baffles me about the American elections. Every state conducts the presidential election by itself. There is no national electoral body like our own INEC. In fact, it was more or less the broadcast media that announced the results, not any Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC). I know that this independence is one of the fundamental principles that were negotiated into the American union from the beginning, but I am intrigued that it has worked nearly flawlessly for hundreds of years. We certainly have a lot to learn from these guys.
At least, we have something in common with the Americans. It is called “early voting”. This was to increase turn-out, as some voters find queuing on election day too tedious and unattractive. Well, the good news is that we also do “early voting” in Nigeria. The bad news, however, is that it is not open to everybody. It is usually a few party thugs who gather in hotel rooms or government offices to thumbprint thousands of ballots, which would then be smuggled into the ballot boxes on election day.
We have a law banning candidates from campaigning 48 hours to an election. Not only are you banned from mounting the soapbox, you cannot even advertise in newspapers or on radio/TV. In America, and other advanced countries, you can campaign for as long as you want. You can even campaign after the election! That’s your headache. We carried over many restrictive laws from the military. We have never bothered to question them. Can we relax the rules a bit, please, especially the one on advertising?
What is “electoral college”? That is the indirect way the American president is elected. Every state is allocated electoral college votes roughly based on its population. So if a candidate wins in a state, he theoretically gets all the electoral votes. The candidate with most electoral votes is declared winner. He need not win the popular votes, like George W. Bush in 2000. If we were to employ this system in Nigeria, Lagos and Kano would have most electoral votes of 24 each, while Bayelsa and Nasarawa will have the lowest of five each. How did I know? Our House of Representatives is composed on the basis of population per state…