Joshua J. Omojuwa urges the electorate to consistently put governments on their toes

Back when I was in JSS3 at King’s College Lagos, we had a book of classic poetry collections that had several African literature legends in them. One of the poems that stuck in my head was Gabriel Okara’s “the celebration is now ended”. It did, not just on account of the strength of the poem but because of the style and manner my English Literature teachers, the legendary Ms. Etomi and the iconic Mrs. Odusina, used in delivering what was like a lecture, in retrospect. 

The poem went like,

The celebration is now ended 

but the echoes are all around 

whirling like a harmattan

whirlwind throwing dust around 

and hands over faces and feet grope

The celebration is now ended

the drums lie quiet, silent, waiting.

And the dancers disperse, walking

with feet that have known many dances 

waiting for the next…

And so, the poem went. One of the major reasons this poem often comes to mind is because it is one of my references before taking certain decisions. The euphoria that comes with certain situations sells itself, but what comes after the euphoria?

The elections will come and go. As usual, we’d retreat into the usual conversations; was it rigged? Was he rigged out? What could the other have done to win? How come another got fewer votes than was anticipated? On social media, it goes a little different. You get to see tweets along the lines of, “I am leaving this country” even from people who have no plans to get an international passport, “I will stop sending money home, since they have chosen to continue to suffer”, a condescending shot all the way from the diaspora – no one needs to check whether they ever sent any home in the past. “Canada here I come” even from those who have been on the Canadian Comprehensive Ranking System for half a decade, without even an accidental consideration – and several variants of such escapists and condescending tweets. 

As a people, we are excited by new governments – by default. It does not matter how the new government comes in, hook, crook, bloodless or bloody coup d’état, election, etc. Almost as though, to us, if it is new, it is good or at least, it is going to be good. If the record of governance is anything to go by, we have often been proven wrong by these governments. In four months, we’d have another new government. It’s excitement time again, starting with the campaigns, the elections and ultimately, results and inauguration.  We must learn though, getting excited or interested about who governs us will not compensate for the indifference to governance in the intervening years preceding election periods.

Like the election, the post-election period will go too. Everyone will ultimately wake up to the fact that they have a president to love or hate for at least another four years. All the attempts at denial eventually fades into acceptance, because really, what will you do about it other than wait for the next election? So, two years later, the rumblings for the next election will start. Another dance.

But this could be different. Nigerians can participate in governance long before elections. Often, bad leaders get away with their incompetence and corruption because there are not enough citizens asking for better. I expect there’d be about 30 to 40 million voters next month. Imagine these voters deciding to commit to consistently asking better of government at every level, tier and arm? It is impossible for the government to ignore a consistently locked-in and loud population. When the people roar, the government, even the chronically deaf ones, are forced to hear. The challenge though is, whilst the people often remain loud, the absence of consensus on the most important issues means government can ride on the waves of their disagreement. Also, it’s hard to hear a discordant tune.

There must be a better way. Whilst we cannot agree on everything, we must agree on some things and work to build the base to ask for better on those fronts. Government will not provide leadership here. It is not in the interest of government – any government – for the people to always speak with one voice against it. Whilst those who lost out of government, who have been frozen out into being TV commentators/social media analysts/twitter trolls, will understandably have the loudest voices, on account of their previous platforms, it may be counterproductive to have them lead such efforts. They are often seen as having ulterior motives – they often do have such motives. Their guidance and voices matter too. They provide advocates and activists with the broader lens that sees issues beyond the often-binary ways that those who haven’t been in government appear difficult to see it. Apart from their perceived ulterior motives, they are easy targets on account of their own records in government. Imagine a former minister or governor with no known legacy – except the ones only they remember – leading a campaign on good governance and better leadership? Their hypocrisy is easily a soft underbelly for such efforts. For this reason, such people – if they mean well – must share their experiences, including even their failings with young people who could use those as part of their lessons. You are free to distrust anyone who shares only their successes in government but have never volunteered their failings.

Elections will come and go, your candidate may win or lose, but there will be a government to support, critique and criticise. There will be a government to put on its toes. Whilst voting is essential, if voting alone made things better, we haven’t been short of voting exercises in Nigeria. There is more and we must commit to that, educating ourselves about how government works, asking better questions of our government and insisting on the better, always. We need to stop waiting for the next dance, the dance should just never stop.

 Omojuwa is chief strategist, Alpha Reach, and author, Digital Wealth Book

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