Will history repeat itself? Banji Ojewale reflects


·         Because Nigeria has a near naughty knack for nibbling at the past, history is also going the full circle to dish us troubling traditional tricks and torments. One such is the dithering act we’re taking straight from English playwright William Shakespeare’s historical classic, Hamlet, as the ballot day approaches. The tragic hero, Prince Hamlet, isn’t sure which path to pick at a crossroads, the same way Nigeria and her citizens seem to be uncertain about the coming poll in February and March, 2023. Will the ballot hold? Or it won’t? Should it hold? Shouldn’t it?

·         Shakespeare’s character is held in thrall by indecision. He soliloquizes: “To be, or not to be? That is the question—Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, Or to take up arms against a sea of troubles, And by opposing end them.”

·         A long tale of consuming vacillation told in 29,551 words, (Shakespeare’s longest), Hamlet is the tragedy of meandering procrastination resulting in the death of most of the actors, including the prince himself.

·         More than four centuries after Hamlet, a Nigeria given to seeking solace in senescent politicians and their style is sliding again into tutorials from the past. We choose our leaders from the community of the superannuated; from among those who have receded into the shadows of bygone days, those whose proper clime is history. They can’t but return us into that past, when what we need is the dynamism of the present with its foretaste of a better future. Now, they’re giving us of the dilatory language of Hamlet.

·         Some citizens are singing the old, unhelpful and fatal To-be-or-not-to-be sing-song of Shakespeare’s actor. We’ve dredged Hamlet from the past as we usually fetch relics to reorient us when we wobble.

·         So, despite the claim of Bola Tinubu, one of the presidential poll aspirants, that it’s his turn to occupy Aso Villa, Hamlet, a man residing in the past like him, is insisting that it’s really his turn to occupy Nigeria’s political territory. He has brought in the wavering act…To be or not to be? To hold the poll or not to?

·         We’re throwing ourselves in the same boat that shipwrecked him. He lingered in decision-taking after inconclusive introspection and paid dearly for it. Some of us are also putting forth an unsure stand suggesting we shelve the poll or put it off until we restructure the federation. They’re citing nationwide insecurity and inadequate preparation by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).

·         It was the poll umpire that sparked this ambience of prevarication. INEC’s training institute said the ballot might not be a reality if some conditions were not met. Chairman of The Electoral Institute (TEI), Abdullahi Abdu Zuru, said: “If … insecurity is not monitored and dealt with decisively, it could ultimately culminate in the cancellation and/or postponement of elections in sufficient constituencies to hinder declaration of election results and precipitate constitutional crisis.”

·         Many interpreted the statement as a ploy to test the waters. But for it not to build up into a flood sweeping us off our feet, Lai Mohammed, Information and Culture Minister, who had been away from the scene for some time, surfaced suddenly to dismiss the idea of delaying the election day. His assurance: “Let me use this opportunity to respond to inquiries from the media over a widely-circulated report, credited to an INEC official, that the 2023 general elections face a serious threat of cancellation due to insecurity. The position of the federal government remains that the 2023 elections will be held as planned. Nothing has happened to change that position.”
Nothing has also happened to change the position of Afe Babalola, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria and university founder. On several occasions he has championed poll shift to make way for an interim contraption to last six months. During the hiatus, he argues, a “new course for Nigeria” will be worked out.” Babalola says “any election that holds under the present… (1999 Constitution foisted on Nigeria by the military)…will end up producing transactional and recycled leaders, with no ability to turn (us) around.”

·         It’s been an unending game played between those who want the poll held, regardless of the gathering clouds of insecurity, and those who seek a ballot postponement over fears that the overhanging pall might release a cataclysmic downpour on polling day. Nigerians have had to put up with ballot day alterations in the recent past: 2011, 2015 and 2019. The reasons ranged from insurgency to logistical hitches. We were, however, spared grave impact in the system, nor was there any consequential constitutional crisis. The waiting periods hardly left a permanent dent on the polity.

·         It wasn’t so in an earlier era, during the medieval ages of our history. At that time, there arose a man, a billionaire, called Francis Arthur Nzeribe, who sought to decapitate the 1993 electoral process. Riding in a locally-made jalopy he called Association for Better Nigeria (ABN), Nzeribe didn’t simply look for a postponement of the make-or-mar ballot. Waving a clandestine court order his ABN got from a midnight ruling by Justice Bassey Ikpeme on June 10, 1993, Nzeribe called for the outright cancellation of a poll only two days away. He failed; but he had his way in the long run because, although the ballot took place as scheduled, its outcome promising a new dawn was nullified. It amounted to what ABN requested. The country hasn’t recovered its composure since. No other election, thereafter, has offered our land greater prospects, despite the presentation by the victorious party of a Muslim presidential candidate with a running mate of the same faith.

·         Now 30 years after, we’re at the threshold of another crucial plebiscite. And the past is playing old sardonic games. There’s a Hamlet from a historical drama bringing us his sing-song of To-be-or-not-to-be. He says it’s his turn to play the Pied Piper of Hamelin, effectively displacing the presidential candidate who had swamped the space with a tune of entitlement.

·         While these bygone ages are obtrusively at work in the present, our unceasing prayer should be that their pregnant belly does not deliver an abiku pair of Francis Arthur Nzeribe and ABN.


·         ·      Ojewale writes from Ota, Ogun State

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