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Nigerians must not lose their sense of expectancy in the face of electoral disappointments, writes Monday Philips Ekpe

Last Monday, a friend sent me videos of some Nigerians tearing their international passports into shreds. My response to her was spontaneous: “Clinical depression may have set it. So, so sad. Well, I don’t have another passport/country yet, so I won’t destroy mine. I believe we should make distinctions between the leaders and the country. Today, Nigeria doesn’t seem to have any leadership worth the name. Tomorrow, the story may change. In any case, wherever one lives on the planet, without hope, suicide is actually never too far away.” I tried to be as realistic and philosophical as I could be, not very sure how she would interpret it. 

Even as I write this, I still debate within me, though mildly, the appropriateness of that reaction. Do people really care about logic and rationality when dealing with pressing existential matters? Anyhow, for the want of better answers to the ugly phenomenon of having many Nigerians become increasingly fed up with their fatherland to the point of permanently turning their back on it, I guess I’ll have to stand with this line of thought for a long time to come. No matter the depths to which wrong choices, deficient policies and shambolic implementations have confined the citizens, disparaging and trashing the nation to demonstrate the numerous shortcomings therein shouldn’t be encouraged or allowed to take deeper roots in our psyche. 

One can’t deny the fact that even before the just concluded general elections (some persons have argued that we can’t truly declare them ended since some of the outcomes are being contested in courts and some others have been pronounced inconclusive), frustrations, discontentment, and loss of confidence in the establishment were already in abundance in the public space. One of the problems that culminated in the widespread rejection of the election results was the belief that help would come through electing the ‘right’ individuals. It looked like the February 25 and March 18 polls were positioned to serve as climax to a chain of national woes. The scramble for Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs) was in a class of its own. As if bitten by a voting bug, Nigerians, notably those of the younger generation, decided that time had come for them to leave the fence and get involved in the electoral processes. They had had enough of empty political promises and were now ready to choose their own leaders or, better still, present themselves for posts begging for competence, capacity and character. They saw the ownership of those cards as the ultimate proofs of patriotism. And they went after them with vigour, undeterred by the needless trauma thrown up by their registration and collection.

Equally stressful has been the daily search for petroleum products, a sad recurring condition that appears to have established itself as a national pastime, a truly shameful profile of one of the world’s largest possessors of crude oil and, arguably, the only one in its class without functional refineries. Manhours are being squandered on winding queues, with the attendant physical, emotional and financial implications. Loss assessors certainly won’t find it easy trying to figure out what individuals, families and institutions have surrendered to the systemic failures of this critical sector.

To compound an already messed up situation, the one that the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) peddles as currency swap but which, in fact, is naira confiscation, has entered the ring and complicated the lives of virtually everyone in the country. In what could pass for voodoo economics and warped monetary operations, the apex bank, months after embarking on this dangerous ride of deliberate, unprovoked onslaught on the people’s liberty and wellbeing, hasn’t been able to communicate effectively the actual objectives of this scheme, perceived in some quarters as a tool for vindictive politics.

Add these grossly mismanaged aspects of our national life to the ever-present challenges like mass unemployment, hyperinflation, substandard social amenities, failing infrastructure, perennial poverty and hunger, and you have a ready recipe for collective disillusionment and angst. It was against this background that many people looked forward to the elections to produce visionary, result-oriented and accountable leaders; to usher in an era that would enable Nigeria to rise up strongly in the comity of nations, fend for its citizens and residents, and regain its fast-fading glory.                

Permit me to single out the tribe of Nigerians popularly called ‘Obidients’ to illustrate this quest for something new. Contrary to the cloak of regionalism forced down their necks by those determined to trivialise their influence, many of them actually belong to the growing segment of the population desirous of a drastic change. Even though Mr. Peter Obi, Presidential Candidate of Labour Party (LP), from whom the coinage was derived, is not new to politics at the highest level, he represents a departure from the old order, in comparison to the rest frontrunners. I’m convinced that any thorough survey would show that ‘Obidients’ constitute a chunk of those who have been hardest-hit by the declaration of Senator Bola Tinubu of the All Progressives Congress (APC) as the president-elect.    

Luckily, their worries resonate with strategic entities like the United States Embassy in Nigeria. A part of its statement on the elections released earlier this week reads thus: “Members of the U.S. diplomatic mission observed the elections in Lagos and elsewhere and witnessed some of these incidents first-hand.  The use of ethnically charged rhetoric before, during, and after the gubernatorial election in Lagos was particularly concerning. We commend all Nigerian political actors, religious and community leaders, youth, and citizens who have chosen to reject and speak out against such violence and inflammatory language, affirming Nigerians’ commitment to and respect for the democratic process.

“We call on Nigerian authorities to hold accountable and bring to justice any individuals found to have ordered or carried out efforts to intimidate voters and suppress voting during the election process. The United States likewise will consider all available actions, including additional visa restrictions, on individuals believed to be responsible for, or complicit in, undermining the democratic process in Nigeria. The United States renews its call for any challenges to election results to go through established legal processes, which must not be interfered with.  We further call for Nigeria’s people to work together as they participate in and continue to strengthen the country’s vibrant democracy” The appeal for restraint and the push for progress, in spite of the obvious infractions, is remarkable as expecting flawless polls would be utopian.

Even the more institutionalised democracies like the US still grapple with hurdles that border on mistrust and base sentiments. Having spent 24 years in the current republic, the longest in its history, the only rational path left for our country is forward. Many of the ills threatening to get the nation grounded are traceable to the military era. Looking backward is, therefore, not a viable option.

The Washington Post probably had that in mind before publishing a recent editorial titled, “Nigeria Points the Way toward Democracy.” Reacting to the aftermath on Tinubu’s declaration, it states that, “Opposition party supporters have not attempted an insurrection… Nigeria’s military has stayed out of the fray. This was not a given, since Nigeria’s generals ruled the country after a series of coups for most of the 1980s and ’90s. In Africa and elsewhere, a supposedly flawed election has been a handy excuse for militaries to annul election results and seize power for themselves. If Nigeria’s generals remain on the side-lines this time, it could be taken as evidence that Africa’s most populous country, and its largest economy, has moved past its coup-prone history…” Let the legal fireworks on objections to the results begin. And let the expectations for electoral integrity thrive, against all odds. 

Dr Ekpe is a member of THISDAY Editorial Board

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