By Maryam Amodu
"The trouble with Nigeria is simply and squarely a failure of leadership. There is nothing wrong with the Nigerian land or climate or water or air or anything else. The Nigerian problem is the unwillingness or inability of its leaders to rise to the responsibility, to the challenge of personal example which are the hallmarks of true leadership." - Chinua Achebe
It is not debatable whether the Nigerian elections of 2019 were free or fair, talk less of it being safe! It wasn’t. Period. To the families that lost loved ones who probably were only trying to vote, as they were encouraged, how can we lie to their faces? It was not a successful example of citizens having the right to elect their leader. It was merely a show of intimidation; using military powers to scare people into not voting, a display of our failing electoral commission, and an embarrassing security situation that made it possible for children to vote, thugs and even law enforcement to steal ballot boxes unchallenged and the announcement of fake results.
Still, after all this drama, in 2019, where some would have hoped for less corrupt outcomes, with all the youth that challenged the so-called system, the disappointment from the elections somehow have not yet ended. Results were challenged in court, and several re-elections took place in some states. Buildings kept collapsing, literally and somehow, people still gathered the courage to vote again, I remain in awe of the tenacity that is the Nigerian spirit. Despite the frustrations and complaints, we consistently elect leaders who have the audacity to promise us a better future. Change! Right?
Nigeria has more than a few issues, poverty in big shouting letters, frustration in the air and the ever-puzzling situation of some living their best lives amidst such chaos because they can afford to. I want to start a conversation about what we seemingly cannot afford as Nigerian citizens, not just in terms of what the value of our currency can get us, but in terms of the rights we cannot afford to exercise right now, and what kind of future we can actually afford to dream about or expect.
A bill just passed, allowing minimum wage to rise from 18,000 Naira to 30,000 Naira per month. Most Nigerians get paid once a month, this means that the average minimum wage earner goes home with an equivalent of about 83 USD for the entire month. That alone is bothersome. So, as Nigerians, we live in a socio-political climate where economically, the citizens are left to wallow in difficulty, where the oppression from the “rich” in society and harassment by military and police are beyond disheartening. There is inadequacy in opportunity, social infrastructure and little support from governmental institutions or others. What is the value of democracy?
If the 2019 elections taught us anything, it was that our government institutions are fundamentally faulty, and unreliable at best. At a time where it seemed like the mental barriers were being broken, among the educated and politically/socially interested youth, it was more than a little disappointing that the system won against the hopes of many. Younger than usual presidential aspirants as well as in various levels of government did campaign and even gained popularity, women came out boldly and were noticed, this time around, but Nigeria was not ready. Not because the people just would not vote them, but because it is not an electoral system where independent candidates, or candidates of less popular parties stand a fair chance at the seat of power. The mere process of voting on paper, collating and announcing mismatched results for days, military intimidation and violence against citizens set us up for failure. Also, let us not pretend about the rigging!
The point is, when your economic future is bleak and your life is threatened if you walk down the street to vote, you would honestly care less about who becomes President or Governor. If you are somewhat optimistic, you vote the better of two major terrible options for candidates. Some give up on voting and the electoral system altogether. It is the democracy that works in many African nations; it is what has been working to keep unaccountable leaders powerful and in control of the resources, opportunities and potential of the citizens. As people who do not get a truly democratic governmental process, we cannot seem to afford to cast meaningful votes, neither can we afford to demand and expect excellent governance. I think we all long for a Nigeria where we can afford to dream of an ideal future. For now, it seems to me that we remain trapped in the hustle of trying to escape hopeless situations.
So I ask, do we really have a choice? When we try against all odds and end up at the same spot, that is regressive progress. Is it really possible for Nigerians to demand living conditions and resources that allow them flourish mentally, physically and economically? What do you think?