It was in 2007, I walked into an event where Adams Oshiomhole was being interviewed by a reporter concerning his mandate which Oshiomhole had believed was stolen by PDP that already had Prof Oserheimen Osunbor foisted as Governor of Edo state. Oshiomhole was already at the courts fighting the battle of his life. As one who had always admired the Comrade from his days as leader of Nigeria Labor Congress, I was eager to hear what he was saying to the reporter.
Among other things he said that day, I was touched particularly by these words, “I will fight to get back my mandate with the last drop of my blood because my people deserve to be saved from exploitation by PDP. They cannot continue to suffer for exchanging their votes for good leadership.” and I made a silent prayer in my heart that God should help Oshiomhole win at the court. I regret that prayer in hindsight now because Adams Oshiomhole’s performance as Governor of Edo state for eight years after he won at the court was not particularly outstanding. It was a mediocre government at its best.I was moved to that prayer because I thought that his antecedent as an activist and fighter for the rights of common Nigerian workers was a strong indication that he was a person of great character and competence who will pursue the interests of his people and get Edo citizens out of impoverishment.
Politicians in first world countries seeking for the votes of their fellow countrymen and women sells to them their vision, agenda and goals. Of what exactly they would do to improve their lives when voted in whether as a President, Prime Minister, Lawmaker,Mayor, Councilor, etcetera. Politicians promise to create new political and socio economic policies that would give their people great life opportunities. They promise to initiate bills that represent their highest interest.But beyond the politician’s campaign promises and sweet talk, those electorate in the UK, Canada, US and France are not swayed by fleeting promises that can be likened to what a lover boy says to woo a girl. They are smart to not just take the politicians only by their words. So, they go the extra mile. Those electorate seek to know what a politician’s character is made of. They investigate their history because people hardly change from the core of who they are. They go back in time to verify their background. They check to know what they did as far back as twenty years ago or farther more depending on the age of the politician. Questions are asked of their family background to kindergarten to high school to college and work life. For instance, they want an honest knowledge of what happened to the donations that a politician as a high school student handled for his class charity for kids who were from low income families and could not afford healthcare. The French, American, British and Canadian voters clearly understand the power of their votes-that they are the real employers of politicians. That their votes bestow upon them the power and right to vote in people who will pursue a people oriented agenda.
Let us go back to Nigeria. I always say and will continue to say that Nigerian politicians are spectacular smooth talkers and less of tangible action takers. Plenty sweet talk and artificial promises during campaigns – soft riding on our emotions to get our votes. We are witnesses to a barrage of their emotional dramatic display. Rochas Okoroacha helping to roast corn by the road side and carrying random babies. Umaru Tanko Al-makura laying in a rusted mattress. Nasir El-rufai munching on sugarcane gotten from a sugarcane seller. And the grandmaster of them all, Ayodele Fayose feasting on ewedu and amala in bukkas and buying ponmo from ponmo sellers in his Ekiti state. All those dramatic shows by them is to prove to you Nigerian voters that they are the same as you and thus ‘understand’ your plight and if voted into official positions would alleviate your suffering and change your life. Nigerian politicians seeking for elected offices are notorious for making a lot of campaign promises that they do not fulfil and this is because they hardly face any legal consequence after leaving office. Muhammadu Buhari said he will never seek foreign medical attention. What is the scenario today? A politician who promises to build hospitals and schools and construct roads, steals the funds to go on medical tourism, exports his children for overseas education and fly first class within and out of the country. As a proud Nigerian, how do you explain that 10, 674 Nigerians are studying in US colleges and universities? I can only find one answer- an abysmal failure in our educational sector. Nigeria has the highest export of African students in US alone. Think about the UK, France, Russia, etcetera.
How much is a Nigerian vote worth? It was Adams Oshiomhole who told a certain poor woman to “go and die”. That was the worth of her vote – to die. The demography of majority of Nigerian voters are poor and middle class people. Statistics have shown that most voters are traders, artisans, market women and low class civil servants and young people dispersed across the 36 states. They are the ones who defy the rain and sun to go and vote. It is for this fact, I like to make this proposition – that these crops of voters begin to ask for one billion from a politician who needs their vote. Begin to look at your vote as a billion naira that can get you or your children education in a world class university. That can enable you to start and run a small or medium enterprise that can grow to billions of dollars’ worth. That can get you quality healthcare in a sophisticated hospital. Remember, you do not want to die a careless death caused by bad health care in hospitals where there is always non-availability of bed space.One billion naira that can build you a befitting house and all the modernity therein to enjoy. Begin to see our vote as a bargain tool for quality life. So, when they come with their cheap commodity to buy your vote, tell them to give you one billion naira – say it is what you are worth. Not some rice and tin tomatoes and cash of N3000. Refuse to sell cheap again. A bag of rice does not cure poverty. You eat and defecate and still wallow in abject poverty.
If my proposition seems ridiculous then the recycle of bad leadership must be discontinued. Voting in leaders who have proven character and competence with their track records over the years is realistic.We can achieve that by deliberately delaying gratification. Enough of politics of stomach infrastructure. How can we know people who will do excellently if voted into official positions? Engagements in cerebral debate and fact finding both at personal and community level. We can ask real questions from public office seekers to get really informed and make objective choices. Mr./Madam Politician, tell us what community service you have rendered with your own money and at what age? What leadership positions did you hold in the past and what critical change did you bring? What tangible ways can you generate revenue to push our country, state and local government to be self-sufficient and not have to depend on loans to survive? The social media age is useful with digging up facts. There is somebody somewhere who knows about that politician who is seeking elected office and can help recycle information about such person.
Nigerians are getting progressively political smart. I know this for a fact. We voted PDP out of a 16-year rule despite their boast to retain leadership at the center for 50 years. PDP never saw that coming. It is great that Nigerians are getting more voter-rational as we are no longer what we used to be when we started democratic government in 1999. We are understanding for real that our vote is the power we wield to that create the leadership we want especially for the fact that we aspire for a developed Nigeria that can compete globally. But we need to do better. We need to go beyond politics of religious, ethnic, and region jingoism and elect leaders who will pursue our collective interests and not self-interest. The social cultural leaning of most Nigerian voters is to align themselves politically to “our brother/sister”, “son/daughter of the soil.” What these unhealthy political alignments continue to do is to hinder a civilized developed Nigeria. When we deeply understand the power, we wield as voters, we can then begin to recognize the role we play in enabling bad leadership and begin to disempower it. Can we begin to let our hunger and desire for civilized 21st century Nigeria rationalize our choices to vote in leaders who are honest, selfless and competent?
Paul can be reached @Ogoxcel