And so it was this Saturday last that I boarded a bus in Calabar. What makes it significant is that buses are a seriously endangered species in Calabar. It appears that very soon, if nothing is done, our children will have to go to museums to see pictures of actual people commuting within the city of Calabar in actual buses. I think a bus protection fund should be instituted by the United Nations to save buses in Calabar. In fact, government should grant them special status. They are the cheapest means of transportation in this economic climate, except our God-given legs of course.
Okay, away from buses. On a more serious note, a discussion ensued in the bus about the hardship people are facing. The passengers complained bitterly about how difficult being alive has become. Before, you only had to wake up in the morning to be considered alive. Now turning up in the morning is no longer enough, as the fuel that keeps body and soul together are becoming extinct. Initially I didn’t join in the conversation. However, a lady sitting beside me made a statement that forced my mouth open.
She said, “Let them come and force me again in 2019 to vote. I’ll just stay at home peacefully.”
So I asked her, “Why won’t you go and vote?”
“The one I voted last year, what has become of it?” she replied.
I maintained my stance, “You’re complaining about the present situation. Do you know that the most effective way to cause a change is through your vote?”
A gentleman from the back interrupted, “Our votes do not count!”
“Well, let’s do our part first. Let’s go and vote, then we’ll see whether it will count or not!” I replied.
I then took pains to explain to them why it is important to vote. It is sad to say that many Nigerians hold the same opinion as the passengers in that bus. They do not believe that voting has any usefulness or significance. They do not see any correlation between elections and the leaders or pretenders who occupy our political offices. They think elections are just rituals that we endure every four years just “to fulfill all righteousness.” So they forego their most powerful right and later complain that things are bad. I won’t blame them much though. The Nigerian population has been abused and deceived through successive election cycles for so long that they have learned not to trust political activities. With the distrust comes disinterest. Nigerians have become politically indifferent.
The effect of such indifference is that the politician has learnt to not take Nigerians seriously. For really, what does he stand to lose? There are no consequences. After all, they cannot vote him out. They will sit at home and only complain. In fact, there seem to be an implicit rule among politicians to disrespect Nigerians. They talk at us. They abuse us. They insult us. They disregard us. Nigeria as it is presently constituted is against Nigerians. This country does not belong to us. It belongs to the political elite. They get everything while we struggle for the crumbs that fall off their tables. They advertise our commonwealth that they have appropriated to themselves and dare us to do something about it. They know we won’t, or maybe, can’t.
But we cannot continue like this. We need to take back our country. We need to take ourselves seriously. Until we take our votes seriously, politicians won’t take us seriously. It is when we exercise our power that we can get the Nigeria we desire. If a politician is not performing up to your expected standard, vote him or her out! If however the politician meets your expectation, by all means, give her your vote. While it feels good to complain, complaining has never changed anything before. We must take action!
At the launch of the “Change Begins With Me” Programme last Thursday, President Buhari told Nigerians, “Before you ask, ‘where is the change they promised us?’ you must first ask, ‘how far have I changed my ways?’” The statement has caused a lot of controversy already with many Nigerians accusing the president of reneging on his campaign promises. They may be right, but I agree with Mr President. Nigerians need to change first. The thing is, Mr President and Nigerians are at different places. They are talking from different perspectives. What President Buhari has done is not new. He is talking from the standpoint of a politician. Our politicians know that we cannot or do not hold them accountable. They know they can promise us heaven and earth and if they later deny it, or do not make any effort to fulfill it, nothing will happen. They know that we won’t want to go through the stress of voting them out. They know that on Election Day, we would rather stay at home, watch Africa Magic at worst, or follow the election on television at best, and complain about how it was rigged. Our politicians know us, and they play us well. By not voting we indirectly vote for them. The truth is there is no middle ground. There is no room for indifference.
That is why Mr President can tell us to our faces to change first before asking him for the change he willingly promised. He knows that even if we get angry nothing will come out of it. We will soon forget anyway. Didn’t I hear that we have very short memory and are easily distracted? Instead of getting mad at Mr President, let’s show him that we can change.
Let us begin to take elections seriously and exercise our power. Let us let the politicians know that the power reside with us, the people. Let us vote out non-performing politicians or the people who appoint them. Let them know that their continued stay in the corridors of power depends on our whims and caprices. Let us make it clear that we shall not hesitate to recall underperforming leaders. And after we vote, let us make sure that our votes count. Yes it is a tall order but there is always a beginning. Let us take elections – whether local, state or federal – as business; the business of getting our country back from the reckless pretenders who have wasted us for so long. Let parents educate their children on the importance of voting; let communities enlighten their people on the efficacy of the ballot; let our religious institutions preach on the power of change through the ballot.
We need to change, not so that we can ask for change, but so that we can effect change by kicking out non-performing politicians who make promises but lack the rectitude to fulfill them. Change is when we vote in people who see us as fellow citizens, not as second-class citizens.Only then will our politicians take us seriously and not treat us like fools.
Yes, the change begins with us!
“If you are bored and disgusted by politics and don’t bother to vote, you are in effect voting for the entrenched establishments of the two major parties, who please rest assured are not dumb, and who are keenly aware that it is in their interest to keep you disgusted and bored and cynical and to give you every possible reason to stay at home…. By all means stay at home if you want, but don’t bullshit yourself that you’re not voting. In reality, there is no such thing as not voting: you either vote by voting, or you vote by staying at home and tacitly doubling the value of some diehard’s vote.”
– David Foster Wallace
Image Credit: Maksim Kabakou