As we still usher in the New Year, and as typical of us Nigerians, we are all so hopeful that the mere symbolic change from one year to the other will usher in better things.  People actually wished each other a happy new year and believed it too! 

I am not that optimistic.  There has so far, though, been one piece of cheery news, that engenders that faint glimmer of hope for a better Nigeria.  Here is what happened;  My very good friend and fellow legal practitioner, Oluchi Udo Ibeji intimated me about six months ago, that he was leaving Lagos to Abia State to become a politician and that specifically he was interested in seeking election into the Federal House of Representatives.  Hmmm!  My first question was which political party he had in mind.  PDP! Hmmm! Oluchi and I had held many discussions in the past about the state of our country and the need for us ‘good people’ to get involved and salvage our dear country from the hungry clutches of the class of people that now saturate the political space.  If we were not ready to get involved, we had no right to keep complaining or expect any positive changes.  So inspite of my reservations about his joining the PDP and all that, I could not but give him my blessings as a friend.  In my mind though, I must confess I wondered why a person of Oluchi’s astuteness  was embarking on a suicide mission.  In fact subsequent general appeals for funding for his campaign, I ignored.  If I replied his texts at all it was to wish him well and pray for him.  Other friends have been through the PDP political initiation and come out drenched in regret, shell shocked by the inventiveness of the culture of impunity and of course a much lighter or empty pocket.  I obviously did not pay much attention to Oluchi’s progress, but in all honesty was waiting to welcome him back to full time legal practice in Lagos.  Inspite of myself I knew I will not laugh at him, these matters have always been more than a laughing matter.

I saw a missed call on my cell phone, on the 9th of January, from Oluchi.  I did not call back immediately because I wanted to prepare myself on how to handle the counselling session (it had to be) before returning his call.

As things will have it, I was the one that has in for a shock.  Another mutual friend called me to inform me that Oluchi had won the PDP primary for Ikwuano-Umuahia Federal Constituency to the House of Representatives!

I called Oluchi immediately to confirm, if it was true, or since it was PDP, if it was still true.  Indeed it was still true.  I was obviously interested in how he did it and indeed the answer is the purpose of this piece.  He had no godfather, and no real money to win on that basis.  He simply took his case to his constituents, town hall meetings, personal meetings, in which he sold himself and his vision.  After listening most will tell him that, they really liked him, and he was the kind of candidate they were looking for.  However they always ended up telling him, he had no chance, because, ‘they’ will not allow him.  He lectured them that all he required of them (those who were delegates) was for their individual votes.  ‘If you say I am your preference, go and vote for me’.  ‘Don’t worry about ‘they’ allowing me or whether I will win the election’.  True the party bigwigs and hierarchy supported the incumbent, but on election day, it was a shell shocked ‘they’ who sat incredulous as votes were counted and it was announced that Oluchi had defeated the incumbent and won the election.

This is very much just a first step but the electorates’ approach in this constituency signals that his chances of victory in the general election are very bright.

I have gone into all this, because this small experience is so typical of the responses you get when you engage in political sensitization.  I must confess that in the present field of presidential aspirants, I have a strong bias for Mallam Nuhu Ribadu.  I have discussed this with people of various backgrounds, learning and temperaments.  The overwhelming majority tell me that he and another much older candidate represent the only hope for any change in our country.  That the rot is so much it will take someone of that fibre and caliber to even start the process of the reversal of our nose dive into the bin of failed states.  ‘But’ yes they always say ‘but’, he can’t make it! not under this arrangement! where are his structures? and the ever present, they won’t allow him, not in this our Nigeria!  Attempts to convince them of his viability, has resulted in my being labeled as a dreamer and to the more sophisticated a naiveté.               

This brings me to the crux of the matter - what really is a vote.  In an election what does your vote represent and how should it be utilized.  A vote is a personal right to be exercised entirely at your own discretion.  It represents in any given situation what you as an individual would like.  It is the aggregate of votes that however determine the contest, but this is the end result and should have no bearing on the exercise of your individual right.

So in exercising your vote, the question should be, what do I want as an individual.  In the context of the presidential race, after having assessed all the presidential aspirants, the question to ask, should be ‘if I had the power, which one of them will I make the president?!  The answer should be the person you decide to cast your one vote for.  Engaging in an inquiry as to how other people will vote, or whether he has the money to convince people in sufficient numbers to support him amounts to abandoning your inalienable personal right to cast your vote according to your conscience.  There is no such thing as a wasted vote.  We do not vote to be seen as having correctly predicted the winner.  This will amount to turning the exercise into a game.  It is much more serious that that.  So serious that I cannot imagine why anybody will contemplate voting for someone they detested or thought unsuitable simply because others appear to be swayed his way.

The matter is really so simple but it is amazing how most people misunderstand the concept.  It is also unhelpful to stay away because you have calculated that your candidate will not win or the process will be rigged against him.  Unhelpful and wrong! it is your right to have a say and in an election you can only have your say through your vote.  The fact that others may not agree with you does not mean you should not have your say or worse still that you should abandon your say and adopt what others are saying.  It is like forsaking your certificate of ‘personal sovereignty!  As we get ready to vote in the next elections, which we all agree is a do or die, for Nigeria, I know that I am going to make myself heard, by voting and voting according to my conscience.  It is your prerogative to do as you please with yours, it is yours and yours alone.  Sadly you don’t have to use it wisely, that too is your prerogative and waywardness is better than waylessness.

Edo Ukpong
Legal Practitioner

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