We are a nation of 150 million spectators. In political discourse, we are arguably the world’s largest spectocracy. Our spectocratic tendency may be music in the ears of the English Premier League and other European football leagues which serve as national diversion from our sorrows, in the domain of political agency and participation, however, it makes us a thing, that insulted thing which is the exact opposite of a citizen. When next you call yourself a Nigerian citizen, you lie. You deceive yourself. You are not a citizen, Nigerian, you are a spectocrat and here’s why.
You are a spectocrat because the validity and legitimacy of your country’s political process do not inhere in you, your choices, and your preferments. It is precisely because these things inhere in the citizen in genuine democracies in Africa and elsewhere in the world that the citizens of such countries are referred to as an electorate. You, Nigerian spectocrat, are a member of a spectocrate, Africa’s largest spectocrate, because all political choices and options are rammed down your throat in a top-down process. Your ability to even be a spectator of how your life is run and ruined is further dependent on the benevolence of PHCN or your generator. Otherwise, you are in total darkness.
It is from the pit of this spectocratic darkness that you grumble – in your living room, in beer parlours, at Premiership viewing centres, on commercial buses, on social media – that your vote does not count during elections. Actually, you are making a mistake by focusing on your worthless vote at the election. You are underestimating the condition of your sorry ass. It’s worse than you think. There are other things that did not count before your vote did not count. You just didn’t realize this because you are used to being a spectocrat. And a spectocrat, like I told you already, is a thing, not a citizen.
So what else did not count? Check out these scenarios from two responsible democracies. You know already that in the build-up to the last presidential election in France, Ségolène Royal lost out in the race for her party’s nomination to François Hollande, the man who eventually ousted Nicholas Sarkozy. What you may not know is the scenario she describes later in interviews about her preparations for the party primaries. She talks about some four to five years of crisscrossing France, selling herself, her vision, and her programmes to the people: townhall meetings, focused-group meetings, meetings with all kinds of organized professional bodies, labour unions, associations, organizations, rallies, debates, advertorials, etc.
Mind you, she is not the official candidate of her party yet. Why is she doing this? Let’s go to America for our answer. Those positioning themselves to run in the Democratic or Republican Primaries also begin the race, like Ségolène did in France, by trying to sell themselves to the party base and to the country. Then the media comes in, playing a civic role by constantly relaying news about who is polling well in which critical states and among which critical segments of the country. Who is polling well with – women, men, young, old, whites, blacks, latinos, rich, poor, middleclass, students, teachers, industry workers, trade unions, Christians, gay rights advocates, civil rights advocates? Who is polling well with all these critical demographics and why?
You can see that Hillary Clinton (you know why she is leaving the State Department), Chris Christie, Paul Ryan – indeed, anybody with a potential for 2016 – has already begun this critical process of trying to poll well with the electorate. Meanwhile, what are the party leaders doing as Wolf Blitzer, John King, Rachel Maddow, Chris Mathews (and even racist lunatics like Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh) begin to relay analyses of who is polling well and where?
Party leaders are listening and watching very carefully. They are plugging in because that is how they eventually gauge who is sellable, who is a viable candidate. In essence, whether it is in France or in the US, the process begins and ends with the electorate. I am not saying it is perfect. Money and other factors do come in, by and large, but you do not stand a chance of getting your party’s nomination if you have not gone through a grueling pre-electoral process of selling yourself to the electorate and polling well.
What do you have in Nigeria? It is an arrogant and frustratingly insulting process in which the spectorate – I insist that we don’t have an electorate – considers herself grateful if she is even accorded the privilege of spectatorship at all. And our media is complicit in this process of national insult. It’s always the same ritual, at least since 1999. Two years to an election or so, Obasanjo, Babangida, Tony Anenih, Tinubu and all kinds of risible godfathers, corrupt stakeholders, and yeye elder statesmen will wake up and begin to announce who they have decided to endorse. The media falls in line and the spectorate is treated to haughty headlines: “Obasanjo Endorses X”, “Babangida Opts for Y”, “Governors’ Forum endorses Z”.
Then these characters will spend the next year treating us to catfights, mudfights, and roforofo fights. Mind you, nobody has yet asked us our opinion. We are spectocrats. Then they will kiss and make up. They will align and realign. They will enter into every manner of agreement. They will zone, re-zone, de-zone, and unzone. They will share offices. They will then organize primaries and announce to you who the candidate will be. Nobody has consulted you up till now. Nobody has tried to sell any vision to you. You do not matter. They know that they have produced three generations of Nigerians who lack civics and therefore will not ask critical questions about why they are spectocrats. It is only after this stage that a general election is announced and you are told that you have now qualified to go and cast votes that will not count because the winner of every election is always already pre-determined.
2015 is at hand and you can already see this insulting scenario unfolding. Which presidential hopeful have you seen crisscrossing Nigeria since 2011, selling a carefully-calibrated vision to students, farmers, traders, market women, etc, in the hope of polling well, preparatory to contesting his or her party’s primaries? Which presidential hopeful has been selling himself to NURTW, NUT, NUPENG, PENGASSAN, (we can’t mention NANS, can we?) and other critical national unions in the hope of polling well with them? Which presidential hopeful has been grilled by socially responsive media outfits such as Punch, Premium Times, Sahara Reporters, Ynaija.com, Omojuwa.com and a host of others? This will not happen because you do not count. They do not need to poll well with you. All they need is a war-chest built with the proceeds of corruption and the blessing of Obasanjo, Babangida, Anenih, Ahmadu Alli, Bola Tinubu, and patati and patata.
If you are tired of these insults as we approach 2015, then you belong in the category of Nigerians that Tunde Fagbenle, Okey Ndibe, and yours truly want to work with as we map out strategies to break the jinx of spectocracy in the weeks to come. Tunde Fagbenle has already kicked off what we plan to do in his Punch column last week. Please check it out here is you have not already read it: (http://www.punchng.com/columnists/tunde-fagbenle-saying-it-the-way-it-is/2013-is-the-window-to-2015/).
Nothing is cast in stone yet. We are still discussing. And we are under no illusion that the task ahead is easy. We are merely powered by the conviction that we are neither voiceless nor powerless. And we believe that there is a sufficient number of Nigerians out there whose anger and frustration could be harnessed and conjugated into a movement towards 2015. We believe that we have the numbers to confront the corruption and insults of the current crop of players and their godfathers who are already preparing to ram candidates down our throats top-down. We believe that we do not have to accept their choices, their arrogance, and their rudeness. We believe that if we build a movement powerful enough – powerful only in numbers for we have no money – our largely docile and complicit media will resign from their vocation of merely reporting the choices and preferences of corrupt godfathers and yeye elder statesmen and begin to focus on the preferments of the people. We believe that we are the only ones who can transform ourselves from a spectorate to an electorate.
Our strategy for now – we are open to suggestions. Just join us first and let’s start the movement – is to see if we could collect five million signatures in support of a candidate we would have agreed upon through a process we shall make public in due course. We are thinking of drafting a credible, patriotic compatriot with solid personal capital, who would not come from the ranks of the current jokers running Nigeria. We are thinking of massing at least five million or more of you behind this choice. Personally, I have expressed my preference for Bishop Mathew Hassan Kukah and Tunde Fagbenle has supported it. Okey Ndibe will also let us have his own suggestions in due course. When we open a Facebook page for this project, you will be able to let us know who your own choice(s) might be and what strategies you envision going forward.
Please do not join us if you are wearing tribal or religious blinders. We are reaching out to kindred spirits hungry to become an electorate beyond the limiting and destructive faultlines of our national experiment. We are not interested in the ethnicity of the next President. We are not interested in his religion. We are not interested in quota and zone talk. For all we care, if he or she is your choice, has credible personal capital, and has not been tainted by dalliances and alliances with the current crop of corrupt rulers, s/he may even come from Otuoke. In essence, there is nothing inherently wrong with an Otuokean succeeding an Otuokean in Aso Rock so long as the new man is not cut from the same clueless, corrupt, and incompetent cloth as the incumbent. In essence, do not bring religion, tribe, zoning, and quota talk into our conversation. We have serious work to do and we have no time for distraction.
As discussions proceed and as we refine and define our strategies, please stay tuned to the three weekly columns of Okey Ndibe, Tunde Fagbenle (Punch), and yours truly for periodic updates. Let me leave you for now with this parting shot. For 2015, I endorse you, spectocrat, to become a democrat. I endorse you, spectorate, to become an electorate.