Today is a big day for Nigeria. It's the anniversary of the Boko Haram abductions, and the helter skelter of election season is coming to an end as the final results of the gubernatorial elections are announced. International media attention today is focussed on the Chibok girls, as well as the unfortunate flash-points, fracases and floggings that happened over the course of the last weeks.
But despite this, after being engaged in local politics for 35 years, I'm very happy, very proud with how democracy is progressing in Nigeria. I feel a healthy political maturity is being developed, with notably less violence than in previous elections. I wish to reflect on the salient lessons we've learnt from these elections.
Being on the losing side
The mood is not good in my community. 'Our man' Goodluck Jonathan did not win in the Presidentials. The APC have just cemented their victory in the gubernatorial elections. I hardly know a single person in my community who voted for Buhari's APC, so people are mourning a political defeat.
However, despite this, there is also a sense of pride. Because this has been a victory for democracy, for the electorate, for the people of Nigeria. A successful transition from one party to another has never happened before in the history of my country. I believe this has set a standard for things to come. It's no longer business as usual, your individual vote counts now in Nigeria, and political office holders will feel more answerable to the people. A credible opposition is a healthy imperative in the democratic process of a nation.
Goodluck Jonathan's public letter, in which he congratulated Buhari and stressed the importance of unity, stability and progress, was unprecedented. We have never witnessed an incumbent President react to defeat in this way. Jonathan said before the elections that he wanted democracy to reign, and he has been true to his word. He has set the standard for the incoming President to continue this commitment to democracy. This attitude has, for the most part, prevailed throughout this weekend's gubernatorial elections.
What Nigerians wanted most was not APC or PDP, but a free and fair election that we could be proud of. By and large, we achieved this - I believe this is down to a new level of political maturity that is developing in our communities. Voters turned out in their millions, showing patience and determination to exercise their democratic right despite lengthy queues and technological failures. Voters were engaged and enthusiastic. We have a sense of satisfaction that our region, constantly portrayed in the media as a place of militancy and violence, has remained peaceful throughout election season.
In the past, elections in Nigeria were a ‘do or die’ affair. Every aspirant, political party and their supporters wanted to win at all costs. There was this popular maxim that ‘when you control political power, you control the economic power of a nation’. All powers reside with the central government; the states are like the vassal states of the Roman Empire. It is in Nigeria where you hear about ‘revenue sharing’ among the central government and the states. If you control the centre, you virtually control everything.
Whilst regionalism and tribalism can still be clearly detected in voting patterns, I sensed a different attitude this time round, due to improved voter consciousness. Many people I've spoken to in the streets have shrugged their shoulders and told me "you win some, you lose some, elections have come and gone, let's move on with life". Elizabeth Andaebi, summed up the mood when she told me "some people may feel down, or cheated, but this is the dawn of a new era. What's next is to move on.”
What next for Nigeria?
There is a focus already on the key issues that need tackling. The issues people are talking about are not new, but it is a healthy sign that we are already talking about policies instead of party politics.
Electricity is actually the biggest issue on people's lips; in a region famous for its oil, electricity is intermittent at best. Businessmen, families, street traders have to run generators - at great financial and environmental cost - in order to complete day-to-day activities. How can we grow our economy like this?
My community in the Niger Delta want the new regime to deal with corruption, security, pollution, youth unemployment and infrastructure. We live in wetlands with heavy rainfall so need concrete roads; we need to deal with provision of drinking water.
APC voters tell me Jonathan didn't do enough, which is why he was voted out. Whilst I'm sad as voted for Jonathan, I welcome a political culture where people are making decisions on this basis. Democracy has reigned and we have left a legacy. I'm proud to be able to witness this new political consciousness within my lifetime.
Roland Digieneni is a citizen reporter from On Our Radar who has been active in community politics for 35 years. He reflects on election season from Bayelsa, the defeated President Goodluck Jonathan's home state
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