My friend used to tell me about a guy who went on to become a Governor of one of the South West states in the 1999 election. Before he got the Alliance for Democracy (AD) ticket to run as governor, he used to regularly visit their house. My friend says there was never a time he had a meal without decorating his agbada with some of the stew. And then when it was time for him to leave, they would have to help his exit by pushing his car to start.
Such was the speed with which General Abdulsalami Abubakar found and relinquished power that many people perhaps did not believe that democracy was going to return. As Bertrand Russell famously put it – the intelligent are full of doubt while the stupid are cocksure. Nigeria was there for the taking and some of our brightest minds decided to adopt a siddon look approach. In effect, our ‘second eleven’ went out to represent us.
We are still feeling the effects of 1999 in our democracy today. The immediate aftermath made it painfully obvious – a speaker of the House turned out to have fake certificates. A senate president was alleged to have a criminal record, which he blamed on his mysterious twin brother. One southwest governor never spent a weekend in his state (he was always to be found in a Lagos nightclub instead). Another northwest governor spent at least half of his first term out of the country chasing ‘foreign investors’ for investments, which never materialised. Some northern governors declared sharia to be the solution of all the problems in their state and went after implementing it with a conviction and fervency rarely seen in Nigerian politicians. I remember a former governor who is now in jail in London advertising at the time that he would deliver ‘100 computers to 100 schools in 100 days’ all the while failing to tell the people he had a criminal record for petty theft.
People only needed to be in the right place at the right time to get elected. In the southwest, you only needed to wear a certain type of glasses and a certain type of hat and flash the victory sign in your campaign poster and you were home and dry.
This is the untold story of our 16-year-old democracy. The best of us ceded the stage for chancers, fraudsters and happy go lucky people. The effect has been so great that no matter what we do in 2015, it will simply be the start of the repair process. No miracles will be possible. We were under 5,000MW of electricity in 1999 and the story remains the same till today, at the cost of so many lives and untold suffering.
But history is not destiny.
If we made mistakes back then, it only becomes unforgiveable if we make the same mistake this time around again. The sin of 1999 was not so much that we elected people who turned out to be bad leaders – Shakespeare said there’s no art to find the mind’s construction in the face. Voters will always get it wrong now and again. The real sin was not caring enough. A citizenry that was a bit more engaged with the process could have restrained even bad leaders.
If you have a Permanent Voters Card, it would be almost criminal not to use it thoughtfully on March 28th and April 11th. I won’t be voting but if I were, I’d be voting for the Buhari/Osinbajo ticket. I think that they are fine men whatever the shortcomings of the APC as a party. But more importantly, it will signal that we as a people want to move in a different direction if we vote them.
But you do not have to agree with me. I only ask that you use your PVC and use it wisely. I’ve been moved by the amount of effort people have made to get their PVCs – a friend of mine visited his polling unit more than 10 times before he got his own. I’m cautiously optimistic about this. By being so engaged with the process, the space for elected officials to misbehave is reduced.
Please go out on Election Day armed with your PVC. Democracy is now here to stay. It is time to stay engaged and begin the long and hard work of making it work much better than it has done so far for us as a nation.
Let’s start fixing the mistakes of the past as shareholders of the going concern that is Nigeria.
Vote wisely and please stay safe.
Feyi Fawehinmi is @DoubleEph on Twitter