Archives for category: Naija Life and Politics
 

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  On the 28th of March 2015,  Twitter became the cauldron of all things relevant and irrelevant, the melting pot for anyone and everyone caught in the  Nigeria Decides  mantra. It was a hodgepodge of fascinating characters waiting for one of the most important elections in Nigeria’s political history.

 

We were all thrown together: the keen observers with unspoken agendas;  the solemnly accomplished satirists and would-be bloggers;  the quick to comment contributors; the self-made champions  fueled by their fervent aficionados and  the reckless but certainly bloodied political lieutenants and their battle-ready Twitter lords.
It was in everyway a community of people  linked by a common denominator- a shared passion  for Nigeria’s future. This is one account of many.

 

Day 1: March 28th 2015
I  woke up anxious.
A curfew had been imposed from dusk to dusk across Nigeria and with the sort of trepidation which lingers under the skin, it felt as though everybody I spoke to reluctantly waited for news of disruption or polls postponed or an outbreak of significant violence.

However, by midday, it was evident that Nigerians were on the move. #Nigeriadecides rapidly began to swell with  “live” commentary and random images from across the country. Images  taken by mostly anonymous Nigerians, armed with smartphones,  determined to retain a  souvenir but also I suspect,  as a tool to record anything suspicious as votes were cast.

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As the 28th drifted to an end,  I scoured feverishly through the feeds- the realization hit first -then the relief. The unexpected had happened. The all-consuming, hurly-burly predicted by so many simply did not come to pass.

Millions of Nigerians had come out to vote  and by and large the first day had  been mostly free of violence and intimidation.

As Nigerians shared their thoughts on social media, many seemed pleasantly unprepared for this outcome; somewhat surprised that it was all going well.
It seemed to me that we had somehow underestimated the positives that were possible. We wished it, we desired it, we prayed for it but on the day, we simply assumed it would be impossible!

Was  the first day just the calm before the storm or something else? A good omen perhaps? An indication of the protracted change already taking place in Nigeria?

 

Day 2. March 29th – Voting continues.

Twitter was buzzing with an interesting cocktail of pride and surprise. The  four letter abbreviation featured in almost every other tweet. INEC.
Nigeria’s electoral college had promised an organized affair, it had promised practical efficiency , it had promised a thorough job; by all accounts, it had mostly delivered.

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However,  a greater victory was afoot.

On the ground, on the streets, in the towns and cities of Nigeria, Nigerians continued to deliver something quite spectacular. Pictures of voters of all ages, patiently waiting to cast their vote, some amid technical glitches and blackouts, images of  visibly exhausted but determined electoral officers and observers all plowing together to keep the process moving- come what may.

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As the 29th dimmed, votes were counted, results verified, reported and shared via public and social media. Tweets were adrenaline- fueled,  oozing nervous energy and an unbelievable sense of pride and expectation. We could do it. Nigerians could show the world  that “your vote counts”!

 

Day 3 Monday 30th March- Gasps and groans galore
As the anouncement of results seesawed into  lunchtime, the margin that mattered narrowed perilously,  it was too close to call and Twitter was close to cyber meltdown. The tension was palpable. This was the sort of battle which forged heroes from ordinary men; the stuff of epic folklore with the battle lines drawn in numbers.
Day 4 Tuesday 31st March- The day of the newly converted.

The deciding votes dripped in from the last few states and  for most on Twitter, God was the focus. The prayer warriors were out and took over in the eleventh hour.

And then the news. It was over. Done.  A new president-elect. A time for new heroes. A chance to chart an alternative narrative in the telling of Nigeria`s great journey.

 

Presidential aspirant and former Nigerian military ruler Buhari speaks as he presents his manifesto at All Progressives Congress party convention in Lagos

Nigerians I hail thee.
We have overcome our own deepest fears, we have shown ourselves and the world that  change was here all the time; quietly waiting in the wings to make it`s grand entrance.  Change was in the heart and civil actions of every Nigerian who overwhelmingly refused to  be derailed amid the high tensions of these elections.

These elections have also shown that we must have greater faith in ourselves. Greater faith in our own institutions- some of which are capable of delivering results if manned and piloted by Nigerians of great integrity.

Through our voices and considered choices let us continue to demonstrate that faith again and again.

 

As I eased into the sweet lyrics of ” Jesus Na You Be Oga, the atmosphere was electric as the luxurious bus fizzed  with  that un-matchable  vibe. That vibe  which makes you smile at nothing in particular as you join  a bus full of strangers gyrating and singing loudly to the same  Nigerian gospel song; and let me tell you, “Jesus Na You Be Oga” is up there with the best of the best.

Undeniably, in Nigeria, music, song and dance does it all the time.  Nothing I know works quite as quickly and as miraculously, morphing total strangers into laughing cronies in the time it takes to wriggle in your seat and join the melee of voices. Nothing except perhaps  the familiar phenomenon of ”

Nothing except perhaps  the familiar phenomenon of “The Forum.”

 The forum is a social construct only possible under very specific conditions: naturally gregarious people; a shared state of fermenting frustration  with  everything political and  time to kill.

And, just as we are highly attuned to  group recitals of  popular gospel songs, Nigerians have mastered the art of striking up discussion forums quite seamlessly anywhere and at anytime.

I mean you would not believe it but just a few  hours earlier, as they made their way to Yaba to catch the Cross-country bus to Accra this group of shrill debaters  were complete strangers.

Now, voices rang out in animated tones as men and women spoke in varying degrees of volume and brash eloquence. Each  voice determined to contribute to the heated conversations on the continuing quandary that is the Nigerian State and of course who rules it come …. sometime in 2015!

 And as eyes brightened and voices mellowed with laughter, I could sense my camaraderie with these voices.  Regardless of where we all started our individual journeys, we are Nigerians-we are  connected by that wistful expectation of a different future and the forum is necessary wherever it might spring up.

It provides a social outlet blanketed  in anonymity and  the proverbial “safety in numbers” as we spew and proffer about our vision of a different Nigeria which continues to sit perfectly polished in our minds.

And as dates are moved and agendas rearranged,  many voices  are jostling to be heard; eager voices cloistered in different places in Nigeria and around the world, connected  powerfully  by the uniformity of our displeasure and uneasiness with the politics of Nigeria and the disjointed narrative which permeates it.

Like millions of Nigerians, I  want to see a  Nigeria dragged out of the doldrums; but like many I am struck by the tense juxtaposition of disparate ideologies, wishy-washy dialogue, monotonous  charades and what sometimes feels like the theatre of the absurd.

So I ask- as we watch the next few weeks unfold- Naija which way forward now?

 

I am reassured as I creep closer to the long awaited corner. Hopefully, the cause of this delay would become clear for all to see.

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I might just see the lone harassed immigration officer having to deal with all of us, perhaps his colleagues were taking a day off; that might explain this almost un-moving mass of tired, hungry and seemingly deflated Nigerians.

I am wrong.

There is a stable of immigration officers and it would appear that things liven up a bit as you get closer to the desk. People are marshaled here and there, questioned about this and that. The vigilance is commendable but does it all have to be painfully slow? As a proud Nigerian, it tires me to ask: is all this ever going to change?

When can Nigerians expect to be treated with some obvious compassion by those paid to serve them – by officials who represent something greater than the lone individual.

Don’t we deserve some conciliatory words after standing on tired feet for eons?
Don’t the mums rocking  tired, crying children deserve somewhere to sit and maybe an offer of some water?

Faced with these  scenarios , for me, the eternal paradox resurfaces again and again. On one hand is a real sense of confusion about why what appears like a straightforward organizational routine -checking and stamping a passport in an orderly and expedited way becomes a blinding, painful chore, takes hours to resolve and does not end quietly at all, as hungry, tired people will be heard one way or another!

On the other hand, I am home. My own inner sense of triumph is  real and palpable; indeed it  fuels my feet and my mind as I am determined to try and make it all make sense. And finally, as I stand in the baggage hall waiting to collect a trolley in another line, it all makes sense again- this line is orderly and happily swirling with conversation.

As I gyrate with bouncy feet with my mass of fellow Nigerians towards the exit, my relief is imminent and yes- I can taste the fresh fish pepper soup trapped in my imagination!

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Despite the soothing green spaces, the powdery blue sky and the softly lit horizon,  I was completely unprepared for the flood of conviction which took shape in my mind.

Eking  out a living in Nigeria requires far more mental  and physical stamina than any other place I have had the opportunity to experience first hand. As I observe the world outside slowly merge with mine,  faces blur into a mist of life and the scope of  human enterprise is both energizing and challenging.

I am warmed by the ready smiles of the  roadside  hawkers, eager to sell their freshly farmed produce of corn, yams, tomatoes, peppers, garri, palm oil, plantain and a myriad of organically grown vegetables.

JAKES WEDDING 1979

 

The visual collage intensifies vividly as we pass through the iconic city of Ibadan; famously described by John Pepper Clark as: “scattered among seven hills like broken china in the sun”. In this metropolis of over 3 million Nigerians,  Ibadan is teeming with wide parades of people  seemingly on the move-engaged in an endless number of human activity.

All around me, in mobile stalls balanced on their heads, young boys, girls, men and women  have most of what you might need  on a hot humid afternoon and commuters stop here and there to stock up.

Lone bystanders look on intently, buried in their own universe of things to do and places to get to ; waiting for the next bus or vehicle to carry them along to someplace else;  moving or standing, humanity here is indeed in motion- man go chop-the hustle moves on.

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Despite  what for many  might seem like difficult odds and uncertain times, like anywhere else in the world, ordinary Nigerians continue to see to their established routines of work, family and enterprise.

Isn`t it  these immediate experiences and the  relentless energy to keep it moving which gives individual lives meaning and adds value to everyday stories?

 

 

 

 

 

As I gasp at images of federal lawmakers lumbering ungraciously up metal gates at the  National assembly in Abuja, many thoughts jostle for space in my mind. But  Fela Anikulapo`s 1986  song Beast of No Nation overwhelms me decidedly.

Animal in human skin
Animal I put u tie oh
Animal I wear agbada
Animal I put you suit oh

 I do not know these people and it is not my intention to  to be disparaging about them personally. However, I cannot escape the feeling that  as these images are beamed across the world, their behavior disparages all of us simply because ostensibly they have been elected to the National assembly to serve us.

And as the very  ordinary individuals that they are,  I imagine that they perform all the basic rituals of human necessity quite appropriately; wake, feed,  work, play and fume when provoked. But, must they be burdened with the business of law making?

 

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Or indeed, must we all continue to be corralled into this political arena  where watching the  tomfoolery of our leaders- some elected and some bestowed – has become a daily feed. These people who demonstrate very readily their continued concern more  with petty squabbles  and less with dignity, decorum and a little bit of common sense.

Haba!

And all this as  Boko Haram continues to unlease mayhem unmanned. Thousands spend every waking moment in shuddering fear as bombs continue to go off in school playgrounds  whilst families remain displaced and flung in all directions of Northern Nigeria.

 All this as our law makers are busy soothing their fragile political egos and  displaying  laborious agility as they heave themselves -torso and all -over high metal gates  amid celebratory cheers in full view of the whole world.

 

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In my view, the quandary of political leadership in Nigeria will persist as long as  perfectly humdrum, simpleminded folk are asked to do jobs of extraordinary importance , asked to show intelligent foresight in their actions and utterances when in truth they are unsuited, untrained and uninterested in anything beyond an ideology of service; one dedicated only to self.

These people have no business being in the front row, cockpit or indeed at the bridge, steering Nigeria`s political future. Must we then continue to vote these  law makers into office simply because of ” stomach infrastructure”? Nigerians need to watch these  embarrassing  comedic spectacles and ponder what all this says about the people  who elect such leaders into office in the first place.

“Beasts of No Nation, egbe ke gbe Na bad society” might indeed for some be too strong an analogy here but  with 3 more months before new presidential and federal elections in Nigeria,  must the  ” egbe ke gbe” theme be the default setting when it comes to  choosing  our  political leaders ?

 

Watch video clip here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J6BBGJaiSoE

 

Fresh fish fetishism is delightfully a part of the psyche of  many Nigerians at home and abroad.

I cannot honestly think of a single Nigerian who would turn away the opportunity to eat some fresh fish done up in hot, spicy pepper soup.

 

 

 

 

Fresh Fish -Epe market

Fresh Fish -Epe market, Lagos

It was  early Saturday morning and Lagos was awake and bustling.

My friend was in the car and ready to roll.

We were off to waylay the ladies with their cache of fresh fish and unlike me- the alien in Lagos- she understood this ritual perfectly.

The earlier you leave home, the higher your chances of getting anything done in Lagos.

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We hit the road

Whether like us you were cooking your fish at home or like many Nigerians who regularly found themselves with  fish pepper soup in hand, positioned in one of the many evening joints sipping a cold Gulder, Star or  Guinness , you paid a small premium.

Nonetheless, you found a way to hustle yourself some.

And trust me, with some money in your pocket, good haggling skills and an easy smile, you will find fresh fish just right for  your budget.

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We arrived at the stall to set up our ambush and unbelievably, there was already a small party of people waiting .

I was surprised at the mix of faces.

 

Fish sellers- Isheri Market, Lagos

Fish sellers- Isheri Market, Lagos

 

A young lady who worked in a bank and cooked fresh fish every Saturday as a treat for her husband, an older gentleman who was buying fresh fish for  his wife, a rather tense looking teenager and of course there was us-the two fresh fish disciples.

The atmosphere changed in an instant.

Voices were raised, miraculously,  a surge of bodies appeared from… everywhere.

They had arrived.

 Laden with blackened baskets  bulging with their treasure of golden gills, the fish ladies quite calmly took their places behind the stalls and laid out their wares.

 

 

Fish sellers Falomo Bridge Victoria Island , Lagos

Fish sellers Falomo Bridge Victoria Island , Lagos

 

My friend looked at me. We only had a thousand Naira between us.

Was there any real hope of outbidding the affluent looking madams who arrived in SUVs and big jeeps or the stern faced market women who had come to buy for further resale?

As I waved the naira note in my hand, I realised this was not going to be easy.

This was going to take some special  Lagos style haggling -I pushed my friend forward and prayed silently.
1 thousand naira

In the end, we didn`t  get the biggest fish of  the lot but  in typical Nigerian style, we did not leave empty handed.
We got  enough to make a truly satisfying pot of homemade fresh fish pepper soup –hot, spicy and just right !

 

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Click here to for a video on how to make Nigerian Catfish Pepper Soup

 

Read more about Fish markets in Lagos here

If you don’t like something, change it.  If you can’t change it, change your attitude. Maya Angelou

 In typical ” Naija” fashion, many voices gyrated unceremoniously ( all at the same time, I might add) in passionate response to the question: if you could fix one thing and one thing only in Nigeria , what would it be?

We all mostly know how it works.

Everyone has an elaborate opinion as to what needs fixing in Nigeria- yet it’s never quite one which can be explained in a few clearly articulated sentences.

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Nonetheless, on this occasion, I was determinedly at odds with everyone else. My answer, unlike the group favorite, did not lie with executing a line of corrupt Nigerian leaders in a ” Rawlings-like” coup, or a French Revolution style rebirth in the cold light of day. The way forward  in my view, lies not with our leaders but with us- the general populace and Nigerians in the diaspora. We  who think so little of ourselves as agents of change that we cannot demand more from those  we have democratically elected to  serve and protect us.

Well, after spending most of the evening not really listening to each other but happily  spouting individual theories of change, the rhetoric exhausted, we moved on to other matters…as we do.

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A few days later, quite unexpectedly, two things happened in quick succession  .

First I read Okey Ndibe’s typically scathing but deeply thoughtful article : ” Again, A Case of Uncounted Billions” (http://saharareporters.com/column/again-case-uncounted-billions-okey-ndibe)

Despite the wrenching weight of hyperbole which hit home in the first few lines, I had to shake my head in vigorous agreement – the truth of his assertions seemed completely undebatable.

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That Nigeria has been and continues to be mostly  blighted by a continuum of “small minded” political leaders who scuttle along in nonsensical but highly destructive self -gratifying labyrinths of darkly corrupt networks, nefarious wheeling and dealing and blatant cronyism is a truth well corroborated in Mr Ndibe’s article.

That these same leaders are propped up by a psyche completely disconnected from notions of service  is a view that many of us, in our collective social pods have come to accept and discuss. In strident voices  we writhe in what sometimes feels like a cauldron of  overwhelming frustration.

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However, what really got me gasping in total discomfort  was Mr Ndibe’s  statement that: ” many Nigerians, one suspects, are hostile to the deep thinking that is a precursor to remarkable transformation”. 

Many Nigerians”? Surely, the man could not be referring to me as part of  that dubious herd? Then, the second event .I clicked on a link which took me here: http://youtu.be/wUX6LP6H3Z8.

Egunje.com ke?

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There they were,  the well knitted, highly stimulating documentaries put up on Youtube by  Egunje.com  and Public Integrity Networks (PINS) in  2012  to promote the message of civil action against corruption.

Here was a civil organization proactively  instigating a platform  akin to  having a civilized debate about  conquering the culture of corruption in Nigeria.

Shockingly, out of an estimated 150 million potential  “Nigerian” viewers in this new age of an internet savvy audience, I was only among the first handful of people to view these videos almost two years after being posted online.

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Why wasn’t this campaign being highlighted, talked about and debated back and forth by the Nigerian media to at least  begin a series of conversations which people could pick up and maybe run with?

Why hadn`t any of my 458 FB friends posted or shared any of these videos on their page in the last 2 years?

In fact, with all my self-acclaimed interest in a progressive Nigeria, why had I not heard about or come across these very engaging clips?

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My mind churnedThe penny dropped.  

The picture of inertia which emerged had me brooding dis-quietly for days. Clearly, it’s not just  our  leaders who are really far gone. In all honesty, it appears to me that through a distinct lack of proactive acumen, we, the so called educated elite may be slipping down the abyss of “all words-no action” so steadily  that  we may become part of the problem of Nigeria.

Therefore, as we look to a future Nigeria we rhetorically  insist on being a part of, we must envision a country that we can all collectively  take responsibility for shaping and steering as much in actions as in words.

Less talk. More work.

Floating School-Maroko

Floating School-Maroko

Visit Egunje.com here

Join PINs on Facebook for latest updates

 

06_0 naija greatness

 

Meehn, I’m not ever going back to that death trap again!’

‘Hah, hah wetin happen?”

“Meehen, me wey don commot Naija since, I no even serve self, come go back go marry after 10years, can you imagine, Na small remain I for quench for Ife -Ibadan road”! It’s over for me and Naija Meehn , dem no chase me for Jand, I beg, make Naija just hold imself jare!”

“Eeh eh? Hah, Sorry o. God dey sha“.

 

And so I ended the conversation in default setting.

God dey”  is always a safely static way to slide noiselessly out of most Naija conversations.

However, the whole 5 minute onslaught of frustrated energy, vigorous head shaking laced with dregs of confused longing got my brain working up some alternative perspectives.

I actually wanted to ask my unhappy Naija tourist one simple question: so why do you think Nigeria owes you good, safe roads?

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Seriously, I mean what have you actually invested in that relationship?

Being of my generation,I know you enjoyed some of that oil money.

Like me, you most certainly had ” free education” for most of your years in school including zero fees towards your university degree.

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And you couldn’t wait to leave Nigeria for greener pastures. And they have certainly delivered.

The big house, the swanky car, the “shine shine “extras ( I mean your sister came from Naija to born on the NHS ke) and let’s not forget the fact that you don’t have to pay private for your kids to get a decent education.

I am just saying it as it is. You deserve to be where you are.

No one will begrudge you that. You schooled for it, worked for it, fasted for it, struggled through it, visualized it, believed enough in it, pursued it, and paid enough taxes.

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Your investment in this country means you have earned the right to demand of it according to the laws which you uphold everyday, a political system you believe enough in  and a government which you continue to sustain.

One to which you feel a sense of ownership.

Nobody, and I mean nobody better deny you moaning rights here, but how so for Nigeria?

 
 

I can understand my mother’s heartfelt disappointment and grooves of activism with her social peers .

Afterall,she invested over 40years of her working life teaching in Nigeria and to face it’s seemingly unstoppable meltdown complete with a the no pension fiasco must leave her quite shattered.

JAKES WEDDING 1314

And yes, I can understand my friends in Lagos moaning about water, light, food, house, but wetin be your own biko?

 

What have you given back to Nigeria in terms of your intellectual capability, creativity, resourcefulness and your “exceptional aptitude” for hard work ?

Indeed, your well worn way of “raising the bar “and ” reaching your next milestone” and of course, your ability to dream and visualize greatness and hmmmmmm… pay your National Insurance, council and other small taxes …wordlessly?

Oh I forget Nigeria does not need taxes, all that oil money? Right?

Anyone who has seen the mega changes in Lagos metropolis will tell you what promptly paid taxes can do in the hands of decent leaders.

index brt buses in lagos

However, the question still waits: why should you, with a good dose of irritation in your voice and  gnashing of teeth demand good, safe, well maintained roads in Nigeria?

Let’s face it friend, you did not hang around long enough in Nigeria to do what you could, to ask the difficult questions when they needed asking.

Now events have overtaken you, suddenly you recognize your sense of patriotic disorientation, you want what Nigeria has to offer but only the best bits- haba!

Even the people who live and work in Nigeria everyday don’t get the best bits, but they continue to build their lives around the best of what they have.

images ordinary living

So deal with you.

I am always astonished at the way ordinary Nigerians in Nigeria find a myriad of ways to be resourceful despite the orbit of civil loneliness in which they wake up everyday.

They can’t depend on a civil government for much and unlike my tourist friend flying the roost on Arik, Virgin or KLM, leaving Naija is just not and will not be an option – full stop-it’s just not going to happen.

images f;oating school lagos

So they live.

They work hard, hustle, pray, laugh, spend loads of small change on “to match” accessories, colourful geles and crazy caps.

And they raise families and yes, quite a good number drink a lot of Star, Gulder, Big Stout and Origins.

But fleshed into living , is the robust activity of moaning about what needs fixing and how different life would be if there was just a few more honest leaders.

images good governance

It’s their Nigeria, they invest patience, unrequited belief, sweat, blood and tears and I can tell you they are entitled to a lot more than good, safe roads.

JAKES WEDDING 1219

So as a parting shot to my friend who won’t stop telling everyone just how “crazy” Nigeria is, I will say this.

If you want correct moaning rights, let’s start to talk about ways to partake and share a different experience of Nigeria.

Put  some of your special talents back in, do something tangible to take your  relationship with Nigeria somewhere…anywhere other than where it is- static central.

Don’t blame the shape of Nigerian roads for your sense of disconnection-what you feel is what it is,- a disconnection, no big ting, just reconnect …find the threads and start pulling...

 
As the Yorubas say, ” Ojo ti a o ba da ni ko ki un de”- it’s only the day that isn’t scheduled that doesn’t arrive.
Well, the 9th of August was scheduled and the 9th of August is here.

Today, from Ila Orogun to Ejigbo, from Esa Oke to Ile-Ife, infact from every crevice and corner of Osun State, men and women will get a chance to go to the polls and affect the scheme of governance for the next four years by voting for their next politically elected governor. And it is with some trepidation but with a great deal of determination that the people of Osun with both feet firmly on the ground, appear ready to say something about what they want.

images good governance

Despite any partial views I might hold regarding this political party or the other, as a non- voting observer with a deep partiality for the continuance if peace in Osun State, the reverberations on the ground, left and right of the axis are quite crucial to me.
As days inevitably do, this day too will be done and when the 9th of August is cast into the annals of history, what tales will be told I wonder?

119460-117532 frustration

Like so many citizens of Osun state bonded psychologically by that ongoing internal dialogue focused on the importance of today and the potential risk that this day might bring, I seek some solace in the everyday routines of human arrangements.
We wake up today like most Saturday mornings to stroll outside, linger by the gate or balcony tentatively to catch a neighbor or two for an animated morning chat. We share, don’t we that electric charge of hope that perhaps this day can unfold without the violence of gunfire, reckless thuggery or bloodied gashes as we exercise our freedom to choose and to choose freely.

Naturally, as these things go, social media platforms are primed for another big day. Even now, the intensity of last minute campaigns on FB are surpassed only by verbal shots fired sporadically from the camps of disparate party sympathizers. It is indeed all very interesting but I am already looking past the 9th of August.

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I am looking to the days post elections when friendships will have to be reforged and relationships fragmented in the heat of party passions may need to be carefully mediated. I am hoping that the good people of Osun wont have to take the brunt of any repercussions this way or that. Afterall, there are still shops that need to sell, schools that need to re-open for learning and buses that need to ferry people from place to place even after this day is done.

images ordinary living

Let us remember that there will be life after the 9th of August.

When all the big political cabals have shipped out back to Abuja, the people and state of Osun will remain. We must ensure that regardless of the results at the end of today, a peaceful aftermath is all that really matters.

Long live Osun.
May the will of the people be done and may that will be peacefully respected.

119460-117532 frustration

To say the results of the Ekiti elections which took place in Ekiti State, Nigeria on the 22/6/2014 took me by utter and complete surprise is a bit of an understatement. Like many Nigerians living within and outside the country, I just really believed that the incumbent Governor would be reinstated for another 4 years-full stop.

This view had nothing to do with my personal affiliations with mainstream political parties in Nigerian but everything to do with having heard a lot of “good things” about the tenure of this particular gentleman. He had beautifully restored the iconic Ikogosi Warm Springs which I had lamented about for years as a superb natural resource left to languish to near decrepitness by many previous governments in Ekiti State.
In addition, he and his team had embarked on a project to deliver public sector reforms which were both visionary and absolutely necessary.

images good governance

In my quite simplistic rationalizing, good deeds speak for themselves after all; it makes sense that the men and women of Ekiti state whose lives were being enhanced everyday would only want this to continue. As it turned out, my analysis was a little naive.
The incumbent was voted out and his much maligned opponent swept the polls. How could this happen, I mused?

Fayemi-1

And I wasn`t alone.My friends on the ground in Nigeria appeared just as confused as I was, if not more!

Many used Facebook and Twitter to lament what they saw as a result which defiled “all logic”. How could the masses vote overwhelmingly for the much maligned opponent and leave the preferred “ tried and tested” incumbent out in the cold?
Didn’t Nigerians actually know what was “good” for them, some wondered? Were the masses so consumed by immediate gratification- parabled by the rumored bags of rice- that people simply “sold their birthright”?

Too simple I thought. These implied explanations just felt way too simplistic- especially since I had a sneaking suspicion that the Nigerian electorate have become much savvier over the last couple of years.
Clearly, I wasn’t the only one with questions. Twitter was agog. I skimmed through many commentaries and read a few rushed responses hoping for a glimpse- something to give me some intelligent insights.

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Despite Nigeria`s mottled democratic history, the process continues to evolve. Its clear that the Nigerian electorate is beginning to understand the power of the vote as a potent tool. Not least of all in Ekiti state where on the 21st of June, people turned out in substantial numbers- voter apathy was clearly not at play here.

Suffice to say, unlike many elections in the past, even though there had been reports and counter reports of political shenanigans and aggressive muscling of the opposition, many were quick to say how “rigging” wasn’t a factor. Ekiti people did come out to vote and the result of that vote is what it is.
So what could explain this anomaly?

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As I continued to scour the internet and ran into an article which made me ask very different questions about the delicate relationship between the electorate and those who wish to lead them and the ramifications of social power as a protest tool in the democratic process.

In an interview for channels TV titled – Ekiti People Voted Against Fayemi Not For Fayose, the commentator explained that, aside from not being able to: “connect with the grassroots” during his tenure, the incumbent had been in “ back and forth tussles with civil servants and teachers in the state for about 18 months, asking the teachers to take competency tests that resulted in heavy shakeups in the system.”

Apparently, this standoff with civil servants over attempts to sanitize the system had gone down pretty badly. Hence, many people registered their displeasure through a protest vote for the opposition. Simple as.

A little quick digging through newspaper achieves did establish the facts. There had indeed been a long running “battle” between the incumbent and the Teachers Union in the state over competency tests which the government claimed was a boost for teachers but teachers argued was a shortcut to rooting them out.

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From where I am sitting, as part of delivering good governance, competency tests made perfect sense. Being an educationalist myself, the importance of having qualified and able teachers in schools is almost a basic requirement to ensure teaching in our primary, secondary and tertiary institutions is of a consistently high standard across the board.

On the other hand, the issue of the stalemate on tests, represents a much larger metaphor. It highlights a dilemma for our burgeoning democratic process. How do we manage the tensions which exist between the zeal of well-meaning politicians and the psychological readiness of the electorate- the masses-at the receiving end.

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Political psychology is not a new concept and in my view, moving forward, we need to thoroughly understand the psyche of the people we aim to serve and take seriously elements of their psychological responses to their everyday realities.

The Nigerian masses have a unique psychological framework and paradoxically, their needs are basic and yet evolving at the same time. They have to be considered. These are people who have survived being let down over and over again by a generation of governments (military and civilian) and who quite frankly are bruised and smarting from years of poor governance and acts brazen corruption by public servants.

Despite the bravado, the political psyche of the ordinary Nigerian in the street is fragile. And if their trust in public figures continues to take a pounding, well meaning politicians with a reform agenda will have an uphill battle to say the least.

It’s a delicate balance indeed- If we mean to serve, we have to understand how affected the polity is by the generational layers of socio-political experiences and the historical trail of distrust and broken structures which have permeated the idea of governance in Nigeria.
Change which involves the breaking down of their paradigms of social existence -well-meaning or not (like a competency test which inevitably people believed would see many lose their source of livelihood) is just not going to make sense to them at this point in their very wobbly democratic development.

Unfortunately, the picture which the electorate have of the political ruling class goes beyond immediate serving public servants in Ekiti state. Their picture of the ruling elite is spliced with stories of federal ministers with private jets, national delegates in Abuja collecting thousands per day for snoring through entire sessions and billions of Naira somewhere-still unaccounted for.

For the ordinary man in the street these stories have taken on almost mythical status in their imaginations. To then be almost forcibly encouraged into doing something which they feel is going to mean the loss of the meager social power that they have, may just be a step too far.
Herein lies the dilemma for social reforms which must have the backing of the people at the grassroots as well as inspire the confidence of the voters.

I mean how did a whole generation of teachers end up in the system without the standard qualifications in the first place? And this is not a malaise specific to Ekiti state- its a national problem which needs a comprehensive response at a national level.

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This is turning into a longer article than I intended. What is clear though is that as predicted, the elections in Ekiti State were indeed a watershed and our attempts at a democratic process is maturing.
In this particular instance, the people of Ekiti decided to use their power at the polls to send an emotional message of disaffection to their governor. Hopefully, we are all listening.

The power of the electorate to make something dramatic happen once every four years is fast becoming apparent. However, a balance needs to be negotiated much earlier in the delicate relationship between the electorate and the elected; people must not feel that their only recourse is to vote emotionally once every 4 years. Finding ways to invest a sense of social power in ordinary people needs to become more of a routine expectation as we attempt to understand what really makes people tick apart from the proverbial bag of rice.

In the end- it would appear that the people of Ekiti state exercised their power to register a vote of protest. However, as protest votes go, there are consequences, invariably not all of which may have been fully thought through or are even desired by the protest voters themselves.

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