Early next year, Nigerians get to choose a new government – at least, that’s the theory. In practice, they have little choice at all. The same people will be back – just in a slightly different configuration from before.
If you’re not living in Nigeria, this may seem confusing but let me explain. During the last general elections, the ruling party was ousted and a new one took over. Within weeks, many of the leading lights from the defeated party simply defected to the one now in power and continued where they left off. For many of them, it was a simple calculation – with an anti-corruption President in charge, it’s safer to be with the ruling party and enjoy virtual immunity from prosecution.
With elections looming and the distinct possibility that power may change hands once again, mass defections have already begun. The game is to stay in power and stay out of jail, while amassing a fortune along the way. Industrialist billionaires aside, politicians are the wealthiest people in Nigeria and they can be fabulously rich, even without the graft they find impossible to resist. It takes a Nigerian senator just seven weeks to earn the annual salary of a US senator, which is a very reasonable $174,000.
And yet, these de facto dollar millionaires always want more – much more. Without the talent or capacity to earn a fraction of that amount outside of politics, they resort to other means of building a fortune that will last for generations. Meanwhile, the people they represent are still waiting for them to pass legislation that will move the minimum wage from the present $600 per annum ($50 per month).
Recently, Brookings Institute published its annual Global Poverty Index, which revealed that, for the first time, Nigeria is the poverty capital of the world. This means that Nigeria, with a population of 188 million people, has overtaken India with a population of 1.3 billion. The response from the federal government was predictably inadequate, suggesting that the figures “may have been taken when Nigeria was in recession”. Given that Nigeria emerged from recession only in the last year, I’m not sure what comfort Nigerians should draw from that statement. What it does say is that the government remains as ineffective as ever, presiding over bloated budgets and meagre results.
On a more positive note, there is a growing feeling within Nigeria that the people need to take their destiny into their own hands. Millions have registered to vote in the past year, with another 10 million projected by the end of 2018. However, democracy in this country has been sold as having the right to vote for the candidates presented to you – and that is where the problem lies. In most cases, voters are left trying to figure out which of them is the ‘lesser of two evils’ – as in, “Which one will steal less of my money or at least complete a few projects while filling his boots?”
Next year’s elections will be loaded with flawed candidates from two parties with no principles – not even a guiding philosophy or an ideology that members can identify with. These parties are simply bodies of people with a lust for power, and very little motivation to move Nigeria into a stable and prosperous future. As I’ve said in a previous post, the only hope for Nigeria is for the middle and upper classes to get involved in politics, just as they were in those early post-independence days.
By all means, Nigerians should exercise their democratic rights and vote in 2019. However, they should accept that the opportunity for real change has already passed them by. The same people from the past 20 years will be back and it will be business as usual. For those thinking classes and professionals of all backgrounds, who are desperate to save their country from mediocrity, the time is now, for ensuring that 2023 marks the beginning of a genuine turnaround for Nigeria’s fortunes.
If the work starts now, true democracy can take root, as politics gets infiltrated with the teachers, doctors, lawyers, bankers, engineers, architects, entrepreneurs and intellectuals who will put themselves forward as candidates. Having already achieved something in life and not being beholden to a political godfather, they stand a much better chance of representing the aspirations of hardworking Nigerians.
Nigeria cannot afford another wasted election, as its politicians get fatter by the day, buying more houses and luxury cars, splurging on private jet travel and maintaining a vast network of call girls to cater to their every whim. At some point, the patience of the people will reach breaking point, when they realise that prayers without works will never be enough to remove those who will happily suck the very lifeblood from a comatose patient called Nigeria.
“Election days come and go. But the struggle of the people to create a government which represents all of us and not just the one percent – a government based on the principles of economic, social, racial and environmental justice – that struggle continues.” ~ Bernie Sanders
“The political process does not end on Election Day. Young people need to stay involved in the process by continuing to pay attention to the conversation and holding their leaders accountable for the decisions they make.” ~ Patrick Murphy
“Leadership is not about the next election, it’s about the next generation.” ~ Simon Sinek