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[Opinion] Gun-point and bullion van democracy - Kassim Afegbua

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There is something melancholic about the mentality of an average Nigerian. I was almost tempted to say a black man, but it will be inappropriate to generalise it to such oceanic spread. But just to make the point that our animalistic tendency and conduct in Nigeria has gotten to an unimaginable proportion that one often wonders where exactly we are headed. Just a simple conduct of election to choose who governs us at different levels has become a theatre of war with cake of crimson.

We kill ourselves with whimsical ease as if that has become the normative order. Tempers are easily provoked, bad behaviour are condoned, animalistic tendencies are freely advertised, thuggeries are rewarded and celebrated, ballot box snatching becomes an act of celebration rather than condemnation, yet when leaders emerged from such barbaric, dishonest and primitive conducts, they are celebrated as a reflection of the wishes and aspirations of the people.

 

What a contradiction! Elections are no longer a civic responsibility of the citizenry. They have become a militarised and combative exercise for those who have the courage to dare. There are hardly voting exercises across the country. What obtains is forceful coronation exercise decreed by unlawful kingmakers against the run of play. Aside from obtaining outcomes at gun-point, the processes are heavily monetised to the point that bullion vans now visit the homes of political chieftains to offload wads of currencies ostensibly meant for vote buying and other indecent electoral conduct.

When the exercises are concluded with such copious indecent conduct, the leaders will mount the podium to deliver some hogwash speeches with a damning verdict that “we are in a learning process of democracy”. We are surely not in any democratic rule in Nigeria but in a democratic dictatorship facilitated by some grossly uncivilised, primitive, greedy and barbaric characters masquerading as democrats. Election in Nigeria is an act and art of war. With the footages from the Rivers State guber election on Saturday, March 9th, and Sunday, March 10th, you need no further telling to confirm that election is war in Nigeria.

 

And this is very unfortunate. The shootings and killings that took place by uniformed men against a defenceless citizenry, also exposes the incompetence of this present administration. If there was competence, the security agencies would be able to contain whatever obstacles in the way of peaceful electoral conduct.

 

The Nigerian Army gave itself away so cheaply when its spokesman reportedly issued a statement absolving itself of any complicity and saying those seen wearing fatigued uniforms of the Army with AK 47 riffles were not men of its formation. Yet, they couldn’t contain the situation and make sizeable arrest?

 

The mere act of wearing military uniform by ordinary folks or thugs is an offence, yet there are different military formations in Rivers State who by now should be telling us how many of such persons were arrested in the act to further re-assure us that we have security in place. Alas, this is Nigeria of anything goes; a sickly country with sickening realities. How can we be counting our losses in so many obituaries just because we conducted election to have leaders that would help drive governance in the next four years? How can we lose 58 lives to election when we are not in war situation? How can our leader sit back and watch without offering a word of caution to abate this bloodletting and wanton destruction of properties? What manner of leadership do we truly have?

 

The type that folds his arms while the country is being consumed in the inferno of cross-fire exchanges, or the type that looks the other way while the citizenry is being pummelled with military arsenal to outdo a governor who in the opinion of the power oligarchs in APC must be shown the exit door? Or a combination of both. Are we truly in election mode or we are just pretending to be. This is more of an electoral coup d’etat across the country, and certainly not free choice which every election celebrates. When winners are known, the word inconclusive becomes handy to prepare the way for manipulation. This year election has been one dotted with so many inconclusives, perhaps INEC is now “Inconclusive National Electoral Commission”.

It took us five days to know the outcome of the presidential election. The tensed situation across the country simply because Governors were to be elected easily exposes our security agencies as being the real problem, rather than the solution. Election conduct ought to be an atmosphere that gives the citizenry the opportunity to freely make his choice without molestation, inducement and harassment. These days, vote buying is a bullion van volume.

 

Already impoverished Nigerians especially in the rural areas see election period as the only time they see those who represent them, and whatever they are given as a form of inducement is their only reward for four years. In a country where 91 million people suffer from extreme poverty syndrome, such pittance is seen as more than yearly salary.

 

And if you are not willing to part with vote-buying stipends, your electoral fortunes will suffer deeply. And what they tell you in response to your willingness to fix infrastructure if elected is a further damning verdict on why it would take more than a ninth day wonder to take this country out of the woods: “we are already used to bad roads, decayed educational sector and absence of portable water supply.” When you probe further, what you are told will evoke a sense of sympathy and forlorn hope: “we are used to you politicians’ lies and deceits. You will promise heaven and earth, but end up with nothing at the end of the day. Whatever you have for us, give us now because we are very sure we won’t see you in the next four years.” End of story.

 

The people are right. Elected leaders in Nigeria often build barricades between them and those they are elected to lead. For example, after the 2015 election victory of the APC, neither the party nor the president created the opportunity to go round and thank the people for giving them the mandate. Even when situations warranted the presence of the president to show solidarity with the plights of the people, the president was hardly seen.

 

When it was time for campaigns for re-election, the president suddenly gathered strength and criss-crossed the  entire states no matter how briefly, to ask for their votes again. When leaders cannot connect with their followers, the urge to exploit the only window of opportunity will be during election, and a N500 note may just be the reward of such opportunity. How sad! But that is the pathetic situation we find ourselves in this era of bullion van democracy. Because the roads are no longer motorable, our political leaders and chieftains are now chauffeured around on helicopters. My next door neighbour is notorious for doing that.

 

When they land on the people’s farmland in the villages, poverty-stricken villagers will troop to the location, to catch a glimpse of both the helicopter and the occupants. What you see on their faces is squalor, hunger, poverty and deprivations. As the “big man” makes way to his estate, a few wads are thrown up and you can imagine the scramble for them by the villagers. It is the sorry story of a country with so much resources but with excruciating poverty and hunger.

 

While a whole community cannot assemble N50,000, the only “big man” around them bathes with exotic and very expensive champagne and wine to announce his illicit riches. He boasts around with Police and soldiers as a conquistador to dominate his environment and his people. He must be feared to be relevant to the people. What a hollow mentality. But that is the sad commentary of a country that has degenerated to some kind of mindless bubble.

A country that now sees election like war. A country that sustains the poverty of many and promotes the riches of the few. A country where public officials are Lords that give directives to the security agencies to kill and maim. A country of too many emergency big men with no forwarding addresses. A country of “bullion van” democracy parading men who should hide their heads in shame but who unfortunately are the arrowheads  of a country with suffering and grinding poverty. A country of gun-point democracy cannot certainly produce benevolent leaders that would lead us to the promised land. Certainly not now.

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