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Pat Utomi: Edo election as a metaphor
The people are not stupid. You may not believe this if you consider yourself a shrewd observer of Nigerian politics since the military scampered away from power in 1999 with little thought to legacy and how their grandchildren may judge their time. Believe me, the people are not stupid. They may suffer limitations, as you see in a lady who early in life was repeatedly gang-raped. It does not mean she is stupid. In many ways, the just concluded Edo State governorship election throws up this evidence. And I am not necessarily referring to the choice made from the candidates on offer.
When I heard the protest of the Edo State chapter of the Peoples Democratic Party against the outcome of the election which Adams Oshiomhole won by a landslide, it occurred to me that the people have been consistently smarter than those who seek to lead them but have been shackled for long by fear that an untutored revolt against an unthinking political class may result in disruption that could cost their children the peace to live in dignity. So they suffered misrule as a sacrifice like the Pelican that cuts itself and draws its own blood to nourish its offspring. But those who lust after power still carry on in ways that suggest they hate their own children.
You may say, as one well informed analyst suggested on a television channel during the course of voting in Edo, that the life or death nature of the contestation was because it was about who will preside over the sharing of resources rather than service to society; that this battle was to privatise public resources so the children of those who triumph in these bloodbaths may have a better time. Think again. Imagine what Nigeria was a mere 20 years ago. Imagine what the mess it now is. Then ask yourself where their children will have peace to have a great time and find fulfilment. Certainly not in a refugee camp. In a paradoxical sense, I think President Goodluck Jonathan may see more clearly than his fellow travellers in the PDP. Nigeria’s democracy has lost its legitimacy and credibility and the country’s institutions have been much devalued by the party’s conduct. Acting like the parasite that sucks the host animal to death with no more place to get nourishment seems the ultimate unwisdom.
If I belonged to a gang of thieves raiding a neighbourhood until all the residents became ready to relocate, I should see it not as a pursuit of honour, if that is in bad taste to thieves, but as tilling the ground for future harvest, to give them respite from time to time. This is why if I were a consultant to the PDP, since we seldom have real elections in Nigeria, I would actually rig an election in favour of the opposition to renew, even if a suspect sense of confidence in the democratic process, something the people can live with.
Not to have such a sense at the national level may be puzzling as you look across the border at Benin Republic and Ghana, but to actually try to fight the will of determined people in Edo only evokes images of the blighted vision of the Omoboriowo camp in Ondo in 1983. Amazingly, some of those who planted that sour seed nearly 30 years ago are still active in polluting the waters in Edo State today.
I know Edo. I have typically journeyed from Benin to my home state of Delta. Indeed, I am still more at home in the Bendel spirit than the current more fractured arrangement. I have had the good fortune of being acquainted with many of the past governors of the state. The present arrangement may not be a perfection but I know that many Edolites consider it a season of liberation. It seems to me therefore that it is beyond just sportsmanship to let go.
I also worry about the self-love that does not allow the political class to see beyond sharing public resources to a collective sense of how everybody can work together and bring their talent to the solving of our numerous social problems.
Nigeria is so neck deep in a mess that, as in Tawney’s metaphor, even a ripple can drown us, yet those who seek power cannot see that what they do could advance the end game to the mutual loss of all.
Then, I wonder what will wake us up from this nightmare of those so obsessed with power and short term self-love that they cannot see that unlike the Pelican they are urinating on the graves of their yet-to-be born children and grandchildren. In these moments, I thank God for the progress elsewhere around us.
I look at the rate of economic growth in Ghana, small an economy as it might be, and the fact that Angola has overtaken Nigeria as an oil producer and I remember how competition between the different regions drove progress in the years of hope in the 1960s before oil became a dominant factor and I hope. I hope because competitive communalism made us thrive then and responding to our falling behind our neighbours, in wealth, and as a civilised culture may get us up and running. Like South East Asia’s much misunderstood economic miracle, apologies to K. S. Jomo, we may b ready to flock with the other Geese as Africa begins to realise the promise of being new frontiers for the world economy rebound.
When an elite sabotages its greatest asset, the gifting of its numerous and diverse peoples, whose talents could together explore the resources to bring plenty to the tables of all, it earns for itself a title in Masochism that no royal family or backyard university could award. Such a political class promotes the anarchy that lack of justice sentences all to. Such do not really love their children or are blinded such that they are unable to see the real effect of their conduct for those they love.I suspect the latter is more the case, which is why what we owe each other most is the duty of education.The trouble, here, of course, is that the people do not read much anymore so effort to educate gets lost in the written word. Since elite do not read, the example for the people to follow has evaporated. I can tell you from many occasions I have asked classes full of executives their opinion of a back page column the day before. Most times, more would have seen it. Collapsing standard of education makes matters worse with the average citizen.
Edo is a terrible metaphor for the shame of yesterday’s Nigeria, but it may yet be the watershed that says the people are not stupid and a wake-up call to others that if they are determined, they will not be taken for granted. Indeed, an Edo may be a metaphor announcing the new Nigeria.
I may have played the Prophet Amos for long warning about the injustices of this land and the coming consequences. I may have been vindicated by that great anarchy foretold which surrounds us. But Edo State may yet signal that it is time for a Nehemiah. The question is who shall be sent to rebuild the fallen and falling walls of Nigeria?
Prof. Utomi is the founder of the Centre for Values in Leadership