Nigeria is an interesting country. I believe we all know it, even if we are also good at denying reality. The more you look, the less you see. Things don’t always turn out to be what they were intended to be.
What works elsewhere may not always work here. The police announces that it has abolished check points on the highways, yet you travel around the country and you find many police checkpoints situated one pole apart especially in the East of Nigeria, and you complain and write about it, nothing happens.
A military commander consistently loses his men in battle and after claiming that the enemy has been degraded and decimated, you find that the enemy has gone nowhere prompting the governor of a state to shed tears on television and the guy is left on his seat and perhaps expecting a promotion. A serving governor is caught on tape accepting bribes from a contractor and nobody says anything because the governor is part of ‘us’ where as a petition against the Chief Justice of Nigeria ( CJN) is written on the 9th of January, investigated on the 10th and charges preferred on the 11th.
In Nigeria you are a thief when you belong to the opposition party but your sins are forgiven and you become a saint as soon you cross over to the ruling party as openly declared by the ruling party chairman and the people hail him: Osho Baba!
Nigeria is truly an exciting country. You make promises, some written in manifestos and when you win elections, you flatly deny them and the people hail you: Sai Baba! You continue to perform poorly but your popularity grows and people threaten to commit suicide if you do not remain in office! That is the country we now live in. A country where a presidential candidate refused to participate in an election debate and it seemed to be of no consequence as he went on to win comfortably. Now we are in another electoral season. Promises are being made. Who believes the promises? And will anybody be held responsible for keeping or not keeping promises? So very often, rather than ask hard and searching questions to our political contestants and seek verifiable answers we prefer to listen to music and dance often swallowing line, hook and sinker all the propaganda that spew from campaign organizations. That is the country we live in.
Another round of presidential debates has started across the nation. Governorship or gubernatorial debates are blazing in state capitals and one presidential debate happened last week end. The presidential candidates of the two leading parties failed to show up. Atiku had said he would not participate if Buhari was not going to participate. And so both of them failed to show up. My question is: “will there be any consequence for not participating and ignoring millions of Nigerians who watched the debate”? I have my doubt if there will be any adverse consequence, because it happened before and nothing happened. My next question is: “will the debate make any difference to the electoral fortunes of those candidates – Moghalu, Durotoye and Ezekwesili who actively participated in the debate?” That would be the expectation in a normal country, given the stellar performances of the three candidates, but not in Nigeria. Indeed it is doubtful if there would be any difference even if Atiku and Buhari had participated in the debate. How many people will have changed their minds about any candidate because of the debate? Very few! Why?
Nigerians choose their leaders mostly on mundane considerations- ethnicity, religion, relationship and short term gains, including ‘stomach infrastructure’. To make up one’s mind using the above mundane criteria does not require a TV debate. Once people have made their choices based on the enumerated mundane issues, their minds are closed. They ask no questions, they interrogate no assumptions. Tell them their chosen candidate does not have WAEC certificate, they tell you that it does not matter even if he did not go to school. Tell them their preferred candidate is corrupt, then they retort, ‘who is not corrupt’ or ask ‘is he more corrupt that the other candidates’? Tell them their preferred candidates are too old and they ask if they are older than Obasanjo who wanted to go for the third term. That is the kind of real debate that goes on in Nigeria. I salute the Nigerian Election Debate Group (NEDG) and the Broadcasting Organization of Nigeria (BON) for their effort to help us change how we make our electoral choices from mundane to substantial. I believe that someday we may arrive there. But for this 2019, no dice; minds are already made up, debate or no debate. I wish I could be proven wrong!
Mazi Sam Ohuabunwa OFR, FPSN