Shortly after the results of the 2015 presidential election were announced, I had something of a meltdown on Facebook. I later on deleted my entire Facebook account, but I still remember the main points of my several mini rants back then.
I raged at INEC, raged at Goodluck Jonathan and the PDP, raged at David Axelrod and his co-travellers, and most angrily of all, I raged at the generality of Nigerians for letting such a disaster befall us all. I think this entire collection of rants must have spanned about a week from the afternoon the results were announced.
I had a friend who proceeded to calmly admonish me to stop getting so worked up about the results of the election and to have some faith in my people and the choice they had made.
The democratic process was only valuable if everyone respected it, he said, and I needed to learn to not take political losses personally.
“Something something, spirit of fair play and sportsmanship, something something don’t be a bad loser, something something the world is not going to end because someone you don’t like won the election”. Get a grip, David.
And then the intervening 7 years happened and it turned out of course, that for many Nigerians, the world DID in fact, end.
Those who never contended with large-scale insecurity suddenly found themselves dying in thousands while President Toothpick sat observing with his barely-disguised smirk.
Those who had never experienced the terrible reality of military dictatorship got a crash course over the course of just 10 days in October 2020.
Those, who like my friend, had never seriously considered living outside Nigeria found themselves emigrating to Calgary, Toronto and Birmingham.
Apparently, I was in fact, absolutely justified to have a meltdown after a multiple coup plotter and erstwhile Abacha acolyte who was recommended never to hold public office again by the Oputa Panel, was parachuted into the very last office he should ever have had any business in.
It turned out that the “political loss” suffered in 2015 was not in fact, something that could be covered up by “sportsmanship” as though it were some sort of game.
It absolutely was personal, and I was right to take it personal. I lost contact with that friend after he emigrated in 2019, but I would hope the lesson has been learned. Then again, I wouldn’t bank on it.
The big secret: Everything is personal
There was a book I once read which outlined the futility of carrying a false pokerface and faux-Zen attitude through life.
An example cited in this book was that of a mischievous HR manager who engineers events such that someone he does not like at a company gets laid off.
At the point where the bad news is being delivered to the person, he then invokes a call to a non-existent standard of reaction by telling the victim, “It’s just business. It’s nothing personal.”
In fact, the book said, what in the world could be more personal than the source of income that a man uses to feed his children and pay his bills?
What he should do in fact, is explore every available option to either get the decision reviewed or get the best possible exit package for himself.
If he takes the issue personally and acknowledges it as the hotly emotive issue that it actually is, he will likely do one of these things.
If he decides to pour cold water on his own valid feelings and walk coolly out of the door because it is written in some invisible book somewhere that showing emotion or taking an action personally betrays weakness, the only thing that happens is that he loses whatever positive outcome he could have got for himself.
One of the biggest ways that bullies rise to the top of almost every human endeavour, the book argued, is by convincing the hundreds of people they exploit, cheat, steal from and step on along the way, that there is some sort of heavenly eternal reward for keeping a stiff upper lip and showing no reaction to anything.
When they steal credit for the work you have done, you should look the other way and say nothing because to fight for your due credit means you are “taking it personal,” whatever that means.
When they berate you and talk down on your ideas only to later steal them, standing up vigorously for yourself means you are “taking it personal.”
When they cheat, defraud, cut corners and use sexual favours to cut in line ahead of you who is actually doing the hard work and getting things done the right way, they are just “smart,” “driven,” “clever” and “ambitious.”
If you react vehemently and call them out publicly for their misdeeds and malpractice, you are “taking it personal,” because the world is apparently some sort of cosmic game where the winners are the people who perfect the art of dying inside while outwardly projecting the stoicity of a disaffected teenager.
Politics is personal – very personal
There is a popular quote by German playwright Bertolt Brecht about the so-called political illiterate that I will reproduce in full here.
Here goes: “The worst illiterate is the political illiterate, he doesn’t hear, doesn’t speak, nor participates in the political events. He doesn’t know the cost of life, the price of the bean, of the fish, of the flour, of the rent, of the shoes and of the medicine, all depends on political decisions. The political illiterate is so stupid that he is proud and swells his chest saying that he hates politics. The imbecile doesn’t know that, from his political ignorance is born the prostitute, the abandoned child, and the worst thieves of all, the bad politician, corrupted and flunky of the national and multinational companies.”
While many reading this article might not consider themselves to be Brecht’s political illiterate because they read the news, engage with elected representatives and vote, I would argue that the ultimate manifestation of political illiteracy is not understanding the sheer urgency and immediacy of political decisions.
Take my friend mentioned at the outset for example. He did not consider himself to be a political illiterate, and he in fact voted in the election in question.
An examination of his voting decisions and his subsequent reaction to political outcomes provides a clear insight into why lack of proper emotional connection with political issues leads to the same outcomes as those of the slack-jawed political illiterate.
Unlike 2023, that election had only 2 realistic candidates. It was A or B. Being a contest between an incumbent and a challenger, it was essentially a referendum on the incumbent’s leadership. A vote for anything other than the incumbent was effectively a vote for the challenger.
My friend did not vote for Retired General Toothpick, but he did not vote for Goodluck Jonathan either. He instead voted for a relatively obscure “3rd Force” candidate, as he proudly announced multiple times.
When Retired General Toothpick won the election, my friend was not concerned about the fact that his voting decision contributed to vote-splitting against the incumbent and helped the challenger (whom he also did not like) to win.
He refused to acknowledge that he and others who spent their votes on chimeras without any realistic chance, actually contributed to the pro-Toothpick effort indirectly.
He refused even to acknowledge that spending his vote on a candidate who failed to muster 100,000 total votes nationwide in an election of that significance, and with such significant far-reaching consequences, was a godawful thing to do.
The only thing he was concerned about was that we should all show “decorum” afterward, and “Accept the results in the spirit of good sportsmanship” while “not taking our political losses personally.”
Now that he may be reading this article from the bright lights of Calgary, I hope the point has finally been pressed home. Everything is personal.
Of course it’s personal!