Pangolo Junction
Life, arguments, and kunu... with Max, Nat and Zack

Friday, April 20, 2007

Defending Democracy against Riggery, Thuggery and Skullduggery

(Nat and Zack are sitting at their usual in the Junction table with their heads bowed down in silent gloom. Every now and then, a head is raised, a sigh breaks forth and the head returns to bowed despondency. As they are sitting in this pose, Max enters the Junction whistling cheerfully, but he stops short when he sees the other two.)

Max: My friends! What is going on? I hope nobody has died o!

Nat (with his head still bowed): Actually, we are mourning a death.

Zack (raising his head): Yes - we are mourning the death of Nigerian Democracy, which was abducted at machine-gun point, then beaten up, repeatedly raped, tortured and then cruelly hacked to death at the last gubernatorial elections.

Nat: And to add insult to injury, the corpse was disembowelled, flung on to an open refuse tip and left to provide a feast for flies, vultures and other scavengers.

Max (cheerily): Is that why you guys are wearing such long faces? Come on - cheer up. Nigerian democracy hasn't even been born yet. What you saw was just its bastard brother.

Zack (in a low voice full of anger): Please Max, if you have nothing meaningful to say, don't say anything. We're not in the mood for your jokes.

(Max looks silently at his friends for a while.)

All right, Nat, Zack - I'm sorry. I can see that you guys are really upset about last Saturday. But really, what did you expect? That a government that rigged elections in 1999 and 2003 would all of a sudden realise the error of its ways and do the right thing? That an electoral commission that couldn't handle a registration exercise would become a paragon of efficiency?

Nat (wearily): Yes, we saw. But we hoped - we hoped that even in the face of all that, the government would see the determination of the people not to have their votes stolen from them.

Zack: Yes, we hoped that they would see us trooping out en-masse to go and vote and take that as a sign that we were prepared to defend our democracy as we defended it during the 'third term' saga.

Max: Nigerians defended democracy during the third term saga? (barks out a laugh) Please get real and stop deluding yourself. Nigerians don't defend democracy. Instead, they sit in their houses and make a lot of noise about how things should change. They devise all kinds of crazy impractical ideas from splitting Nigeria into one thousand different states to calling down God to set up a Holy Dictatorship. But what - they - definitely - do - not - do - is to go out on the streets demonstrating against plans to subvert democracy. That third term defeat? It had more to do with politicians who were trying to preserve their power and less to do with citizens preserving democracy.

Zack (defensively): Well, you can say what you want, but if people hadn't made such a loud noise about it, I doubt that the politicians would have had the courage to vote against the attempt to extend Obasanjo's stay.

Nat: Well Zack, from the evidence of what we heard over the weekend, it looks like the government really doesn't care about the loud noises that the people make.

Max: Was your experience really that bad, Nat?

Nat: Actually, my own story wasn't a case of vote stealing - it was more a case of vote losing. I got up early in the morning, because I wanted to cast my vote and go about some other business that I had lined up for the weekend. I got to the polling station just when voting was supposed to be starting, but I found that the INEC officials hadn't yet turned up. No problem - I assumed that they were just observing 'Nigerian Time'. However, when they still hadn't shown up after four hours, I decided that this was stretching the 'Nigerian Time' concept just a little too far. I was about to abandon the whole idea when they showed up, claiming that they had had problems getting the materials they needed.

Anyway, the voting exercise started, but when it got to my turn to vote, I found that I had been assigned to vote at a station at least three kilometres away. I was determined to vote, so I trekked the distance to the other station. However, when I got there, their records said that I was supposed to vote at the original station. I protested that I had just come from there and demanded to be allowed to vote, but they refused. I was so disgusted that I trekked back home straight away.

Max: That looks like plain incompetence, but you never know. Perhaps someone looked at the details that you submitted during registration and decided that you fitted the profile of the kind of person who was likely to vote against the government - so your details were 'accidentally' mixed up.

Zack: At least Nat can claim that there is a possibility that his vote got lost. My own case was worse.

Max (smiling): Of course, Zack. The world would not be complete if your own case wasn't worse.

Nat: Don't mind him, Zack - tell him your ordeal, as you told me.

Zack: Well, unlike Nat, I decided to take my time in getting to the polling station, because I know how Nigerians are with our timekeeping. I got there about an hour late, and to my pleasant surprise, voting had already started. I joined the queue, and everything seem to be going all right - people were being orderly, the officials were efficiently locating names and handing ballot papers... it was like a dream.

Max: And I'm sure you're about to tell the part where the dream turns into a nightmare.

Zack (sighing): Of course, it was too good to be true. After an hour of voting, from nowhere, some rough-looking, wild-eyed hoodlums descended on the polling station wielding machetes and demanding to have the ballot box. Everyone took to their heels - the first law of survival in these situations is "Never argue with a man wielding a machete, especially if he looks like he would really like to use it".

Max (incredulously): Everyone? Didn't you have a policeman attached to your station?

Zack: He took to his heels too. After all, a machete will cut through a policeman's neck as cleanly as a 'bloody civilian's'.

Max: Didn't he have a gun or something? What is the point of attaching a policeman to a polling station if he can't defend the ballot box?

Nat: Come on, Max - you know how chronically under-resourced the police is. They likely had to ration out guns and ammo, and maybe Zack's 'policeman' was one of the unlucky ones.

Max: So everyone just ran like that. (Turns to Zack in mock incredulity, eyes popping open.) Even YOU???

Zack (defensively): Stop looking at me like that. Of course I ran - I have a wife and two children, you know.

Max (shaking his head in mock disbelief): I can't believe it. (Rubs his eyes theatrically and pops them open, craning his head directly into Zack's face.) You of all people??? You that swore to defend democracy with the last drop of your blood???

Zack (irritated): All right, I'm a coward! Is that what you want to hear? What would you have done, O Protector of the Universe?

Max (amused): Me? I would have rendered my services in helping them arrive at suitably credible figures. These thugs have no idea about how to concoct believable election results - did you hear about how they declared that there was a 90% turnout in Rivers State, with 90% of the votes cast going to the PDP? (Catches Zack's glowering expression and backtracks.) No, I'm just joking. You know
what I feel about party politics already, so you wouldn't catch me within a kilometre's radius of a polling booth.

Nat (despairingly): So is that what elections are all about? Whoever has the largest amount of money to pay the most violent thugs wins?

Zack: Not necessarily. Even if thugs visit a place, the elections there can be declared null and void if enough evidence is gathered to prove that this was the case. And this is how people can defend democracy - by acting as witnesses to any attempt to wreck it. After several rounds of election annulments, one of two things will happen. The politicians will get fed up of paying thugs to steal ballot boxes when doing so doesn't result in victory for them. Or since the elections in the polling stations that don't have thuggery problems will have been successfully concluded, this will free up the police to concentrate on the problem areas and deter the thugs.

Max: Ah. But you're assuming that the government will respect the evidence of the voters and annul the elections. What if they just tough it out and say "to hell with the voters - we're going to install our people!"?

Zack: Then the people will take to the streets in protest. No serious government will ignore that.

Max: Of course not. How could the government ignore a heaven-sent opportunity for its soldiers to test their whips, teargas and ammunition, especially when it knows that the sight of a mere machete (grins and winks at Zack) is enough to send even the boldest of Nigerians scurrying for cover?

Nat: Anyway, no sensible Nigerian will go out and protest. Who wants to die when they know that their death will be in vain?

Zack: Both of you are talking nonsense. Do you think that if we came out in numbers of up to a million, soldiers would dare shoot us? If we came out in those numbers, the protest would be assured of victory, so the issue of dying in vain wouldn't arise.

Nat: Zack, please be realistic. Do you think it's a simple matter to click your fingers and order one million Nigerians on to the street?

Zack: Hmm... I think Nigerians would come out onto the streets if they found something worth getting angry over. Like an attempt to steal their hard-earned votes.

Max: You're deluding yourself again, Zack. Votes aren't like money whose benefits are immediately evident. You steal one thousand naira from someone, you see murder in his eyes. But you steal his vote - and he complains a bit, then shrugs and says "God dey". This is why I was advocating
hooking up money with democracy the other day...

Nat: And people aren't that passionate about democracy - it's still seen as something that big men do. Perhaps the solution is to give people another reason to be so angry at the government that they'll come from all corners of the country - from Uyo, from Zuru, from Lagos, from Maiduguri - and descend on Aso Rock to throw out Obasanjo.

Zack: There are enough reasons already - we're talking about a man under whose watch Nigerians have suffered terribly, a man who has conducted a shameless feud with his deputy and put the stability of the country at risk, a man who...

Max (yawning): Oh Zack, please spare me the lecture. None of what you're saying will have any effect - if people already know this, why has no riot happened yet? No - the solution is to tap into those twin issues that set off the most primordial feelings in the heart of all Nigerians - ethnicity and religion.

What you do is that you start a rumour amongst the Yoruba that Obasanjo regards them as sheep who will blindly follow him in whatever he tells them to do, so he doesn't need to worry about them disturbing his plans for a future government. Then you spread a rumour amongst the Igbo that Obasanjo has said that while he lives, they shall never taste power because they have not finished paying for their sins of the civil war. Then you spread yet another rumour amongst the Hausa that Obasanjo said that they are deluded if they think they will ever hold power, because he plans to manoeuvre Yar'Adua out of power after only a few months so that a southerner can take over. Oh, and put it about in the Niger Delta that Obasanjo is planning to invite the Americans to launch a full scale invasion and level the entire Delta so that Nigeria can enjoy its God-given natural resource.

Then for a finishing touch, spread the story that Obasanjo plans to abolish Sharia completely amongst Muslims, and the story that he plans to allow even states like Lagos to adopt Sharia amongst Christians, and you will finally have set the stage for a full-scale civilian invasion of Aso Rock which will result in the utter obliteration of Obasanjo from the face of the earth.

Nat (aghast): I can't believe that you're even seriously considering that. Have you stopped to think about the possible cross-conflicts that your irresponsible rumour-mongering would cause? How it would cause Christians and Muslims to be at each others throats, for example?

Max: Well, at least it would get rid of Obasanjo, which is what you guys want.

Nat: Not at that price - that's like firebombing your house to get rid of cockroaches.

Max: Of course, there's always the possibility that we get through all this in one pie
ce, and some of the economic reforms that have been pushed by Obasanjo begin to take root. Then these will create more jobs and more wealth so that people feel more empowered to stand up and protest when democracy is under threat, so that thugs no longer feel obliged to go down the route of thuggery to make a living.

Zack (gloomily): I'm not as sanguine as you about this. I see more hardship for the common man if this kind of rigging continues.

Max: Cheer up! For all you know, what you experienced last weekend might not even be rigging. Perhaps they were those men who go round collecting waste paper for recycling and they were just a bit desperate to meet their targets?


  • Super summary of the Nigerian elections. Now if only we'd grow...

    By Blogger azuka, At April 21, 2007 4:49 am  

  • I like you! That's very interesting!

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At April 21, 2007 1:54 pm  

  • I love this post!

    LOL @ Max's last comment.

    I pray we soon get to the point when People would think twice/thrice before running for office, or not even running at all because they know they will be made accountable for the time they spent in office.

    By Blogger Nilla, At April 21, 2007 2:08 pm  

  • lol. You're something else. I enjoyed it so much that i printed it out for a reread.

    By Blogger BBA, At April 21, 2007 6:22 pm  

  • Really good post, this. Ever thought of visualising it in comic sketches?

    By Anonymous akin aworan, At April 22, 2007 12:39 am  

  • All,

    Thanks for your comments - I'm glad you enjoyed reading this as much as I enjoyed writing it. It was partially based by a conversation I had with a friend in Lagos about how the elections went there, so as you can imagine it's quite a believable depiction of events.

    Azuka, Nilla,

    With these last elections, I'm now actually quite pessimistic about Nigeria's evolution into a truly democratic nation. I foresee us going down the Russia route where a powerful oligarchy conducts sham elections on a regular basis to entrech itself in power...

    The only silver lining in this cloud is that some form of economic growth can still occur under this scenario, although it will be nothing like what would happen under a functioning democracy because the courts and the police will be much weaker and won't be able to uphold the rule of law consistently and continuously.


    Someone has also asked if I'd give a thought to turning these posts into a radio drama. I'd love to do all that... the problem is that I simply don't have the time. If I had a collaborator, then that would be another story. Oh well, who knows...?

    By Blogger Atala Wala Wala, At April 23, 2007 11:40 am  

  • @ AWW

    Have a little faith :-)

    By Blogger Nilla, At April 24, 2007 3:33 pm  

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