By Casmir Igbokwe
The story you are about to read was first published in the Sunday Punch of April 22, 2007. It was during the time of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo as the President of Nigeria. I was doing my master’s then in Cardiff University, United Kingdom. Twelve years after, nothing has changed. In fact, things have worsened. A few of my critics have accused me of being against the ruling party, the All Progressives Congress. But the truth is that any writer worth his name focuses on the activities of the people in power. If they are doing well, you praise them. If they are not doing well, you point out their mistakes for them to make amends. But the tragedy of our situation is that we keep repeating our mistakes. A few days ago, I looked back at my previous interventions when the Peoples Democratic Party was in power, I discovered that I similarly lashed out at the government then just as I am doing now. It has to be so because those in power are the ones dishing out the policies, not the opposition. And bad governance has become the cross many Nigerians have to carry. As I stated at the end of this article, one day, somebody, somewhere, will emerge to put a stop to all this nonsense. Enjoy reading:
You will find them in most street corners in Cardiff. What distinguishes them is their shout of “big issue, big issue.” For long, I had wondered what this big issue was. But, recently, I got to realise that it is the title of a magazine the government gives some unemployed people to sell and make some money. And so, when a middle aged man clutching what looked like Big Issue approached me the other day in Cardiff, I murmured, “Ah! This Big Issue people again.”
But, the man was not selling Big Issue. He was distributing some leaflets containing big issues of a different hue. And what caught my attention was the picture of an unseen hand cutting a 20 pound note with scissors. The pound, as you know, has the face of Queen Elizabeth. On top of the picture was the phrase, “Cut the waste.” I thought the message must be a call for the abolition of the British monarchy. Or something close to that. I quickly collected the leaflet.
When I looked further down, what I saw was, “Abolish the Welsh Assembly & leave the EU (European Union). Vote UKIP on May 3rd.” Campaigns. Elections. These are some of the big issues in the UK at the moment. They are also big issues in Nigeria. But while we maim and kill each other in our campaigns and elections in Nigeria, while we disenfranchise our own citizens and place unnecessary stumbling blocks to the smooth running of our electoral system, the UK is having smooth issue-based campaigns and even empowering foreigners living in the country to vote.
Here are some examples. UKIP (UK Independence Party) feels that sacking the 60-member Welsh Assembly and selling its imposing building at Cardiff Bay will be saving Welsh taxpayers millions of pounds. The party also stands for scrapping the smoking ban and slashing council tax by 40 per cent. It also intends to regain strict control of immigration.
Central to the campaign issues of the Welsh Liberal Democrats is the fate of the National Health Service. Recently, the party slipped its campaign leaflet embossed with my name and address into my house. Labour (the ruling party in Britain), the leaflet says, “Have made a mess of our NHS. Waiting lists are still a problem, and many services are being cut. Welsh Lib Dems want to let doctors and nurses make decisions within our health service without political meddling.”
Some other parties such as the Welsh Conservatives and the Green Party have their own manifestos.
The Assembly elections will come up on May 3 this year. So far, I have not seen political thugs in any dogfight. Nor have I heard gutter language against political opponents. I am yet to see any group sharing rice, salt or money. You may say nobody has approached me with such offers because I am not a citizen. Far from it. In fact, I have already received my official poll card. The card contains information concerning the election, my registration number, electoral region, constituency, polling day, polling station and polling hours. The card was sent directly to my house. I didn’t queue to register anywhere. How the Returning Officer got my details and those of other Cardiff residents is best known to him.
On the card, the Returning Officer indicated that he had made every effort to ensure that the polling station met the access needs of people with a range of disabilities. He also noted that one could apply for a proxy vote and a postal vote. In the event of a medical emergency, he added, he might grant an emergency proxy vote if a completed application form was received by 5.00pm on the Election Day.
In my own country, I might not have had this opportunity to vote. Many factors would have conspired to disenfranchise me. As witnessed in the last registration exercise, one might queue up for days without being registered. It’s either that the registration materials might not be enough or there might not be any official to do the registration. Some politicians could even hijack materials meant for my ward to their houses. And nothing would have happened to them because they are garrison commanders.
In any case, my people would have probably urged me to either come back or send my family home. This is because they wouldn’t want us to be caught up in an electoral conflagration in a foreign land called Lagos. And I couldn’t have given any excuse because our dear President gave a two-day public holiday for people to travel for the April 14 elections.
Since the big issues and slogans in the run-up to the elections were do-or-die affair, the death and resurrection of candidate Umoru, the qualification and disqualification of Ifeanyi Araraume and Chris Ngige, and the Atiku-must-not-contest manifesto of the ruling party, I would have distanced myself from the charade. The only reason I would have come out on the Election Day would have been to monitor the poll as my job demands. If you call me a coward, then consider what befell some states like Anambra, Rivers and Edo. Hoodlums and party thugs killed scores of people. The army and the police in combat gear were on full alert. In spite of this, aggrieved parties torched some police stations and Independent National Electoral Commission offices. It was war by another name.
At the end of the gubernatorial elections, some are smiling; some are gnashing their teeth. In Anambra State, the powers that be have succeeded in foisting Andy Uba on the people. They disqualified the other big contenders, whisked Chris Uba (Andy’s estranged younger brother) to Abuja and cleared the coast for him to win.
In the next few weeks, he will likely be sworn in as the Executive Governor of Anambra State. The big issue that may follow will be litigation by the other embittered candidates. And that is when Uba’s propaganda machine will be in full swing, telling the people why the man is their best choice. I guess my friend and colleague, Chuks Akunna, is equal to the task. He was the Chief Press Secretary when Ngige, as the governor, was battling with Chris Uba and some powerful Abuja forces. Now, he is the press secretary to Andy Uba. He will likely put his wealth of experience to bear on this new job. I wish him well.
Already, Uba has accepted his election. His Excellency, as his cronies will be addressing him now, has urged aggrieved persons to support him for the sake of the state, her children and generations unborn. Good luck to him. I wish Anambra well. I wish Ondo State well. I wish Edo people well. Nigeria will surely get better. One day, somebody, somewhere, will emerge to put a stop to all this nonsense. That is my sincere hope.
- Published in the Daily Sun of Monday, April 29, 2019