OUTSIDE THE BOX BY ALEX OTTI alex.otti@thisdaylive.com

“The worst illiterate is the political illiterate. He hears nothing, sees nothing, and takes no part in political life. He doesn’t seem to know that the cost of living, the price of beans, of flour, of rent, of medicines, all depend on political decisions. He even prides himself on his political ignorance, sticks out his chest and says he hates politics. The imbecile doesn’t know that from his political non-participation, comes the prostitute, the abandoned child, the robber and, worst of all, corrupt officials, the lackeys of exploitative multinational corporations”.

Eugen Bertolt Fredrich Brecht (1898-1956)
There can’t be a better way to conclude our three part treatise on the apathy of competent people towards politics, than the above words of Eugen Brecht. Brecht may appear harsh, but he said the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. There are tons of excuses that many people give for their refusal to participate in politics. This is not new given that it is natural that failure be matched with excuses. But excuses do not correct missteps, actions do. And act, we must if we are interested in saving this country from groping in the dark.
As we act, we must not be deterred by real or imaginary negative consequences. It was Ray Anderson who said that the powers that hold people in bondage do not relinquish control very easily. We must convince ourselves that what we are doing is the right thing and that the powers that we see today, are man-made and with consistency and commitment, we are bound to see them no more, when we have battled them to submission. We must also agree that we collectively own the country and refuse to accept a situation where a few people lord it over the rest of us more so, when there is nothing to indicate that those people have much more to offer.

Some people would agonise that the way politics of the country is organised, it is foolhardy to take the risk. The organisation is such that in the legislature, if you are not a ranking member, you can hardly become a principal officer. The question no one has been able to answer is: where they got ranking members in 1999 at the inception of this republic; who made up the first set of principal officers they had at that time? This action aptly describes the saying about climbing up with a ladder and removing and destroying the ladder to ensure no one else is able to climb. As a result of the ranking policy, some legislators who have added little or no value insist on presenting themselves at every election so as not to lose their ranks. Unfortunately, the elites have failed in their responsibility to take on these legislators and educate the electorate with a view to retiring them as those ranks are useless to the people they are ostensibly representing.

As if that is not enough, we are now faced with a situation where the state of the economy has left states and the Federal governments prostrate. But the same entities have been saddled with so much recurrent bills to pay that sooner or later, they won’t be able to function. What we see is that our leaders still behave as if they were in the era of $100 dollar crude prices. Not a lot of them are worried that there should be a relationship between income and expenditure. As a matter of fact, some of them do not even have the intellectual depth to understand that you can’t give what you don’t have.

We still have to pay humongous pecks which our leaders approved for themselves in the era of oil boom. Our leaders still maintain fleets of aircrafts and vehicles, a retinue of aides and grandiose lifestyle while seeking bailout funds and loans. Meanwhile, civil servants and other workers are owed several months of salary areas. If more competent people show interest in how we are governed, many of our leaders would have been required to answer questions on how our common patrimony is managed and would be forced to sit up. The reason they carry on with reckless abandon is that the people who have the capacity to raise issues, ask questions or even seek to replace them at elections don’t seem to be interested.

Still talking about the economic recession facing us and the fact that we have become a poor nation as espoused by President Buhari last week, I believe this is one opportunity for more competent people to get into the ring. Because of the fall in oil prices, states now go home from Abuja with less than half of the allocations they were getting prior to this time. Unfortunately, most of our leaders don’t get it. They seem not to understand that while it may look attractive, going cap in hand to Abuja for federal allocation is not sustainable. Most of the states can run their affairs without relying on the centre if their leaders knew what to do.

When you look at their policies, some of them take anti-business positions. They refuse to invest in their states, ignore failing infrastructure, pay lip service to security and sanitation issues, and are not interested in both the educational and healthcare delivery systems. When they do, it is approached as a favour to the people rather than as a way to improve the environment to attract investment. I have no doubt that some leaders may be forced to abdicate their thrones as people increasingly get restive about the situation. We can see the signs today, but it is still early days.

Some people will argue that they do not have the required funds to participate in an election as it is known to be very expensive. I must admit that elections are not cheap in this part of the globe. My response, however, is that we must start from somewhere. Since Rome was not built in a day, we don’t expect that everyone would become politically active at the same time. Even if that happened, all of them cannot participate at the same level. May be the best place to start from is those who can afford it. Truth be told, there are a lot of people who are in a position to foot the required bill but shy away. One of the reasons they shy away is self- interest. They don’t want to risk their businesses and professions to go into politics. That is understandable. But they should reflect on Brecht’s exhortations above.

What if the politician takes a decision that could negatively affect or even obliterate your business or profession? What is the cost of having an incompetent person make decisions and pass laws on matters that they sometimes hardly know anything about? Do they spare a thought about the future of their families in the hands of misfits? The point one is raising is that we should start with those who are in a position to support their ambitions and extend to other competent hands, who, even if they are not able to fund elections, should benefit from pooled resources from those that they know to sponsor and support them to power. This is the same thing that the so called “chartered politicians” do to perpetuate themselves in power. All these are possibilities either within the context of existing political party structure or under an entirely new party platform.

The next point and probably the most important one is the issue of the electorate that cast the votes that the politicians ride on to get to power. Because we are not interested, those who are interested offer themselves and it is only those that offer themselves that can be voted for. You will be surprised that a lot of the elites do not even vote in elections.

Some of them see election days as public holidays, so they just watch television sets and sleep the whole day or visit friends within the neighborhood, since movement is usually restricted. Some do not even have voters’ cards as they are not registered voters. Some are so insulated from their environment that they have no clue who the candidates are and don’t care to know. So, if this is your lot, how do you think you can make a difference in the affairs that concern you the most? The issue of voter apathy is demonstrated by data from the recent elections conducted in Nigeria. In the 2015 general election, out of the 91.7million voting age population, only 67.4million people offered themselves to be registered. Of this number, the average voter turnout was just over 43% even though this is a huge improvement from the 29% voter turnout recorded in 2011. It is instructive here to note that for the 2015 figures, the only exception is a local government known as Obingwa in Abia State that returned about 95% voter turnout just for the Governorship election.

This is basically because in this local government, even the dead woke up to vote for the party in power on election day. That is a story for another day. If we compare voter turnout in Nigeria with those of the US at over 70% and UK at over 65%, you will agree that we have a lot of work to do. I believe that if we managed to push the numbers up, the outcomes of those elections may just have been different. I do not wish away the fact that sometimes depending on what is sold to the electorate, they may vote first and seek to understand why they voted later. An example is the recent referendum on Britain’s exit from the European Union. There are reports that after some people voted to exit, they came back to search for the meaning of EU in Google.

What those who know need to do is to take up the responsibility of educating the rest and raising their political consciousness. The electorate needs to understand the power of their votes. They need to be made to understand that those that share rice and bread during elections do not mean well for them. They need to be made to understand that what is being shared belongs to them. They need to know that even after collecting back their money, they can still vote against those sharing the loot.

They need to be taught that those who rig election and write fake results are enemies. They need to know that it is their right to defend their votes and ensure that their votes count. They need to know that until they do things like these, their conditions will not improve. All these do not require too much, other than political education. It is political education that has made government by brute force unattractive. It is the same education that made the citizens of Turkey poured out on the streets a few weeks ago to resist a coup that had almost succeeded.

It is important to note that just like Emperor Haile Selassie said “throughout history, it has been the inaction of those who could have acted; the indifference of those who should have known better; the silence of the voice of Justice when it mattered most; that has made it possible for evil to triumph”. Finally, Franz Fanon nailed it simply with the following words “every on looker is either a coward or a traitor”. It is for you to choose where you belong.

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