GUEST COLUMNIST BY CHRIS OKOTIE GUEST COLUMNIST
This democracy was purchased at a very high price, essentially because aside the blood of several innocent Nigerians that were shed, we sacrificed a popular mandate: the June 12, 1993 Presidential election, still adjudged the freest and the best ever. That historic mandate was scuttled and the man who secured it, Bashorun M. K. O. Abiola, was killed. We must always remember that.
It is now about 16 years since the current democratic journey started but we are so far from the destination. Our hard-earned democracy is still a very slow work-in-progress. Notwithstanding, even before we cast our vote this weekend, God-willing, we have already won something significant: Our politicians now know that our mandate can no longer be taken for granted. Those seeking elective offices are being asked questions about their record of public service; about their integrity; about their competence or lack thereof and about some of the views they held in the past. It is a whole new ball game; a far cry from some previous elections when the outcomes were generally well known even before the first ballot was cast. Not anymore!
Therefore, as we head for the polls come Saturday, nobody can predict with any degree of certainty who our next president will be, and for me, that is the beauty of this election. Some pessimists have called it a make or break; I call it a breakthrough because, at last, politicians have suddenly realised that the power to make or break them down, now truly resides with the electorate.
Fellow Nigerians, what is left for you is to go out there and vote. If you believe in transformation, take your PVC and vote; if it is change you believe in, it doesn’t matter one bit; just go and vote. There can be no Transformation without Change anyway. But neither will it ever happen if we refuse to vote, or if the turnout is so low that the scale of apathy casts a shadow on the credibility of the outcome. That would be too bad as it would call to question our faith in this democracy.
Just three weeks ago, America marked the 50th anniversary of the historic first protest march organized by Black civil rights leaders to press for voting rights for African-Americans. Thank God, that great struggle led to the election of the first African-American (Black) President of the United States, in Mr. Barack Obama.
It was a fitting tribute to this noble cause that Obama, the 44th President stood there to give a commemorative speech in the little town of Selma, Alabama, near the bridge crossed by Dr. Martin Luther King Jnr. and other compatriots, as they headed for the protest march in the course of which some of them were felled by police bullets. It was okay if “Black Sunday” produced the first Black President, and forced the constitutional amendment that gave blacks the right to vote. At least, it ensured that African-Americans are now part of the American Dream! If our democracy succeeds, it means MKO and all the heroes and heroines of June 12, like those of Black Sunday, did not die for nothing. If we fail, God forbid, it will mean that the death of our heroes past has been in vain. We must not allow that to happen.
The message of the day is clear: Our politicians are only overheating the polity purely out of the fear of defeat. Yet, in every contest, there must be winners and losers. My charge therefore to all Nigerians, young and old, is to eschew violence, go out and vote, defend your vote; and to you politicians, you must grant your opponents the right to differ. For elections to be free and fair, we need not spill the blood of innocent citizens. The June 12, 1993 presidential poll did not consume the lives of Nigerians, yet it remains the benchmark for credible elections in our country.
With about 48 hours to the presidential poll, what particularly bothers me is the propensity of our politicians to set the country on the edge each time we have elections. I have written in previous essays that this is not acceptable, especially when nations like Ghana, Botswana, Rwanda, the population of which compare with that of some states in Nigeria, have conducted credible elections without major incidents.
The dire consequences of our inability to organize credible elections on the economic prospects of our country are painful enough to dissuade war-mongering politicians from blowing the opportunity that a peaceful transition offers. As the largest economy in Africa, based on the recent rebasing exercise, we cannot enjoy the benefits of our upgrade in the continent’s governance hierarchy, if the 2015 general elections fall below expectations. Foreign Direct Investment won’t flow in as expected; the economy may shrink, rather than expand and the nation’s GDP, projected at 5.8 percent this year, could remain a mirage.
Our GDP per head of $3,280 at Purchasing Power Parity is $6,350; but if we are able to diversify and create new drivers for the economy, rather than oil, these figures could improve. Much more than just figures, we must see impact-driven growth and the evidence of our rising economic profile on our citizens. What we demand from our politicians is how to revamp the economy to achieve a strong, private sector-led growth; not how they would tear the nation apart if the elections don’t go their way.
Certainly, that’s not the reason Nigerians will be trooping to the pooling booths to cast their vote this weekend. Millions are going to vote because they want their lives Changed or Transformed, not because they expect to die in the exercise. Therefore, in victory, our politicians must be magnanimous and in defeat, they should be gracious. Elections are not an end in themselves; they are a means to some meaningful end: a functional, all inclusive and truly representative democracy.
We demand no less from every single Nigerian involved in this process. From the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) officials to the security agencies to the political parties and the presidential candidates themselves, the interest of our country should be paramount. They must imbibe the spirit that every election comes with the redemption that there is almost always a tomorrow. So, no one should hit his head against the wall, or cause the nation to boil over because of a loss at an election. That is not the name of the game.
16 years of uninterrupted democracy is a record here in Nigeria, and we can proudly say we are making progress, regardless of what others think. We will therefore be doing ourselves a great disservice if we keep allowing external forces to determine the parameters of our success as a sovereign nation. We must set our own goals and try to achieve them at our own pace and in our own way.
Nigeria is not about to disintegrate as being speculated by those who misinterpret the global forecast of a document by the United States National Intelligence Council, which only presented its conclusions on our country like it did on other nations, based on certain probabilities. It is left for our politicians and policy formulators to heed the warnings contained in that document titled: “Mapping Sub-Saharan Africa’s Future”, so it does not become a self-fulfilling prophecy. That said, we must never be slaves to foreign thoughts or the opinions of International Policy Institutes.
My take is that, no matter who wins on Saturday, Nigeria will survive and ultimately thrive. But we must be wise in making our choice. We are generally a good people and there is an end time plan by God to preserve this country, in order for us to fulfill His purpose.
It is not for nothing that we are the most populous black nation on earth. And that point was most eloquently underscored by President Obama’s special message to Nigerians during the week. Despite sub-par economic performance over the years, the resilience of this nation is amazing. Our recovery rate from national crises is second to none. While the world panicked over Ebola, we overcame it as if it were a common cold, even with dilapidated health infrastructure. With world class facilities, imagine what we could accomplish.
However, for us to develop and achieve our full potential, we need an effective mechanism to change our leaders by constitutional means. No other means will be acceptable. Every Nigerian must therefore hear this loud and clear: go out and vote; and equally important, respect the outcome. Let the politicians receive this with equanimity and philosophical discernment.
Finally, to President Jonathan and General Buhari, you have done the best you possibly can and now I leave you with the immortal words of former American President Theodore Roosevelt which was quoted by another US President, Mr. Richard Nixon, both in his victory speech on November 6, 1968, as well as in his resignation address to the American people, following the Watergate scandal, on August 8, 1974. “Sometimes I have succeeded and sometimes I have failed,” Nixon said, “but always I have taken heart from what Theodore Roosevelt once said about the man in the arena…”
According to Roosevelt, “it is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
Regardless of who wins on Saturday, it shall be well with Nigeria.
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