As Socrates, the Greek philosopher rightly identified, knowledge runs well with virtue. If knowledge can be taught and learned so can virtue. He believed that “the unexamined life is not worth living.” And so did my people. In fact, one of the enduring lessons on values one learnt from the elders while growing up at the serene, idyllic, agrarian rural setting of Oboroke in Ihima District, then as part of Kabba Province in the sixties was the clear distinction between Right and Wrong. Moral standards were high. Telling it as it is, with the noble aim to identifying societal problems and seeking solutions to them was the rule rather than the exception.
To them, treading the path of honour; seeking and doing the common good was part of one’s upbringing; right from the home front, through the farm settlements and up to the school level. Expectedly, culprits of all manner of violations against the creed set for a harmonious communal living, to strengthen sanity in the society were singled out for public opprobrium, correction and punishment. This served as a form of deterrence to all and sundry. But that was then. And this is now.
Indeed, one is worried stiff as the 2019 general elections inch closer by the day that the views of the so called electorate, including their valued votes may not count at the end of the day unless the apparent wrongs and righted right now. Time is of essence. One fearsome factor is the apparent desperation for victory at the polls. That is, at all costs- even if more by crook than by hook by not a few candidates to the exalted positions of political offices.
Honestly, one’s fears trigger the pertinent questions. Will the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) discharge its functions without fear or favour to any of the candidates or their political parties? What about the security forces, including the police? Will they stay neutral and not use their vaulted positions to coerce, cajole or align with or against any of the parties, as well as their flag-bearers?
Here we are, with a Nigeria in the New Millennium where a highly dysfunctional polity, with the apparatchiks of office obviously skewed in favour of the ruling fiefdom has foisted on us the political elite that are self-seeking, overtly avaricious, violent and vindictive. They use the enormous instruments of power at their disposal against real and perceived political foes to show us all that here indeed, might is right! Similarly, one cannot but be concerned about the sudden rise in the insidious incident of politically-motivated assassinations over the past few months.
By instilling fear or by fiat, public institutions that ought to serve as a moral compass, to right the wrongs committed have been turned into tools of treachery and weapons of political witch hunt. This breeds the people’s inner rage against what is wrong but you speak the truth at your own peril. Yet, we call and gloat over it as a worthwhile democracy.
Here, our leaders, sorry, rulers never do any wrong! Between the purveyors of puerile propaganda and the lords of listless lies are the self-appointed praise singers, well positioned to lampoon those who dare to speak the truth to power. And when yours truly, along with like minds humbly suggest that we have to dismantle this aberrant bloated structure, through a holistic review of the military-induced 1999 constitution, those who hold the levers of political power like puppet masterminds tell us there is absolutely nothing wrong with it!
When again, one makes a clarion call for the drastic reduction of the huge costs of accessing political power, through nomination forms sold at roof-shattering millions of questionable sources, they tell you that politics is a big-money venture everywhere in the world. Everywhere, you cannot but ask? Yet, they would hardly listen to you when you mention Malaysia, Mexico, Cambodia, Vietnam or the Netherlands.
Then, you try to touch tellingly on the crying need to reduce the hugely attractive pay packages of public office holders. That if this is done, one believes it would attract only those patriotic and passionate politicians genuinely desirous about selfless service to our dear fatherland. You cry out that our lawmakers rank amongst the highest paid politicians across the globe. That they have been variously described as ‘fat-cat, cold-hearted politicians’.
But they tell you that you know next to nothing. That politics is supposed to a money-spinner in several countries. Yet, they keep mute when you explain to them that the President of India, Pranab Mukherjee, takes home $28,800 per annum. Ditto for the President of the People’s Republic of China, Xi Jinping at $ 22,000 per annum and the Tunisian President, Zine El Abidine Ali who still smiles home with a paltry $16,400 every year.
So, where do we as the eligible voters come into all these? It is high time we said a vehement “No!” to being used as cheap pawns in the political chess game that leaves us holding the short end of the political stick. Yes, we have to say nay to politicians who want to use us as paid thugs to intimidate, maim or kill their so called enemies. We have to stand firm against those who want us to use us to stuff or snatch ballot boxes, create chaos, commit arson, burn down offices or houses of fellow Nigerians all in the name of party politics.
And when it comes to subtle financial inducements, overtly or covertly, now is the time to call it quits with vote selling and buying. We should be wary of politicians who are suddenly remembering to pay our rightful emoluments or erecting structures they should have done two or three years back. Let us not bring curses on ourselves and generations to come by capitulating to the whims and caprices of self-serving politicians.
If democracy truly means a ‘government of the people, by the people and for the people’ we should not only go out to cast our votes but wait and ensure that our votes really count. AS Joseph Stalin rightly noted, “it is not those who cast votes that determine our future but those who count them”.