Almost 400,000 policemen will not vote for who will become their president this weekend. Alongside almost the same number of NYSC personnel who will be in charge of conducting the polls, thousands of soldiers who will mount security nationwide, hundreds of journalists and observers covering the elections and many other Nigerians who were not able to register near their homes or not at all; all of us will be unable to vote in what is becoming a watershed moment in our life as a country.
The National Assembly elections have shown that votes actually count in some places in our country. You need to know the reports coming in and the amount of praise going the way of INEC. However, one thing Attahiru Jega has not done is to find a way to ensure that all the people that will be on election duty on election days are able to exercise their rights to vote. They are Nigerians too and should be able to elect their representatives.
When I covered elections in Ghana in 2008, I became aware why that country's politics is highly participatory. On the Thursday before the general public voted, members of the armed forces and policemen alongside journalists were able to cast their votes so that they could go about their work on the Sunday of election without regret. That is how democracy works. Every voice, every thumb counts. Not so in Nigeria where since I can remember, policemen and other security details have never been counted among the privileged class who can elect leaders too.
No wonder the police can be used indiscriminately to create chaos during elections because whatever one has no stake in becomes fair game. That is what we've witnessed in time past. And it's all the more painful this year because things are really looking up and every Nigerian ought to be a part of electing who becomes our leader on May 29.
My sister called me up early this morning from Jos and talked politics, something we hardly ever talk about at home. A couple of days earlier her husband had called too. It was political gist. They're all happy that their votes counted last weekend and have vowed to make President Goodluck Jonathan continue in office for making it possible. I said fine. I know in the Plateau many will be voting for the PDP. And it's unfortunately along religious lines.
Years of fighting against Hausa Muslims make a Christian candidate the logical choice for folks there. But many of us in the liberal South West will not be looking at religion as a yardstick. In Lagos, we have a Muslim governor who has worked efficiently to transform the state from a deadbeat into a vibrant city for the future. As a people we should realize that no religion has a monopoly of wisdom. Mahatma Gandhi once said that all religions are true and the prayer of everyone should be that one becomes a better Hindu, Muslim or Christian.
I think what should determine who we vote for this weekend is the hydra headed issue of corruption. After 12 years in democratic rule and the billions spent on power generation by the PDP administrations, the only thing we have seen is the widening waistline of our leaders without commensurate growth in our power generation. Corruption has eaten up all that money spent and nobody has been able to account for it. Even in the Niger Delta, corrupt officials who have siphoned money meant for former militants and have threatened the amnesty programme.
Last weekend's election showed that many have lost faith in the party at the centre. We had reports of the ruling party even rigging the ballot in the president’s home state against the opposition Labour Party that had made inroads there. On the other hand, people want to replicate the gains made in Lagos, Ondo and Edo in their own states. And this was done not along religious lines but with prudence.
Praise Fowowe, a young conservative Christian who teaches and writes a column on sexual purity exemplifies that direction. Alongside many other vibrant young Christians, Fowowe has pitched his tent behind the CPC’s Muhammadu Buhari. Fowowe told me at one of their volunteers’ meetings last month of how when he was growing up, the chaste nature of the Buhari regime brought back sanity to our country. He said that he would like to see him and Tunde Bakare bring that back.
My friend Chioma Ogwuegbu is a Nuhu Ribadu supporter. She feels his youth and the fervent manner in which he fought corruption at the EFCC will bring hope to our nation. “Ribadu most represents the qualities that I want to see in my president,” she says.
Another friend Seun Akioye represents the voice of the status quo. He wants Jonathan to continue in office and has kept posting messages of support on his Facebook wall even tagging me in a Goodluck Nigeria photo recently.
On Friday night, a certain young man Abraham sat beside me in the bus. He had just emerged from a singles fellowship meeting that I also attended. He began preaching to me. He told me why I should vote for Buhari and no one else. He was an ardent volunteer and he reminded me of how we used to preach the Gospel as young converts. The only problem I had with his message is that I'll not be voting for who becomes my next president in May because I'll be working that day. But if I could, you know I'll vote for a change. Like you, I want an end to waste and unaccountable spending. I want a breath of fresh air. I want a better future for my unborn children. And you should know that religion will not be the basis of my choice but the ability to end the years of the locusts and set the country back on the straight road. And like me, almost a million Nigerians who could and should vote will not be voting because they will be on election duty. You owe us the right to go out and vote. For change or the status quo.