Grab a cup of coffee and get comfortable because this is going to be quite the ride.
In 2016, I immigrated to the United States and that proved to be quite the bittersweet year. I harbored sentiments for Nigeria because I was bred and reared in its eternal summers and rugged mosquitoes. In this article, I aim to give you six key takeaways from the Nigerian election and a heavy dose of my opinion as a removed Nigerian. Although it may seem distant and not part of your life, it matters that you know about this because if Nigerian politics improve, the entire world would be just that much better.
Nigeria’s role in Africa cannot be overstated. Imagine inflating an air mattress with your mouth. How long would that take? Imagine the amount of time you would waste and how visible your six pack abs would be. In this case, Africa is the air mattress and Nigeria is the inflator that is either slacking off or not being smart about her use of time and resources. Here is some background information.
Nigeria gained its independence from Great Britain on October 1, 1960. Do the math. It grafted from the available political structures such as the American House of Representatives and the British House of parliaments. It practices a federal system of government. In other words, power is shared between the federal government, state government and local government. Since Nigeria’s birth, she has experienced 29 years of military dictatorship which came about through violent coups and a couple of democratic elections. She practices a multi-party system with two major political parties, PDP (People's Democratic party) and APC (All progressive congress). The current president is Muhammadu Buhari of APC who was once one of the military leaders and is in his second term. This brings me to my first takeaway. Take a sip of coffee.
1. No Ideological Differences
There is no ideological difference between parties. As seen in the United States, the Republican party advocates for a small government and preservation of societal values. The Democratic party advocates for change and care for the needy. In line with this, they make campaign promises. APC’s Buhari calls for privatization to spur the economy and PDP’s Atiku Abubakar calls for the same thing to a larger degree. They vow to remodel schools, increase the number of youth involvement in the economy and so on. Ask an average American the difference between the Democrats and Republicans and you most likely would get an answer which is usually correct or has the semblance of a correct one. Ask an average Nigerian the same question and you might get a thumb so far up your posterior that excretion is but a dream. People cannot choose if they are not presented with an option. Thus, they choose people instead of ideas. In my view, the latter is more consistent than the former and it presents a standard to which the performance of the incumbent government might be judged.
While the thumb is cozily lodged in your posterior, several thoughts might come to mind. One of which is why such a seemingly innocuous question caused such a response. This brings me to my second point.
2. High Unemployment Rate
Unemployed young men are dangerous. The median age in Nigeria is 18 with the unemployment rate at 23.1%. A 2017 chart by Statista shows that the unemployment rate for the youth was 13.41%. This has significant implications for the violent young men and women and the patriotic citizens that go out every four years, performing their civic responsibility. The tragic loss of life, the intimidation tactics, ballot snatching, tire burning and cold-sweat inducing extracurriculars carried out by these individuals can only be condoned for a while. Politicians, on the other hand, exploit this vulnerability for political gain. They use young men and women to influence votes in a certain way or get rid of political opponents. Take another sip. I’ll wait.
3. Greed Among Leaders
Now my rant on Nigerian leaders. Greed is the greatest evil in Nigerian politics. Per annum, the Nigerian president earns N3,514,704.96 (one U.S. dollar equals about 360.99 Nigerian Naira) from salary alone which is palatable, to begin with. The sheer amount of unencumbered influence and perks they possess and the oh-so-glorious acts of nepotism make Nigerian politics tasteless. The founders of the United States aimed to make the presidential seat unpalatable to the greedy man— to attract the morally upright. Nigerian founders are the opposite. They claim to do good for the people while having corruption in their ranks. Thus, I advocate for a strong private sector and the decentralization of power. Ranting on this is as therapeutic as hugging a punching bag. I apologize. Now, back to the regularly scheduled program.
One key element that every Nigerian has is a strong sense familial bond.
Despite the salad that is the culture in Nigeria, Nigerians never abandon their own. The North is a prime example of this. Since the current president of Nigeria is a northerner, he naturally garnered extraordinary support from the north. From his previous term to now, violence in the region has plagued his administration. From Fulani herdsmen to Boko Haram, the north and Nigeria has not known peace since he came to power, or even before. It is very admirable that some sort of communal bond remains after most of the northern part of the nation has been smacked upside the head by terrorists.
5. Underage voting
If there is one thing I have learned in the past three years, it is that Nigeria’s democracy is comical. It is almost as amusing as adding onions to pancakes. Want to know why? Well, sip on that coffee. Pardon these numbers, the independent national electoral commission recognized 73 million possible voters, the most ever recorded. This was slated to be the most massive voter turnout rate in her 20-year democracy. However, only a third of the voting population showed up for the elections. Also, like honeydew in a fruit salad, underage voting was also recorded. Now, do bear in mind that this should not be blamed totally on the people. Would you risk your life just to return to the status quo? Ballot snatching, burning of the voting ward and continued stagnancy? Now here comes the heavy hitting question. Is it worth it to place your life on the line for what is known to be a failure? Or is your life worth the tiny chance that a change might occur?
6. Political Apathy
My final takeaway is, democracy dies in darkness. On the day of the election, I texted an acquaintance of mine to gauge her voting preferences. The conversation went as follows:
Me: Are you gonna vote today?
Acquaintance: I’m underage
Me: Snap! Who looks good to you tho?
Acquaintance: I don’t get it
Me: Get what? The question?
Me: Oh, if you were to vote, who would you vote for?
Acquaintance: Fela Durotoye
Me: Why him?
Acquaintance: He’s a young people's person
Me: Have you read his 10 point plan?
Acquaintance: No, no. I didn’t even watch their debate. But from what I have heard from people… I think I would have voted for him.
I cannot say I was shocked. This is not uncommon in Nigeria. George Santannaya said “Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it,” I say, how can you even learn if you don’t read or seek out information? If the people of Nigeria do not read, think and assess their thoughts, I do not see a change happening in Nigeria anytime soon.
Overall, my key takeaways are that there is no ideological difference between political parties, thus people cannot choose. This lack of ideological difference goes unchecked because the Nigerian electorate is unbothered by actually taking the time to read up on their prospective leaders. A young population with high unemployment breeds violence with an underlying sense of loyalty. The elvish throbbing sores that are Nigerian politicians and underage voting which seems to pop up every time elections are held in Nigeria.