Mfonobong Inyang: The Small Matter of Gubernatorial & State Assembly Elections
The 25th of February 2023 will forever be remembered as the darkest day since the dawn of democracy in 1999. A date when a dagger was driven through the heart of our sacred franchise and the soul of our sovereignty as a people. When Nigerians were promised free, fair and credible elections, I expressed cautious optimism. The road to hell is paved with good intentions; you don’t leave a legacy solely on good intentions but on actual outcomes. Elections are not so much about outcomes as they are about processes. A credible process helps the losers to find closure and bestows legitimacy on the winners.
Without an important intangible asset such as legitimacy, it would be nearly impossible to foster national cohesion, fight insecurity, attract foreign direct investments or even get citizens to pay taxes because people typically put their treasures where their heart is. At best, such governance will run by coercion instead of consensus. There are no words; it’s hard to shake the colossal embarrassment and disappointment in the electoral umpire. What I really think of the last elections are unprintable, grotesque and too uncouth for public consumption. What I can assure you is that there will be an interesting plot twist at the end of all this madness, we will just have to wait it out. Whilst legal redress is being sought, let’s attend to the small matter of guber and state assembly races.
You don’t just need an Alpha-lock on the presidency, we need more than ever, Bravo-locks and Charlie-locks on the states and local governments respectively. As we nurture the hopes of a time when we will get the political leadership that has the will to drive the process for a proper restructuring of our dear federation, Nigeria still has a constituted structure. This means that the federal government holds sway over items that are on the Exclusive List but states and local governments determine a lot of outcomes on the Concurrent and Residual Lists. For example, items such as defence, currency, borders & immigration and others are on the Exclusive List. Items such as taxes, education, housing, transportation and others are on the Concurrent List whilst every other thing not explicitly stated in these two lists finds its way into the Residual List. This helps to put things in proper perspective because whilst the government at the centre will largely manage macroeconomics, your state governors and the state representatives largely influence microeconomic outcomes.
How I wish urban voters realise that not only are they a key demography to having good governance at the state level but are also those who suffer the most collateral damage in the event of bad governance. A simple post-mortem of the last elections shows that urban voters showed up and showed out. This is because voter apathy is mostly driven by this demography, leaving the elections to be decided by traditional voters who typically vote along ethnic, partisan and religious lines. This allows governors who are grossly incompetent to find their way into office and don’t prioritise development because they are more beholden to partisan interests than the electorates. I’m loyal to good governance, not political parties, so it would be disingenuous of me to tell anyone to vote for guber aspirants just because they are in a certain party. The truth is that the best candidates available are not all in one political party. In your own state, you have to collectively look out for your strategic interests. My only caveat would be never to reinforce failure if the incumbent is a disaster. Don’t negotiate with dysfunction or mediocrity.
In my estimation, many places that are touted as megacities in this country are nothing but overpriced slums with a sprinkle of aesthetics and propaganda. As a communications strategist, in the course of my work, I have found that the word ‘luxury’ ranks high alongside other words like ‘love’ as some of the most abused words. Wealth is beyond money; it’s a total package. Imagine living in a mansion with no security or peace of mind, owning expensive cars but the roads to your house are not fixed, having a plum job but spending a minimum of six hours in traffic gridlock daily, you stay in a posh condo but it lacks potable water supply, you are outchea working your socks off but some non-state actors have become unofficial shareholders in your business through unholy extortion. Yet they offer you tokenism every four years in the name of development. Don’t you know that the joke is on you if you continue to fall for such?
The truth has to be said. For a poor country, we’re unnecessarily classist. Luxury isn’t defined by the ability to afford something everyone else cannot neither is it pretending all is well so that people on Elon Musk’s Twitter don’t broke-shame you. Around here, everybody is rich on Instagram, complaining makes you look like you’re not making bank. Splurging in the midst of poor people sometimes isn’t the flex we think it is. These huge unemployment numbers aren’t just cold data but effectively constitute a viable security threat. The opposite of love is not hate – it’s indifference. My point is, at the state level, we need elite consensus to speak out against bad governance wherever we find such using our platforms instead of acting as though everything is nice and dandy. Most of us have been conditioned to be polite about our pain. Fela sang Shuffering and Shmiling many years ago but folks thought he was just blowing trees.
As much as we readily point fingers at the centre, most of the political leaders at the sub-national level need to carry the can. How can you claim you cannot discharge your duties as a chief security officer of a state yet you collect and spend billions of naira as security votes? A lot of state governments recently voted against local government autonomy because they want to operate unchecked as emperors. We need to vote in governors who will convene emergency meetings when ASUU strikes, when there is flooding and when ethnic and religious minorities are persecuted in their states – not those who only pretend to care about the people when their personal and political interests are threatened. We need to vote for competent governors that brag about how much they have raised HDI not just IGR. We need leaders who will seek medical attention at hospitals in cities they claim they built and can send their own children to the public schools in their state.
Just like the OG Tywin Lannister declared, “some battles are won with swords and spears, others with quills and ravens.” A lot of quid and spin doctors are going to be unleashed for the guber polls. I am familiar with their game. Some people who tweeted “we will never forget” that year will suddenly develop political amnesia and start capping on the timeline, and those who were on these streets oozing “you messed with the wrong generation” will suddenly purchase VIP seats on the famous fence and those who were cheering on DJ Switch will strangely switch their allegiance to the same oppressors they once called out. Credit alert na your mate? A politician destroys your business via economic terrorism but because he goes around taking pictures weeks before an election, you suddenly think he is a youth-friendly governor? Shey you dey whine me ni? They dropped young people like you and further danced on their graves by denying their humanity but access to corridors of power is what makes you feel special? I no dey move that way. How can you vote for people that hoarded pandemic indommieen? Some politicians cannot simply shalaye their way out of what we saw with our eyes. Your story touch me but I no go vote for you. First, it was the protests, then it turned into PVCs – this is how we win!
The last polls show that the reason some monkeys are able to jump from tree to tree isn’t that they have long arms, it’s because they only operate in forests where trees are close to one another. They will be demystified when taken to forests where trees are scantily planted. Lies have short legs, they do not run far. Just like we braved the odds at the presidential elections, there are key guber races that we must flip to domesticate the benefits of great leadership. Cowardice asks: is it safe? Politics asks: is it popular? Courage asks: is it right? Do we continue to participate in the politics of cynicism or do we engineer the politics of hope? About bad governance, are we really victims or accomplices? Gubernatorial elections have more direct consequences on your lives and livelihoods.