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Change? From Where?

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It is the season for change! Passions boil over in Nigeria particularly regarding the upcoming presidential elections. It is the season for promises; candidates dust off their worn-out manifesto books and recant the same assurances as before – jobs for youth, unending power supply, boost for the agricultural sector, reduced reliance on oil, improved road infrastructure and bla bla. One could almost recite a politician’s words before they are said. In this age of enlightenment, the ‘smarter’ politicians have taken their strategies much further than posters and radio jingles; they have begun to speak the language of the people – distributing loaves of bread, bags of rice, and gallons of kerosene. A country which promises so much always finds a mysterious way to deliver so little.

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Every four years since 1999, Nigerians have been blessed with the privilege of anticipation; there is almost a certain assurance that the coming four years will be more blissful than the past, and with this hope, citizens trudge to polling booths, form (often) orderly queues, banter endlessly with strangers in line, and then perform their civic duty, finally beaming with pride. They do this in the hope that their votes have some value, or in spite of the awareness that they are simply public evidence for the electoral machinations that take place behind closed doors. “It is better to do something than nothing”, they say. If there’s anything Nigerians have in abundance, it is a combination of endurance and hope.

As Nigerians prepare to cast their ballots in less than a week, there appear to be two weird options – a vote for an undesirable past, or an unfortunate present. Nigeria’s present is shameful and distasteful, to say the least. I believe that President Goodluck Jonathan was an accidental president and six years have done very little to help him get to grips with the task, or to step up to it. I am not foolhardy enough to assume that it is a smooth job and that all parameters of governance are within his control, but as a citizen, I am far from impressed with the results of his government. His media voltrons may trumpet his achievements in agriculture as loud as they please, but it is really difficult to bandage a stinky wound. One is forced to believe that the few successes of his administration have occurred in spite of his leadership, rather than because of it. Even if he were a really smart president with the right vision for the country, he perpetually fails to inspire any confidence in the citizenry, and history has often proven that perception is reality. Not many honest Nigerians are proud to mention Goodluck Jonathan as the best man to lead Nigeria through the series of crises that currently cripple the nation; worse still, the entire world can’t get enough jokes out of our president.

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With our unfortunate present being sub-optimal, the alternative doesn’t immediately look desirable. General Muhammadu Buhari has strangely become the messiah of the country at the fourth time of asking for a democratic mandate, 32 years after he scuttled a democratic government through a military coup. Oh yes, he was a relatively young high-ranking soldier who ‘rescued’ the country from the throes of an ineffective civilian, and ruled with a tough disciplined hand. Oh yes, he should not be held solely accountable for what happened 30 years ago; he has changed!

Oh yes, he has the reputation of an incorruptible straightforward man, but is he really messiah? What happened in 2003, 2007 and 2011? Why was Buhari’s candidature the subject of derision even four years ago, when everyone told him to give up on his inordinate ambition and enjoy retirement? How come at the age of 74, he has suddenly emerged as the best thing that ever happened to Nigeria since mobile phones? It is often said by his campaigners that he will bring his military experience to bear in the fight against Boko Haram, but I cringe at the thought that there is not much evidence of the role he has played in the past eight years as an ex-military leader from northern Nigeria to quell this insurgency. If truly he understands their language, what help has he offered to the current administration to fight these brutish animals?

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Inevitably, these elections will be a choice between the devil and the deep blue sea. It is most unfortunate that in elections such as this, citizens do not choose their candidates; they are constrained to choose among the decided candidates. Neither Buhari nor Jonathan readily appeals to my senses, but one must emerge. I believe that several million Nigerians will vote for Buhari, not because they are fully convinced of his credentials, but because they can’t imagine voting for Jonathan. I also believe that several million Nigerians will vote for Jonathan, not because they believe in his capacity to govern with wisdom, but out of sentiments and fear of returning to the past.

And so, in all these, from where cometh the change which we so desperately desire?

Is Ohimai Crazy?

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There are two young Nigerians whom other young Nigerians love to hate – Reno Omokri and Ohimai Godwin Amaize. There are several reasons why they are hated, but among the top reasons are their perceived excessive vocalizations of the Jonathan administration’s agenda, their insistence that young Nigerians should not be satisfied with ‘Twitter activism’ but should challenge government in the arena of ‘alternative ideas’, and Ohimai’s recent declaration that the best solution for our country is for the majority of Nigerians, the youth especially, to get involved with politics. That last one did not go down quite well with the vast horde of anti-Ohimai campaigners, but let’s hold our guns, Reno Omokri isn’t fairing very well at all. In his 2012 end-of-the-year Twitter award ceremony, Japhet Omojuwa awarded @renoomokri the ‘most hated twitter handle’. These days couldn’t be tougher for these two young men.

Politics in Nigeria has never been an endeavour for the chicken-hearted. We are all devotees of Nigerian dailies which have, from time immemorial, reported gruesome tales of assassinations of patriots who believed that it was their God-ordained mission to save the country from the throes of oppression. We have mourned, cursed and mourned again after each murder, but we have moved on, with reasonable fear of the pervasive darkness of Abuja. The fastest way to incur one’s parents’ wrath was to indicate interest in a career in politics. Respectful children have learned not to threaten their parents with such wild interests. The collective dream of most of our parents is to earn enough to help us escape the misfortune of Nigeria and her cursed political system, and see us thrive in huge companies in New York or London. What then are these two vibrant young men doing in the Abuja inner-circles?

The Amaize and Omokri families must have called several family meetings to discuss the obstinacy of their sons, just as the rest of us have concluded as to their motives in Abuja – “they clearly are there to line their wallets, build enough clout to launch political careers of their own, and replace their bosses in the near future”. We have castigated their every statement, justifiably or otherwise. Somehow, it just sounds really unreasonable for a young person in this generation to justify the actions of any Abuja politician, less-talk of work directly with them. What exactly were these two gentlemen (and others like them) thinking? More specifically, what was Ohimai thinking when he wrote that piece for YNaija on January 7 and its follow-up on January 14?

Ohimai recalls the definition of a political illiterate as someone who claims to hate politics, he mentions the fact that political party membership is as interesting to young Nigerians as the hostage crisis in Algeria, he reminds us that we despise politicians because we are saints and they are demons, he acknowledges our preference for cursing the PDP and her apologists, and hints at our love for opposition parties. He, thankfully, recognizes that the PDP hasn’t done well for Nigerians in 13 years, but states that our problem is not the PDP or politics. Ohimai says that the problem is that several of us, young Nigerians have backed too far away from politics and left it in the hands of a highly-corrupt few. He calls us a politically-naïve generation, and feels pressed to give us a knock each on the head. Of course, he is the one who gets knocked on the head, kicked in the stomach and smacked in the face for making such ‘unguarded statements’. YNaija commentators did to him what the ‘Twitter activists’ have been doing to him for almost two years. Very few people felt sympathetic to his statements. I was one of them.

I subscribe to Ohimai’s assertion that not very much will change on Twitter or blog pages. A lot will change, but not very much. Social media sites do a lot for sensitization, but in all honesty a lot of that is misguided. There’s a lot of naivety being paraded on social media, disguised as patriotism; consequently, the (un)informed thoughts of a handful of socio-political critics with a few thousand Twitter followers becomes the gospel truth for their readers who hastily retweet every criticism they level, and then beg for retweets as rewards. If we set aside emotions, we’ll realize that not much of that is going to get a genuine change-maker into Abuja.

Ohimai mentions that “in a democracy, the majority, no matter how stupid will always have their way”.  He also says that “Bundles of ankara penetrate the farthest nooks and crannies of our nation and big bags of rice inspire more hope than well-written blogs “. Unfortunately, he’s right. Whether for good or bad, the majority dominates. The majority of disgruntled young people brought about the 2011 Arab Spring, as did the majority of young, black and female voters in the 2008 US elections. The silence and lack of involvement of the majority of Nigerians could also be responsible for the undesirable present state of our politics. I get amazed when Nigerians identify more as Democrats (very rarely Republicans) than they identify with Nigerian politics. Definitely, no one wants to be associated with a disgusting political institution, but Ohimai was spot-on when he said that “We can chose to be remembered as the generation that lamented about our problems or the one that took drastic decisions towards solving those problems”.

Ohimai is not crazy, he’s just unpopular. But that will not last for long. His message will percolate through the crevices of our minds and we will get involved in Nigerian politics, either through the formation of alternative political parties or the reformation of the existing ones. This generation of young Nigerians will soon lose their satisfaction with only social media advocacy and gravitate towards mainstream politics. We will realize that there is a place for us in there and that our direct involvement is as relevant as our criticisms of the status quo. We will not chide forever. We will get involved. Before or after 2015, we will migrate en masse into the core of Nigerian politics, and whether or not that is part of Ohimai’s motivation, he will be vindicated. It will be remembered that he spoke out when it was unfashionable to do so.

You can follow Faith Abiodun on Twitter @FaithAbiodun