Guest Columnist

Lessons from my voided vote, By Lasisi Olagunju

Lasisi Olagunju

We have just elected a new set of absolute leaders on a canvass of blood. For the next four years, they will make laws in their own interest and enforce them in our names. Because the past is the future, I always know that nothing will change – whatever your vote has said. Elections are the political equivalent of changing diapers. Sometimes you remove and flush them into the cesspit of history. Sometimes it is not necessary to heed Mark Twain’s advice to discard the dirty. Some politicians are cloth diapers – they are washable for re-scenting and reuse. We saw a lot of them reelected. You also saw the powerful people who fell yesterday; many will fall tomorrow. Do not rejoice at the fall of the fallen. Pity them for lessons not learnt; empathize with the incoming ones for being the next victims of ambitious power.

Twenty years after the military left, we have taken our democracy back to the firing squad. It was not exactly bad in the beginning; it got worse as the journey progressed. This last elections soaked themselves and our consciences in blood. From the South to the North, gunboats and armoured tanks and fighter jets voted for power. Bullets and more bullets overthrew voters and did the magic of creating winners. Soldiers who suffered battle fatigue in the northern killing field of Boko Haram suddenly became super fit on Election Day down South. We shouted because there were deaths during the presidential election of two weeks ago. Those killings turned out to be mere rehearsals for widespread electoral terrorism in state elections. The governorship elections of Saturday March 9 trumped the tragic events of February, dazing the sensible. People really killed fellow beings to be elected and be happy. All-night terror shooting by thugs kept indoors, persons who would vote against official candidates. People got shot. People died. And nothing happened and will happen thereafter; the living are already burying their dead. The sad thing is that those who died just died in vain because the soil is fouled; there won’t be tubers of goodness from those seeds of violence. Diapers, no matter how hard you try, will remain a metaphor for filth and filthiness.

With these elections, we have changed some dirty dudes and washed some for reuse. Never try to counsel the new diapers – and even the old, recycled ones, to try and smell good. It is not in the character of bad to be good. They should remind you of Mullah Nasruddin, that legendary ‘holy fool’ in Arab pop culture. Nasruddin is like Tortoise in the African folklore. He is the one to say or do what no one dare to say or do. He does terrible things and gets away with them. He is beyond punishment in all bad and objectionable matters. All stories begin and end with his audacious stupidity or wickedness. Meena Sharify-Funk of Wilfrid Laurier University, Canada describes the mullah as “devout, yet irreverent, unpredictable, yet consistently foolish, comically inept, yet clever.” I can see in our space here characters wearing these subversive adjectives.

One day the mullah went to see a rich man and told his host “Give me some money.”

“What do you need the money for?”

“I want to buy an elephant,” he said.

“An elephant!” The rich man cried. “If you have no money, you can’t afford to feed and keep an elephant.” Beggarly Nasruddin took a sharp look at the rich man and retorted, “I came here to get money, not advice.”

Many of our new masters are Nasruddin, the archetypal holy fool. They have come to power for money and for absolute power over their enemies. They did not pay for your votes so that you could tell them to be sensible, do good and not spend tomorrow’s money today on the inanities of power. Don’t counsel them; it won’t work. They will spend money on anything if available. They will borrow (home and abroad) if there is not enough to spend. They are omniscient, they know all. They will build castles of fantasy with scarce resources. They will set up airlines without airplanes; they will buy more white elephants to add to the hungry ones they inherited.

Now that we have ended another season of elections and voting, what else is there for us? Ask yourself and the person lying beside you, what else? Jean-Paul Sartre described voting as a trap for fools. To vote is to be baited by the hook of the new master. It is all about having the fool’s hope of a better tomorrow. But that is the tragedy of democracy; it does not empower the powerless. It instead goads the voter to go out and vote or stay at home. Either way, he is casting his ballot for something and will remain down for the next four years, “steeped in his own powerlessness.” If you stay off, you endorse the paradox of voting for a new set of unwanted people. “To vote or not to vote is all the same,” Sartre said. To abstain “is in effect to confirm the new majority, whatever it may be,” he stressed.

I voided my own vote on Saturday by staying off the polling booth. My state had no governorship election and I did not know any of the guys seeking to make laws in my name. In any case, no matter who you elect as lawmaker, our governors are the real makers of laws. You heard a Delta senator-elect, Ovie Omo Agege, announcing gleefully last week that President Muhammadu Buhari would choose the next Senate President and House Speaker. Why then do I need a senator when Buhari will always be around to decree Executive Orders and dictate bills for the National Assembly to pass? So, I refrigerated my voter card and stayed off the ritual of participating in an exercise in which sense won’t ever align with logic. But democracy laughed at me and at the arrogance of my spurning the ballot paper and its box. It announced that I voted for the winner. I wasn’t the only one who did this. Millions apparently did as I did – but the reasons may be as many as the abstentions. The effect is the same: we have compulsorily elected a new set of leaders who may end up leading us to the next level of acute unwellness.

Politicians and our electoral commission were the star boys of the voting festival. They have scored an own goal with this democracy. They have forced the people to do a referendum on the electoral process. In just 20 years, the people have realised the almightiness of the super voters at collation centres. Those ones decide everything. What the polling booth flaunts is self deception. The polling booth is a station of impotence; the collation centre is the hatchery of birds of money and power. And we could see it with the futile struggle to get people out to polling boots on Saturday. All newspapers reported unprecedented voter apathy. Whatever humongous figures our electoral commission eventually claims voted would never matter. What we saw is really what we know here. What or who do we blame for the strike by voters, even by corps members employed to man the polls? When victorious contestants have to move their beds to collation centres, praying and baying to keep their victories; when they have to threaten violence for the umpire to behave well and stick to the rules, then the gourd of trust in the system is broken. Ghanaian writer, Ayi Kwei Armah, said when the end of a thing is known at the beginning, then there is no more hope. When the results of an election are known before the votes are cast, then it is a sorry goodbye to democracy.

 

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