What the Taxi Driver Told Me, By Simon Kolawole
With five Bolt drivers cancelling on me (they are, after all, never reliable), I opted for the taxi at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport (MMIA), Lagos. The driver, whom I will simply call Frank, was soft-spoken and friendly, so much so I did not haggle when he told me the fare was N7,000. I asked him why it was that expensive and he mumbled something about the airport charges which have gone up “despite the hardship in the land”. He said he had to pay N1,000 at the park.
I like to pick the brain of the average Nigerian to get a grasp of the view from the streets, so I was very eager to hear Frank’s takes on some of the developments around us. The first thing he told me was the suffering caused by the naira redesign. As I expressed my sympathies on the sufferings slammed on Nigerians by the policy, I could see Frank go up in flames of anger.
“They said they did it so that Tinubu would not win the presidential election,” he said, almost shouting. “So why did [President Muhammadu] Buhari still allow them to rig the election?”
“You believe Buhari rigged the election for Tinubu?” I asked, as gently as I could.
“Well, if he didn’t want the election rigged, he could have stopped it,” he replied, still a bit agitated. “Peter Obi won this election. It is very clear.”
“He won?” I asked timidly, given the emotions of the moment.
“Of course, he won! Everybody voted for Peter. Where I voted, all of us voted for Peter! We voted, waited and heard the results. We called everywhere and it was the same thing.”
“In Lagos?” I needed to be sure.
“Not just Lagos, all over the country!”
“Including Kano, Katsina, Kaduna, Sokoto, Niger, Bauchi—”
“Yes, everywhere! Hausa, Igbo, Yoruba, youths — everybody voted for Labour, but INEC changed the figures. In Lagos, Obi beat Tinubu by over 500,000 votes but they reduced the margin to 10,000. It was the same thing everywhere. They were giving Obi’s votes to Tinubu and Tinubu’s votes to Obi!”
Frank did not even reckon with Alhaji Abubakar Atiku, the PDP candidate, as if it was only Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and Obi that slugged it out.
“You know what INEC did?” he asked, rhetorically. “They didn’t upload the results to their portal because they wanted to rig the election. They uploaded only national assembly.”
Frank, by the way, turned out to be more than an ordinary Nigerian. His English was, grammatically, more polished than much of what I read on Twitter. Even though he was talking at the top of his voice, it was not out of aggression. It was passion. I could feel his anger, pains and frustrations: he evidently loves Nigeria profoundly and, just like me, wants the country to be better than this. As I would discover, he had lived in Austria and the UK for years before returning home.
He suddenly switched the topic of discussion — or so I thought. It was a detour.
“It is only in Nigeria that an immigration official in uniform would be pushing a trolley for a white man. What a shame! You can never see that abroad,” he said. He also hit out at the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), the airport landlords. He didn’t know he was touching a raw nerve. I am the most pained Nigerian concerning the state of things at MMIA — whether it is the air conditioners that hardly work or the chaos right from undergoing immigration checks to picking your suitcases and exiting the airport. We are shaming ourselves before the whole world in the simplest of things. If we cannot run an airport decently and efficiently, how are we going to run a nuclear plant?
“We have too many norms that are not right,” Frank continued. “You will see a government official using a convoy of cars, with dozens of security men following him. Do you know how much it costs to maintain them? It costs us billions. These are the norms that Obi wants to change. This is the structure in place that he wants to dismantle and they are saying he doesn’t have a structure. If Obi becomes president today, you will see that all these things will stop. He will stop the states from coming to Abuja to collect allocations every month. He will tell them to go and generate the money they need and spend it as they want. Every governor will sit up and Nigeria will change.”
At this stage, I waded in again.
“Oga, Obi as president cannot stop any governor from having a convoy or collecting federation allocations. The president in a federal system under a democratic order has limited powers. He is not a military president. He cannot order any governor around. Every state is like a country on its own. I fear for Obi. The expectation is too much. People will ascribe to him the power he doesn’t have if he becomes president. If some things don’t change, they will start abusing him. I have been praying and hoping since 2003 that Obi would one day become president of Nigeria, but no one president can change this country all by himself. All the governors and council bosses must put in their shifts.”
Frank’s response was neat and close to perfect. I doffed my hat for him.
“I agree with you,” he said, calmly. He was back to the Frank that I met before boarding his taxi. “But there is something called leadership by example. If the governors see that Obi as the leader is doing things differently, they too will like to be like him. They will fall in line.”
While I was still digesting his point (by the way, that is also my position, although I extend leadership beyond the president in my own arguments), he went a notch further. “You will notice that Labour Party is no longer the same since Obi joined them. Many politicians who know that Obi is innocent (I guess he meant “honest”) are now joining the party. Before you know it, Labour Party will be running many states as a model. They will gradually take over Nigeria. You will see a new Nigeria.”
I objected. Some of these guys were once in other parties. If they were bad before, joining LP won’t make them good. Changing parties doesn’t change character. But Frank had a good answer.
“But we the people that supported Labour will vote them out if they don’t perform. They don’t have an option other than to perform because they know we are ready for them. We did not collect shishi to vote for Labour. Instead, we spent our own money,” he said, revealing that they plan to vote massively for Labour again in the Lagos governorship poll. With a sense of regret, he said he wished Mr Akinwunmi Ambode, the former governor of the state, had been brave enough to join the party when overtures were being made to him last year. “He was a good governor. He would have won hands down,” he said. “I thumb-printed Labour in all ballots without knowing the candidates.”
I picked quite a lot from what the taxi driver told me. First, I remain thankful that people did not take to the streets after the results were announced. Frank said many things that could have led to violent protests. Obi’s supporters obviously believe everything they read on Twitter. For instance, Frank alleged that the CBN sent a bullion van with the new naira notes to Tinubu’s house. An allegation does not have to be true to cause public disorder: the SAP riots of 1989 were sparked off by a magazine article that never was. The riots in the north in 2011, with 800 reported deaths, were fuelled by a conviction that Buhari won but INEC rigged in favour of President Goodluck Jonathan.
Second, based on the prevailing mood of his supporters, Obi should work actively to help Labour win as many states as possible in the governorship and house of assembly elections. In 2011, Buhari won 12 states in the presidential election but his party, the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC, now part of the APC), produced only one governor two weeks later. Based on his immense popularity in certain demographics, Buhari believed he won the presidential poll and was so upset by the outcome that he did not as much as lift a finger for CPC governorship candidates thereafter. Obi can learn a thing from this and leverage on his momentum so that his party can do well in the state elections.
Third, there is clearly a genuine, organic and resolute “Obi-dient” movement, made up of Nigerians, home and abroad, who are fed up with the status quo. I could touch Frank’s passion. How Obi builds on this will be key to his political fortune. He should critically analyse the zones where he did not do well and develop a viable strategy. Jonathan became president in 2011 by winning 16 of the 17 southern states with big margins as well as seven of the 19 in the north. He scored at least 25 percent in 33 of the 36 states and FCT. Nobody has become president of Nigeria by winning only two northern states. And I say this without prejudice to Obi’s election petition and allegations of rigging.
In sum, it took Buhari 12 years to expand his “Buhariyya” movement beyond the core north. Obi need not wait that long. Buhari never got 25 percent in any southern state until 2015. Although his supporters really believed he won in 2011, it was not until he had mainstream allies outside his region and religion that his dream became a reality. He had been winning with comfortable margins in the north because of the organic following. They saw him as an “innocent” man. But his famous 12 million votes were never enough to make him president until he penetrated the south through the south-west in 2015. Tinubu too could not have won if he did not do well in the north. Lessons.
AND FOUR OTHER THINGS…
On Thursday, a train crushed a bus in Lagos state, leading to six deaths and leaving many with life-changing injuries. All because the driver reportedly failed to stop at the rail crossing. We were told other cars stopped, but the driver supposedly believed he could pull it through. He survived and is now in police custody, to be charged with manslaughter. While we apply the law fully to serve as a deterrent, collisions are becoming worrisome: a similar accident happened in Abuja not too long ago. Government must put fail-safe mechanisms in place. And what happened to the good old barrier? We need a mixture of measures. Otherwise, the next collision is just waiting to happen. Predicable.
The ill-fated naira redesign policy is bringing out the criminal instincts of dishonourable Nigerians. With people now forced to use electronic means in the absence of the new currency, trust Nigerians to milk the shaky system. I was somewhere when someone used his card and said he had been debited but the vendor didn’t get any alert. It turned out the guy did not have sufficient funds but was trying to defraud the lady. Elsewhere, a colleague was debited twice by a PoS operator who claimed the transactions failed. My colleague complained to her bank but was told the transactions were successful. We are clearly not ready for this but don’t care who suffers the pains. Cruel.
On gender equity, Nigeria would score F9 any day. Some African countries, such as Senegal and Rwanda, are making remarkable progress, giving women up to 50 percent representation in cabinets and legislative bodies, but we continue to keep our own women down. I like to celebrate little wins, but the outcome of the national assembly elections was an unmitigated disservice to gender equity. It is not for lack of trying by our women, but the system is institutionally rigged against them. I hope the incoming administration will do more to address this imbalance. Let it be said that we are not doing women a favour through inclusion — we are only making good use of our full strength. Fact.
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) is under heavy attack over the February 25 elections, particularly because of its failure to upload results electronically as it had consistently promised. Although this did not break any law — a court has interpreted the Electoral Act to mean INEC has discretionary powers on the mode of transmission — the umpire could have done better with test-running the system and spotting and fixing possible hitches long ago. Good enough, almost all the results from the over 176,000 polling units have been uploaded and interested Nigerians are downloading and doing the math by themselves to scrutinise what the umpire announced. Progress.