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Three Nigeria Delusions I: The Noise about the PVC and the Challenge of Education

The Oasis Reporters

February 24, 2018

By Deji Adesoye

 

There is a campaign everywhere that people should go and get their PVC. But there is hardly any concerted education of the masses on the key issues that are critical in the polity today; which are, as it were, supposed to be the issues that should divide the votes among contenders in the coming presidential elections.

What are these issues?

We have critical issues such as the structure of the Nigerian state and devolution of power, the discussion of which has become the exclusive preserve of the elite and university scholars; the problem of the economy, the condition of the Naira and unemployment; the problem of insecurity that spreads across the length and breadth of the country; as well as the challenge of law enforcement and the dishonest fight against corruption.
Very critical an issue is the problem of infrastructure, most importantly, our highways, like the Lagos-Ibadan express-road, which had earned the notoriety of a death trap.

Around the campaign for the collection of PVC is a delusion.
Before we go on, let’s do the needful by saying some important things about the PVC.
PVC means Permanent Voter’s Card. In short, it means a voter’s identity card by which a voter can be qualified to vote at elections.The PVC is permanent because it is done into a plastic card that can endure for a time, and qualifies a registered voter who possesses it to continue using it if it does not get lost or damaged.

The voter’s card is a very important material. It is important because it can make the life of a people or mar it. A voter’s card is enough for a person to destroy himself.
What determines whether a voter’s card will make or destroy a people is the knowledge that the people have about the issues of public importance and about their choices. When the knowledge is absent or shallow, the voter’s card is like a fire set by oneself on one’s house; when the knowledge is great, then voter’s cards become the greatest asset in a democracy.

We have noted that there is a delusion around the campaign to get PVC. The delusion is not unconnected to the disillusionment that the Buhari phenomenon has become. Buhari is a phenomenon whose description is simply put, a ‘national mishap.’
The fact is that economic calamity has visited many Nigerians since Buhari took over the affairs of this country, and this was not what those who voted for him had expected. The delusion, simply said, is the thinking that PVC is the solution to our leadership catastrophes.
How delusional!
But we can explain the present delusion by referring back to the same delusion that happened four years ago, when many Nigerians suddenly became converted to Buharism and the south took over the most ominous credo in Africa’s history: ‘sai baba.’

The campaign for PVC is delusional for a number of reasons.
One, a free and fair election can hold and voters may yet elect a dumb fellow as their president. To print the thumb on a ballot paper is not the same as to choose with intelligence. The people must understand why they are voting the person they are voting for, not just why they are voting out the incumbent. Voting out a failed incumbent with a blind vote has become the Nigerian voting habit.

In 2015, most of Buhari’s votes came from people who wanted Jonathan out. In 2011, when there was no one to vote out since Jonathan was contesting for the first time, Ebele Jonathan won the election thanks to ordinary fad and sensationalism around his purported good luck and his fine name.
Sensationalism is the bane of the electorate in Nigeria.
Whereas, collecting PVC because of the worldwide disappointment that the government of Buhari has been is a step towards another regime of disappointment.

Second, an uneducated electorate is like a herd of cattle. They go where the herders lead them. The herders are the politicians and their common goal is to win election. They are demagogues; their job and strength is in doctoring the people’s mind to put their vote somewhere. It does not matter whether such votes are in the interest of the herd or not.

Third, and the most terrible reality, is that the electorate actually has just a very insignificant stake in deciding who wins an election. Voters will choose between those who contending parties put forward as their flag bearers.
Interestingly, political parties are autonomous and run their own constitutions and electoral practices; and hardly has it been heard of that people of a country issued an ultimatum to a political party to withdraw a candidate that emerges from its primary election. The most the people can do is not vote for the candidate of a political party. They cannot decide who a political party will produce as its candidate. Interestingly, by rejecting the candidate of a party at an election, the voter simultaneously chooses another candidate, the emergence of whom as a candidate he has no control over in the first place. And in the event that the other candidates are not competent, and the voter still chooses, then he has chosen just from what he has been given. Power, therefore, in no way belongs to the people, neither does it reside in the voter’s card. Political power is a custom good; it hovers in the sky and is auctioned among political parties. It never has belonged to the people and it is hard to say whether it will ever belong to the people. Ballot boxes are mere platforms on which the good is auctioned; the people are mere soccer pitches, where politicians play the final matches for who gets the gold.

Interesting, and rather curious is the fact that in the very rare times that the people may have influenced the decisions of a party in picking it’s candidates, politicians only explore and play along popular sentiments so as to clinch what they want, which is power.
By so doing, they pick candidates in such a way that will please the biases of the people. And this is even more dangerous than when the people do not influence the choices of a party. The party will choose any candidate, just any candidates as long as by choosing the candidate, the party will not be encumbered by popular sentiments; it will win the election. This means that the party could in fact choose a poor, incompetent candidate.

Two examples in recent times will be enough to illustrate this. In 2014 when the All Progressives Congress were looking for a candidate for the position of president, they were worried by popular religious sentiment that was against having a Muslim President and a Muslim Vice President. The party decided, therefore, to look for a Vice that was not a muslim. That led to the choice of Yemi Osinbajo, who is said to be a pastor of one the largest Pentecostal denominations in Nigeria.
In this case, the Nigerian people, through their sentiment, influenced the decision of the then main opposition party; but the eventual choice of the party having played along popular sentiment is what has brought Nigeria the greatest calamity in history.

The other example is the speculation that is going on that the Peoples Democratic Party will likely pick a serving governor of Ekiti State, Ayo Fayose as the running mate of whosoever is the presidential candidate, so that the party can win the votes in the South West. The calculation is not that the party is looking for who can deliver, lift Nigeria from economic wretch. It rather is the matter of who can win votes for the party. Most people know, no doubt, that Fayose’s record of achievements in economic and social development is blank.
But who cares!
Political parties live on the credo: “Seek the winning of the votes first, every other thing shall follow.”

Collecting the PVC for collection sake is lame and cripple for one reason that is within our control and another that is beyond our control. The one that is beyond our control is that parties choose who they will choose and the voters will choose among those that have been chosen for them. If a voter does not like any of those candidates, he or she can decide to be absent from the poll, i.e. he may decide not to vote.
He has exercised his political right of choosing voluntarily. But who does this kind of choice help?
He, even he, will be affected by the policies and administration of whichever candidate wins the election.
So where is the freedom in democracy; where is the power of choice?

This difficulty is perhaps one of the principal defects of democracy as a system of government. Freedom in democracy is cosmetic. Its advantage is mainly to be felt in the allocation of power. Democracy makes allocation of power easier for the elite. By democracy, the elite can make peaceful and orderly transition of power from one power bloc to another, on a periodic basis; and for the growing state, the large state, in which the elite is also growing in size, democracy enables power to go round among the elite. This is what monarchy and aristocracy will not afford them.
A little wonder the emergence of modern democracy coincides with the emergence of the modern state and of capitalism.

However, this problem of democracy is of more terrible significance for the Nigerian politics because the major political parties are not operating in a system that engage issues but persons and ordinary sentiments. The people, therefore, are fated to make choices between their general sentiments; and this is why they will not yet get a good leader, even if everyone has a PVC and the election is not rigged.

On the other hand, the factor which is within our control calls us to focus on understanding the issues of national importance. Issues like the one we listed in the first paragraph, and sundry others. To assume that having a PVC is the main solution to maladministration is to fall into a trance. People should have their voters card, right. But that is not the only thing. When the people understand the issues, they will voluntarily go and register as voters.

There are those who are campaigning for the collection of PVC with the intention of swaying ignorant voters for their own interest i.e. the interest of the campaigner. Political parties are already mobilizing ignorant voters from their homes to registration centers to register, paying their transport fare.
Whereas some people who do not like Buhari keep on merely telling people to get PVC without engaging them on important issues. Then the parties hijack the voters along the way, and the journey of bad vote becomes endless.

Written by Deji Adesoye.

He’s a political affairs commentator and public affairs analyst who often views issues of state from the prism of practical philosophy and common sense.

Greg Abolo

Blogger at The Oasis Reporters.

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