Conversation With A Nigerian Voter - by MajiriOghene Etemiku

The thirteenth day of the month of March 2015 was just 48 hours shy of the Ides of March, a day in 44BC made notorious by the assassination of Julius Caesar. But on March 13, 2015, there were no auguries of lionesses whelping in the streets, or of slaves having their right hands aflame without being burnt, predicting that some catastrophe akin to the assassination of Julius Caesar was going to take place. We had carefully researched and found out that that day was going to be a big market day in Igara in Akoko-Edo Local Government Area of Edo State. 

Our organisation, the African Network for Environment and Economic Justice, was desirous of making the greatest impact with the opportunity the Independent National Electoral Commission provided to get boots apart from INEC’s on the ground to assist with the enlightenment process with regard to the elections. In Benin City, where we have our roots and boots, and together with its environs, there is hardly power supply, to the extent that whatever media instruments officials of INEC needed to use in the enlightenment campaign become useless.

I have realised that a vote represents two voices – what would be a yes for the one would be a no for the other and for a lot more people than we could ever conjecture. And we would start off by saying that as one who does not believe that a vote makes life easier the next morning or afternoon or evening after the vote, I would say that I surprised myself at the ease with which I put on the boots with which we were to forward march into a grass-roots teeming with residents who cared little or nothing about a vote. Residents of that quaint little town of Igara in the Akoko-Edo Local Government Area of Edo State live side by side like the mosque and the church on the Auchi/Ibillo Expressway. In Igara, not too many people care whether you clap your hands in worship or stand facing the East in reverence to God.

But I was to find out that there were a lot more people like me who thought that the vote is a veto – like the woman in the stall who was turning the handle of her sewing machine here and there and couldn’t care if the voting was correctly done or not.

“So you people didn’t come with money…?”

“Money…we’re not from any political party. We’re an NGO…we came here to enlighten you. You should vote…”

“Not even wrapper, kerosene or rice, Oga?”

“Hmm, you surprise me. In this age and time, you still want to collect all of those things before you vote? Na wa for you o, Madam”.

“I beg tell me another torry…why I no go collect my own share now? When them get there, our life, this market no go change!”.
I looked around her shop and saw a starry-eyed kid. I noticed that her school uniform was torn in several places.
“Madam, look at this your little girl…look am well, well…”
The woman immediately stopped her chores, and pored over her child. “My pikin…? Wetin do am?”
“Madam, e be like say you no like this your pikin!”

“I like my pikin…na you born am for me? Na you be im papa?”

“I’m not her father, and she’s not my child…but you’ve already eaten her food. You’ve already collected her money. Every day of her life as an adult, she will insult you.”

“My pikin would insult me…this my pikin? How?”

“You’ve already collected money and wrappers and kerosene – these things were bought with money from politicians…as soon as you collect them and cast your vote for them, you’ve allowed them to steal the money they should have used for building a good school for your children, or the hospital that you should take her to when she has malaria will never get built…wait, what’s that smell?”

“Smell…oh yes o. We no get toilet for the market. We dey go inside bush to piss and to shit”, she said.

“You see…how do you expect them to build toilet for you if you’ve already collected the money that these greedy politicians are supposed to use for building the toilet for all of you in the market…how, Madam?”
She took the sample ballot paper from me. “So, which of them naim you say I should vote for? Which of them go give us school and hospital and toilet for our market, Oga sir?”
“Sorry, Madam, but I can’t tell you who to vote for. As a matter of fact, dem talk say if I try to look which person my neighbour vote for, dem go fine me N200,000.00 or I go go prison for six months…! See am, see the offences for election…e dey this paper.”

“Ah, that one no good na…!”

“So, make you vote for the man or woman wey you believe for your ogbonge mind say e fit provide school, market, road and hospital for your pikin.”

“But how I go know…I no go school o.”

“Talk with people who know…listen to your radio and watch television. All the politicians are campaigning. They are saying what they can do or will do. The ones that are offering you rice, money and kerosene are the ones you must not trust.”

“Ehen…but all of them dey come to the market to give us rice and wrapper naa…”
At this point, I knew that I had lost her. I lost the argument. I immediately recognised that the reason why I lost was that a major factor was that across board, desperate politicians have so exploited the common people to the extent that the entire character and disposition of the general election appeared tainted by who is offering more rice, kerosene and money instead of fresh ideas for growth and development. In my recommendations, I have asked INEC to embark on more and more village campaigns. Voter education and enlightenment should be targeted at places like mosques and churches, eateries, and higher institutions.

For it to be effective, we recommend that the effort must be sustained and this kind of publicity and enlightenment campaign should be carried out weekly before the elections. More funds should be allocated for enlightenment campaigns like this, and especially at the grass-roots where social facilities like power supply are irregular.