I have recently been having problems convincing my friends to register in the ongoing voter registration exercise. And the few I have been able to convince so far have come back with a plethora of tales and litany of complaints as to why I have persuaded them to go waste their time sitting in front of machines that are not functioning properly (aren’t they supposed to be new), and officers/personnel that are at sea and bereft of ideas over how to make the machines function efficiently.
Don’t get it wrong (twisted like D'banj will say it), when I say my friends, I mean people in the age bracket of/between mid twenties to early thirties. This is a group of people, as I said earlier, who have never really seen the electoral system at its best, but grew up to know of election annulment (thanks to Babangida who etched it into our brains); saw all five parties in the nation at a given time nominate one presidential candidate (God bless Abacha’s soul wherever it is); were yet to attain the suffrage age in 1999 or didn’t understand the whole process, and were matured enough to observe the evils of 2003 and 2007.
For this category of citizens (to which I belong), government means a group of people up there looting and sharing the commonwealth of the nation amongst themselves, their cronies and families. We have only been told of a time in the distant past when government used to provide water, electricity, adequate health facilities, free education up to university level, and jobs for graduate, and an enabling environment for citizens to go about in pursuit of happiness.
Although we met the vestiges of the water corporations all across the country, and were born when those operating NEPA’s (sorry PHCN) switchboard were neither so playful nor completely negligent; this group never really enjoyed adequate health facilities (thank God, herbs were potent those days, though many still die of polio, tetanus, measles etc). We also had to pay our way through university replete with ASUU strikes – if at all we get the chance to go –, roam the streets of Lagos in search of non-existent jobs, hustle and strive to make ends meet, and survive by either hard work or other means.
To this group of Nigerians the government never existed, it has never existed and it only exists when there are taxes to pay, license plates to register, birth and death certificates to collect and sundry things we would rather do without.
To us, the conventional knowledge is that if you need water you dig a borehole or well. You need treatment? Go to a private hospital; buy electric poles if you want NEPA to connect your house to the national grid, you go to Covenant or Babcock University to avoid ASUU strike, hire bulldozers to level the road to your house, and if you really, really need electric light you buy a generator!
To us, everyone, every household is a local government on its own. This is the Nigeria into which we were born. This is the Nigeria in which we have lived. This is the Nigeria we know.
My greatest concern is that this same category (my group) of Nigerians forms the largest percentage of the voting population, a population that can determine the course of the coming elections and help influence the change we all crave for.
But the problem is we are so apathetic to the entire political process. We do not need a government and so do not care about who is in charge. Moreover, we would rather stay online, in our virtual worlds, where all is simple/straight forward and everything we need is just one or two clicks away.
Only that, just like the youths who voted for change in America in 2008, history has chosen us and has bestowed on us at this auspicious moment the opportunity to take over the reins/initiative from our battle-weary parents and to chart the course in the march towards a New Nigeria.
Whether we will answer this call, or if we will succeed in this quest (provided we answer), I do not know. But I do know that the way posterity – and the coming generation – will judge us we depend on whether, like an eagle, we are able to rise up to the challenge, or just like an ostrich, we buried our heads in the sands of time as our season passes away and the earth is once again yanked off from underneath our feet.