I said the wedding Holy Mass of one of my cousins recently.  Before we went into the church I jokingly reminded him of what happened in 1993. That time I was a chaplain and teacher in a secondary school that was close to my home place. The entrance examination into the school was conducted for that year and six young boys from my village came for it. Five of them were successful but that my cousin was not. When they came to my house after the examination I asked them how it went. They all cheerfully told me how they passed. But my cousin who failed started crying that he failed because he had nobody to speak on his behalf. He accused the staff of the school of selecting only their relations. He forgot that I was the only person from our village who was on the staff of the secondary school and his colleagues who came from the village with him had no ‘godfathers’ yet were successful. How come they all passed? When I told him that story in the morning of his wedding, he scratched his head mischievously and remarked that Reverend Fathers do not forget old stories.
When the current political fireworks in Nigeria started my mind went to that my mischievous cousin. Clearly my cousin knew he could not pass that examination on his own merit and so he turned to blackmail. Watching keenly the electioneering campaigns I do not see much difference. In fact what we are having is much more of ‘complain’ than ‘campaign’. I am worried about the high cost of the campaign, both human and material, yet we are not being properly educated about our future. I have listened to many of the presidential, governorship and parliamentary houses candidates. When a candidate appears in a community for campaign what you hear is embarrassing. “My maternal grandmother’s village is next to your community so would you rather not have me who is your own than voting for a total stranger?” Consider the resources put into these campaigns. Many farmers, workers and business people are daily pulled out of work to gather in stadia, school fields, village squares, etc, for hours waiting for a candidate to address them. And when he or she comes, this is the kind of thing you hear. It is almost late now to change since the electioneering campaigns are almost over.
I want to address the main worry directly. The fear of post election violence and war in cities and towns has reached feverish level. In sane climes, elections are events that come and go and the electorates are always excited about it because it offers the opportunity to decide who leads them. Human and material resources are not wasted in the quantum we do in Nigeria. The electorates are not threatened to vote for a particular candidate. I do not know where we are getting our own brand of democracy and electoral process from. It has reached the level where the ordinary, honest and simple Nigerian wishes that we do not have to do elections at all so that we can live in peace. I hope we do not degenerate to the point where the citizens would begin to long for military rule, not because we believe that military regime is better but because the process of choosing our civilian leaders is becoming too dangerous. Human beings are killed, houses are burnt, threats of war and arson, families are scared and getting scattered and some private schools are even closing. I wonder if some people forget that we are not trying to elect a god who will rule our lives forever but a human civilian leader whose tenure is for only period of time. These fears are real because of the past experiences of post election violence.
Let us examine again what is the reality. The reality is that we are not at war but only trying to elect our leaders. The political class knows how to relate very well with each other. I would give very practical examples of the realities on the ground to let us know that some people are only taking us for a ride.
Olagunsoye Oyinlola was elected the governor of Osun State under the People’s Democratic Party in 2003. He was re-elected for a second term in 2007. However on 26th November, 2010, some few months to the end of his second and final tenure, a Court of Appeal nullified his election and his challenger, Rauf Aregbesola of Action Congress (AC) now APC, took over. Oyinlola became the National Secretary of PDP but eventually lost favour with the party. On 5th August, 2014, he decamped and joined the man who removed him from office as governor, Rauf Aregbesola and campaigned for him to win the second tenure as the candidate of APC. Many innocent Osun indigenes must have lost their lives in the past fighting and quarreling for these two men yet today he is in the train of APC campaigning against his party of many years, PDP.
The case of Labaran Maku is still fresh in our memories. He was the minister of information and a staunch member of PDP. He led the “Good Governance Tour” through all the states of the federation showcasing the dividends of democracy delivered by the PDP to Nigerians. Today, the same Maku is accusing the same party of ungodly acts with counter accusations from both sides. However, it is believed that his new party, APGA is not much different from PDP since they have always adopted the PDP presidential candidate as their own. But who will believe that Labaran Maku can have issues with PDP? Whoever believes that former governor Peter Obi of Anambra State will sit at the table of the same political ideology with Andy Uba and other PDP candidates from Anambra state? Today Peter Obi is a big factor in PDP.
Chief Femi Fani Kayode is another case in study. He was in PDP, a federal minister and other sundry functions under Chief Olusegun Obasanjo 2003-2007. He defended that government with all his blood. At the end of that tenure, he returned to private practice and joined forces with the opposition of ACN and then APC. He said very nice things about the candidacy of General Mohammodu Buhari almost to the point of canonizing him. At the same point he said so many disparaging things about the present government of PDP and give reasons why Nigerians should never trust that party, their candidates and leadership. But today he is born again and the music has changed. The K leg has straightened. So whatever was wrong with PDP, their candidates and leadership is now wrong with APC, the candidates and leadership. Whatever was right with APC and its people is no longer there but has been transferred to PDP, candidates and leadership.  I see nothing wrong with one having the capacity to change. It is a free democratic world and there are choices to be made. No political rally is complete today without one big person decamping from one party to another. There are many states in Nigeria today where the governors and their deputies are in different political parties. The most recent is the decamping of the Deputy Governor of Nigeria State to the opposition party. In fact a good number of the opposition party stalwarts today decamped only recently from the ruling party. This is the reality on the ground.
The politicians are making their choices but it is sad that the same politicians are the ones threatening the ordinary Nigerian voters to dare make a choice that the politicians do not approve. This is the crux of my matter. We are not at war but in an election year. To be able to achieve this aim of denying Nigerians the right to honest and free choice, they are resorting to blackmail. They play the blackmail of religious and ethnic sentiments. My point is very simple.  The big politicians who are the first beneficiaries of the booty of office and government patronage are jumping from one camp to another looking for where the grass will be greener for them and their families but what do the rest of us get? They always announce that they are decamping with thousands of their supporters. We are those supporters, the bargaining power of the big politician. It is no longer news that the big politician’s children and wife or wives are not part of this ‘thousands of supporters’ they decamp with. They are actually safe in another country where politics is better played. We are the unfortunate ones they use as cannon fodders. Our rewards are bottles of beer and hot drinks distributed at campaign grounds. We are the ones given the cigarettes and sometimes, hard drugs. We are the ones transported in trucks and open pickup vans to the campaign grounds. We are the ones who are taught and indoctrinated to get angry because “our own” has been cheated if he loses elections. We are the ones who are made to be angry at each other. Whose house is burnt? It is the house of the poor people who struggle to survive with their families. Who are those that get killed? It is the same poor innocent people who dare to come out to vote. The homes and properties of the big politician are never touched. The many cars in their fleet are never torched. It is the taxi of the struggling taxi driver that is always burnt. But what is his crime? It is either because he does not belong to the tribe of the losing candidate or he is known as one who does not support their paymaster. So he is decimated and his properties burnt.
After the June 12th saga in 1993, mayhem broke out. Ibrahim Babangida who annulled the election was not harmed. Chief Arthur Nzeribe who led the notorious ‘Association for Better Nigeria’ (ABN) that advocated for the annulment of the election was not harmed. But the ordinary Nigerians turned against each other in what is today known as Abiola riot. Ethnic rivalry set in and many human beings and properties were burnt. Many families lost their breadwinners and means of livelihood. Such families were forced to relocate to their villages where it was safe for them. They still bear these grudges along ethnic lines. Again after the 2011 election, the devil itself was let loose. Kaduna and some Northern states went up in flames. Eleven or more Youth Corpers were killed in Bauchi State. Reprisal killings were recorded in the some Southern states. Who were the victims? They were ordinary shoe shiners, commercial tea makers (Mai shayi) or security men (Maigadi) and ordinary Nigerians who were honestly struggling for their daily bread. These people knew absolutely nothing about the annulment. What this has done to Nigeria is that we are now more conscious of where we come from. We have being made to realize that we are not one and may not be welcome and safe in certain parts of the country. It is unfortunate.
As we go to the polls to elect our leaders for the next four years, we should not turn our polling station into pools of blood. We are only electing our leaders not our gods. We are only doing elections not fighting wars. We are not enemies. In fact by the spate of decamping going on, it is clearer now that indeed, in politics we do not have permanent enemies but permanent interests. My fellow electorates, dead people have no interests. May we be here for another round of elections in 2019 in a peaceful Nigeria!
Rev. Fr. Ojaje Idoko                                                                                                                       is the Director of Pastoral Affairs Department, Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria.