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Populism – Can power belong to the people in Africa?

2019 seems to be year of general elections in Africa. Like Nigeria a few other African countries has since the beginning of the year held their general elections. In Sudan, we even witnessed the overthrow of the Omar al-Bashir administration by the military which initially caused widespread hysteria in the Northeast African nation. In clear terms, not much has changed for Africans in these elections and the Sudan coup d’état.
Power was returned to the old blocs; in Senegal Presidential election, the incumbent won by 58.26%; in Malawi, the incumbent retained his seat of power after scoring 40.49% of total votes cast and in South Africa, the incumbent got 57.50% of the votes to remain in power. Although there is no where it is idealized that democracy can only be enriched if the opposition took power from the incumbent, but it can be agreed on that democracy flourishes better in an atmosphere of credible and vocal opposition where the choice of leadership truly rests on the people to be led.
But how much of that choice is power-backed and freely expressed, knowing fully well that democracy has always been described as a game of numbers; literarily meaning power lies with the person who can amass the highest number of votes?
Using Nigeria as a case study, we can evaluate this question from the perspective of numbers and figures released before, during and after the 2019 general elections by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and other critical stakeholders.

Power of Numbers
According to the United Nations and Nigeria’s National Population Council, the population of Nigeria is now about 200 million. The age of 18 is described as the national median age, meaning the age which divides the country’s population into two equal parts—one half above the age, and the other half below it—is about 18 years. Coincidentally, this is the minimum voting age in Nigeria. The implication is that about 100 million Nigerians are eligible to vote having attained the national median age. Of this number, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) said about 84 million originally registered for the 2019 elections, out of which 51.11 per cent of them are youths (18 – 35 years). The Commission also said that 72.8 million of this number collected their Permanent Voters Cards (PVCs), while 11.2 million did not. Finally, only about 35 per cent of those that collected their PVCs actually voted in the Presidential and National Assembly elections of February 23, 2019. This was reported by Election Observers to be one of the lowest voter-turnouts in contemporary Africa! The voter turnout was even lower in the Governorship and state Houses of Assembly elections of March 9 and 23.

The Blinded Power Bloc
From the low turnout, it can be inferred that the core of this voting population (the youths) in particular didn’t exercise their franchise owing to a variety of reasons; but most cogent of all being that they believe their votes won’t count at the end of the day. A majority of them seems to have lost hope on the country based on cross-section interviews conducted. This induced-apathy converted many of them into social media apostles; tongue-lashing one another whose sense of reasoning is incompatible to theirs. They waged verbal wars on the premises of ethnicity, religion, bigotry and political prejudice, inadvertently allowing the political gladiators on the battle field the latitude to exploit the electoral process to their advantage.
With the numerical breakdown of youths for the 2019 general elections, one would expect forerunners for the highest political office in the land should be Emmanuel Etim (38) of the Change Nigeria Party (CNP), Omoyele Sowore (47) of the African Action Alliance (AAC), Gbenga Olawepo-Hashim (49) of the People’s Trust (PT), Kingsley Moghalu (55) of the Young Progressives Party (YPP), Ali Soyode (55) of the Yes Electorates Solidarity (YES), Olufunmilayo Adesanya-Davies (56) of the Mass Joint Action Alliance (MAJA), Adeshina Fagbenro-Byron (59) of the Kowa Party, Fela Durotoye (47) of the Alliance for New Nigeria (ANN), Tope Fasua (47) of the Abundant Nigeria Renewal Party (ANRP) and Eunice Atuejide (40) of the National Interest Party (NIP).
Instead, we got a contest between two septuagenarians; the winner – 76 year old Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress (APC) with over 15 million votes and the runner-up – 72 year old Atiku Abubakar of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) who scored about 11 million votes. Add their votes together; it is about 60 per cent of registered youths eligible to vote. Consequently, if 40 per cent (about 17 million) of this numerical power bloc had solidarity for one candidate, needless to say that such candidate would be the President of Nigeria.
Nigerian youths cannot continue to bicker about the fact the old blocs have denied them opportunity to contribute their marks to nation building. Democracy is about numbers. No matter the machineries of oppression, electoral malpractices and abuse of state security, real power still lies with the people. We have seen demonstration of this real power during the uprisings in North Africa and recently in Sudan. The only catch towards achieving this is that people must stand united for a common cause.

The Deceivers
But give it to the Nigerian politicians; they have used age-long simplistic divisionary tactics to consistently create animosity among the voting populace, thus making a united common cause more of a mirage than a probability.
Ethnocentric and ethnic colouration. The idea that to have a sense of democracy is the even distribution of political portfolios across all ethnic divide has been so ingrained in Nigerians’ psyche that any meaningful discussion can’t be tabled down without referencing the political lingo: ‘marginalisation’. The political elites didn’t just hinge this word into peoples’ consciousness by constant reminders in political discourses via the media, they made sure it was enshrined in the 1999 Nigerian Constitution under the doctrine of ‘Principle of Federal Character’. As designed, this ‘principle’ has mirrored peoples’ minds in their outlook of politics in the country. Much as the youths would like to claim they are averse to this sense of reasoning, many reflect it on social media in their daily wrangling with one another.
Religious colouration. “Religious suffering is, at one and the same time, the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.” – Karl Marx
The quotation originates from the introduction of Marx’s work: A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, which he started in 1843 but which was not published until after his death. According to Wikipedia, Marx was making a structural-functionalist argument about religion, and particularly about organized religion. He believed that religion had certain practical functions in society that were similar to the function of opium in a sick or injured person: it reduced people’s immediate suffering and provided them with pleasant illusions which gave them the strength to carry on. But he also saw religion as harmful, as it prevents people from seeing the class structure and oppression around them, thus religion can prevent the necessary revolution as is the case in the Nigeria polity.
When it is time for elections or political appointments, the political gladiators begin to sing aloud religious pairs operationally necessary for good governance. They successfully tag people along this path that it becomes the fulcrum of discussion rather than the capacity or competency of the individuals. It is expected that any political contestant must be a Christian or Muslim, either by background or self-proclamation. Other religions and practices are relegated and not worthy of mention in public view, but surely a go-to in their privacy. Instructively, good governance is cajoled by them on the balance of these two religions in government. It is also their tool for political diversions and distractions. However, when it comes to the ‘cookie jar’, there is no pointer to religion or ethnicity; all hands go in deep and mouths are wiped clean in an instance. It is more so unfortunate that leaders of both religions have been hijacked by politicians, thus the unfortunate dissemination by these leaders of parochial information on matters which ought not to have any religious connotation in the first place. For instance, in the heat of the 2015 primary elections it was reported in some national dailies how the Anglican Church in Enugu State (a Christian dominated state) was clamouring for the PDP to appoint a gubernatorial candidate of the Anglican diocese being that governors who had served the state from 1999 up till then had been Catholics. The question is to whose benefit?
Poverty. The emotional conditions that poverty causes its subjects ensure that the poor are always vulnerable to ideologies that offer salvation and hope. In Nigeria, poverty is man-made. The country is a repository of wealth but without any speck of reflection in the standard of living of her people just because a selected few eat fat on the country’s abundant resources without consequences. This makes the selected few lord over the masses; birthing anomalies such as godfatherism, immunity and sense of entitlements. Rather than facing castigation, or ostracization, or the full weight of the law, they are revered as national heroes in many quarters.
They successfully scheme a deliberate attempt to continue to impoverish the people through inadequate access to clean water and nutritious food, little or no access to livelihoods or jobs, incessant conflicts, poor education, neglect of healthcare, inequality, lack of infrastructure, lack of reserves, lack of social welfare, just to mention a few. Unfortunately, despite all the evil in these, many youths see these politicians as role models and are quick to come to their defence on the premise that whatever stolen is being pumped back into the society rather than taken abroad. No doubt many supposed youth activists are complicit in this just to sit at the table for crumbs.
So for the executives, rather than implement sustained developments for the people, politicians would enrich themselves with the commonwealth and return in four year time with ephemeral crumbs for the masses in exchange for votes to stay in power. For the lawmakers, rather than engage in conventional legislative duties for good policies for the wellbeing of the general populace they represent, they allocate humongous monies to themselves and return to the people with deceitful constituency projects so as to secure further terms in office.

Time to Ignore the Innuendos
It is trite to call this ‘old order’ by politicians as sheer exploitation of peoples’ common senses – both the educated and non-educated. The mere fact that three ‘juicy’ portfolios are given to Region A and none to Region B does not in any way translate to more jobs, better security, good roads, efficient power supply, etc. to Region A. Same applies to the preponderance of religion on the basis of appointments or in elections. Truth is that neither benefits the common people. Best way to put it is to say that it gives more self-aggrandizement of the commonwealth to the occupiers of such offices and their cronies, and definitely not a better living condition for the people of the region or religion. To exercise a common front towards rewarding governance for the electorates, youths must look beyond this rhetoric orchestrated by politicians to delude their sense of reasoning. Democracy shouldn’t be measured on the strength of regional or religious distributions of political portfolios. Rather, the true sense of democracy should be measured on the even representation and competency of the people in government; that is, the State Houses of Assembly and the National Assembly.

Youths must reckon with True Representation
Nigerian youths, both vying to vote and to be voted, should downplay their agitations for Executive positions. They should seek to get themselves into the core of actual representation of peoples’ will – the Legislature; both at local, state and federal levels. Localize your territory; these are places you know your next door neighbours and can engage them irrespective of political affiliations. Look for individuals among yourselves with high conviction of tested integrity and sponsor their electoral participation. Don’t give room for godfathers or political demigods; create such an environment that engenders the elected to realize he or she belongs to the community and not to politicians. Let it resonate that real power belongs to the people and they only call the shots. Use the strength of your numbers to usurp victory for your chosen candidates.
The R&B/hip-hop singer, Bankole Wellington aka Banky W, has set a good template in the last election when he contested for the House of Representative representing Eti-Osa federal constituency. Although he didn’t win, it was a step in the right direction. Whilst many of his contemporaries vied for the office of the Presidency without commensurate political infrastructure, he localized his territory to contest against dominant parties such as the APC and the PDP for a seat at the lower federal legislative chamber. It is not surprising that he accumulated more votes in total in his constituency than many presidential aspirants did across board. If others had toed his path, the Nigerian people would probably have had better quality representation in today’s government.
The good thing though is that time indeed is sequential; political terms would soon be over and fresh elections would be conducted. But the journey starts now. It is time for collective action if people want their country back. It must be a grass-root project for quality legislative representation. In no time, the Executive positions will give way for these groomed individuals with a breath of fresh air.