It was all about the photos. They say photos don’t lie, but those photos exposed the lie of our democracy. INEC unveiled a report last week saying it had nothing to do with it. They were photos of boys voting, underage, innocent, deployed as soldiers of a dubious ideology.
They streamed the social media. They were in long lines. If they were not children, they could pass for a queue of pigmies. But the faces, beatific and guileless, gave them away. They had thumb prints, posed before cameras, tossed papers into ballot boxes. An air of official sobriety clothed the march. But they did not have the bravado of guilt. It was the naivety of righteousness.
Everyone blamed the kids. The kids gave the votes away to the other party. First it was the PDP. That was in 2011. The second time around, in 2015, those who were in the opposition now benefited. Suddenly, those who triumphed in 2011 now fell in 2015. They turned critics. They had become losers. Those who howled foul in 2011 kept mum in 2015. APC would not shout because a big morsel of meat was in its mouth, apology to Achebe.
They accused the fathers of the boys. They accused INEC for registering the underage. The election was rigged from genesis. The game was over before the whistle blast.
The sapient element of the report is that the voter register was the same for both PDP and APC, but the results were manipulated. And the agency was the boys. Get the boys and give them papers, fake, fart, warts and all, count them and write the numbers and give them to INEC. Who would know?
Here is a paragraph from the INEC report: “It is on record that during the course of the 2015 General Elections, a particular political party called for the cancellation of the results of the election in six states (Kano, Kaduna, Katsina, Bauchi, Jigawa, and Gombe) based on the allegation of underaged voting. Our investigation revealed that the core of the register used for the 2015 General Elections is based on the 2011 voter register. Interestingly, candidates of the same political party won the governorship elections in all six the states in 2011. There was no problem with the register at the time but when they lost in 2015 the register was the problem.”
According to the report, INEC can only do so much when the political elephants brush their way through the process and stomp on everyone on the way. What triggered the investigation was the conduct of the 2018 local government polls in which the Kano State Electoral Commission, rather than INEC, presided. INEC says the Kano State umpire did not use its register. But more fundamental was that we use human beings to destroy a system. More painfully, we use the innocent to soil an innocent document.
So, the boys were innocent. The register was and is also innocent, to all intents and purposes. But here is the irony. When the innocent boy interferes with the innocent document, we have corruption. So innocent plus innocent equals rigging. It was the sort of worry that made Russian writer Fyodor Dostoyevsky write off civilisation in his short piece, The Man From the Underground. He said one plus one is no longer two but the beginning of death. In the same way, innocent boy plus innocent register equals no democracy but the death of democracy. The good has lost all confidence. It is a metaphor for Nigeria where we all talk of the good. We are anxious to go to church and mosque and pretend that we are actually a godly nation. It reminds me of a line in Bertolt Brecht’s play, Mother Courage: “whenever there’s a load of special virtues around, it means something stinks.”
What we witnessed in those elections in the north, including the Kano examples, is the deflowering of the northern boy. It is like Alexander Pope’s “the rape of the lock“. Sigmund Freud would call it the castration of the little boy. He is the one who has historically been used to commit evil in the north. They are the boy wonders of our elections.
It is the almajiri, who has no food, no clothes, no home of his own. The almajiri who walks the street, in rain and relentless sunshine, barefoot, worn-out bowl in hand, forced into a street minstrel. The almajiri who cannot read or write or make out any literate word in English. He cannot understand the lay of the land unless his elder tells him. They tell him to wield knives and kill and cause some of the tempests in the north, targeting those who do not sound like him or believe like him, or share the same morning cry to worship.
He is the metaphor of the manipulated. Almajiri is not a word for all boys. It is the word for the boy whose parents are poor, alienated and illiterate in a feudal tyranny. They are the ones Balarabe Musa has wept over, that Bala Usman serenaded. The boys of the rich are not called almajiri. They don’t need bowls or the beggar’s talent. They are clothed from wardrobes in London, Paris and New York.
It is the almajiri who morphs into a Boko Haram and swoons over the fertile flesh of Dapchi or Chibok girls. It is he who is easily won over into bands of hatred. He kills but does not have a chance to process his hate. He hates because he is asked to hate. He is not even allowed the naivety of the soldier that W.B. Yeats laments: “Those that I fight I do not hate/those that I guard I do not love.”
Northern boys get ruined before they become youths. In the south, the young are ruined systematically into angry militants. In the north, the young have faith in God and the elder. In the south, the young have faith only in themselves. Both are ruinous.
In INEC’s report, we see how the little boy becomes a tool of lies, a fool for a lie called democracy. The political elite of either political parties use the boy to install a system that will make him a beggar for life. He has no chance to learn and choose. He only follows.
The Buhari visit to the White House last week was a Trump card. It was his own circuitous way of making a mea culpa after calling countries like Nigeria “shit hole.” We fell for it. He took advantage of Buhari’s presence to gain a photo op and sugar-coat his conscience. Our president helped Trump’s cause when he said he did not believe the “shit hole” allegation. It was a power show as well. After all, we had to say thank you for giving us a line of jets that was also big profit for the Americans and those here who brokered the deal. It was a way to sooth a crisis back home over why the planes were acquired without due process. It was the triumph of diplomacy over naivety. Trump card won.