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What the people know

By   /  March 23, 2015  /  No Comments

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We all looked forward to it. To some it came with trepidation, and to others with joy. To most, however, March 28 was the date of curiosity.

The thrill of the voter, as I witnessed, was in being part of a common sense. Commonsense does not always factor in the common sense, but that is the beauty of democracy. The people have the right to be right or wrong, and that right to err and fall into folly is as sovereign as their country’s right of being.

That was what I witnessed on March 28 as I cast my vote. It was a day to hope again that, unlike in 2011, I would not have to see another mandate of mistake.

I did lament that Jonathan won the election in 2011, but I congratulated him all the same. In the piece, I prophesied that Nigeria had made a big mistake and his would be a regime of loose wallets, impunity and division along ethnic and religious lines.

When I voted, I thought not about myself. I looked at the nation and its wreck in the past four years, and how the Nigerian people had a great capacity for endurance. But March 28, they had the opportunity to decide again if they loved the path they had taken, or if they desired an undiscovered country, full of possibilities.

By the time of writing, I had information about trends in the polling, and I looked at the swing region: the southwest.

Whatever anyone thought about the polls and who they favoured, the people already know something. Knowledge is a good thing and a dangerous thing. Once the people know something, how do you tell them something else? That is the meaning of accountability. One of the greatest assets of democracy in this age is the Internet, and the fact that messages travel at breakneck speed from one place to another. As the Bible says in the book of Daniels, “people shall go to and fro and knowledge shall increase.”

This election season is the time people know a lot. It is the time they do not want to be cheated out of their patrimony. For instance, how does a person vote, in say, Mushin, and he and others in that district know who won, and in the final analysis, they hear that something else happened?

Would they be dreaming their way out of the truth, or would they ask questions? Some philosophers have said the story of the Garden of Eden is about the inviolability of knowledge. What you know, you know. Even if you lie to yourself, you also know.

True, Nigeria has had the capacity to lie to itself and live in false bliss. That is the reason we are not like Lee Kuan Yew’s Singapore, whose country leapt at about the time we gained independence from Third World to First World.  His country had no resources except a natural harbour, and we had all the resources. But the difference between Nigeria and Lee’s Singapore is that we lived a lie.

We stole our resources. We lied against each other on ethnic grounds and said one man’s God should punish the other man’s. While we were busy lying, Singapore fattened on the five Cs of capitalism: cash, cars, credit cards, condos and country clubs. Granted they did not have a flourishing democracy, but they were monolithic in thought at that time until they zipped into the free air of pluralism after Lee’s era.

So we are still grappling with first principles. We still lie about all. We said we wanted PVC, and some said no. They were not only Luddites, but antediluvian. They lost that debate. Then they said we should not come near the card reader. They feared the machine, and did everything within their powers to unseat automaton. They failed again. The election took place, and in spite of hitches here and there, who would say it did not work? Where I voted, the machine read my identity like clockwork. Technology wants patience, and no technology ever devised ever worked with perfection. It is a human invention, and it can bear some of our imperfections. But its results best any human efforts. Hence they wanted it against the vultures of electoral fraud.

Now, man would always invent things to subvert the process. ‘God made man upright,” says the good book, “but he has sought out many inventions.” We are seeing it now in the Rivers State deadlock. The APC says they could not vote without results sheets. What happened to those sheets? Those are the questions that we must answer. It is said that the way out of the genius of the card reader is to buy the result sheets from INEC officials, get high-tech people to compute the numbers so that the allotment of votes to the parties does not exceed the registered voter count, and thus ensure landslide victory for their party.

That is man’s circuitous victory over technology. That brings me back to the people and what they know. If they know that they voted differently, no tech whiz kid can con the people into lying to themselves. It is particularly so in the southwest. Jefferson said his objection to democracy is election, and the only day it works is when the people go to the polls. After that, they are impotent until the next vote.

If the people know they voted for a person and some political desperadoes change it, they will face the people.

That was the story of June 12. German philosopher Nietzsche wrote about the notion of eternal return. He said some things keep recurring in history and they haunt civilization forever. We can avoid such returns when we take precautions. When the people know something and they do something about it, no one can stop them. It prompted Shakespeare to say, “we know what we know, but know not what we may be.” What the people may be is a consequence of being denied what they know. It is high time we stopped lying to ourselves. That way, the people will own their country.

Vigilance is the key word, and as Wendell Philips noted, it is the price of liberty. But we cannot be free unless we are meticulous.

The best example is from Delta State, where the women of Madangho town acted as the heroines of democracy. After they had cast their votes last Saturday, some soldiers drove into town and wanted whisk the ballot papers to a neighboring village called Ajudaiboh for collation. A PDP chieftain was waiting there. The women resisted. When the soldiers insisted, the women stripped naked and harassed the armed men out of town. They were vigilant, and they knew what they knew. The soldiers made them what they became: warriors of democracy. The women may not have heard of Maxim Gorky, Russian writer and revolutionary. They were kindred spirits. The Russian bard wrote, the only people who deserve freedom are those who are ready to fight for it everyday.

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