Today, June 12th marks the democracy day celebration in Nigeria. Interestingly, there isn’t so much celebration of democracy around town or on social media either. The conversations are more steered towards what we still need as a nation.
Thinking about democracy, one experience particularly comes to mind for me, while sitting in a bus in transit from Ile-Ife to Lagos, shortly after the election period in February, I listened on as some of the passengers started a conversation.
There appears to be rhetoric that appears to binds us as Nigerians ( the bad roads, poor electricity, Education and infrastructure_ it’s a shared Nigerian experience).
Ever meet a stranger and you are wondering what you have in common? Start a conversation about politics in Nigeria.
A female passenger began to share her experience at the polling booth during the election, on arriving, she noticed another woman who had been owing her some money for some time and had been quite elusive. She was really happy to have ‘caught’ her. She waited patiently until the other woman cast her votes and then immediately confronted her about debt and grabbed her purse.
She found N1000 in the purse and took it. The other woman immediately broke down in tears and started pleading, saying that her children had not been able to eat for two days and they had no idea where their next meal would come from. She had gotten the brilliant idea of going to the polling booth in hopes that someone would definitely buy her votes (she went there ready to sell to the highest bidder). She had successfully gotten 1000 Naira for selling her votes and was going to use it to feed her children since she had no other options.
The woman narrating the story shared with us how her own heart sank as well, although she really needed the money as well, she had to allow the woman owing her to leave.
At that some point, everyone on the bus went stopped, some released sighs. You see, this was an experience that everyone could relate, the concept and the realities of extreme poverty aren’t really far from our sight or the homes we live in.
Although I personally had not experienced that form of extreme want, my mind quickly wandered to an old woman who we had found picking waste bins along our street. She had told us while scavenging from the waste bins, if she found meat, she would take it home, wash and refry for her children.
I wondered if she wouldn’t sell her votes if she had a chance to. And I also questioned whether or not I would advise her to sell her votes (at least so she could purchase fresh meat).
Poverty is one of the biggest factors militating against democracy in Nigeria. Poverty is in the 87 million Nigerians living in extreme poverty. Poverty, of course, is in many dimensions, illiteracy, poor educational system, in vote buying and even in young men who carry great potential but willingly take arms to perpetuate in election violence and ballot snatching.
In pondering on all these I have come to the conclusion that to safeguard and advance our democracy as a nation, we wouldn’t only need to make democratic policies and foster transparency but invest heavily in economic and social measures to eradicate poverty and improve social welfare.