Now that we’ve voted for change, By Emmanuel Adepoju

By Emmanuel Adepoju

Many Nigerians may be nurturing the fallaciuos hope that president-elect Muhammadu Buhari will punch a green button and everything, including "the Nigerian factor," will change for good.

She rode in on a motorcycle. In her mid-thirties, I must admit she was a beautiful young woman. She was dressed in a gray skirt reaching just below her knees and a matching black top with see-through sleeves. Her braids, reaching way down her back were a perfect complement to her perfectly adorned face. She bore two bags; and that was how we knew she was the person we had been waiting for. One of the bags was a thick, dark green bag with WAEC boldly written on it.

About fifteen minutes later, we were ready to begin. It was my first time to be present at a WAEC examination not as a student. And it wasn’t long before I got my first shock.

She brought a pack of Identity cards WAEC had produced to identify the students. They were small, compact, plastic cards much like the now popular permanent voters’ card and much unlike the large paper cards our schools issued us when we were writing ours some ten years ago. The cards were distributed to the students, about forty of them. The question papers and answer sheets were also handed out and the examination began in earnest. Then I got my second shock.

The WAEC official reached into her bag and brought out a device much like INEC’s card reader. It was a card reader too but it didn’t have the finger print reading function.

As she explained, she would use the device to read the cards and each successfully read card would be registered in WAEC’s central database. That would be the proof that the student wrote the exam, she added.

Consequently, anyone whose card was not read would be registered absent. She scanned the cards and picked out about 5 impersonators.

Threatening severe action, she called the attention of one of the school management executives. After a discreet exchange of words between them, the impersonators were allowed to return to their seats and the examination continues as if nothing had happened.

As she packed her bag at the end of the paper, she was handed an envelope. The content? Your guess is as good as mine.
The same thing happened during the next paper. It was the same supervisor but a general paper. That meant we had about a hundred candidates.

Consequently, there were more impersonators. She identified every one of the impersonators and sent them out of the examination hall. The threats this time were more serious; she even vowed not to let them back in. Again, in came the examination coordinator and another round of negotiation commenced. Following quite a haggle, the invigilator eventually agreed to collect Thirty Thousand Naira to look the other way. The expelled students were allowed back in, and the teachers wrote the answers on the board for their students.
That was only day one of the examinations. The same thing played out in the days that followed even though different supervisors were sent to the school on each day. The price tag varied dependent on the negotiation skills of each supervisor. The supervisor for English Language, male, opened bargain at N100,000 and closed at N65,000.

The latest changes in the electoral process/procedures in Nigeria are no secret. Much of the success recorded in the 2015 presidential elections has been attributed to these changes, especially the introduction of the card readers. Admittedly, several flaws still characterized the elections.
Having taken part in the election process as an official, I had a bit of an inside view of the whole process.

I know it could have been better. I went through the procedures for the election as highlighted in the election manual several times before the election and I am quite sure we would have had near-perfect elections if every official followed them to the letter. But that would never be. I returned to the office of INEC in my Local Government after my day’s work at my polling unit to the news of some polling units not having had result sheets to record their results.

Apparently, some persons had withheld the result sheets so they could manipulate the results of the election from those units. It’s even sadder that their greed induced action exposed the election officers (mostly National Youth Service Corps members) to the danger of being mobbed by the electorate in their various units.
So, which should change first? Us or our institutions?

It is quite evident that we the people of Nigeria have bought into the All Progressive Congress’ (APC) offer of change, at least majority of us have. And judging from reports in the media, our hopes her very high. Many of us are convinced that the problem is out there, that something, someone out there, not us, needs to change that our country may make progress. I’m afraid we are headed towards disappointment – a big one at that.

As my foregoing recounts suggest, every smart move our institutions have made in an effort to make things better in this country have almost always been sabotaged by, guess who? You guessed right.
I am convinced, beyond reasonable doubt, that for Nigeria to have a chance at reaching her potential, something more paramount and fundamental than the government and its institutions has to change, we!

Those of us who are humble enough to be honest with ourselves would agree with me that something is fundamentally wrong with the mentality of an average Nigerian.

If you’re yet to be convinced of that notion, try and insist your friends and family members use the trash can instead of dumping trash any and everywhere. You do not have to describe the kind of queer look you’ll most probably get in return. I have seen it a thousand times. If you’re as unlucky as I have been, you’ll also get a nickname as a bonus.

My employer belongs to a Christian denomination that sees every other Christian as pagans. You know them, right? Good. So, it came naturally to him to see me as a pagan who needed to be ‘saved’ after I told him I was not a member of his denomination.

The looks he gave me became stranger and queerer when he found out I had not been attending church since I resumed for my one year national youth service in his school.

Several times he has invited me to their meetings. Every time I have declined.

Yet, he asked me to join his other teachers to ‘help’ his candidates/students during their examination – what is properly described as examination malpractice. And when I declined, his son, who masterminds the whole process, described my refusal as a ‘holier-than-thou’ attitude. “We are not all sinners,” he said.

It is quite distressing that people make doing what is right look and feel so wrong and prideful. If you’ve ever tried to live by the rules, I bet you can testify to the loneliness that characterizes such a path.

The only problem Nigeria has is Nigerians. And that was as true at independence as it is today. It is, in my opinion, why we have made little progress as a nation despite the numerous changes in government we’ve had.

It is worthy to note that every change in government usually built up so much expectations in Nigerians that they often took to the streets to celebrate the change even when it was induced by a coup d’état.

Sadly though, by the time the government is being kicked out, all the hopes it brought with it would have been effectively dashed. If nothing else, this trend ought to cause us to take a closer look within.

Why do we seem to head in a new direction only to find ourselves, years later, back where we began? Over and over.

It is a problem with the Nigerian. The man who sabotages the system is a Nigerian. The man who fails to execute the project for which he has been paid is a Nigerian. He is a Nigerian who sees everywhere as ideal for trash. The man who inflates contract costs is a Nigerian. The WAEC supervisor who receives money to allow examination malpractice in his center is a Nigerian. The proprietor who offers money to the supervisor to ‘help’ his candidates is a Nigerian. He also is a Nigerian who snatches ballot boxes to give his party undue advantage in elections. Ultimately, it is the Nigerian that keeps dragging the wheel of progress backward in Nigeria.

Hence, Nigeria needs not only a change in processes and institutions but also, and more importantly, a change in the psyche of Nigerians (our so-called leaders inclusive). This is the huge task that the in-coming administration faces. We could go about strengthening the institutions as we’ve been doing and ultimately see our efforts go to waste as our people create and exploit holes in it.

A wiser approach, then, would be to also put in motion a process by which our collective sense of value and reasoning can be correctly tuned. That, ultimately, is how our institutions can truly be strengthened.

And to you who have read this piece to this point. If you really want to see this country live up to its potentials, it MUST begin with you. Yes, YOU!

Follow Rotimi on Twitter @akinolarj to continue this conversation or drop your comments on the blog.

7 thoughts on “Now that we’ve voted for change, By Emmanuel Adepoju

  1. Point. Set. Match. I feel that loneliness many times and sometimes have been nicknamed weirdo. But we must all start from ourselves and expand our horizon of influence gradually until two or more circles of influence intersect till Nigeria is totally cured. It will take time but more importantly, sacrifice from doing it right instead of quickies and wrong cuts, to progress.

    My heart leapt for joy like John in Elizabeth’s womb while reading this post. I have proudly lost favours because i refused to look the other way, grease an illegal elbow, dance to the popular tune, nor follow the masses. Keep it up. One step at a time.

    1. Amos, I feel you brother. People like you are rare.

      Just wanna add…
      I’m not really sure we can “cure Nigeria.” I think the mere determination to brighten the little corners we find ourselves is enough. This mindset will help us hold on even if people refuse to join our positive sphere of influence.
      It’s more of trying to be sane in the midst of lunacy, and not necessarily attempting to rid the world of its malady. I could be wrong, though.

      1. We need to change our mindset. Act like we believe Nigeria actually belongs to us. We expect too much from the government when we’re not even ready to do anything ourselves. Anywhere you are should be treated as your slice of heaven. It will really go a long way.

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