Trust me, this isn't your typical moan about all that is wrong with Nigeria but kindly bear with me awhile.
That Motherland Nigeria has an ignoble record in virtually everything imaginable, as compared to the promise of her early years, is indisputable. Evidence of this reality can be found virtually everywhere you look. What, is it our educational system? It is worse than a shadow of its early promise and achievement, as most people thirty years and younger now sound like illiterates when compared with the men and women of yesteryears - a fact most disturbingly displayed in the last presidential debates where some of the men who were contesting to lead our country had trouble enunciating themselves properly and effectively in their responses to questions posed them at the debate.
The same can be said for the state of our infrastructure and public services. From the postal service to the road network in Nigeria, everything is in a state of abject decay. You don't even want to talk about the health services, or the agricultural sector that was once the economic cash cow in Nigeria. And what has the advent of the oil boom brought us? The gift of nature that has made paradise of desert kingdoms has made an environmental Armageddon of Nigeria's communities, with the places where the black gold is actually drilled suffering degradation that makes the US gulf oil spilllook like child's play. And don't even talk about the Nigerian democracy, her elections or census; the records are just as dismal as the rest.
In every facet of the Nigerian experience, there is a constant manifestation of failure or underachievement, so much so it has almost become clich├ę to talk about it. So when the issue of elections came up not too long ago, many jaded Nigerians probably felt justified to scoff at any chance of the process turning out a success. After all, experience has proven again and again that it is nigh impossible to hold credible elections in Nigeria. And where the elections are found to be somewhat credible, they are either "annulled" by dictators pretending to be patriots, or deemed by a losing opponent to have been "massively rigged", never mind if this opponent's loss is as genuine as any.
No, Attahiru Jega did not have 4 years, or 2 years, to do a complete overhaul of the electoral process. Instead he had all of 9 months to prepare for elections in a country with about 70 million registered voters, the largest electorate in Africa - an impossible task if you ask me. In addition to that, he had a thriving culture of impunity to contend with on the part of politicians and citizens who aren't used to order and accountability. But this was a job that the renowned academic activist had agreed to do and which he must do well, especially as he had agreed to do the job. Jega has since gone to work and Nigerians at home and abroad, along with the international community, have mostly praised his imperfect effort.
Not everyone is as pleased with Jega's work as head of the Independent National Electoral Commission, however. A fair number of Nigerians including leading opposition candidate Muhammadu Buhari are protesting the conduct of the elections, alleging that elections in parts of the country - particularly in regions otherwise known as the South-South and the South-East - were "massively rigged" in favor of the ruling People's Democratic Party. But others have countered that certain degrees of rigging occurred in the Northern regions as well, with underage voters participating in elections in violation of electoral rules - a loud fact that the loudest critics of the process seem to have ignored.
Nigerians do not need to make excuses for failures observed in the management of their affairs. In fact Nigerians often come across as overtly tolerant in the face of their leaders' excesses. So Nigerians should be encouraged if, for once, they are rising to speak out forcefully against being taken for granted by their leaders.
However, a Yoruba adage also encourages that one exercise caution even while protesting an obvious injustice. It is this writer's belief that we are at such a juncture in Nigeria where, in protesting perceived injustice in our affairs, we need to be careful not to do so to our short or long-term disadvantage, as citizens of a country that is not only fractured in its founding but also more terribly fractured by the antics of some of our leaders who love to exploit our differences for their selfish gains.
The critics of the recently concluded presidential election may be right that electoral malpractices occurred in the elections, but a question that they might want to consider answering is this: are they taking the mood and feeling of the nation at large [as it affects the elections] into consideration? The question is important because there is a sense that Nigerians, having endured so much collective stigma over the conduct of elections in the country, simply want to own the little amount of relative success achieved this time and move on to an even better outcome next time. These people are not in any way ignorant of some of the larger flaws recorded in the election; they only want to relish a rare moment of inching forward to a place they hope Nigeria will be someday soon.
When people feel that way, they don't appreciate others raining on their parade. That is why a negative perception of the Congress for Progressive Change candidate Muhammadu Buhari might be increasing across large swathes of the country today. The retired General is gradually emerging, rightly or wrongly, in the image of one who is undermining the relative success that this election has been for many in Nigeria, mainly due to what this writer sees as comments, by Buhari, that do not live up to the tone expected of a statesman who cares more about the nation's stability than his personal ambition.
Then there is the case of idealist citizens, who though genuinely care for the progress of the country, may be making a mistake of believing that the same Nigeria that we all know is capable of making a 180-degree turn-around in the standard of her electoral process in such a short period. Short of some dictator seizing the reins of power to clean house, it is impossible for an election put together in nine months to achieve the kind of accuracy that these people expect. As we all know, Nigeria is an immensely complex political entity for some latter-day Rawlings to put his stamp upon, and far more complex than those advanced democracies where many Nigerians reside and issue forth their assessment of events at home in Nigeria with all their theatrical comparisons.
It just might be that some of us Nigerians have gotten so used to criticizing the way things are in Nigeria that we may not know when or how to stop. Yes, for many Nigerians, the only Nigeria they are familiar with is the one they get to criticize for all her ills. It also might be, as earlier stated, that some of us Nigerians just want out of all the embarrassment occasioned by the repeated failures in organizing elections. It is nevertheless important that Nigerians recognize and observe developments in the country closely, and think deeply about that is at stake at this moment in the annals of the Nigerian political leadership.
Where others see a chance to criticize what is wrong with everything concerning these elections while demanding that El Dorado be installed in Nigeria today-today, I see an opportunity to cherish and protect this half-full cup for the future. I see retrogressive powers at work, using all manner of subterfuge and intrigues to reclaim a stage from which they have been dislodged by a 'mole' from within. I see this mole from within the People's Democratic Party [who I was against for most of the period that his campaign lasted] being the one with the most stable temperament of the three men who offered themselves as candidates for president of Nigeria.
So, maybe change in Nigeria doesn't have to come in a dramatic gra-grafashion, or through the barrel of a soldier's gun as many Nigerians have often advocated. Maybe change doesn't have to come through a powerful Northern Autocrat, or a Western Godfather, or through an Eastern Warlord. Maybe the higher powers will use the least expected of our leaders to do what needs to be done to change the fortunes of this country. Maybe change will come through a seemingly unassuming man with a warm, genial smile from the creeks.
Maybe change is happening as we speak; slowly, unnoticeably.
Whatever the case may be, I have made my peace with this election, thankful for a half-full cup that today affords me, and hopeful that tomorrow will offer me another chance to wage a better-fought battle. I am heaving a sigh of relief today, worried that things could have been worse the morning after. Yes I am beginning to believe that it just might be a good thing that Candidate Buhari or Candidate Ribadu did not win the presidential election. I say this because I doubt if a reactionary or stubborn leader is what Nigeria needs at this delicate moment, as opposed to someone who has so far conducted himself like an omoluabi.
Leadership is not always about invoking fire and brimstone upon unwelcome realities. Societies all over the world have always gravitated towards whomever conveys an aura of grounded stability - stability guaranteed, not through fiery rhetoric or braggadocio but through a responsible, humane and humble disposition. Throughout the time that the late President Yar'Adua remained out of spotlight and the country tethered on the verge of dysfunction, Goodluck E. Jonathan maintained an uncommon levelheadedness where others would have exploited the vacuum to arrogate power unto themselves, and risk plunging the country into avoidable chaos.
The easiest thing for Nigerians to do is to continue to point out how bad things are or complain about how badly the last election was rigged. In other words, everybody criticizes. Anybody can criticize from their comforts in London or from their nice two-bedroom flat in Lekki. But I sense the expression of a perspective from the Nigerian on the street that is very different from what some of those who congregate on the world wide web are saying. Call it rigging or whatever you want, but while others gathered at places like Sahara Reportersand other such online media outlets talked about how much Nigeria needed Buhari, Nigerians spoke differently.
And now that Nigerians got Goodluck, we await to see how much good luck their preference will bring them.