The following was cross-posted at my blog Method to the Madness.
The Nigerian #WhatAboutUs Presidential debate left me cold, and it’s taken me a couple of days to understand why.
Let’s forget for one moment the question of whether or not this debate will change the electoral calculus. It won’t. Probably everyone in that room holds themselves in high enough moral standing as not to sell their vote for a cup of rice or a small nylon bag of garri, or perhaps some money. I know, because I’m one of them. Indeed, most politicians can’t afford to buy off the dignity of someone who is middle to upper-class. Our tastes are too high. We already have rice, bags of it, probably eat it with stir-fry at fancy Chinese restaurants once a month when we save money. Guys can afford to buy their girlfriends a bottle of champagne (however much he’ll wince at his bank statement later), maybe even play the big boy once in awhile – if not every weekend – at Koko Lounge or Marquis or wherever it is those young Lagos folk hang out these days. No, a corrupt politician wouldn’t want to buy our vote. Our apathy is so much cheaper.
And apathetic we usually are, even as so many among us profess “Proudly Nigeria”, and believe that we are the ones we are waiting for. But we are not. Because we are already here. We have known for a long time what needs to be done, probably have technocrat friends who could us exactly how, and we have know for a long time. No, we are not any less Nigerian than them, but we are not the critical mass; those other people are.
Let it be known that there are less of the yuppy Nigerians trooping to Victoria Island than there are them. Yes, them. Those people who weren’t there in the debate. Those people who are likelier to own a radio than a TV. Those people who were probably on their okadas looking for passengers during the debate, hawking food or recharge cards, selling tomatoes in the market. Those people whose vote is up for resale because they don’t see the difference in the candidates, and are so disillusioned because they don’t have the same sense of urgency for their stomachs as they do for the country.
Those are the people politicians go to, after all, when they want votes, not us. With our Twitter and Blackberries, our Bella Naija and our good English and trips to London for summer. And I’m not even saying I blame these people. I’m just saying that we do not have the humility to see the smallness of our number. I’m saying that, if we did, we would have had a debate beamed from a market somewhere, with the head marketwoman or Iyaloja moderating, with translators for the Hausa or Igbo presidential candidate.
I’m not saying that that would have helped much either. We as Nigerians are so used to our leaders being unavailable that it may even backfire. What kind of “Big Man” the logic goes, would sit with his servants? And Nigeria has always had a twisted relationship with leaders, these leaders that we have had for so long that never serve. But I wanted something, anything, to show that people in that room, the organizers of that debate, understood. Because something, however, misguided, would have shown that they realized that people like us aren’t the ones that matter. Or that people like us are not the only ones that matter. Not by a long shot.
And the fact that we so often don’t see it, and very often only give it lip service speaks louder than anything else of why we get the politicians that we do, that acknowledge only one slice of Nigeria in their daily business. That is what we do, too, is it not? And don’t our leaders come from us? this society? these people? This society that we have crafted with our bare hands, brick-by-brick, almost adoringly. We will not blow this brick house down if we do not turn the lights away from ourselves, and on to the people who will really change this country, those who need convincing that this change is possible, and those who need convincing that there is actually a way to make it happen. We – diaspora kids, Enough is Enough kids, full-bellied kids, going to Arise Fashion Week in Muson kids, going to art galleries and Silverbird Galleria kids – are not the ones that need convincing. They are.
The secret of our dignity that makes us so hard to buy is our ability to dream. But it doesn’t matter if we have stars in our eyes. It matters that they don’t. It doesn’t matter if we have dreams of a shining city on the hill. It matters that they don’t. Because our country will not live off of our dreams. Our revolution wouldn’t happen until those people who were not in that room during the debate starve, because they choose to ignore the stretch of that arm offering money for their vote, and dream, too.