By Morak Babajide-Alabi

As we march towards the 2019 Nigeria’s General Elections, I think it is wise to look back and ask ourselves what we have learnt as a nation and individuals since the last elections. We are told that the lessons of life are learnt when we look back, correct and plan for the future. “You can’t go back and change the beginning, but you can start where you are and change the ending.” ― C. S. Lewis.

This is expedient as at this time four years ago, all we heard from the politicians was the chant of change. This week, I am, once again, reaching into the archives to share my thoughts with the readers. This is predicated on the fact that our politicians are on the roll again, canvassing for votes to win the next election. They have been going about, as usual, promising heaven on earth for all Nigerians.

There is a need to look back at history, especially the journeys of these politicians. Are they still as promising as they were four or five years ago? Do they have the steam or energy to turn the ill-fated economy around? Do they still possess the charm that endeared them to the masses in 2015?

It is always fascinating to watch politicians, especially from developing countries, a few months before elections. They are such a bunch of fun people who lift the moods of everyone. They appear nice, loving and very caring. As they hop from one soapbox to another, you think they are the best creations of the Almighty Father.

Not only are they fun they also present themselves as problems solvers. They are adept at identifying the ills of the society, while they pretend to have the solutions to the problems at their fingertips. The politicians paint a world far away from the reality that they themselves begin to believe it actually exists.

For these lots, there is no conscience in their act. All is fair in the game as they try to outsmart themselves searching for vantage positions so they can be seen as the best friends of the masses. They do all they can to prove that they are as human as the other citizens down the road.

When you see politicians jumping on public transport buses in Nigeria, you need no telling that an election is around the corner. These are times when big men do households shopping in the local markets. They do not come alone; they bring along the party faithful who distribute goodies to the market men and women.  Nigeria politics is unique, only the players understand the game.

Politicians are always eager to exhibit their foolishness in exchange for votes. Or how can we justify them eating roasted plantain, corns or yams by the roadside? Till date, it has been unexplainable how some of them think hawking or riding on commercial motorbikes, Okada, is the best way to connect with the people.

On the other hand, election periods are harvest times for the hungry and often neglected voters as the politicians spend some of the looted money on them. The politicians come with wads of cash, branded bags of rice, bales of clothes, live chickens, wheelbarrows, loaves of bread and many other types of gifts. The citizens, among them old pensioners, jobless youths line up under the weather while the demagogues shake their hands for photo opportunities.

Poverty is a curse. It turns otherwise decent and disciplined people into desperadoes. Desperation, on the other hand, makes people do what they would not have done ordinarily. This is why the common men and women in Nigeria see political gifts as their share of the national cake. It is hard to blame them as these heartless politicians only surface once in four years. Waiting another four years is a risk too big to take as immediately the elections are over, the masses are left to their fates.

The promises of improved infrastructure, better life, abundant jobs soon become dreams. The politicians have what they wanted, and the masses are left struggling with collapsing infrastructures, hunger and joblessness. The only redeemer, at this stage, is, therefore, religion. They turn to the Lord as the pastors and imams urge them to look beyond their present situation. They are encouraged to come to the house of the Lord, and He will take care of their needs.

Prayer may be the answer to turn the fortunes of the jobless around. The politicians have run back to the cities to make more money for the next general elections. The ones that are elected to represent the local communities have hurriedly built palatial buildings with high fences and security manned gates to keep the masses away. The elections have been won. This is a signal that the dividends of democracy are ripe for harvest. The wardrobe, constituency, transport, housing, security allowances are making sweet sounds of alerts on their phones.

Enough said for now. Read an excerpt of my thoughts as published in this column on November 5, 2017.

“I am not going to join the band of pretenders that have found it hard to accept the fact that the country is on course to nowhere. I am tired, also, trying to convince people that the ship ‘Motherland’ is stuck in the middle of the ocean and the present captains, just like the set they sent packing, lack basic ideas of nautical position, direction, distance, and depth, talk less of applying them to practical navigation. It will take more than a crash course in the navigation to get out.

“Recent happenings are not encouraging, nor are they signs of a better future for this generation or the ones coming behind. Disappointment is an overused word and to say the people are disillusioned is stating the obvious. Yet, we are being assured that the hope in change is not misplaced.

“This is understandable. Thich Nhat Hanh, the Vietnamese peace activist once said – “Hope is important because it can make the present moment less difficult to bear. If we believe that tomorrow will be better, we can bear a hardship today.” Nigerians are soldiering on, losing hope in the promised change.”

“Looking back now, it was understandable change was the focus of the 2015 political campaign. The world, in general, was going through a change process, and the smart politicians knew they had to jump on this bandwagon and promise something. The ordinary Nigerians had no choice because a particular political party and political characters have ruled their destinies for many years without any corresponding change in their welfare or lifestyle.

Some of us saw beyond the political catchphrase of change. We warned that we need more than screams of change for the country to move forward. At the height of these frenetic change campaigns in January 2015, I wrote a piece titled, “Nigeria Will Change, When There Is Individual Rebirth” where I foretold that no change was coming to Nigeria if there was no change in the way we conduct individual businesses. It was easy to know there was not going to be any change because the type of change we were clamouring for at that time was superficial.

I wrote – “Change does not come in a vacuum. It has to be effected. And no society can be changed without changing the individual. The Nigerian has to change himself before society can change. And this is the mistake these agents of change are making. Change cannot be achieved overnight. It has to be a steady process.“

Now we are wiser than we were in 2015. Yet, people are still trying to pull the wool over our eyes on Nigeria politics. Either to prevent us from seeing what is happening or they simply think we are all “mumus”.

As published in the Diaspora Matters column, Sunday Vanguard of December 2, 2018.