Businessday Ng –
In his online special titled “Unforgiven,” comedian Dave Chappelle recounts an unexpectedly profound anecdote from his past. He recalls being a young, struggling stand-up comic struggling to make rent every month alone in New York City, as he slowly built a name for himself.
One morning, while out taking a walk in his neighbourhood, he came across a street card game surrounded by an excited group of onlookers. Needing the extra cash, he decided to try his luck and maybe win a few bucks.
He was very good at the game in question, and he was sure that he would beat the dealer and win. Instead, at the very end of the game, the wrong card somehow came up and he ended up losing all the money he had on him.
This was when we realised that the game was rigged. Our choice of name was rejected out of hand by INEC after we jumped through the first set of hoops
Shocked and confused by the unexpected loss, he sat at a short distance away and watched the game carefully.
Within a few minutes, he reached a horrible realisation – the dealer was cheating and the whooping and hollering “onlookers” were actually in on the scam. The “crowd” and the card dealer were in fact working together to fleece punters of their money.
The basic elements of this scam are the same wherever they are applied, be it in an illegal street gambling game in New York City or in the processes governing an election in a certain West African country halfway around the world from Dave Chappelle’s adolescent neighbourhood.
There is an umpire who is presumed to be impartial but is actually a crook with a vested interest; there is a third-party watching on offering “helpful” commentary; and finally there is you – the mark.
You might recall how during the thick of #EndSARS, a narrative started making its way around along the lines of “instead of blocking the road and reacting emotionally, these young people should come together, register a political party and put forward the protest leaders as their candidates. They have demonstrated that they can organise and fund themselves, so they need to apply this capacity to politics instead of blocking the road and (bla bla bla)…”
Well, it so happens that some of us actually did just that. Or tried to anyway. Inspired by the apparent wisdom and common sense in the above narrative, a few of us came together, organised ourselves with a WhatsApp group and set about trying to register a political party in October 2020. This was when we realised that the game was rigged. Our choice of name was rejected out of hand by INEC after we jumped through the first set of hoops.
Then we realised that the structure of the party itself had to change to fit INEC parameters. According to INEC rules, all principal posts within the party “must reflect federal character.”
In other words, right from the get-go, a party we were trying to set up for the sole and express purpose of pushing an agenda for fiscal federalism, executive decentralisation and political restructuring had to potentially compromise that mission by putting people into key roles for no other reason than to fill ethnic quotas decreed by INEC.
We would also have to pay a registration fee of N1 million, after which we would have to hope that INEC approved us.
Quickly, the reality of participation in Nigeria’s political and electoral processes dawned on our little circle – the system was set up to self-replicate and to destroy any attempt at political deviation.
We could not in fact, register a political party built around the ideals of #EndSARS because the very conditions for registration ensured that it would be diluted and doomed from the start.
For reference, all you need to register a political party in the UK is a copy of your party’s constitution, a copy of your party’s financial scheme that has been adopted by the party, and a non-refundable application fee of £150 (about N120,000).
Independent candidates are also allowed to run without a party. Between the country that charges N1 million to (maybe) get in on the ground floor of the electoral process, and the country that charges N120,000, which is effectively optional, which one of these places actually wants people to participate in politics?
APC, PDP and the whooping onlookers
With one having moved on from the dream of floating a political party at this point, the two arms of Nigeria’s political diarchy then loudly proclaim this failure to register a party as evidence of one’s “unseriousness.”
To those who don’t know the true story, such criticism rings true, and people thus come away with the mistaken idea that young Nigerians are too passive to take part in politics.
This false idea is then amplified when young Nigerians try to get into the most basic level of political participation – voting – only to discover that INEC has once again strategically placed a landmine in their way.
The Permanent Voters Card is that landmine.
Repeatedly since 2015, multiple lawsuits have sought to challenge the unconstitutional imposition of this thing on Nigeria’s electoral processes. Nothing has come of these lawsuits, even as millions of Nigerians continue to complain about the obvious impropriety of the situation.
“Young Nigerians would rather complain about bad governance than get their PVCs,” crow the APC and PDP types. Like Dave Chappelle in the story at the outset, one might get swayed by this apparently factual narrative pushed by apparently random commentators.
That is, until one digs into what the reality of the PVC is. The reality that registering for one is a Herculean effort that involves queuing for hours and dealing with incompetent and adversarial civil servants.
The reality that most young Nigerians with jobs and businesses simply cannot get up and take 2 or 3 days out of their schedule to queue for a piece of plastic that could easily be printed in 5 minutes.
The reality that while banks and other commercial establishments have deployed self service technology to print smart cards in as little as 5 minutes, PVC printing and delivery takes anything from several months to a decade.
The reality is that APC and PDP politicians regularly deploy thugs to disrupt PVC registration and collection processes. The reality is that after somehow jumping through all these intentionally-placed obstacles, one will turn up to the voting booth on election day and likely find that the card reader cannot verify one’s PVC, effectively disenfranchising one.
Read also: Abuja court orders INEC not to discontinue ongoing registration
The reality, in fact, is that INEC is the dealer from Dave Chappelle’s story, and PDP/APC are the loud “bystanders” who are actually working with the dealer to deceive punters (young Nigerians) into accepting the false narrative that their disenfranchisement is their own fault, and that PDP/APC politics is the only way to do politics in Nigeria.
The wet dream of all 3 is a situation where the total number of voters who come out to vote dwindles to negligible levels in a supposed democracy, giving them free reign to monetise the electoral process even further in a manner similar to how they run their internal primary elections.
In that scenario, next year’s elections would end up being decided by fewer than 20 million of Nigeria’s 80 million+ registered voters. PDP of course, would dutifully lose the election and its serial candidate who is on his 6th attempt across 4 political parties would return to Dubai after dutifully losing the electoral tribunal and lawsuits challenging the candidacy of the other guy with a heroin trafficking indictment.
With a smirk, they will then inform us young Nigerians that this is all in fact our fault for “playing football on election day.”
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Business Day, established in 2001, is a daily business newspaper based in Lagos. It is the only Nigerian newspaper with a bureau in Accra, Ghana. It has both daily and Sunday titles. It circulates in Nigeria and Ghana
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