It’s the night before elections and I’ve just returned from the supermarket and its snarl of cars outside. I’ve never seen the place so rammed, especially not on a Friday night. It was filled with people stocking up – on food, essential items, alcohol – and board games. In one basket, I counted no fewer than 5 different board games, ranging from Monopoly to Cluedo. With all movements restricted between 8am to 5pm when voting takes place (I don’t understand this decision, surely 1. You want to encourage not discourage people from going out to vote? and 2. I would imagine the risk of violence and insecurity would increase not decrease in the evening?), people are bunkering down at home, planning a weekend of movies, games, cooking up a storm and, for some of them, boozing too. I just hope they go out and vote at some point.
This week, I’ve been reflecting on my feelings and that of those around me about elections. For me, elections (and the situation in North East Nigeria) have been a constant presence in the back, if not right at the forefront, of my mind for the past three months. I *almost* cannot imagine what it will be like once elections hold and the inevitable post election drama is over.
Looking at myself and those I’ve been speaking with, I’ve seen at least five different stages or attitudes towards elections. These are not at linear or even cyclical. I’ve found myself passing from one to another, sometimes able to note the transitions when doing so, and at times being torn between two or three concurrently.
1) Acute engagement
This is when you spend every second thinking about elections, politics and the personalities and relationships involved. You scrutinise and analyse statements, statistics and facts, linking what you heard just five seconds ago with information stretching back weeks, months or even years. Your mind is full of the minutiae of the politics of the presidential race as well as contestations at the state level in at least 5-10 states. You spend 12 straight hours glued to AIT or Channels, with one eye on Twitter, in the hope of a statement from Jega (yes, this was me on 7th February). You look at five maps of the breakdown of APC/ PDP/ battleground states that all have widely different colour distributions until your head starts spinning and your eyes can’t focus anymore.
Common thoughts or statements at this point can be: I’ve gone 10 minutes without checking Twitter – what’s happening with elections? Did you read Femi Fani-Kayode’s recent article? But Jega spoke and said…, what does this mean about whether INEC is going to be able to withstand political pressure? If you track Buhari’s statements over the last 6 weeks, you’ll find… The people of the Southern Senatorial Zone of x State won’t be happy if xx is the xx party pick because the current Governor has pre-determined the party primary – it’s completely against zoning! To what extent will the number of women in the National Assembly drop?
This comes when you look too closely at what is happening and step back to think on what this all means. You see politicians in retreat in the Abuja/ Lagos [insert locations relevant to your country here] bubble without any awareness of life for the majority of people in the country. You look at the venality, the corruption, the lying, the disregard for human suffering, the high levels of insecurity, the significant number of your fellow country people living in daily fear for their lives and those of their children, and you start to seethe. You might waver between rage, incomprehension and just plain trying to understand how people can be this way. This may be directed at politicians or at other influential people.
Common thoughts or statements at this point can be: I just don’t understand. What is wrong with these politicians? How can human beings actively incite violence just to hold on to power even if it means people die? How can they not act when they see what is happening? How can they say/ do that when they know what it means? Where is their humanity? Women and girls have been being abducted from the North East for years now – and still, nobody does anything.
3) Intense worry
This is when you become overwhelmed with worries: about your country, it’s future, what may happen or not happen. This can either take the form of worry about the outcome of elections, the conduct of elections or about the potential of violence
Common thoughts or statements at this point can be: What’s going to happen? If PVCs don’t work, will there be riots? Remember what Buhari did back then, it will destroy the country if we go back to that. How will we survive 4 more years of Jonathan? What impact will the violent nature of political contestation have on women’s engagement? Will elections be rigged even with the card readers? How? How can they be free and fair given… If that happens, the South-South is going to burn/ there will be nothing left in the North. How many people will die? What do the high levels of hate speech mean? Is there any chance of averting violence at all? How do we do it? We should have started earlier. We haven’t done enough. What more can we do?
At this point, you’re completely overwhelmed or you’ve just given up. You have been intensely caring for so long that you’re just burnt out right now. You might get back to a more active stage later on – or you may not. There are two aspects to this: complete and utter despair or thinking that *somehow* everything is going to be okay.
Common thoughts or statements at this point can be: This is Nigeria and Nigeria somehow always comes through. What will happen will happen. There’s no point being angry or worried. Nothing I can do will make a difference. It’s in God’s hands. What can we do but pray?
You’ve just had enough.
Common thoughts or statements at this point can be: Are we still talking about the elections? It’s been months now. They just need to happen already. I almost don’t care who wins as long as they hold and we can then get on with our lives.
Sometimes, you want to stay at a certain stage. You don’t want to leave the safe haven of resignation to go back to being angry or intensely worried. You’re so busy being engaged in the drama and the pageantry of elections and analysing everything that you don’t wan to stop to have time to feel anything else. But, inexorably, times passes and what you’re feeling and where you are at changes.
I’m very well aware that this is reflective of a very particular political class (or perhaps just me and my friends).
What do you think? Does any of this seem familiar to you? Could it be applied to other countries or contexts outside Nigeria in 2015?