Home Latest News The Irony of Uncommon Transformation – From Citizen to Slave!, By Adetutu Williams

The Irony of Uncommon Transformation – From Citizen to Slave!, By Adetutu Williams

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The image of this elderly man crying shamelessly haunts me, not because he lost his family or property but because he couldn’t vote. What is the big deal? It is a PDP state and people might have voted PDP anyway, so why is this man who is not a party member crying more than those who actually lost their chance at power? “Election fraud happens everywhere in Nigeria and it is the party with the better rigging machine that wins,” a politician once said glibly. In other words, he told me “it’s nothing personal; it’s what we all do to win.”

“There was no election in Akwa Ibom State! There was no election in Akwa Ibom State! There was no election in Akwa Ibom State,” he cried out several times until his voice cracked. At first, it seemed like the beginning of another flat and uninspiring protest. The common type you see across Nigeria, where a few overzealous ones emerge with posters and make just enough noise to purge their conscience of the apathy that will follow their meager attempt. Protests are usually knee-jerk reactions; you come out just to show discontent with the status quo but not to inconvenience yourself too much.

But this was different. He wasn’t an activist. He appeared to be a simple man with simple means. He owned a small shop on Oron Road and looked like a family man with children and grandchildren. His short-sleeved shirt and worn out sandals showed a man of meager income but he exuded the pride of a man who is the head of his community. I imagined him to be the elder with wise words, who people probably deferred to when issues arose. The type to end heated arguments with a strange old proverb and make sure you laugh at how petty your actions were. There’s that pride that money can’t buy because it is borne out of a sense of duty to God, family and community. Such men will never go with their hands out to the ‘Big Man’. They have a strong sense of time and chance and believe that you are there because God willed it so, not because you are better than others. They are the kind of men who make you feel uncomfortable to bring unwarranted expensive gifts, as they do not attach relevance to such things. The act of sharing a good meal and drink with friends are the simple pleasures they live for, while laughing and discussing the issues of the day.

It’s Sunday April 12, 2015, the day after election, and it is raining profusely. The rain stops and starts again. The skies are grey and the natural gloom in the air is bolstered by the announcement of results on the Akwa Ibom Broadcasting Corporation. A massive win by the PDP – as the broadcast reveals a landslide victory by Udom Emmanuel, with 996,071 votes out of the 1,122,836 votes cast. There were skirmishes of protest and youths burning tires prior to the announcement, as the INEC collation centres remained closed all day. But the announcement of results brought about finality and a sense of defeat by those who hoped they would get the chance to vote if the elections were cancelled in places where voting did not take place.

As observers, we visited different collation centres on Election Day till midnight but witnessed no collation at the ward or local government levels. The next day at 10am we visited the INEC headquarters in Uyo and at 11am they still had not received any election results from the LGAs. As we headed back to our hotel, we saw people gather as smoke filled the air on Oron Road and a fire truck with a loud siren approached. We heard different chants from the pockets of young people that gathered, “Give us our votes! All we want is to vote!!”

…in the modern world, what a travesty it is to be born free but be treated like a slave robbed of the right to exercise your basic human right. It is an anomaly to go from being a citizen to being a slave but it happens in our dear country. It is funny how we gloss over it with terms such as ‘rigging’, ‘election fraud’ and ‘corruption’, as if these vices have no real costs in human terms.

We were trying to capture the conversations from those protesters and fellow bystanders when this man, locking up his shop, caught my attention. He locked the shop to stand by the side of the road. In a mechanical manner he yelled, “There was no election in Akwa Ibom State,” with his head up looking towards the sky, as if challenging the heavens against this fate that had befallen him. He yelled again, “There was no election in Akwa Ibom State”; then some people began to gravitate towards him till there was a circle. That was all he kept saying till his voice cracked and he burst into tears while trying to get the words out. What he displayed was not discontent; it was raw pain and anguish. There’s just something about seeing a grown respectable man cry in public. You would imagine that if he could help it, he would not want to demean himself in public like that. He is the elder of the community that tells young men to man up and take charge of their destiny. But here he is shouting and crying in an undignified manner in the rain!

The image of this elderly man crying shamelessly haunts me, not because he lost his family or property but because he couldn’t vote. What is the big deal? It is a PDP state and people might have voted PDP anyway, so why is this man who is not a party member crying more than those who actually lost their chance at power? “Election fraud happens everywhere in Nigeria and it is the party with the better rigging machine that wins,” a politician once said glibly. In other words, he told me “it’s nothing personal; it’s what we all do to win.”

That politician was wrong. It is very personal because there is no difference between a citizen who is deprived of voting and a slave who is legally barred from voting. Then I remembered Selma, the movie. The first scene with the character played by Oprah Winfrey, whose several attempts to get her voter’s card is truncated again by the racist county clerk. You can feel the injustice of her being turned away from her civic right; it had nothing to do with whom she wanted to vote for. Therefore, it is not about if your candidate wins or loses, it is about your human right to participate and be represented as a free citizen. If you are robbed of this right, you are no different from Kunta Kintein in Roots and Flem in 12 years a Slave. You are not a citizen; you are a slave! In the old world, slavery existed and the aspiration of every slave was to one day be a free man with rights to own property and to vote. So in the modern world, what a travesty it is to be born free but be treated like a slave robbed of the right to exercise your basic human right. It is an anomaly to go from being a citizen to being a slave but it happens in our dear country. It is funny how we gloss over it with terms such as ‘rigging’, ‘election fraud’ and ‘corruption’, as if these vices have no real costs in human terms.

It is so hypocritical to watch these movies of the old world and shed a tear for the past injustice done to black people. If only we realised that it is the same injustice carried out against citizens like the elderly man who cried in the rain. The very act of announcing results without an election robbed him of his dignity; what we are all entitled to according to the Nigerian constitution. This elderly man’s cry was not to protest for the sake of protest, but to assert that he is a citizen and not a slave. So his cry, “There was no election in Akwa Ibom State!”, pierced my heart because only slaves would not have the right to speak against tyranny.

Like Frederick Douglas once said ‘I didn’t know I was a slave until I found out I couldn’t do the things I wanted’. Then I realised that the worst form of slavery is the one where you appear to be free but are not. It’s like when your neighbours’ house is robbed, you inextricably share in the state of paranoia and insecurity in the community. So also do we share in the servitude of those who were robbed of their right to vote. This is the reason why I join this man and his likes to say indeed “There was no election in Akwa Ibom State!”

Moniker Adetutu Williams was an observer during the last gubernatorial election in Akwa Ibom State.

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