By Zainab Suleiman Okino
In about five days or so that Americans held the world on edge and apprehension over their presidential election, Nigerians had a field day savouring perceived flaws and unpleasant issues arising from the election such as ‘bribery and violence’; and they (Nigerians) did try to use the so-called errors to validate our own inherently contradictory and corrupt electoral system.
In those comparisons was the sharing of stimulus package, which our people referred to as stomach infrastructure and a few skirmishes from overzealous supporters, classified here as violence-marred election. These comparisons are in themselves flawed and the assumption therein is even curiouser.
In actual fact, the sharing of relief materials is part of the country’s-legislature sanctioned stimulus package; but President Donald Trump, being a weird politician, went for an overkill and accompanied the package with a signed note. Even if the stimulus package is not approved by government, how much of voter-inducement and violence did we really see and ‘excited’ about and what is there to celebrate in ‘abnormal situations’ anyway?
And the pockets of “violent outburst” between Democrats and Republicans, both of which were orchestrated by Nigerians in Diaspora and chorused by Nigerians back home, as proofs that American election is not better than Nigeria’s and that politicians are the same everywhere, is equally mistaken. Yes, politicians are the same and winning is uppermost to them, no matter what it takes, out there, election officials and government are bound by institutional framework, that are observed in the breach here. Notwithstanding those few isolated cases, it is disingenuous of Nigerians to allege massive rigging, violence and voter-inducement as we know and see it here. Even Trump that alleged rigging has not been able to prove same, and America seems to have moved ahead with or without his endorsement of the result.
However, if ever there is any similarity between us and them, that is where it stops. American model of democracy, is still one of the best, and rules don’t change at an individual’s whims. There is no perfect and full-proof system anywhere, but Americans reenacted their ideals, for which they are respected, with the election of Joe Biden and indeed the election of at least three Nigerians. Above all, the victory of these Nigerians at the U.S. polls has raised questions about effective management of our own diversities. How is it that Oye Owolewa, in his early 30s, who was not even born in America, could be elected as opposed to our faulty citizenship that places more value on where your parents come from than where you are born or live and who you are; your competence and capability notwithstanding?
Each time my children have to fill any form and invoke their state of origin as Kogi, I worry about the kind of nation we are building. I had all my children, but one in Kaduna having settled there since my NYSC days until Daily Trust transferred me to Abuja. Their only recollections of their home state, are occasional trips that have since been truncated by incessant attacks and kidnappings on Abuja-Lokoja-Okene road. And if ever they show interest in political office, they will have to go back to the land they barely know as home. What kind of awkward arrangement places this kind of burden on its people?
My brother, Farooq Kperogi, decided to relocate to the US about 16 years ago. Before our very eyes, he wrote and passed the necessary exams, got a scholarship, backed up with a very excellent Bachelor’s degree and left for the US. Today, he and his children, who joined him as recently as less than 10 years ago, after his wife’s death are now dual citizens of both America and Nigeria. This is the altruistic display of American exceptionalism we are talking about; not an aberration that Trump stands for and imagined election-related violence Nigerians hoped for.
Talk of the many scholarship opportunities and good jobs that have lifted many Nigerians of humble backgrounds out of poverty; many of who would have remained in the lower rung and biting poverty in Nigeria in-spite of their talent and education, had they not got those opportunities, again thanks to America’s open-door and liberal policies.
On the so-called violence or cheating surrounding the election, there may not be much substance to it after all. Is it fathomable here to count 15 million votes in five days without INEC officials succumbing to blackmail, bribes or voters not being seduced with Ghana-Must-Go. In 21 years of democracy in Nigeria, we have lost thousands of lives through thuggery and election related violence including local elections. Yet, in America, almost 150 million votes were counted without any whimper of violence or death. To ridicule such an incredible institution, in order to get even, beats my imagination, and to compare the two countries with pride is preposterous. Why are Nigerians gloating because of minor human errors here and there in the U.S. election? Why do we want others to get low with us and why do we celebrate the mistakes of others, just so we can beat our chest and say “abhorrent behavior is not a Nigerian thing alone”? What is there to be proud of in such renegade attitude? And why use such isolated cases to justify our vices.
Unlike here, where primordial considerations such as ethnicity, religion, region, zone and indeed mediocrity as against meritocracy determine election outcome, the American election is a journey into nation-building and healing of their ugly past, as it was with the election of Barack Obama, now Vice President elect, Kamala Harris and the likes of Owolewa and Abgaje, without prejudice to Trump’s polarizing aberration. Where Trump or Biden hails from, their state of origin or whose turn it is between the North and South to produce the president were not the defining and deciding factors in that election.
Rather than being scornful of the turn of events in America leading to the election, we should rather take a cue from their respect for institutions no matter how imperfect and their steady effort at managing their diversities. It is the same institution that allowed ‘Nigerian strangers’ to find accommodation there, to the extent of contesting and winning election. It is the same American system and institutional framework that eased out a man full of baggage like Trump. So, as Nigerians, we should learn not to find comfort in the ugly sides of other countries just to justify our failing system. Instead the positive vibes thrown up by the same election should inspire us to strive for excellence.