Dawn returned to Nigeria in 1999, after years of mid-nighty darkness in the iron fist of the military. I was five the year Abacha died and six the next year when the fourth Republic was inaugurated after the 1999 general elections. I cannot recall all the events of that year, yet there are significant ones I cannot forget: like the campaign posters taped to trees or stuck to walls or strewn along the rough, dusty roads of our village,
like the shrill howls of megaphones, on our way back from school, blaring party songs, slogans and symbols: ole ebeanyi ga-ebinye aka? Ebe esere mbalari ! Ebe esere oka! ,
like the boxes of matches and salts and maggi cubes and meagre cups of rice measured out to every adult who presented a voter card.
And, am sure, too, there was an ominous silence that thickened in the air that Saturday as every adult in our compound trooped out, because they wanted change and yet, were afraid of history being repeated. The June 12,1993 annulment was still alive, a haunting spectra in their memory. A sad proof that their collective decision could be thwarted by the elbowing of a rifle, by a single senseless stamp of jackboot.
The elections of that year were successful. The People’s Democratic Party won in a landslide. The victory, this time, was acknowledged and on May 29th, the government was inaugurated, signifying a milestone in the history of democracy in Nigeria. All the adults who voted in that election moved on, with their fears buried beneath their slippers. The military was finally out of the way.
PDP became the ruling party controlling twenty eight out of thirty six states and with majority members in both the Upper and Lower legislative chambers. It remained so for sixteen uninterrupted years. .So I and other kids of my generation grew up in the shadow of PDP, under the shade of that imposing green, white and red coloured umbrella which, on many dire occasions, could not shield us from the malignant economic and political weather of this country. Nor provide succour to millions who reposed their hopes in it, who transferred their power to it, gave it ground to stand for them, mouth to speak on their behalf and resources to manage for the good of the land. So I grew up hearing of how corrupt and incompetent politicians are. How state governors scurried billions of naira abroad in ghana-must-go bags, returning home to owe their workers for months. How serving senators argued over important issues by day and at night let those issues slip into perpetual oblivion because their palms have been greased and they nolonger give a hoot about the welfare of their various constituencies. How national co-operations, like NEPA, NITEL etc were auctioned out into the palms of very rich individuals like chocolate bars without significant improvement in service output . How citizens could not gain access into public services because they have no uncle or aunt in the government.
Our country became an ignoble metaphor for corruption, high-handedness, bad leadership and everything evil and sad.
And the government in whose presence all these atrocities thrived was a PDP controlled government.
And despite all the flops, the party continued to flourish with impunity, to grow bigger and wax stronger. And, during each election, I watched with trepidation as it swept to victory through violent and uncivil means. Each victory knelling the death toll, the defeat of democracy and the triumph of corruption. PDP became for me an ominous and terrifying effigy of hopelessness. An anathema. Something to loathe. Something to pray against, cast and bind. Something not to have.
Despite all these, I often heard its leaders revel on its vastness and immortality. Sometimes it was some political analysts that said it would never be outstead, that it would continue to be as far as Nigeria endure. Other times, it was ordinary people, citizens who compared the impossibility of it’s defeat with the impossibility of the sky caving in or God being evicted from His sovereign throne. I heard many things, except that PDP would, oneday, be ousted from power. All those things I heard had the potential of nightmares, but none afforded me the ghoulish fear that the last one gave. That a government was corrupt and incompetent was a temporal matter _ just four years and it will be gone, voted out of office! But that a political party which has made it a culture to field corrupt and inept candidates, to snatch political power from the hunger-holed hands of the masses every four years will last forever, was what actually gave me the most terrific nightmares. The everlastingness of our misfortune, as I was made to see it, was what nightly stood between my dreams and sleep, made me scarred of growing up and challenged my believe in a future.
At sixteen I went to college to study political science because there were many things I needed to understand about the act of governance. College taught me nothing about politics, except the extreme poles of “realism” and “idealism. Although I could place myself firmly and accurately on one side of the divide, yet something worried me about them: their inability to explain for me the charade passing off as politics in my country. Those two terms, like the others I encountered during the course of my study, seemed too detached, too foreign. They lacked the Nigerianess, the expertise to locate and define the Nigerian problem for me. I abandoned political science after qualifying as a government teacher, with a distinction, a repertoire of rhetorics, radical views and ledgers of unanswered questions.
I left, angry. Very, very angry. Angry with PDP for being the rotten root that sprouted all the corruption. Angry with the politicians for being too greedy, too self-centere, too Machiavellian, too selfish and unpatriotic. And for the masses, I loathed them for being resilient, stoical and profoundly indifferent. I hated them for accepting their helplessness, for believing that PDP was unoustable, for empowering their oppressors with a collective silence, with a distinct resignation. I use the outsider’s pronoun ‘their’ because I was still a minor then, not yet eighteen, not yet qualified to contribute, powerless to make a political change.
The just concluded elections was the first I would take part in, a sort of coming of age experience. I threw myself into it with a great deal of devotion. From the voter registration which, like every government programme in this country, was badly carried out. Erratic materials. Limited staff. Too much crowd. Choking deadline. And excuses. The period of the exercise coincided with the COEASU strike. I maximized it, with all the frustrations of the eight months strike stoking my will to go on. I endured the rigors of voter registration. I must arm myself with the only tool of revenge against this government. My voter card was it – the weapon. I was going to use it against my oppressors.
And I did use it.
Today, after the general elections, the People’s Democratic Party has lost it’s monstrous grip on this country. The sixteen- year- old jinx has been broken. And the sky is yet to cave in. And God is still sitted as the Almighty Sovereign. I know our Eldorado is yet too far. But the mere fact that a collective action could be taken against tyranny, against brazen incompetence, this fact alone is my excitement about this election. So as we continue on this journey for the next four years, with renewed purpose and insistence on only the best for our country, I chant Change! not for what it denotes (which is subject to subversion) , but for it’s significance, the message behind it: That Power has finally returned to the people!
(Chibuihe-Light Obi was born in southeastern Nigeria in the nineties. He grew up building sandcastles and not knowing who is father was.
Now, he writes poetry and memoirs and (his not sure) prose.
His short memoir is forthcoming in the Kalahari review.
He teaches Literature at St. Marie Goretti and is one of the winners of the 2014 Splendid Literature competition.)