Against Uncertainty As A Reason For Inaction: PVC Edition
It’s 1 pm, Sunday, June 6, 2021. I returned from church a few hours ago and have been lazing around for some time. I decide to open Twitter. The first tweet is a quote tweet from a person I follow. For some reason, a trigger warning is added to it. I decide to not watch the video. The second tweet is from someone asking their followers to not retweet the video to their timeline. My brain connects that these two tweets may be related. I decide to watch the video.
The moment I press play, it feels like time has stopped. As the video continues and I see the gore and bloodshed, the air constricts itself until the only thing that exists is the screams of the horrified onlookers. I check the description and the constriction gets even worse. It’s a shooting. At a Catholic church. In Owo, Ondo (my father’s state Ondo, South-West state Ondo, supposed-to-be-safe Ondo. THAT Ondo). Today. During the service. People are going over pools of blood. For a few hours, I can’t think. I don’t think. As more information comes to light, and Twitter NG becomes a massive blood donation effort, as friends confirm that they’re safe, the only thing that comes to mind is one word: OMO.
My thoughts don’t take shape until 5 pm, four hours after I press play. The first coherent explanation that comes to mind is that I am in a simulation and something has gone horribly wrong. It’s something from the plot of Ted Dekker’s ‘Skin’. Almost instantly, and for no reason at all (in retrospect), I brush that thought aside. The second coherent explanation for all this carnage and suffering going on is that I’m dead, and I’m in hell. I must have been a very bad person for my eternal punishment to be born Nigerian. A homicidal maniac? Doesn’t explain why I’m not the only one affected. After a few minutes of doubting my reality, I land on the conclusion that all of this is real. Horribly, unfortunately real. I return to Twitter.
The messages and think pieces are coming in. And fast. Condolence after condolence tweet shows up. Even the aloof President sends his condolences. The Vice-President (who happens to be running for President) sends his “deepest condolences”. Other political figures follow. It still feels very ethereal. But deep down, I know it’s real. Some tweets point out uncomfortable truths about being Nigerian. Others encourage all 218 million of us to “japa” and leave the country for better, presumably safer pastures. A few tweets (after pointing out the unpalatable fact that in a few weeks/days, the news cycle will move on) encourage young Nigerians who have been lamenting the state of political leadership in the country to get their Permanent Voter’s Cards or PVCs. This, as they say, is in order to give Nigerian youth a chance to take charge of their future through voting. The comments on these tweets strike a cynical, but understandable note. Memories of vote-rigging, vote-buying, and electoral violence fill these comments. “With Nigeria’s history of electoral malpractice, would our votes count? Or even be counted?’, they ask.
Seeing these comments annoys me, my first perceptible emotion that isn’t grief, numbness (which counts as an emotion in my book), or sheer bewilderment. It also reminds me that this entire episode has been a rollercoaster, and it would help if I condensed my thoughts into something that I could reflect on. As a bonus, I can rant about how the uncertainty behind voting should not constitute a deterrent from actually voting. I decide to write. It is 9:53 pm, and I am apparently writing. It feels surreal, like an out-of-body experience. My rustiness is showing, having not done any long-form writing since the start of the ASUU strike. I write anyway.
FULL DISCLOSURE: I haven’t gotten my PVC. YET. I have completed my online registration, though, and if Nigeria does not get in the way, I should have completed my physical registration by the end of Monday at my chosen center. My original reason for getting my PVC was that I needed a colored document to show Coursera as proof of my national identity. Why? So that I can get the certification I’ve been studying for since October. Voting was never on my mind. Election days are notoriously volatile, and my experience as a poll clerk in last year’s local government elections made me doubt the usefulness of my vote. Clearly, my opinions on voting have changed, otherwise, I wouldn’t be writing this.
AN ARGUMENT (arguments, really) FOR GETTING A PVC
So, why should you get your PVC?
1. It’s really handy for showing online learning platforms proof of your nationality.
2. It means you can do adult things, like deposit cheques into your account.
3. It is, quite literally, the only way of taking back your country.
What if you “japa”? Why would you need to take back your country?
Unless you can transport every single person you care about, leaving the country only protects you. Sure, you can make enough money to secure your family, but that doesn’t rule out the likelihood that Nigeria will happen to them.
So what if you get your PVC? Why should you vote?
See reason #3 above.
With Nigeria’s history of electoral malpractice, would our votes count? Or even be counted?
That isn’t a good enough reason to stop you from exercising your rights. There’s an argument to be made that it’s large-scale voter apathy of this sort that makes electoral malpractice possible. It’s a vicious cycle. If you don’t vote, you increase the chances that a selfish, power-hungry politician can rig the elections to their liking and place themselves in a position of great power. Said selfish, power-hungry politician owes a lot of people because they got him into power, and so spends their tenure enriching themselves and their cronies. Self-enrichment comes at the expense of developing the constituency they claim to represent. “Voters”, who have been deprived of resources, view their ongoing deprivation as proof of their theory that being an active Nigerian is useless, and discontinue whatever participation they have left, choosing to “wing it”. Election season returns. Other selfish, power-hungry politicians will follow the successful playbook and recruit thugs as a way of displacing power from the top dog. The original selfish, power-hungry politician recruits thugs to defend their hold on power. Election season then becomes a dogfight. Everyone loses, except the politicians, proving the theories of the people, which further reduces active political participation. Even if a well-meaning candidate arises, it will not be enough to spur the voters out of their malaise. The cycle continues.
(For the sake of brevity, I chose not to include potential outgrowths from this cycle. For example, the gangs loyal to each politician might lay claim to parts of the territory, or the entire territory. Inter-gang war commences as a way of relieving boredom during the tenure season and gaining advantages before the election season recommences. Point is, everything is a game when the voters fail to do their jobs.)
We owe it to ourselves and future generations to break this cycle. If we don’t, we’ve dug our own graves.
Even if I get my PVC, who should I vote for?
That one no concern my papa. I will say this, though: Nigerian voters (and voters in general, maybe, but I am not a citizen of any other country, my parents no move dat way) tend to be “realistic” in choosing who gets their votes. Basically, this means that they might have their preferred policies with the candidates (no matter how obscure the party) who espouse those policies in mind, but their decisions are made based on a “who will win?” calculation, rather than a “who do I want to win?” calculation. This reduces the choices to two parties. It also limits the possible futures Nigeria could find herself on a path to achieving. Voting then becomes a “lesser evil” trade-off. For apathetic voters who vote to make the rounds, voting becomes a formality. I know someone who voted in 2019 for a party called “Fresh Party”, simply because (and I kid you not) the name sounded nice.
For once, be an idealist. Since this is so out of character for me to say, I’ll sprinkle something extra. I’m not asking you to vote for someone without a policy agenda, that would be insane. Neither am I asking you to vote for someone with the most flowery rhetoric, the type that sets your blood on fire. Who knows, they might be offering you “struggle, danger, and death”. Vote for someone with actual, documented ideas that can take Nigeria to where you want it to be. Other people might share that vision of Nigeria. Your candidate might not win, and your vote might not count, but that doesn’t give you a license to not do anything.
(With that in mind, if a candidate ticks 8/10 policy boxes but has a higher chance of winning compared to a 10/10 candidate with 0% chance of winning, then you should side with the less-than-ideal, but likelier-to-win candidate. Do not forget your home training.)