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Mfonobong Inyang: Much Ado About Young People, Elections & Women’s Rights

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“Fuel e no dey, brother eh transportation no dey. And our road e no good o, what about the NEPA people o – we no get light! Everybody just dey halla, fuel no dey, na how we wan survive. Many youth ready for work, but as work no dey – na how dey wan survive?”

Legendary dancehall artiste, Chinagorom Onuoha better known as African China released his smash-hit single, Lead Us Well in 2006 and almost two decades later, it could easily pass for a song written in 2022. You don’t need to ask if we are progressing or retrogressing as a collective if newspaper headlines in 1984 are the same as today’s. We are at a tipping point; never has the need for citizens to ask questions and take charge of their future been so poignant. Renowned human rights activist and lawyer, Professor Chidi Odinkalu, recently shared his most profound thoughts on some of Nigeria’s existential challenges with public accounting and he identified counting people, money and votes as the trio with the most notoriety. 

Understandably, there is a lot of chatter about elections and the political space is becoming more animated as we inch closer to the next general elections. The first quarter of 2022 is grinding to a close and the different stakeholders are scheming per usual. Apathy, which has been the elephant in the room, is something we have to find creative ways in addressing because an election presents another opportunity to improve the pool of political leadership and it’s important that we don’t bungle it this time.

Ahh Finesse!

There is a very instructive anecdote that describes what happens when people lack awareness and are not active participants of what happens around them: children playing in the marketplace. You bougie folks call it hopscotch, those of us that grew up in the hood call it “Suwe”. This is inferring that you can be at a place of decision where others are trading and getting value but because you are of little understanding, you will engage in unprofitable activities. 

A protégé of the great philosopher, Gamaliel, provides a more overt perspective: “When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child, but when I became a man, I put away childish things”. If you have a good grasp of exegesis and hermeneutics, you will agree that most ancient writings did not always have only literal meanings. Child or children in both instances are used as a metaphor for a lower level of thinking or awareness. So this isn’t so much a conversation about ages as it is about stages of life. Young people who do things like playing football or watching movies on election day without carrying out our civic responsibilities while our immediate and possibly remote future is being determined are being childish; we just have one day every four years to exercise our franchise – I don’t see any higher stakes than that.

Na mumu dey vote for election. “We’re outside” should be also applied to politics. It’s fugazy behaviour when you write paragraphs on socials, do performative activism and express faux outrage yet on election day, you’re MIA. You add to the chatter about social media having little or no effect at the actual polls owing to your Judas vibes. Comrades, make we no dey move that way. Hope is not a strategy; “e go better” without a corresponding plan is just vibes. It must be accompanied by works for it to count as faith. Praying without taking necessary action is just our contribution to noise pollution.

Elections have consequences; bad leadership can puncture your dreams as a young person one way or the other, and rain on your parade. Many people dey outside wey dey feed us zobo; suddenly we see them coming around these streets, taking selfies and jumping on TikTok trends. We won’t be surprised if they get tattoos and wear ripped jeans at this point because e be like say dem want to tell us another story again o.

 

This is an inflection point, if we don’t go hard at the ballot – verily, verily I say unto you, it will get unbelievably worse thereafter for young people. So in 2023, we must vote because voting on election day has to be our business. We all have to show up and show out!

Women Oye!

It can be said that the 2022 Women’s History Month had the worst possible start in Nigeria when, on the very first day of March, there was a casual dismissal and scathing attack on the fundamental rights of women – what a most ironic way to #BreakTheBias. Unfortunately I wasn’t surprised, even though it was an eyesore. Exactly one year ago, I critically examined this issue of a lopsided representation using historical data and circumstantial evidence in reaching a logical conclusion that it was nothing but a systemic disenfranchisement model in play. It’s interesting how we give the nod to child-brides then turn around and ask actual grown women to go and lobby to be recognized as adults.

Even as heavily criticized for being fundamentally flawed as the 1999 constitution is, in principle, it rebukes discrimination on the basis of gender amongst other biases in section 42. It is concerning how eager and easily people will sacrifice intellect and critical thinking on the altar of culture and religion. Neither Kamala Harris’ father nor mother were originally native-Americans but today she is the vice president of the United States of America. There are a handful of parliamentarians of Nigerian descent in the United Kingdom, yet many eminently qualified people struggle to get into our own National Assembly.

Amina Mohammed wouldn’t have been United Nations Deputy Secretary-General if her gender was seen as a handicap. Can we see that this mediaeval thinking doesn’t survive the scrutiny of reason and only thrives within our shores? We claim to practise the democratic model of the west, yet we sprinkle ours with some healthy dose of patriarchy for effect.

At the federal, state and local government levels, various sections are agitating for rotation of power in the interest of justice, equity and fairness yet most people don’t agree that the same affirmative action or political solution that is applicable for geo-politics is equally good enough for gender-politics. It’s not enough to tout the dividends of democracy and without talking about the dividends of demography. It’s reprehensible that some people’s idea of women empowerment is chanting “women oye” at political rallies and giving them 2k and five cups of rice; they see women as good enough for everything else but leadership. I think women should realise that the 2023 elections, which incidentally holds around Women’s History Month next year should be a seminal moment where they align only with those who put some respeck the W.

Which ‘room’ does the Nigerian woman belong to exactly? It seems another secret weapon for disenfranchisement is marriage; the Nigerian woman is in political limbo after signing the dotted lines – she is no longer from her state of origin nor is she accepted as a native of her husband’s just like it happened to Nimi Akinkugbe when she was denied an appointment here. Basically, women are seen as another piece of house furniture; something for keeps. This archaic tactic of muddling the waters of cerebral conversations with pedestrian sentiments is so lame, only the uninitiated may not see through that communications strategy as straight out from the misogynistic playbook. Even the uber conservative countries that are bastions of cultural and religious tenets which we say inspire ours have greatly evolved and reformed their policies to reflect the realities of a contemporary world.

Most people usually think this is a gender agenda or feminist propaganda but the fact is that this is making a case for common sense. If Nigerian men can get citizenship of other countries by marriage but the same is not “allowed” for Nigerian women, are we then saying in effect that women are not fully citizens of the Federal Republic of Nigeria? Riddle me that! It’s a really interesting time to be alive because this ‘democracy’ we have wouldn’t have been possible in the first place without the fierce activism of a long line of amazing amazons. Nobody mobilises more people to vote during elections than this gender, yet we think that they should be reduced to auxiliary roles, voting for others and become political mannequins when it comes to actual governance? The big question remains: do we have a national assembly or a men’s assembly?

That’s Where Your PVC Comes In!

The first thing about elections is participation not partisanship. Not all of us will run for public offices or have the war chest to finance electioneering activities but the least we can do in the forthcoming leadership exercise is get our PVCs. You can only talk about the quality of candidates when you have gotten your Permanent Voters’ Card, otherwise you’re just blowing hot air. It’s less than one year to arguably one of the most consequential elections of our lifetime and if you haven’t at least signed up for your PVC, it would be most unfortunate. It means you love agonising, rather than organising. INEC is doing its best to get the ducks in a row, President Buhari has signed the Amended Electoral Act, so what’s your excuse again? Should we continue with our political indifference that bad leadership may abound?

The highest political office is the office of the citizen and we must all commit to playing our active roles. It matters little whether you live in sapa-infested trenches or in the high streets of Maitama. Whether you earn 2k or 2 million, stan Portable or Tems, speak Fulfulde or Ibibio, worship on Fridays or Sundays, think the other gender is a scum or not, bad governance is like breakfast, everybody go collect. One of the reasons we haven’t moved the needle of good governance is because we have been conditioned to deploying the silos strategy – if women go out to protest, some people go dey siddon look. If ASUU, NUPENG, doctors, youths, NLC, manufacturers or farmers demand their rights, some people go dey siddon look. They forget that the greatest strategy ever is to love your neighbour as yourself. If we don’t deploy the ubuntu strategy, then forget abourrit.

A dog inadvertently sat on a nail and its owner frantically tried to make it get up. After several futile attempts, he gave up on trying to convince it otherwise. His friend who was watching from afar came around and asked the dog owner why he did not care that the dog was in terrible pain, he replied, “When it has surpassed its threshold for discomfort, it will get up by itself without anyone having to compel it. It will learn obedience by the thing it suffers.”

Now available in select bookshops and on my Selar Store - get your hands on my brand new book, Hope Is Not A Strategy; Faith Is Not A Business Model - Mfonobong Inyang is a creative genius who works with top individuals and institutions to achieve their media, tech and communication goals. As a consummate writer, he offers ghostwriting, copy-writing and book consultancy services. A master storyteller that brilliantly churns out premium content for brands on corporate communications, book projects, scripts and social media. A graduate of Economics – he speaks the English, Ibibio, Yoruba, Igbo and Hausa languages. He appears to be a gentleman on the surface but the rumours are true - he get coconut head! Reach out to me let us work together on your content project(s) - [email protected]

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