This not the best of times to write about sport. Writing on any subject outside of the ongoing national elections in Nigeria would appear insensitive, particularly with the pains that all Nigerians are going through on the eve of, probably, the most important election in their country’s history – the Presidential election.
The election is a defining one for all Nigerians, a hard choice to elect a new leader that can steer Nigeria away from the precipice of calamity to safer grounds. None of the contending persons fits the perfect bill. For those of us in sport, we observe that their campaigns have been devoid of any mention of the most powerful tool in the world for the genuine unity and integration of Nigerians of various backgrounds, creeds, culture and tribes.
We believe that sport can play a big role in achieving those objectives, but we are grossly in the minority, so we hold our peace and join in the political conversations and processes. Even here, we are on a slippery slope. So, for us, to vote has become a burden.
We are very aware that there cannot be gains without pain. That is a well-known cliché in sport. In the ‘game’ of politics, for that’s what it really is, Nigerians have been playing too close to fire for too long, toying like spoilt children with the elements, and getting away every time with a slap on the wrist by not selecting their best XI.
Applying the old treatment now has started to burn the fingers of Nigerians. This time, they are truly caught between the devil and the deep blue sea in who to elect as their next President. Whoever they elect, they will be ‘losing’ before they can ‘win’. It is a conundrum without an easy or obvious way out.
In the wisdom of the Chief Umpire of this present political game, for proper elections that will reflect (as much as possible) the people’s choice, some things must give, and there must be a price to pay. The desired results cannot be achieved without going through the serious pains that come with fair play, a level playing field and credibility, particularly in this part of the world where corruption is an incorporated norm.
So, the Umpire decides to take away the source of all the perceived problems during elections, and all hell is let loose. Money is at the heart of the process. Its usage negates fair play and obliterates a level playing field for all contestants.
Nigerian politics has been ruled by money for decades, and the people have been held hostage by those who can deploy it without explaining their source. So, ‘dirty’ money comes into the electoral play. No country survives and thrives on the currency of corruption of the scale and magnitude that have brought Nigeria to her knees.
That’s why the Umpire says he struck. It has been a masterstroke in its conceptualisation and anticipated effectiveness, but the pains of implementation have been excruciating. The people have been groaning and protesting and even getting violent, yet the Umpire sticks to his guns. It is now clear that he is determined, by all means, to achieve a desirous level playing field, devoid of cash to buy votes, to produce the next President.
The people will have to endure and wait until starting from Monday to find out if the prescribed bitter pill will produce the anticipated cure.
Beyond preparing for the elections, the cashless past few weeks are already yielding some interesting collateral harvests, converting ‘disappointment’ to ‘blessings.’
I drove from Lagos to Ado Ekiti the other day. For the first time in ages, the roads were unencumbered. Traffic was free. There was a new attitude by the hordes of security men that punctuated the journey at intervals all the way. There were no bottlenecks anywhere, not even at the various checkpoints. The armed policemen and soldiers were courteous, greeting all motorists warmly as they waved them on.
What the hell was going on? No one had money to give. The usual handouts to security men that fuelled the ugly practise of extortion and bribery on the roads were not available. It was a big relief to witness an impossible thing to even conceive a few weeks ago. It was a clear sign of new possibilities to come in a cashless society.
For those who can picture that future, it could truly be the start of a new Nigeria. The fear of kidnappers has disappeared with the reality that there is no easy access to ransoms to pay or to receive. Inadvertently, Nigeria is turning away from the precipice where it has perched dangerously waiting to fall or to fly.
From the ashes of today’s national elections the ‘old’ Nigeria must ‘die’ and a ‘new’ Nigeria will be birthed. It cannot be any other way because there is no further South to descend. The country is at rock bottom of its potentials and responsibilities.
Outsiders continue to wonder why Nigeria has not left the ground floor of potentials, and lifted up into the skies of the limitless opportunities that await her in the clouds.
So, on this day, I am preparing to go cast my single vote in the hope of a new Nigeria. My vote may or may not count in the end, but I shall cast it even though I have not finally made up my mind who to cast it for. What I know for sure, however, is who I will NOT cast that single vote for.