“The worst illiterate is the political illiterate, he doesn’t hear, doesn’t speak, nor participate in the political events. He doesn’t know the cost of life, the price of the bean, of the fish, of the flour, of the rent, of the shoes and of the medicine, all depends on political decisions. The political illiterate is so stupid that he is proud and swells his chest saying that he hates politics. The imbecile doesn’t know that, from his political ignorance is born the prostitute, the abandoned child, and the worst thieves of all, the bad politician, corrupted and flunky of the national and multinational companies.”
The above harsh but profound words of Bertolt Brecht rang in my mind this morning after I dropped off a man and a woman I had helped on my way to work. I didn’t set out to find out their positions on issues of politics. I was merely doing a good neighbourly service of helping people on the road in my neighbourhood in the little way I could to assist them to get to their places of life endeavours.
The man looked every inch an artisan, or in some lowly self-employment. The woman, not in any way related to the man, looked a typical ‘working class’ woman and seemingly of more education and perhaps more ‘exposure’ than the man. A few minutes into what turned out to be about 10-minutes’ drive, I inquired of them if they had collected their permanent voters’ card (PVC) which were distributed in Abuja between Friday and Sunday. The woman was the first to respond that she didn’t know where that was being done or where she had to go get it.
I asked her where she registered for the last general election and if she has a temporary voter’s card. After some hesitation she said ‘truly I have never registered or voted all of my life’. This lady seemed to be somewhere in her 40s, by my estimation. That would mean she had been qualified to vote since 1998/99 to date, a total of four general elections. But here she was, telling me even with an air of pride that ‘I have never voted in any election’. Then she went on with all the lame reasons I often hear from people like her – the votes don’t count, they can’t change a thing with government, ‘na God go help us sha’…
Interestingly, the man the seemingly less educated of the two answered that he collected his PVC the previous day and told us where he got his. I then admitted that I missed registering in 2011 because I was not in the country then and I was looking forward to registering during the continuous voter registration (CVR) scheduled for after the PVC collection. The man confirmed that he knew about the CVR too.
For the next few minutes, I tried to convince the woman that she needed to register and think to vote in elections as means to changing the course of events in the country. Somehow, she agreed with me and the next thing she said was typically Nigerian, ‘sir maybe people like you should come out to contest so we can vote for you’. Really? But I wasn’t saying all those because I want to contest elections. I said them because I believe citizens ought to know where their power lies and should ensure to use it. That much I told her and she said with those few words of mine, I was able to convince her that it makes political sense to get on the voters’ register.
I only hope the education helped and that she too will teach others.