(By Onyekere Chinomso Uzunma)
“Ejiro had been vulnerable; he needed to hope, because hope was all he had left, all he had to survive. This politician had seemed to be all he ever wanted; the only one who made his dreams feel attainable, thus this was why Ejiro found himself standing at the polling station this biting cold dark morning.“
EJIRO was already out of his gate by 6:00 am, he had almost reached the polling centre. He decided that this time, he was going to make sure that his vote would count, all those newspaper advertisements and T.V commercials seemed to have gotten to him. He even made sure that Karo and Eghosa, his cousins whom he had relocated with from Bayelsa to this “Mega City” to make a better life would come out and vote, in spite of all their grumblings that the “Big men” of the state had already decided the result of the election, and that the voting process was merely a formality. He had made sure to do his voter registration immediately the exercise began, so as not to jeopardize his voting power. He believed in this “Metropolitan City” and wanted to be a part of it.
Things were not at all good for him; he had been squatting with his mother’s cousin, who lived with her nuclear family: Her husband and seven children in a two-room apartment in the slummiest part of the city. Her husband’s hints of not wanting his presence in the apartment anymore had become anything but subtle. He knew it was time to go, but he had nowhere to move to. When he fantasized about his relocation to the city, he had seen himself riding a big car and living in a big house. Of course, he knew he had to work hard but the city was not anything like what he had wished for. He used all the money given him by his Uncle Aghogho in Bayelsa to construct a little plank (“pako”) shop where he sold C.Ds. One morning, after settling one of his aunties’ and her husband’s regular domestic fights, Ejiro rushed out to his wooden shop only to discover that it was no longer there, it had been burnt, completely unrecognizable; the little wooden sign that read “Ejiro’s Quality C.Ds” was nowhere to be found. It was as though his shop had never existed.
It was not as if the business had been turning up any profit, but it was all he had. He had little education so he could not get a formal job and no capital at all to start another. All his life earnings had been in that shop and it was all gone. Ejiro was numb and couldn’t shed a tear. The governor of the City had ordered the demolition of all ‘illegal’ structures, Ejiro never in his wildest dreams thought that his shop would be classified as such. So when Mr. Bankole Olumide promised that if he was voted in as governor, people like Ejiro, who had no Abraham as his father and no money in his pocket, people who had been unfairly crushed by the system, would be protected first above others, Ejiro vowed that he would do all he in his power to make sure this man became the governor of the city. Ejiro campaigned for him – to his auntie’s family, neighbours, friends and strangers – attended all his rallies and even helped paste his flyers on the gate of the building of his auntie’s home. The man had identified himself with the likes of Ejiro; he had sworn that he was a common man, born without a silver spoon with only God as his true helper. He said it was his God given mission to help the oppressed like Ejiro.
Ejiro had been vulnerable; he needed to hope, because hope was all he had left, all he had to survive. This politician had seemed to be all he ever wanted; the only one who made his dreams feel attainable, thus this was why Ejiro found himself standing at the polling station this biting cold dark morning. Ejiro called up his cousins, reminding them to make it to the polling station; they grudgingly muttered “we’re on our way”. The election exercise went quite smoothly, they had all cast their votes and were on their way home when a gun fire broke. Eghosa was unfortunately caught by a stray bullet; he bled and died before medical attention could reach him. Guilt had swallowed Ejiro up, he could not eat for days that his cousin had lost his life because of his dreams. Thus, when Mr. Bankole Olumide was declared as the emerging governor from the elections, Ejiro did not feel so much enthused. “Things will get better from here on”, he had promised Karo, who was still feeling the heat of his brother’s death.
This was why it came as a shock to Ejiro when he saw Olumide on the television, declaring that the building that he squatted in with his aunty was to be demolished. He trembled in shock and denial after they had been told to evacuate the property; Ejiro felt so betrayed he cried. It took four government workers to remove him from the building; he had begged to be brought down with the building. Olumide said that the building was archaic and not up to the standard of a metropolitan city. “But Mr. Olumide had promised to protect him”, Ejiro cried. He had said that he too was born into abject poverty; he had promised him a better life, that he would achieve all he had come to the city for, why then did he set out to destroy him and his kind. The plan of the Mega Mall was already displayed on a bill board next to the building. Most of the occupants of the building, like his auntie’s family and himself were forced to relocate back to the village. Not only had he made his cousin lose his life, he had also made his aunty and her family lose her accommodation, he thought. The Mega Mall was, when built, to be rented out in respect of stalls to those who could afford them. The asking price was so much that only the rich would have been able to afford them.
The affluent in the city that have segregated themselves from the other classes, contributing little or nothing to the society, not participating in civil obligations expected of them still always have their interests first secured by the government though not half as populous as the lower and middle classes. The government has forgotten that during their campaigns, it was these so-called slum residents that they went to campaign to, it was still these same people that rallied with them, cheered them, lifted them up and at the commencement of elections, voted for them. These politicians targeted the “slum areas” because they were well aware that it was these areas that carried, at least, 70 per cent of the population, and the inhabitants of these areas were most likely to exercise their franchise. No ‘Big man’ will leave his house to register for the elections, not to talk of even casting his vote at the commencement of elections. Even if he and the candidate are acquaintances, he will not risk any danger to his life, thus, he disregards the very core of his civil responsibilities to the country, that is, participation in elections.
However, a “lower class” citizen who has never and will probably never meet a candidate will do all in his power to make sure that he fulfills all formal and essential requirements so as not to affect his capacity to vote. Several instances have been seen when innocent people lose their lives because of disputes that break out as a result of elections. So why then will a governor, voted into office through the help of the masses who consist more of the lower class, then turn its back on them? Why will he try to make homeless the people who accepted him? Bite off the finger that fed him?
The government hiding under the quotes of making the state a better place strategises against the lower class. Citizen’s homes in the so-called “slums” have been demolished with little or no compensation and no options, sending them packing to their villages, only for these homes to be reconstructed and given to the highest bidder. Their places of abode; markets and stalls have been demolished and burnt down only to be reconstructed and sold as stalls and shops at exorbitant rates, intentionally, making it impossible for the lower class to obtain, thus again, kicking them out of the city. The public institutions that are vital to the survival of the lower class are neglected. These include schools, places of health care like hospitals and maternal homes etc. The government knows that the rich will always be able to patronise private institutions and with the purchasing power available to them, they would never be at a loss for options. On the other hand, the poor would have to settle for what their government affords it. The government keeps improving the areas where these wealthy ones reside; the roads are constructed with authentic materials and maintained, streets lights and traffic lights are made available to them, and potable water is also not left out. However, the lower class who cannot in their wildest dreams afford essentials like these experience the government’s back being turned on them. While the poor are being seen out of the society, the rich are taking over. Some governments are even constructing new areas for the rich to occupy which come at ridiculous prices.
I believe that at the end of it all, we are all human beings, and every human being deserves respect and dignity. People should not be discriminated against based on what they have. I believe that Nigeria has reached a point where, as Martin Luther King said, the people “will be judged by the content of their character”. What then is the need of government if the society can turn a blind eye to these evil practices, or have we forgotten the real reason behind the establishment of government, the very core of its existence? Was government not brought to life to protect the oppressed, was government not a tool of civilisation that was meant to denounce the “survival of the fittest” situation that formerly obtained? Was government not brought about, not only to thrive on the principles of equality, but also justice? It is quite embarrassing that the government has set out to destroy that which it was set up to accomplish. Thus, if an organised and well-structured organisation such as the government can embark on such practices, what then is the hope of a common man?
• Uzunma is a 400 Level Law student, Babcock University.
“Opinion pieces of this sort published on RISE Networks are those of the original authors and do not in anyway represent the thoughts, beliefs and ideas of RISE Networks.”