Bukunyi Olateru-Olagbegi: The “slight work” to rebuild Nigeria’s Democracy

This title might be misleading so I’ll rephrase; to rebuild Nigeria’s democracy is going to be backbreaking, thankless, godforsaken, heart-breaking work. It won’t bring Instagram followers, accolades, fame, or fortune and may even cost us dearly.

But let’s be real for a sec: if we don’t do it, if you and I don’t do it, who will?

Yesterday, as though in preparation for the first observance of our newly minted Democracy Day, the new leaders of the ninth senate were voted into office. Among them were Aisha Binani, a 47-year-old senator who was the only woman to be chosen to represent her constituency in Northern Nigeria; Adebo Ogundoyin of Ondo state who became the country’s youngest speaker at 32; and the handful of young Nigerian politicians who survived the minefield we call politics to gain elected seats.

My sincere congratulations to all of them. I can only hope that they live up to the idealism that we expect of Nigeria and work hard to push our nation in the right direction, knowing as I do that they are working against the hurricane-force headwinds of corruption, graft, and general lack of accountability.

We begin a new tradition today, acknowledging the sacrifices we have made for the democracy we have today and reminding ourselves that we are indeed capable of choosing our leaders based on the quality of their ideas and not their ethnic or religious backgrounds.

I have many emotions. I feel grateful that President Muhammadu Buhari finally listened to the will of the people and legitimised the legacy and memory of President-Elect Moshood K.O Abiola, but I worry that, like everything in Nigerian politics, its significance will be lost in the circumstances that made such a momentous event possible. I am elated that so many of us joined the electoral process and some of us even won, but I am discouraged that only 1,515 of us contested for political office across the different tiers of government.

Till today, Abiola stands as a singular example of Nigerians unanimously choosing a leader that represented all of their hopes. I for one, refuse to not expect and demand more of my nation and its leaders. I also have no illusions about the sacrifices that we will need to make to change our nation.

There are many paths to work for the growth and success of this country, and I chose to band together with other like-minded young, capable Nigerians to form the Modern Democratic Party. For us, it was important to start a party free from what can be the burdensome legacies that weigh down more established political organisations. Our party chooses its members and candidates on the merits of their ideas and the scale of their ambition. We want our wins to be purely on our ability to connect with the will of the people and our losses acceptable to us because our contributions to nation-building were done to the best of our ability.

I understand the fear. The machinery we are going up against is vast, is entrenched and it is a monster without mercy. It is can sometimes be the very manifestation of evil we read in the Qur’an or the Bible. We must be better than our fears; we must be the David that face down Goliath, the rain droplets that come together to form the river of progress. Together, we can be more than the sum of our parts.

This Democracy Day we must also accept the responsibility of holding our leaders accountable by participating in the process. We must come out en-masse  and force our politicians to take notice that the world is changing around us, and we as Nigeria’s youth are no longer bound by the cultural restraints that has led to such institutional rot.

It’s daunting and feels overwhelming, but all we ask is that you take the first step: embrace the ideals of MDP by registering to join us. Your voice will part of the chorus that will shape our manifesto and policies, and as we progress it will shape our government for generations to come. It is time to tell our government that the age of the apathetic youth voter is over and the time for accountability has arrived.

We are a party that is determined to stake out space for young people in politics. As we remember Abiola’s sacrifices and celebrate his idealism, we must remember he was an avid grassroots activist. He joined a party, participated in its process and ensured his presence was felt at every level. We must emulate his example and become part of the development, using our collective might as the largest demographic in the country to influence decision making at the party level.

I ask you all to take a chance on MDP, there is room for your ideas and your ambition and there is change to be made.

Happy Democracy Day


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