Lekan Olanrewaju: Civic duty [NEW VOICES]

by Lekan Olanrewaju

One of the most persistent revelations of any election cycle is the nature of the Undecided Voter. No, not the genuinely confused and/or torn, and not — but slightly close to — the self-proclaimed “objective” voter whose objectivity serves usually only to remind everyone who’s chosen to believe in (or, in the absence of belief, at least, throw their weight behind) someone, how foolish they are, how “all politicians are the same,”… voter apathy is too easy for us not to know the drill.

But the one who refuses to make a choice, due to dissatisfaction at the available options. The one who insists on sitting, arms folded, till better (the most commonly used term being “more inspiring”) options become available, wherever from. And defends the right to that decision even more fiercely than another would their right to vote. And it is a right. No mistakes about that. But part of growing up, I’ve been told, is coming to terms with our flaws. And one of mine, I’ve come to learn, is my incapability of respecting certain decisions. Like that one.

I get it, though. To a certain extent, anyway. Sometimes it’s hard not to be preoccupied about the “meaning” of a vote as opposed to its effect. We generally want “new”, “young”… untainted, close to perfect, or as far from imperfect as is attainable. But, thing is, they’re not about to fall from the sky. Sitting and pouting about how neither candidate “excites” you, isn’t going to change anything. The political system isn’t going to vomit up these people by itself. It needs to be poked, prodded, shaken and perhaps even stirred, by you, by me.

There’s also the option of flocking to some fringe candidate, likely generous with some form of populist rhetoric with very little grounding in attainable reality. But that just takes us back to before: meaning vs. effect. Votes aren’t gifts. They aren’t valentines. They are tools, and specifically, especially here in Nigeria, one of the only useful tools for affecting the political system in any meaningful way.

Democracy is a struggle. It’s easy to fall into the trap of believing we’re the ones who come after, and that our ancestors have taken care of it. And they have borne a significant part of it, maybe even the brunt, but that doesn’t make our task any less difficult or daunting. It would be pretty awesome if we could snap our fingers and find ourselves functioning like countries that have had decades of democracy, decades of voting, poking, prodding, shaking, till they got to this point where they have the luxury of selecting between what we see as several fantastic options. But even thoughts like that are pretty much a luxury. What’s present is struggle.

And that has very little room to accommodate our feelings or excitement or our need to have our consciences tickled. It’s about our country – “greater good,” etc etc. And so choices must be made even when options don’t titillate us. Our job is to make sure that our country is placed in the hands of the best (or least awful) available option at any point in time. Even when we find them completely revolting. Even if the two main candidates at any stage were so awful, so hideous in character and characteristic that looking upon them caused our eyes to bleed. We would still need to set eyes on them, endure the pain, and decide which one of them would be less awful for our country. We aren’t the afters. We are the ancestors.

Lekan is a media professional and enthusiast with a passion for storytelling and building innovative platforms. He has served as Features Editor and Associate Producer with Generation Y!, in addition to working as a screenwriter, with credits including Mnet’s Tinsel and Hotel Majestic, and EbonyLife TV’s Dowry.

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