1979. Ihioma. A small village in the jungles of south east Nigeria. Their only claim to fame is the girls secondary school. Its the only feature of the local economy. Other than farming. Of course. The villagers supply all the goods and services to the school.
There is excitement in the air. Elections are holding soon. The first since the coup and the ensuing civil war. Civilians are coming back to power. The military is bad? First time I hear it. I thought they were part of the revolution.
The prefects and teachers make us stand in line. I’ve already concluded that the entire school leadership are unreasonable. Students are literally bullied into unquestioning conformity on principle. That’s how the system runs.
When I get to the table I tell the man registering voters in long hand
‘I’m 13’ well expecting him to turn me away.
‘It doesn’t matter’ he says.
The teachers and the prefects stare me down.
Do I walk away? Refuse to cooperate? Launch into another lecture on democracy and governance? Wait to become head prefect in 2 years time?
This is all too much for the only white kid in an all black high school in the middle of the fucking African jungle. This isn’t my battle. I give them my name and details, collect the voters card and walk away.
‘Fucking natives’ I think to myself. ‘They can’t do anything right can they?’
There is nothing for them to gain from not manipulating the elections. That’s what you do. Manipulate elections. Even the Americans do it they insist and reassure me.
Like the Americans did so glaringly prove in 2000 in the race between GWBush and AlGore. I was mortified. Disappointed. Betrayed even. How could you let us down this way? Did you scramble for a new role model too?
But the natives aren’t stupid. They’re really smart. They’re really really smart. I learn a lot when I start listening to them. Instead of judging them. Or pretending to act for them in paternalistic leadership.
My confidence in the electoral systems and institutions may be a bit more difficult to restore but I’m glad to know that some really great people are all over it too. (:Hi Gbenga! Well done o!)
It is our battle.
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