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IMO STATE ELECTION: MAKE YOUR VOTE COUNT Part 1

As the elections approach in our country, it is necessary to remind Nigerian voters of the importance of their vote and also of not voting. Understanding the power of the vote is particularly critical in electoral zones where the voter is faced with more than one choice. An electoral vote is not just a piece of paper or a valueless thumb stamp. Each selection on that voting screen is a voter's way of submitting themselves and their future to the agenda of the individual that has been selected. This is why the ability to vote is a hallmark of a democratic process. For those who choose not to vote, when the patterns of choosing not to vote in the population become systematic, such as when those really in need of change feel overwhelmed by aggressive antics of the incumbent and other candidates, or reluctant to vote because of disgust with the system, it is also a vote in and of itself for the very candidates that drive their dissatisfaction. So it is imperative that those who have registered to vote must endeavor to cast their vote during elections, irrespective of their beliefs or understandings of whether or not their votes count.

A few commonsense rules are worth laying down for the regular voter. First, recognize the value of your vote. Your vote is a statement about the issues you care for, what you hope to see change or improve in your life, how you want those changes to occur and the extent to which such changes should occur, and what you plan for your future and the future of your children and generations after them. By voting for a candidate, you have entrusted all aspects of your life, from the smallest issues of being able to afford an education, having access to job opportunities, living in a secure environment, access to good medical care, your ability to thrive independent of alms giving and benevolence often tagged the fancy name of philanthropy, to personal financial progress.

Second, because your vote is tied to your personal progress, it is imperative that you understand the candidates that you plan to vote for. What are they offering you? If they offer you the sky, do they have an articulate plan for delivering their promise? Does their plan focus on offering you crumbs and welfare as opposed to empowering you, the individual voter to succeed and prosper? Elections are the only time in an electoral period when the voter is empowered. As a voter, you should ask questions about the candidate's personal accomplishments outside of elected office and in elected office if they have a history. You should question if you have benefitted from changes they have made through elected office. This is an interesting issue because many candidates in Nigeria currently ride on issues like their personal philanthropic efforts. Nobody, including the Bill Gates of this world can sustain an entire population on philanthropy on all issues. As human beings, we all need to be independent and use our God given abilities to excel and profit from whatever we seek out to do. This is not too much to ask. The Igbo group in Nigeria for example is known for their industrious nature and independence. Living off philanthropy is counter to their nature. So should you vote for individuals who speak only about how they plan to extend their philanthropic abilities? How many people can any one individual sustain on philanthropy from the food they eat, to the clothes they wear to the education they receive and throughout their lifespan? Not many. So please read the manifestos of the candidates, evaluate their potential, and for those that are incumbents, evaluate not just how the environment now “looks” but whether the new look has translated to any improvements in your life as a voter. Lots of flowers, green grass, and nicely painted walls for those with sufficient financial resources to build walls around their homes is aesthetically pleasing but means nothing to you the average voter if you still cannot afford food to eat. Third, your vote is your property. You are the only one with control over your vote. The only time you have power over your elected officials is when you vote. What this means is you are the remote control for your vote. Nobody will hold your hands on the voting day. What the politicians may have is your mind and your heart. So be careful about who captivates your mind and steals your heart. This love affair that you codify with your vote will leave an indelible mark on you, good or bad. Start preparing for how you vote right now. Make a list of where you would like to be in your personal and professional life. What do you need? What can your government do to help you meet those needs? Next, take a look at the candidates and assess which one not only says they will do something for you but have a record of delivering for the masses, not for themselves. Make sure you understand that what they promise you appeals to you.

Finally, do not let party politics fool you. Political platforms ideally allow people to aggregate around a suite of ideas that manifest into a broad agenda. However, party politics can also result in the election of the wrong candidates. Party candidates within a party are selected by delegates rather than the general population. Because these delegates are not products of the electorate, it is unclear that their visions and goals match those of the voter. They are easily influenced or swayed, and may come to the table with existing biases in favor of one candidate over the other that have nothing to do with your interests. By voting along party lines, you are agreeing with the selection of the delegates, most of whom you do not know and who may be disconnected from your personal agenda. After elections your party affiliation is worthless. The politicians move on and you are left at their mercy. Even if your party's candidate becomes governor, member of the house, president of the country, the reality is that you, the nameless voter will not be on their guest list for any of their picture perfect events. This is why what you should care about is how they can shape government to elevate you. Vote along party lines if you are pleased with every single candidate presented by your party in your electoral zone. If there is one candidate that you are not confident about, it is your duty to yourself, your family and future generations not to waste your vote on the candidate. Vote your conscience. Vote for candidates that you believe will shape your government to help you prosper and succeed as an individual. Vote for ideas not party acronyms and colors.

So why am I trying to educate voters? It is a few 2 weeks or so to the gubernatorial election in Imo State and the race is one filled with intrigue. I have read articles, opinions and comments by supporters of various candidates about why their gubernatorial candidate of choice is the selected messiah for Imo State. What is lacking in every single one of these dialogs is what the individuals personally stand to gain in any aspect of their lives from voting their candidate into office. Nobody has personalized this election to their circumstances. I am not asking people to indicate whether or not they are related to the candidates or whether the candidates have promised them a piece of Imo State coffers. I am referring to a pointed discussion about how the incumbent has benefited your education, your business, your access to health care, or any part of your life, or how those other than the incumbent in the race are going to positively or negatively impact your circumstances. Even if these conversations may be strictly based on idealism and inferences from candidates' manifestos, which typically do not have too many details to avoid drowning the voter in information, they are worth having. For example, I have read about a candidate who promises free education to Imo State indigenes. As a recent beneficiary of higher education and a firm believer that good education unlocks boundless potential, I have very keen interest in this topic. At what level I ask because my current understanding is that education is already free at the primary and secondary levels, if you attend a government run school. The real question here is whether you really get educated if you pass through these government run schools. At the university level, you cannot have free education. It is not possible to run a higher institution where all students attend for free, especially when we do not control 100% of the oil revenue that comes to Imo State. The students and their professors need expensive textbooks, standard libraries and access to current information. They also need to be able to conduct research to remain competitive in a global system, and interact with their peers across the world. Even if Bill gates decided to take on Imo State, at some point he would be overwhelmed with the responsibility. “Money dey finish” I might add. What you need is a plan that calls for approaches that allow these institutions of higher learning to generate their own funds, and for professors in those schools to do what their contemporaries in universities in other parts of the world are doing – research. One is only successful in research when they have access to grant funds (from private and government coffers) and opportunities to partner with their contemporaries so that they can access resources that are available worldwide. These grant resources pay tuition for many students in many good institutions around the world, and can reduce the overall cost of education because the university's overhead expenses are reduced and you don't need to charge too much money to educate a student.

The only gubernatorial team I see with some relevant detail on this issue on their website (www.cpcimostate.org) is the Nwajiuba-Mezu team. They promise to promote and enable the access of our local universities to grants and world class institutions in different parts of the world. This is what I want to begin to hear. So, no surprise there from the Nwajiuba-Mezu team because you need to have been in a refined educational system to effectively run a successful higher institution. As a “victim” of the Nigerian university system, and someone who has been “rehabilitated” by a higher education in a western country, I can tell you that we need more than talk about free education. We need to begin to have some sense of what exactly these candidates promise to do and how they propose to achieve their goals. I hope that our students in Imo State (IMOSU, FUTO, etc) can use their personal dissatisfaction with their nightmare experiences called obtaining a higher education to see what lies ahead with each candidate – the status quo, a life of financially appealing yet meaningless free education, or some sense of a dignified certificate and access to world class intellectuals.

Also, I have heard some folks get high and low on the issue of the Nworie river dredging project. About ninety-nine percent of the opinions I have read suggest it is a fraudulent project to siphon funds from the Imo State government. Putting aside the argument about whether or not this river dredging exercise is fraudulent, the key question is what does it mean for the average citizen of Imo State? From the government website, the current government says the project would boost tourism. For who, may I ask? The wealthy who can afford it? The question about how exactly it benefits the average citizen is not far-fetched either. I read about an estimated 30,000 new jobs from tourism. But out of how many million unemployed Imo citizens, and for how much “shishi na afu”? Knowing the tourism industry, if you are not an independent supplier or on the managerial staff, you still don't make the big pay check category. Would the dredging project provide irrigation for my village? Last time I checked, we don't have farmland any more, and we are not the only community in this situation. Would it provide drinking water? Again it does not help my community, we are so far away from any water body and we rely on deep aquifer boreholes and moreover, I have not heard any discuss on provision of drinking water as a potential benefit of this river dredging project. So in terms of how it contributes to my quality of life or that of my family members, I cannot seem to find the justification for it based on what I know about my community. Based on this, it is fair for me to consider it misuse or uninformed use of limited resources, given my needs and what is valuable to me. By the way in a democratic system, this huge project should have been subjected to a vote to see if the people are interested and willing to spend their funds on it!

Personally, neither I nor any relative I know of has progressed meaningfully as a result of any government action in Imo State the past 15 - 20 years. I am in favor of the Nwajiuba-Mezu team because they offer me something I have not seen in a while – HOPE. I need it, you need it. It is hope borne of the indication in their manifesto that they have given some thought to their promises. It is hope that originates from the stated accomplishments of Dr. Mezu, and also Barr Nwajiuba at such a young age. To think that the only landmarks in Imo today are the very ones that were conceived and birthed when Dr Mezu was part of the Mbakwe government is just abhorrent for a state with so much intellectual muscle. I long for those days when we were hopeful; days when impossible was nothing more than an excuse, the days of my father's peers when people were concerned about the future generations. This was a time when people were selfless, and left all the good they could have accrued on a personal level to serve Imo State. I will bank and vote on HOPE. That is all I have at the end of the day. Based on my brief synopsis, I advice Imo State voters to cherish their votes and consider the Nwajiuba-Mezu ticket.


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