Issue 30

Fire On The Mountain: Elections in Nigeria

By Wendelyn Okemini

“There is fire on the mountain and nobody seems to be on the run, there is fire on the mountain top and no one is a-running.” Nigerian folk singer Asa moans in her 2007 hit, “Fire on the Mountain”, predicting the state of today’s pre-election Nigeria like a dreadlocked Old Testament prophet. The 2015 Nigerian presidential elections, only the seventh democratic election to be held since independence in 1960 and the fifth following decades of military struggle, are scheduled to be held on 28 March 2015. The elections initially slated for Valentine’s Day were suddenly moved to the end of March, leaving Nigerian women from Abia to Zamfara heaving a collective sigh of relief and their partners panicked and perplexed; Nigerian women are not known to waste an opportunity for gifting.

You see, a Valentine election date saves Nigerian lovers money. Election season is notorious in Nigeria; the uncertainty of a new government stagnates the economy while the rabid desire of the political class to win infuses the market with ammunition, greed and violence. Election evening finds doors locked and the entire country ensconced inside the safety of their homes like ancient Israelites on Passover night, terrified that the spirit of death, or at least Destruction and Chaos, hovers outside.

These final days before the elections find the entire country ablaze with disturbing debates, political preachers at parties, thumb thugging on Twitter, verbally vicious matches in markets and offices busy with Nigerians making last ditch attempts to convince acquaintances, colleagues, friends and strangers to “Vote for Change!” or vote “POWER!” (a little ironic for a country with continuous shortage of power), the slogans of the two main parties; APC and PDP respectively. Bad pun aside, the political rhetoric is largely founded on sentiment as both parties appear to be waging a war on everything but policies, making the electoral debates at this side of the equator equatable only to sandbox squabbles.

Unfortunately this tendency cascades to the next generation. I tutor a group of nine to eleven year olds at a Jesuit high school in my city in literature and debate and recently simulated an election, dividing the class into two to hold a ‘Presidential’ debate. Some of the stellar lines from the kids included,

APC: “You accuse our candidate of limited education because your candidate has a PhD. You forget to mention that his doctorate degree is in Zoology! He is clearly only fit to run a zoo!

PDP: “Follow me to this window, now look around you sir…Nigeria IS a zoo!”

The mock elections ended with PDP winning by a tiny margin, a very likely prediction of the actual election results. Of course no Nigerian election, mock or otherwise, is complete without the obligatory cry of electoral rigging by the losing party. The children in my class, true Nigerians, didn’t give up without a fight; the mock APC team sulked, cried, and huffed about the alleged cheating of the incumbent party. Unlike in real life, the only thing their complaints earned them was a lecture from me on losing with grace, and playing fair.

For the kids, life went on. The lunch bell rang and they continued their well-regimented life unimpeded. For the rest of Nigeria, there will be no easy glide back into the stream of life following an election, regardless of the result.

Lawyers have made their entire fortunes on children who were never taught to lose with grace or to play fair; the courts will be consumed by the heat of a hundred disgruntled candidates following the elections as draconian political godfathers cast shadows like dragon wings, while breathing fire on their sponsored candidates. Nigeria is boiling with millions of voters brimming in expectation, political mercenaries promising to engulf the nation in such an inferno that the winning candidate will struggle to govern a Nigeria too hot to handle, while our churches remain in fervent prayers for a fire that purifies the land and burns the wicked. Asa the dreadlocked prophet was correct, Nigeria is burning – but March is the start of the rainy season.


Wendelyn Okemini is a lawyer who works in sustainable development. She likes writing and is author of the lifestyle blog suitsscandalandthegoodwife.wordpress.com. She is often found daydreaming, dancing or drawing.

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