Nigerians pray for change from afar

2015-03-22 15:00

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Shouts of “amen” and “hallelujah” sound out as a recording of Pastor Dan’s prophecy is played. This is proof for the party faithful that their man, All Progressives Congress (APC) vice-presidential candidate Professor Yemi Osinbajo, will emerge victorious.

Pastor Dan Awusanya, a Ghanaian preacher, has known the professor, also an advocate and academic, for 15 years. Last July, Awusanya had a prophecy about Osinbajo: “At the end of March, great things will come his way.”

That was before Osinbajo was asked to be Muhammadu Buhari’s running mate and before the poll date of February 14 (later postponed to March 28) was announced.

The prophecy was consolation for the trouble the postponement of the polls caused the APC’s auspicious FeBuhari campaign.

About 25 APC supporters are gathered in the Oscan Buffet Restaurant in Centurion, Gauteng, on Wednesday night for the R500-a-head fundraising dinner. They believe the change they are praying for – emblazoned in white capitals on green lapel pins – will come.

After an initial struggle with technology, the professor himself is beamed on to a laptop screen, using Skype to speak to his supporters.

The first question is about corruption, one of the big election issues.

“Corruption has been tolerated for too long now and, with Buhari, we will for the first time ever have a president who will fight corruption. He will act so that people will be deterred from corruption,” said Osinbajo. “You are not born corrupt. We want to change that mind-set of the people. We have to deal with the issue of consequences for people who are accused of corruption.”

Privately, the APC members say they aren’t even sure the elections will happen next Saturday. The postponement dented their trust in the system, and there are some issues with Independent National Elections Commission head Mahmud Jega. There is also the fact that terrorist group Boko Haram hasn’t been completely defeated in the country – one of the reasons for the postponement.

Many Nigerians will therefore not be going home to vote. Also, most in the diaspora don’t have voter ID cards.

Olaniyi Abodedele, publisher of The Nigerian Voice newspaper for expats in South Africa, explains that getting the card means at least two flights back home – one to register for it and another to collect it. For an expat to actually cast a vote, a third flight to Nigeria would be required.

“It is very cumbersome in terms of costing, and that is one of the reasons why those in the diaspora are fighting for diaspora voting,” he said. Logistical problems mean there is no voting for Nigerians abroad.

Former head of the APC’s South African chapter, Omoregie Ogboro, an attorney from Pretoria who has worked and studied in South Africa for about 15 years, isn’t planning to go back to vote.

“The issue of Boko Haram was used to postpone the election. But to say you will tackle Boko Haram in the next six weeks – it doesn’t make logical sense. There is a fear [in government] that people will want change,” he said. “They are using Boko Haram as an excuse to deprive people of the right to vote.”

Ogboro said he would like to return to Nigeria if he felt he had the space to make a change, and to use the skills he acquired in South Africa to improve Nigeria’s legal system. “Right now, if I go back, I won’t make a difference; it will be a waste of time,” he said.

An APC government would give him confidence to do that, though. “I’ve reached a stage in South Africa where I’m beginning to feel I want to move on. I’m happy, but I’m still a foreigner, a foreign professional. There is a vacuum in my life. The [South African] system has accommodated me and given me an opportunity to be qualified, but I still feel Nigeria is my home.”

Those on the opposite side of the spectrum share the same sentiments. A supporter of President Goodluck Jonathan’s People’s Democratic Party (PDP), Alphonsus Onyebuchi, said he also wanted to return home.

“Nobody will deny the fact that our past leaders were corrupt; we can’t fix that in one term. There is no place like home, but the issue is that every country has their period of crisis. I wish to go back to my country. If there is a crisis in the country and everyone leaves, who will mend the problems? There is a need for us to have input. Whether we like it or not, we in Nigeria will have to solve our problems,” he said.

Jonathan needed a second term to finish what he started, Onyebuchi said. “This period is hectic for Jonathan, but he has done a lot of good to deserve a second term. It is about continuity, and he needed a foundation. Me supporting him is for him to accomplish what he has started.”

Onyebuchi, who works in the tourism business in Johannesburg, boarded a plane to Lagos yesterday to help his friend, a PDP candidate in the Delta State, with his door-to-door campaign in rural areas. Onyebuchi doesn’t have a voter identification card, so he won’t be able to vote.

Back in Centurion, Awusanya concludes the APC meeting with a prayer as everyone holds hands.

“May our leaders be free from assassination, from a coup,” the pastor prays. It’s a political prayer that most likely resonates with ordinary, peace-loving Nigerian citizens around the world.

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