A lot of us Nigerians need lessons in vocabulary development.
It has become quite alarming that the word “fencist”, and its variations, is being brandished as a description for Nigerians who—whether from a lack of conviction in the candidates or a sense of personal privacy—do not show direct or open support for any of the major political parties or their minor tributaries in these 2015 general elections. But, more than just a prejudicial misuse of the originating English idiom, this description is also a grave misunderstanding of the principles of good democratic citizenship.
Every citizen is entitled to a Vote; that is the selling point of democracy. How any particular individual chooses to exercise that Vote is really nobody’s business. There is a day designated for the exercise of the Vote. We call it Election Day. Today is not Election Day. The citizen is not obliged to decide the exercise of his or her Vote now.
“Now” is simply the time for the politicians (and their volunteers and paid agents) to explain to us, the citizens, why they should have that Vote. We call this solicitation process “campaigning”.
Fine, maybe a few citizens are already convinced that a particular party or candidate is the way forward. Great! Then let such citizens join the party or become volunteers or unpaid agents—so we can properly identify them as politicians and take their words with the requisite raising of eyebrows. As general citizens, we’ll be happy to listen to such politicians, and their campaign messages. And on Election Day, we will make the decision. Not now, not today.
But when some of us—pseudo-politicians—stand up now with half-baked ideas of “fencism”, trying to force the citizenry along party lines, trying to compel non-party members to pick a side—now—to choose a party—now—then we are making the work of politicians too easy for them.
There is no sense in us, as non-partisan citizens, choosing a party to support now. We will merely end up with quarrels, taking unnecessary sides, before Election Day has even arrived. Let the politicians do the quarrelling amongst themselves. Don’t let’s make it too easy for them to divide and rule. If they want the Vote, then let them sweat for it. The more uncertain the outlook is for them, the better-behaved they are.
So what if you believe a ruling party is entitled to another term? It is not your duty to campaign for or defend them: just tell them to showcase their achievements better. So what if you believe an opposition party is entitled to a chance? Don’t go promoting them: just tell them to highlight their intentions better.
Then how do you demonstrate that you are a good citizen? How do you show that you are not just watching from the sidelines? We become better citizens by critiquing government policies objectively, not by supporting political parties sentimentally.
Don’t confuse policies with politics, or citizenship with partisanship.
The party member has a one-track mind; he is bound to support a chosen side. The party member cares only about party politics and the party’s sustainable control of political power. Partisanship is about getting direct or indirect benefit from party politics. Citizenship is about getting direct or indirect benefit from government policies. The ordinary citizen is concerned with the big picture; with the government’s policies. Sometimes it takes two or more parties to get the big picture going, sometimes one party is enough. The citizen doesn’t have to choose a side, the citizen is entitled to question all sides.
Politicians don’t educate, they solicit. And so, when you think it is your duty to tell people where and how to exercise their Vote, you have only ended up becoming a politician. The people are not kids, they don’t need YOUR help to decide how to exercise their Vote. Of course, folks may need your help to understand government policies, by all means educate them. But no citizen needs another citizen’s help in deciding a Vote.
Educate people on government actions and motivations. But, unless you’re a party member, a volunteer or paid agent soliciting for the Vote, don’t tell people who to vote for. If the party does its work well enough, it should be able to convince the citizens that it deserves the Vote. If, perchance, the “objectively” better candidate is doing a poor job of soliciting, then you have to live with the consequences of the candidate’s political ineptitude. You can’t disallow the rights of those who gave their Vote to the worse candidate. You may think them fools, but democracy allows foolishness—that’s the beauty and ugliness of democracy.
This freedom to be foolish is the power of the democratic citizen. No one has to explain or defend why they are voting for a party. You don’t even have to support or cheer along a party; you don’t have to help them win. No, it is the party that has to explain why it deserves the Vote. They may call it “a fence”, but it’s your right—your power. Hold onto that power until Election Day—don’t cheapen it. Stay non-partisan till you cast –or refuse to cast—your Vote. Keep the politicians and their agents guessing. Keep them on their toes. Let them beg.
Folks, there’s no “fence” to sit on.
“Sitting on the fence” implies non-involvement in a conflict of principle, it implies indecision between two irreconcilable sides. But there is no conflict of principle in this type of general election, there is no decision to make before Election Day. What we have now is a conflict of partisan interests; a restaurant menu; an array of choices—two, three, four— up to sixteen political party choices. This is a rollercoaster of choices, not a wall of dividing principles.
There is no “fence” to sit on. There is instead, a stadium, an arena, an auditorium, where we get to watch contestants struggle for a prize. We are not meant to pick sides or carry placards of support. We are, instead, to watch the game, study the contest, analyse the skills, and decide the better candidate.
As Funmi Iyanda keeps saying: we are not fans, we are citizens.
And so, instead of forcing ourselves into corners with imaginary fences, let us behave as citizens, and watch the contestants prove themselves on the stage. On Election Day, the subjectively better person will be declared the winner.
And the next time someone asks you: who are you voting for? Feel free, to answer: You see, darling, it’s really nobody’s darn business, except mine.