Nigerians in Lincoln hope vote takes place

Nigeria 2007

By Rebecca Roberts

June 10, 2009

Appeared in Lincoln Journal Star

With nearly 6,500 miles separating them from their homeland, Nigerians living in Lincoln still keep a watchful eye on their home country. That’s especially true in the weeks before Nigeria elects its next president.

“I think it’s anybody’s guess at this point,” said Oyekan Owomoyela, professor of African literature and coordinator of African and African-American studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

No matter who wins, Owomoyela thinks the vote will be a milestone for this 8-year-old democracy. Never before has one president handed over power to another at the request of the people, and a smooth transfer would be a huge step for a country with a political history of violent military interventions.

“A good thing in itself would be to have a successful transition from (President Olesegun) Obasanjo’s regime to another,” Owomoyela said. “At least it can be one of peaceful transition.”

But he holds out little hope for wholesale changes in a system he says is based not on a commitment to the nation but to each politician’s financial supporters, region or ethnic group.

“I don’t think what one should hope for at this point is a good, responsible government,” Owomoyela said, adding that once a democratic process is well-established he expects Nigerian leaders will develop a greater sense of responsibility to their electorate.

He does worry about what would happen to Nigeria if the elections are marred by fraud or violence.

“It would be an ugly situation,” he said. “That would be inviting chaos all over the country. And that would be a disaster.”

To Edo Keniabarido Johnson, that scenario is a certainty.

“Of course there is going to be more violence, because our government refuses to address the problem,” said the youth specialist with Cedars Homes.

The problem, he said, is oil money — or the lack of it.

Johnson grew up in Port Harcourt, in the heart of the oil delta. He considers himself a political refugee, having escaped a life of not enough food, no way to earn a living and “no hope in the government” — all because oil profits aren’t dispersed to the people.

“The next president needs to have the courage to take on the oil industry,” he said. “We want the problem in the Niger delta to be solved by the government; we want more jobs.

“What we want them to do is to conduct proper and fair elections. The voting system should be fair and free.”

And if Nigerians don’t have the opportunity to vote, they aren’t participating in a real democracy.

“If we’ve lost our vote, we’ve lost our rights,” he said.

Kolade Alabi agrees democratic elections are essential, and he believes mobilizing Nigeria’s youth is the only way to make that happen.

“I believe there is hope for the country,” said Alabi, a quality control specialist for Novartis. “But it will take a lot of young people learning that they have rights, that they can demand something from the government — not by fighting, but by using their intellectual capabilities.”

That can only happen, he said, by entrenching the ideal of democracy in the minds of all Nigerians. And the first step is to make sure the April 22 election takes place as planned.

“They just want to have a success story for the country, to make sure there’s actual transparency and an actual handover from citizen to citizen,” Alabi said.

He, too, echoed fears that, instead of being aboveboard, the elections will be marred by fraud and thus prompt violence — maybe even a coup.

“I hope not,” he said. “I actually pray not.”