An unprecedented defiance of the established order took place about two weeks ago, but it did not look like the authorities took notice of its far reaching consequences. For the first time in the history of the labour movement, workers supposedly refused to celebrate their day and themselves. What began as a non-issue, when workers rejected the idea of the permanent secretary in the Ministry of Labour and Employment representing the minister, Dr. Chris Ngige, because the minister was also to represent the president, snowballed into a near conflagration.
Not even the intervention of the former comrade governor, who was once president of the NLC, Adams Oshiomhole, could stop the anger and display of resentment against the government, in an event in which the Senate President, Bukola Saraki, Speaker Yakubu Dogara, senators and ministers, though present for the May day rally, had to sneak out of the venue of the event.
If only those in power would ponder, decipher and dissect the anger vented that day, they’d know what happened was a microcosm of the feelings of most Nigerians, as there is groundswell of rejection, rage, resentment and bitterness awaiting them if nothing is done to stem the current tide of despondency in the land. Besides, there is a high level of consciousness among the electorate, who are becoming increasingly impatient with those they elect to manage their affairs. For the electorate, election day is payback time for elected leaders. One person that read that hand writing on the wall clearly, was the ex-president of France, Francois Hollande, when early in the day, he took the decision not to run again.
In the interim, other candidates of different hues, but mostly from the far left or far right – Marion Maréchal-Le Pen, Francois Fillon, Jean-Luc Melenchon and Benoit Hamon, came up and pundits were already analysing their chances. Emmanuel Macron, who does not belong to any of the hardline ideological leanings, emerged from nowhere to sweep the polls. Now this is a clear departure from France’s political history. It is also a signal that after many failed promises, politicians are now finding it difficult to sell the old order rhetoric to the electorate.
Centrist Macron, a relative newcomer to French politics has the advantage of youth and more. At just 39, the former investment banker who has never held elective political office became the toast of the electorate, after leading an independent political movement called “En Marche” (On the Move), a rather odd name for a party in some climes just last summer, but which resonated very well with French voters. In one of his famous speeches before the election, Macron said, “I’ve seen the emptiness of our political system from the inside…I reject this system”, while calling for a “democratic revolution”. And so it was that an iconoclast Macron became French president last Sunday. He said he is neither left wing nor right wing but for France. Apart from his young age, there is a small but significant issue of his marriage to a 64–year old woman. It may look preposterous but a open-hearted approach to all issues, including the matter of a woman’s age in a relationship, surely had an impact on the electoral outcome. Here in Nigeria, I saw how women were rooting for Macron, against LePen, a woman like them, even though they have no voting power in France. Macron dared to be different and it paid off.
In the coming days, Nigerians will be looking for this kind of leader, who can dare, who fits the bill, who will reject the old order and does not have to belong to the PDP or APC. Nigerians have seen enough of the emptiness and hollowness of these parties. Also, we have elected people in their late 60s and early 70s and those in their 50s with one k-leg or the other, but all of them emerged from the establishment, the privileged class and when the man without shoes came on board, he was in too much hurry to level up that he threw the national vault/treasury open for his friends and cronies.
Despite the lethargy of the past, Nigeria’s political space is changing, albeit gradually. A bit of this new narrative reared its head in 2015, when the incumbent president was roundly defeated. This had never happened in the democratic history of the country. Everywhere in the world, people’s power is on the rise – they are agitating for change and are impatient with lack-lustre or passive regimes, and sometimes can’t wait for the next election to supplant them.
Therefore the workers’ revolt on May Day, the impatience of the electorate and the agitations for good governance are all catalysts with the potential to change the face of election in Nigeria as it did in countries like Canada and Greece where relatively young men emerged. Notwithstanding their rush to jump the PDP ship that catapulted them to fame to the ruling APC, which has closed the dividing line between the party in government and the opposition, when Nigerians are ready to change their destiny and put their country on the path of growth, development and posterity, voters will look for leaders in the mould of Emmanuel Macron.