Alexander the Great once said, “I am not afraid of an army of lions led by a sheep; I am afraid of an army of sheep led by a lion.” When Alexander was making this rather powerful statement, he definitely wasn’t aware that a time will come where the sheep will never elect the lion to lead them in the first place. He probably didn’t envisage a time where the sheep would prefer (to elect) someone that looks like them and speak their language but with zero leadership qualities to someone with very good leadership qualities but looks and speaks differently. If he knew, he probably wouldn’t have even bothered, because he would have known that an army of sheep was never going to be led by a lion.
In a democracy, people tend to vote for who they like and identify more closely with. Therefore, a largely poorly educated populace is never going to understand (or vote for) a sophisticated candidate equipped with data and great ideas. They would rather prefer someone who speaks their language; someone they can identify with and understand. It doesn’t matter who you are or if you’re going to screw them really badly; just speak their language and say what they want to hear and they’re all yours. Mediocre people will always elect a mediocre leader. They’re threatened by education and excellence, and this is a serious problem.
“Democracy cannot succeed unless those who express their choice are prepared to choose wisely. The real safeguard of democracy, therefore, is education.” – Franklin D. Roosevelt.
I wholeheartedly agree with the former American President here. Education and democracy go hand in hand. Democracy is incomplete without a truly educated electorate. I am not talking about memorising some mathematics and physics formulae to pass your exams, neither am I talking about knowing how to operate a machine to keep you employed and pay your bills. No, I am rather talking about true education: in civics, history, politics, economics and so on. An education where when a politician talks about inflation, austerity or causes of unemployment, you understand perfectly or enough to at least ask intelligent questions. This kind of electorate can never be taken for granted. They will elect the most competent individual for the job and will always call their leaders to account at all times.
We take pride in saying educated people who watch debates can’t help you win an election. We make fun of our intelligentsia and derogatorily refer to them as “Social Media Constituency.” We gloat about the fact that the people who have the numbers to elect an individual into office do not watch debates; that they are poorly educated and totally uninterested in issue-based campaigns. But the irony is totally lost on us that we are waging (or at best, endorsing) a war on intellectualism in our country.
Although some of us try to evaluate things from a realistic point of view, it is still not an excuse to gloat about the anti-intellectual nature of the electorate. It is something that, whilst we acknowledge its existence, shouldn’t be said without any element of shame or contradiction.
The campaign so far has been dirty and ugly on both sides. I cannot confidently say that I have learnt anything new on how to take Nigeria forward – it has been pretty much the same old, tired lines. People who ask intelligent questions these days are few and far between.
Are we going to accept that something had terribly gone wrong somewhere, take a few steps back and work on fixing it? Or are we going to carry on with this buffoonery like everything is ok?
I obviously do not have all the answers but if I am sure of anything, it is that Nigeria will struggle to have a viable democracy without a truly educated electorate. The group of semi-literates and illiterates with PVCs who are going to eventually decide who becomes president – because they have the numbers – is nothing to be proud of. Rather, it is a pretty serious indictment of the anti-intellectual nature of Nigeria. For what does it say about us that our presidents are elected by a cocktail of the illiterate and semi-literate majority?
Suleiman Ahmed is the author of ‘Trouble in Valhalla’ and the founder & editor of igalanames.com. He tweets from @sule365.
The views expressed in this post are those of the author and in no way reflect those of Nigerian Diary