A vote is a dangerous thing to waste. Politics is almost certainly never something to be left to politicians. And that is why we vote and fight for the right to vote. I always find it slightly amusing when people begin a statement by saying ‘Politics aside.’ Politics is never aside and politics is never an aside. The personal is always political. Those in government decide the quality of life you can aspire to, funding for schools, health, who you can marry, who you can meet, how well the nation develops, societal rights and wrongs, the quality of air, what schools you can go to, what schools teach, the food that you eat … none of these things is completely personal and none of these things is solely political. And so, we go to vote.
History matters. The suffragettes died fighting to win women the right to vote. A lot of the decolonisation movement in Africa and Asia especially, concerned agitation for self-rule – the right to vote and be voted for. The ballot box thus becomes a symbol of freedom. The freedom to mark your name on that card and drop it in that box can sometimes feel like the last chains of oppression are over, voting at the end of apartheid, at the end of Jim Crow, as the end of military rule. But it is not the end really. Voting is the first step on that road and if you turn back, then freedom is lost. In Nigeria, we went to vote, walking past armoured tanks, soldiers with loaded rifles and itchy trigger fingers looking on. We went to vote in the sweltering heat and in torrential downpours. Because the personal is political and the political is personal. Our voter’s card – a little slip of paper – that supposedly gives you the right to control Aso Rock. I waited in the sun for 12 hours to collect mine. My small measure of control, a minuscule drop in the fathomless ocean of institutional malaise. But I hold on to it. Like it is all I have in this national confusion.
Hard won freedoms should be hard kept. And so, I vote. Always.