The Nigerian political climate can be characterised largely as recycled leadership
By Wande Thomas
You know that saying “The world isn’t only black and white but shades of grey”? Well, Nigeria is that grey they talk about. Our political space cannot be described in simple terms.
Since the military handed power over to a democratically elected government in 1999, a lot of nuances have been lost in separating ideologies, parties, and the politicians that have tried, and often failed to govern. Even more glaring is the realization that these politicians switch sides so often and the two main parties existing are now perceived to be almost homogeneous.
A little experiment could put this to the test. If you go on the streets of Nigeria and ask the average man about the political parties they know in Nigeria, more often than not two names would be mentioned above all others. The People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and the All Progressives Congress (APC).
However, it was not always so. In fact, in the 1999 elections the PDP was so dominant that it won 241 0f the 306 House of representative seats, 21 out of 36 governorship positions and 71 of 109 Senatorial seats. Although there existed powerful politicians with their varying levels of clout, the likes of Bola Ahmed Tinubu in the southwest (ACN), Muhammadu Buhari in the north (CPC) and Rochas Okorocha (ANPP) in the east could not make a dent individually until they came together in 2013 to form the now incumbent APC.
The APC saw a chink in the armor of the long-dominant PDP and made their move, a move which was successful in the election of our current president.
A couple of weeks ago, a popular Nigerian musician, Bankole Wellington, made his intentions known to the public of his desire to run for office. This act was commendable from a man who has been outspoken about Nigeria’s ills. But the level of difficulty that Banky W would face in winning is very high.
Like Banky W, Kingsley Moghalu, Fela Durotoye, Omoyele Sowore, Oby Ezekwesili, and others, are all candidates from various parties who have been defined as alternative candidates to the status quo of Nigeria’s poor leadership, ideologies (if any), and although they are notable Nigerians, their chances of winning are slim. The reasons?
- The financial requirements of running a campaign in Nigeria is one of the most expensive in the world relative to the size of the country’s economy and takes its toll on even the deepest of pockets. Nigeria has almost 120,000 polling units, and getting an agent in each of them is no mean feat. Agents have to be transported, accommodated, and given a stipend.
- The PDP Umbrella and APC Broom are brand identities of the country’s biggest parties and ingrained in the mind of millions of Nigerians
- The Nigerian electoral system puts the party’s name and symbol on a ballot not that of the candidate’s. So, unfortunately, name and face recognizability plays little to no roles here.
Now I am not naïve; however, I am optimistic. If an “alternative/idealistic” candidate is to stand a chance of making an impact in 2019 and beyond, it can only be done by banding together and joining resources, networks and fan base to build a strong recognizable brand that can be recognized and influential.
Although every candidate has an individual agenda and ideology, sometimes agreeing just enough on certain things could go a long way if winning and ousting the present state of things is a priority. This is a contentious debate in most camps, however this is part of what worked for the APC in 2015.
My simplistic idea is “Micro Solutions for Macro Problems”. Idealistically, these alternative candidates are all after the common good of the nation and believe in the ideology of a ‘government for the people, of the people and by the people.’ Hence, a call to concede to another while acting as a check in the event of a victory should not be a tall ask.
What if we had a mini-election of our own, for the alternative candidates before the main election? Organize debates, discourses, and more between the alternative candidates and then, cast votes for the most impressive on predetermined terms and reach a consensus to unify their resources and rally around that one Nigerian who does not subscribe to the ideologies of the nation’s two biggest parties. The other candidates become the automatic checks and balances; the sample electorate becomes the kingmakers with the power to unseat the selected candidate should the performance fall below par. A hybrid of Meritocracy and Democracy but at primary levels.
Now these are not new concepts and have been tried in varying ways before, however the desire to win and change status quo would have to supersede all other individual candidate desires for this to work.
I also do strongly believe that the application of a bottom up system, where this new coalition fields the best and brightest at lower offices might just be the way to go, infiltration from the top has always been a dream, but having smart, honest and effective minds at local government offices and others could begin to lead a snowball effect that shows changes in these smaller ecosystems, thus galvanizing a base and building a stronger case to compete at higher levels. A case for focused energy in voting cannot be overstated in Nigeria’s case, where the Alt might not be a majority or even close, but a highly influential strategic block that influences decision making in Nigeria.
Nigeria cannot be fixed in a day; however, we can take simple steps like these towards giving the best candidates an opportunity to run for the highest and most prestigious offices in the land.
Even if the next president may not be one outside the two giant parties that rule Nigeria, your Senator, representative or local government chairman could be from an alternative/idealistic party that’s qualified and willing to do the right thing and give Nigeria a chance.
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in The Spark Magazine. Find the magazine here to read other articles.