Shall We Tell APC the Home Truth? By Simon Kolawole
The fastest-selling narrative in Nigerian politics today is that if the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) wins an election, it is because of rigging; if the All Progressives Congress (APC) wins, then it is the will of the people. After the June 21 Ekiti election, in which PDP’s Ayo Fayose defeated Governor Kayode Fayemi – who was generally acknowledged to have done well in his first term in office – a new line has been added to the narrative: if PDP wins, it is because the candidate distributed rice and vegetable oil; if APC wins, then the people have spoken without inducement. And one more line: if PDP wins, it is because of “militarisation”; if APC wins, it is a product of “free” democratic atmosphere. Yeah, right.
Now let us pause. These narratives – which have become very popular in both the traditional and social media circles – need some clarity. Rigging, basically, is about multiple voting, underage voting and falsification of results – and you can even throw intimidation into the mix. According to a narrative, only the PDP engages in these acts. APC and other parties have never been involved in rigging. Never ever. And following the new pattern of post-election analysis, only PDP candidates share rice (beans, salt, bread, etc); other parties have never done such despicable things before. Finally, opposition parties have never benefitted from “militarisation” before. God forbid.
Can we now deal with the facts, ladies and gentlemen? With due respect, let me shock you: politicians rig, no matter their parties. Don’t believe me. But give me a benefit of the doubt. Politicians, irrespective of their parties, bribe security chiefs and electoral officials in a bid to win elections. Politicians distribute raw cash and raw food to voters. Politicians assemble young men to thumb-print ballot papers, to snatch ballot boxes, to intimidate their opponents. Nigerian politicians – at least most of them – are genetically the same. They rejoice when it favours them and cry foul when they are outfoxed. Leaving PDP for APC or APC for PDP does not change their genetic make-up. I know you think I’m telling lies, but I have seen these things in my young life. Seriously.
If you still think I’m lying, I will gladly tell you another lie: militarisation has benefited virtually every party. I don’t know of any party that has not won in “militarised” elections before – in Ondo, Kogi, Edo, Cross River, Nasarawa, etc. I remember the Edo governorship election in 2012. The entire Edo was militarised. Every kilometre. Every yard. The Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) – which is now part of APC – recorded a massive victory. Governor Adams Oshiomhole won in all the 18 LGAs, scoring 72% of the votes, disgracing PDP godfathers and “fixers” in their backyards. The ACN did not complain of militarisation. Rather, Oshiomhole went to Aso Rock to thank President Goodluck Jonathan for “providing adequate security” for the election which allowed the people to express their will “freely”. Wow.
Let us change gear now. I am one of those who celebrated the emergence of APC last year. Not that I am a politician or that I ever intend to be a politician. Not that I am a partisan or ever intend to join a party. For me as a student of development and democracy, I had looked at the Nigerian situation closely and made certain conclusions. One is that for as long as the opposition parties are in disarray and unable to work together, the PDP would continue to take Nigerians for granted. Give them a strong opposition and let the elections be truly competitive. Let the ruling party and the opposition fight for our votes. In the past, we went into elections virtually concluding that the PDP would win. That is not healthy for democracy.
The APC remains the broadest opposition party in the history of Nigeria. But they need to be told some things they don’t want to hear. One, they are not a government-in-waiting as they have wrongly assumed. Their complacency – to the point of arrogance – could be their downfall. They have a lot to do as we approach 2015 elections. To assume that they already have power in the bag is to end up spectacularly disappointed – as they were in Ekiti last month. Two, popularity in the media, as good and as desirable as it is, does not translate to a majority of votes. My grandmother, my driver, my security guard, the lady who sells me water melon, the petrol station attendant and my uncles in the village don’t decide who to vote for on the basis of what they read in newspapers or see on TV.
Three – and I know this is going to get me some dirty slaps – political ideology is not a motivation among the majority of Nigerian voters. If you doubt me, do a random survey of the real voters. How many of us are influenced by ideological thought? I suspect we are in the minority. I am convinced that the majority of voters are moved by sentiments. Personal and group sentiments. Emotions such as: Who do our influencers and local leaders want us to vote for? Who will better serve our ethnic, religious, political or economic interests? That is their understanding of ideology – not capitalism, socialism or centrism. They don’t even as much as believe in campaign promises anymore.
I know many commentators and analysts think the problem with APC is that people do not yet see them as better than the PDP. Maybe. Maybe not. I am a young man but I have seen a lot in our electoral history. And I have come to the realisation that even the best-conducted elections are not decided on the basis of what party has better policies and programmes. It has never really been about the better ideologies. Yes, these things help with a minority of voters, like my-not-so-humble-self. But the real deal with the masses is the vote-winning political machinery on the ground: the influence of local leaders and the effective mobilisation of the people’s sentiments – not excluding material inducement. Call me a liar.
My advice to APC then would be: if you are really, really serious about taking out the PDP in the 2015 elections, go back to the drawing board. I can see that after the Ekiti election, PDP is having a feeling of hubris. I can sense this optimism about them, a feeling of “you ain’t seen nothing yet”. But PDP is also falling into a mistake – Ekiti could well be a wake-up call for APC rather than a death sentence. Nothing is settled yet. Maybe APC’s poor showing in Ekiti is a one-off rather than the beginning of a trend. I don’t know. Nobody knows. The day is still young, as it were.
I will, however, offer a simple word of advice to APC: stop whinging about rice and soldiers. Ekiti should be an opportunity to rethink and re-strategise. I am by no means suggesting that APC should keep quiet if there are infractions; that would be unfair of me. But it would be fair, I think, to tell the opposition that if they don’t roll up their sleeves and come up with a more practical winning formula, they will be condemned to whinging for a long time to come. That’s the truth.
And Four Other Things…
AIREGIN AND EKIM
At a public event last year, I said we can turn anything to a problem in Nigeria and start a public debate around it. Say, for instance, that Nigeria’s problem is the national anthem. You will have many followers instantly. Well, a campaign has started. A senior advocate of Nigeria, Ekim Ozekhome, recently suggested at the National Conference that we should reverse our name from Nigeria to Airegin “to break from our colonial past”. By the way, I just reversed his colonial name from Mike to Ekim and it hasn’t changed anything. He remains a man and a SAN. Disingenuous.
I used to believe anything the military said about the war on terror until things started getting out of hand. I had to ask myself: if it was true that we were winning the war, how come these Boko Haram militants were getting bolder and causing more damage? How come we were losing soldiers more than before? However, recent operations in Balmo forest and the escape of more captives from Sambisa forest are calming my anxiety a bit. I have this unusual optimism that with the cooperation of Cameroon, Chad and Niger, we are getting closer to the winning formula. Hopefully.
The chief executive of the Federal Road Safety Corps, Mr. Osita Chidoka, is one Nigerian I admire because of his understanding of public administration and his innovative ideas. And, of course, he is a young man who has demonstrated that we are not a wasted generation. I was glad to learn of his ministerial nomination during the week. If it is true that he will be posted to aviation to replace Princess Stella Oduah, then he has his work well cut out for him. He should be assured I will be on his case until the airport projects are completed. Congrats.
FIFA AND NFF
Anybody with half a brain knows that the world football governing body, FIFA, does not allow political interference in the associations affiliated to it. Such is the futile, the stage-managed dissolution of the Aminu Maigari-led board of the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) to please the desires of the sports minister, Tamuno Danagogo, over some squabble at the World Cup in Brazil. FIFA knows the motive. FIFA understands what is happening. FIFA sees beyond the facade. How can someone suddenly get a court injunction against Maigari and immediately an “acting secretary general” is appointed in a country that has appeal courts? Jokers.
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