The Electioneering Handbook for Nigeria
BY SIMON KOLAWOLE
The best time to enjoy Nigeria is when elections are at hand. Boy, this is what we live for. We were created to play politics, to engage in intense politicking, to create, perform and watch political drama. We forget all our sorrows and dive into the fray headlong, jumping up and down, chit-chatting morning, noon and night. We hardly get to discuss anything else. Not even football can distract us. At every nook and cranny of the country, we gather to discuss the permutations and the intrigues. We know what is going on and what is not going on. Tempers rise to high heavens and gossips fall like rains. The rich and the poor, all genders, all ethnic groups, all religions — everyone is sucked in.
As the morning follows the night, so are there things that must happen every political season in Nigeria. They are non-negotiable. One, there must be a group or groups begging a politician to run for office. The politician is ordinarily “not interested” (read my lips) but after an intense lobby “by my people” or “by the youth”, s/he will finally succumb to the demand in order to bring “my experience” to “help rescue Nigeria from the misrule of… (fill in the name of a party or candidate)”. Scratch the surface a bit and you will discover that these groups are funded by the same politicians or their fronts. Some groups are created by election entrepreneurs in preparation for the highest bidder to acquire them.
Two, these groups are getting more desperate and sophisticated in their love for Nigeria that they have moved to the level of threatening to sue a politician if s/he doesn’t accede to their demand to run. As hilarious as it may sound, there is nothing Nigerians do not go to court for. It is part of our design to head for the court to seek an injunction for anything. That is why a group can threaten to sue a politician for refusing to contest in an election! So far, no group has gone to court to sue anybody (except I missed it) but the comedy is always useful at election times. Don’t be surprised if a court grants the injunction one day — always remember this is Nigeria, where anything can happen.
Three, when the “patriotic” Nigerian groups have succeeded in persuading a politician to run, they will take the next step: raise money to buy the form for him. Isn’t that sweet? Nigerians love you so dearly and believe so much in you that they will tax themselves to buy nomination forms for you. So lovely. We have been told of how market women, farmers, herders and mechanics taxed themselves to buy N100 million nomination forms for politicians. Such selflessness! An organisation bought a N40 million presidential nomination form for a “performing” governor. Social scientists need to study our electioneering innovations and see how they can develop a model for the rest of the world.
Four, there is no election time that you will not witness defections, or what we call “decamping”. It is as sure as day. Because there are competing interests in a party and if the people that make the decisive choices are not in the corner of a particular politician, s/he will leave for elsewhere to fight the “injustice”. The politician will then usurp the structure of the new platform, relegate those already on ground and then take the ticket in the new definition of justice. Some will go and form their own parties and become the Alpha and Omega there. The injustice and dictatorship they were fighting in their former party will be replicated in their new abodes but it is nothing to worry about: the end justifies the means. There is another variant: some politicians register other parties as “Plan B”.
Five, there must always be court injunctions on any given matter. That is fundamental to our electioneering culture. One court will say the exco of a party is illegal and the primary election conducted by it is null and void. There will be appeals up to the Supreme Court on every injunction. There will be injunctions to bar the recognition of one candidate or the other. There will be injunctions to stop the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) from doing one thing or the other. Nigerian elections cannot be complete without the lawyers rushing to court, understandably propelled by heavy fees, to seek the most ridiculous injunctions known to humankind.
Six, during party primaries, there must be war over the authentic delegates’ list. This is one thing you have to love about us Nigerians. Normally, there is a process of producing party exco, monitored by the electoral umpire. There is an exco recognised by the umpire. There are congresses to elect delegates, monitored and recognised by the umpire. Yet, there will still be “parallel primaries”, conducted seriously by different factions, and we will end up with two or three candidates for one slot. The courts, as usual, will settle the quarrel. When you realise that the National Assembly once alleged that a fake bill was in circulation among its members, you have to calm down about fake delegates’ list. It’s a culture.
Seven, in every election, there must be some funny parties and funny candidates. You know very well that they are going nowhere. But that is your problem. They know what they are doing. As the primaries or elections draw close, they will start withdrawing one after the other and jostling to endorse this candidate or that candidate. This is a huge racket. The headlines are good though: “30 parties withdraw from governorship poll, endorse Ado John Sule.” Nothing goes for nothing. Some will go all the way to elections, knowing well that they do not stand any chance, but they will keep telling the world that they are “former” presidential or governorship candidates. It’s a full-blown racket.
Eight, you need thugs, machetes and guns — and a lot of charms. Not personality charm or charisma. Real charms. Real magic. A friend’s neighbour who wanted to contest for council chairmanship in Lagos state joked about how he was told that he needed arms and charms to be able to compete. He told his advisers he did not have arms but he had charms and that would be enough. On the day of pre-primary election meeting, things got heated and thugs brought by contestants began shooting. Our friend ran for cover. He forgot he had charms in his bag. Electioneering without arms and charms in Nigeria is not in our character and should ordinarily be declared null and void.
Nine, electioneering should also be considered “invalid” if certain issues do not come up. Invalid because it does not represent who we are as political animals. How can we not discuss zoning? Whether at federal or state level, there is always an argument over whose turn. What region or senatorial district or ethnic group or local government should produce the president, the governor, the senator, the member of house of reps or house of assembly? In some states, the tradition is that the majority ethnic group will always use its numbers to produce the governor. In some other states, they have established an understanding of inclusion and rotation. But it is a perennial discussion.
Ten, there must be allegations of rigging when the election is held. In Nigeria, if you win, the election was free and fair and represents the ultimate triumph of democracy and the enthronement of the wishes of the voters. If you don’t win, it is the worst election in the history of humanity and an affront on free choice and a danger to democracy. Nobody genuinely loses elections in Nigeria. It is always because they were rigged out. That is our philosophy. There is rigging, sure, but it is often committed by more than one side, with parties sexing up the figures in their strongholds. The effective definition of rigging in Nigeria is when you are out-rigged by your opponents. No election can be called “complete” without the allegation of rigging.
Finally, somebody must go to court and allege electoral malpractices after every election. I have to be careful here. It is true that there are malpractices and it is advisable to seek legal redress. Many elections have been upturned because of irregularities. The one that amazes me is litigation by those who have absolutely no chance of winning an election, much less being rigged out. But whether or not the cases are genuine, it is part of our electoral culture to budget for pre- and post-election litigation, covering expenses for lawyers and others up there. That is the way we are, isn’t it?
There are so many other features and characteristics of electioneering in Nigeria that spice up our experience. Some are uniquely Nigerian, such as youth groups begging someone to run in an election, threatening to sue them if they do not run and contributing money to pay for nominations forms for them. We should have the copyright over those. Some are universal — like nonentities seeking offices that are clearly above their weight but just catching cruise and basking in opportunism. Whatever the case maybe, when “group this” and “group that” start issuing press statements and organising press conferences, know that Nigerans are in the election mode again. It is all politics.
*Culled from my debut book, ‘Fellow Nigerians, It’s All Politics’, which went on general sale on October 3. It is now available at leading bookstores and on Amazon.
AND FOUR OTHER THINGS…
When you think you have seen it all, Nigeria always serves you something fresh, something diabolical. The NNPC said on Wednesday that it had discovered an illegal pipeline covering 4km through which crude oil is stolen and sold. The national oil company also said the pipeline had been operating for nine years. How did they know the exact number of years? Curious. I doubt you can build a 4km pipeline without the complicity of the big masquerades in government, security agencies and communities. It is also difficult to contemplate that the pipeline existed without the knowledge of those now pretending to be Mungo Park. Nigeria is just an incredible story, a fairy tale. Crude.
Federal government on Wednesday announced that it had finally secured the release of the remaining 23 passengers captured by bandits on the Abuja-Kaduna train. This effectively ends the six-month saga after 62 passengers were captured, some killed and others released in batches. The security agencies, from media reports, have been making progress against the bandits since that audacious attack on Kuje prisons in July. It is sad that things really went this bad but any victory at all is worth celebrating. While I urge the security agencies to keep up the good work, the biggest worry from experience is the tendency to drop the ball. Please, the war must be sustained. Imperative.
On Tuesday, the federal government decided to recognise the Congress of Nigerian University Academics (CONUA), a breakaway faction of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU). Although I am uncomfortable with the tyranny of unions as exemplified by ASUU since the 1980s, I would prefer legislating to allow each university have its union and matters affecting members should be treated at local rather than national or centralised level. It doesn’t make sense that teachers of state universities who have nothing to do with the federal government will be forced to go on strike, or on sympathy strike, with ASUU in a country shouting “true” federalism. Dissonance.
Air Marshal Abubakar Sadique Baba (rtd), the All Progressives Congress governorship candidate in Bauchi state, is under scrutiny over his credentials. The former air chief is accused of “neglecting” to file vital documents along with the Form EC-9 he submitted to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to back his claims on nationality and education. Petitions have been sent to the electoral empire over the matter. My worry in all this is that the APC candidate is yet to come out clearly on this issue and all this can do is to keep fuelling the suggestion that he really has something to hide. It is in his interest to clear the air, otherwise there may be trouble ahead. Ominous