By James Ogunjimi
When you take a look at the history of electioneering in Nigeria since 2003, you will discover that there is a recurring trend. That trend is called “settling”.
In the Nigerian Presidential election of 2003, Gani Fawehinmi of the National Conscience Party (NCP) was one of the Presidential aspirants. He was a man loved by all and who had a great record when it came to standing for what’s right. Yet when the results were announced, he had just 0.41% of the total votes compared to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP)’s Olusegun Obasanjo who won 61.94% of the votes to win a reelection.
In the 2007 election, the African Democratic Congress (ADC)’s Pat Utomi looked like he had something upstairs. He contested at a point in our national history when Nigerians were saying they were tired of politicians and needed technocrats and people who had the know-how when it came to the workings of a democracy. Pat Utomi should have been a shoo-in going by this national body language. But he was only able to get 0.14% of the votes compared to PDP’s Umar Musa Yar’Adua who won 69.82% of the total votes to emerge President.
In 2011, there was a nationwide delusion. The now defunct Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN)’s Nuhu Ribadu, the face of anti-corruption then stood no chance against the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP)’s Goodluck Jonathan.
In 2015, while some Nigerians were torn between choosing the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) or the All Progressives Congress (APC), others agreed that Kowa Party’s Remi Sonaiya would represent a shift from the old order of recycling and mergers to a new order of competence and accountability. But again, Remi Sonaiya of Kowa was able to get 38, 076 votes compared to APC’s Muhammadu Buhari’s 15, 424, 921 votes.
What I am trying to show is that we have made settling a habit. We always know who can get the job done, who can be a new face compared to the old ones we have been seeing since 1960, but somehow we always manage to convince ourselves that those people won’t stand a chance.
Before long it spreads, we start hearing: “Dat man for change dis kontri o, but he no fit win. If to say he dey APC.” Or “Dat woman sabi o, you no hear how she dey answer questions? But she no fit win. If to say she dey PDP now.” And like that, we convince ourselves and those around us that those better alternatives don’t stand a chance. And true to our predictions, those better alternatives go on to lose, resoundingly.
Now there is a psychological warfare at play here and it has been on for some time now. It’s the same psychology that politicians used to win elections in time past. It’s the same psychology behind: “Whether we vote or not, dey don sabi who go win.” And so we sit at home and refuse to vote and with our refusal to vote elect men undeserving of that position.
But 2015 was an eye-opener. Misguided as the activities of the 2015 elections are shaping up to be, there are still lessons to be learnt from it. In 2015, the same politicians who had been waging this psychological war on us tried to awaken public consciousness by drawing attention to that war. There were jingles asking people to vote. There were adverts disabusing people’s minds of that notion of “whether we vote or not, dey don sabi who go win.”
The effect was startling. People voted and stood by their votes at a time when the nation was so on edge that some were running to neighboring African countries to escape the post electoral violence they were certain would occur. People slept at polling boots. People used torchlight to count votes. All over the country, voters defied the “normal”, defied the sun, went without food and helped usher in what they were certain was a new era.
But does that mean that we can now hang our boots and relax? Have we arrived politically? Can we erect a structure politically and declare Ebenezer? No. In the second part of this essay, I will show why we are yet to arrive and why there is still a last jinx to be broken before the electioneering process can begin to truly reflect the hopes and aspirations of the entire citizenry.