Several months of active and massive campaigns by political parties have shaken Nigeria to its roots and, either within or outside the country, all have felt the tremor of historic quakes that remind one of fragility of the nation state. There was so much uncertainty that outside interests, including the United Nations, African Union, ECOWAS, visited Abuja or made statements to canvass for holding the elections on schedule, in a free and fair manner. Nigerians in and out of the country wondered whether things would fall part.
What issues and lessons have emerged from the electioneering? Similar to my previous write-up, “Oshun State and Other Elections: Meanings and Lessons” (Saharareporters, August 14 2014), I shall distill some salient points that we may ponder, especially with a view to take advantage of the significant events to reappraise, reflect, re-strategize, re-tool and re-focus for the future. In the construction of its nascent democracy, a new tradition is emerging in the politics of Africa’s most populated country, of which these past months form a significant part.
Let us look at some notable issues and lessons.
1.In use of marketing tricks and dazzle , the campaigns have surpassed all others and have used the most sophisticated types of commercials to promote candidates and parties. All types of media – traditional, social; music, dance, puppetry; comedy, itinerant sellers and props at social events, to mention but a few, have been put to use by parties and candidates. The most well resourced parties have paid handsomely for innovations, creativity and ingenuity by professionals, experts who have displayed exceptional mastery of the science and art of peddling people’s images. The field has revealed again the reservoir of unfulfilled talents that abound in the country. For television, radio and newspapers, and for small and large media set-ups, it has been a period for massive income, the like of which will not be seen again for several years.
However, the mass media failed unreservedly in its professional duty of being a source of information and education of the populace. In analyses of information, verification of facts by parties, ascertaining claims by candidates, there was too little of substance. And whatever little that was done was not prominent in most of the media and even less so in newspapers that traditionally serve such important purposes. Many candidates are yet really unknown and surprises should be expected from people who will assume political offices.
2.From the schematic tailoring of messages, orientation and re-orientation of rallies and visits by candidates of the two leading parties, People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and All Progressives Congress (APC), one can discern the use of opinion polling to gather information, weigh strong and weak points to determine where to deploy efforts. APC and PDP were sensitive to waning of support, and to upswing of interest, and the parties adjusted focus on specific areas to increase popularity, energize followers by giving attention to what matters most to voters. Opinion survey and monitoring will increase in importance in future elections.
3.A major area of palpable uneasiness was the easy acquiescence of the official media organizations to unbridled use (more of mis-use) by their government owners, both federal and state. The situation went even further – public roads, offices, buildings and other infrastructure were “colonized” by the said governments and wantonly used for their messaging, adverts and promotion, including excluding opposition from their uses, even when they wanted to pay as required. Such abuse of official organs and structures should stop. There should be better regulation, monitoring and sanctions of uses of public facilities during electioneering. It is encouraging that some political parties sought court interventions and obtained judgment against the abuse.
4.The final result of elections will be the ultimate decider of how the parties fare. But from casual observation and informal scrutiny, neither of the two parties has decisively crushed the other in garnering voters’ support. Unlike in the past four elections since 1999 where PDP dominance was prominent, the current electioneering portrayed the ruling party as one that struggled for its soul and APC, its main challenger, waxed strong.
5.The struggle for voters’ support and acceptance by political parties highlighted a new respect and acknowledgment of the importance of the vote. This has put the electorate in an usually more important role. Many leading candidates went to a great extent to court voters and prove that they (candidates) merited claims of suitability for the jobs at hand. The new importance accorded to voters is expected to lead to a surge in voters’ interest in campaigns and voting. As soon as the opportunity is availed, it is highly likely that many people who have not got voters’ cards will register for them to be equipped with relatively decisive force against future elections.
6.By the same token, the importance of delivering on election promises by candidates has come much more to the fore. Some candidates basked in the light that shone on their delivered promises to the electorates and they were reassured of support . Other candidates made excuses and explained their failure to perform due to obstacles – not a strong platform to stand on, and new promises could be taken with a grain of salt. However, despite some importance attributable to good performance, ethnicity, religious inclination, buying of voters played a significant role in the electioneering.
7.Small parties continued to have only marginal following. With limited resources available to them, they could not be heard. The lesson is that without deep pockets from whatever sources, there is hardly any room to stand for small political parties. However the multiplicity of voices remains a cornerstone of democracy and may yield to pressure to reform the political system in order for other credible voices to be heard. The present money-dominated electoral system has eliminated many capable people. It has also resulted in recouping of “investment” by candidates and parties that get into power, a direct road that connects with corruption. A fundamental change from the sow-huge-and-reap-bigger corruption-entrenched form of politicking is compeling; it is needed.
8.Violence was pervasive during the political campaigns. Despite signing of peace accords amongst political leaders, and efforts by various bodies to change the tradition of violence, use of hooligans, miscreants, thugs and private security to protect, harm and even kill was common. Some areas became no-go zones for opposing candidates or parties because of the assured destructive antagonism that was established by their opponents. The inherent violence that characterizes politics scares away those who do not thrive in such situation, despite their readiness to serve their peoples. Service to the country and community cannot be a do-or-die affair. Violent politicking cannot be service.
9. The Independent National Electoral Commission, the chief organizer of all national elections, though challenged by the scale of the endeavour has called up technology to come to its rescue. Its uses of several gadgets, including card readers to authenticate voters, is a step in the right direction. Technology can be a neutral and reliable arbiter, similar to verifying a sporting decision through review of its recording. Technology can be an ally of all, and can heighten the neutrality of INEC in the face of multiple and contradictory demands by interest groups.
10.The military has not come out sparkling in the current scheme of things, especially after the Ekiti election fallout via the alleged partisanship that was observed at a recorded meeting of PDP leaders and military officers. Whether the military is biased indeed or not will hang very much on the elections. The elections provide an unprecedented opportunity for the military to demonstrate commitment to Nigeria, above and beyond partisanship. The ongoing successes of the military against Boko Haram already sets a positive tone. Similarly, the police force has had its own fair share or ups and downs. The ultimate proof of its integrity will be its conduct during the elections.
So far, the society of states and interests that are called Nigeria has remained intact. Shaken but not broken, rumbled but not tumbled. Many wonder though whether what electioneering did not break, elections may yet crack. Chances are that the tension will rise and fall, and inch by inch, the path to democracy will progress to bring about a nation, capable of fulfilling its immense potential.
• Makinwa is a communication for leadership entrepreneur based in South Africa and Nigeria.