** BY Franklin OTOROFANI **
With the conclusion of the party primaries in which the presidential candidates of the various political parties were either elected or adopted as “consensus candidates” as the case may be, and with elections barely two months away in April, it doesn’t require much political wisdom to expect that the candidates would hit the ground running in their electioneering campaigns to sell themselves and their programs to the electorate. After all, elections are all about the candidates and their development programs in relation to the others.
Thus it is not enough to develop blueprints and go to sleep on them. The blueprints must be presented and sold to the electorate because competition is the operative word in a multi-party democracy. And electioneering campaigns are the most viable and time honored means by which candidates interact with the electorate which thus affords the electorate the opportunity to assess the competence and suitability of the candidate and his development blueprint for the particular office he’s competing for while at the same time affording the candidate the chance to market himself and his programs to the electorate.
It’s a symbiotic relationship and a two-way traffic that benefits both parties to the bargain. And that’s why campaign rallies have stood the test of time in all democracies and no democracy can do without them least of all the candidates themselves. Traditionally, campaigns involve physical presence of the candidate at rallies where he is seen and heard and interacted with in flesh and blood by the people. And while modern multi-media props have readily come in aid of political campaign operations as adjuncts, there is as yet no diminution in the value of the traditional form of campaign rallies which remains the hallmark of political campaigns regardless of the several intrusions of modernity.
However, while political rallies are undoubtedly the lifeblood of electioneering they are understandably very expensive and time consuming unlike the modern multi-media intrusions. While, for example, a candidate could toss a 10-second television sound bite or one-page newspaper ad at the electorate while he goes to bed, a campaign rally requires not only his physical presence but huge resources and logistics to put together, and the payoffs could be well worth it in the end. There is no question that interacting with the electorate at a personal level in flesh and blood has huge benefits for the candidates rather than some cold, impersonal television, internet or newspapers ads arrogantly and impudently tossed at them with reckless abandon. There is nothing more galling to the electorate than absentee candidates who would hide under television and newspaper ads to reach the people with his message. It is disrespectful and impolitic on the part of the candidate to refuse to climb down from his Olympian heights to meet with the people whose votes he so badly needs to get him office desired.
In a country as big as Nigeria it would undoubtedly take an enormous amount of time and both physical and mental resources from the candidates and their parties to cover the entire field if they want to do serious campaigns to sell their candidacies to the hard-to-sell, hard-to-please, skeptical Nigerian electorate, which had been let down time and again with unfulfilled, sugar coated promises of el dorado by unconscionable politicians out to feather their own nests. And that alone would advise the candidates and their respective parties to hit the ground running as soon as the candidates emerged from their nominal conventions without wasting time. By way of comparison, it takes candidates between 3-4 months in the United States to do the job from the time of their nominations depending, of course, on their party primaries, which could be drawn out like it happened between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton where Obama eventually prevailed and was nominated on August 28th 2008. But he was followed closely by his opponent, US Senator McCain’s nomination by his Republican Party on September 3rd 2008 for the November 4th 2008 presidential elections at the Republican Convention in St. Paul, Minnesota, even though McCain had, in point of fact, emerged earlier as winner long before Obama.
However, and this is the point; right from the very day of their respective nominations both candidates hit the ground running. In fact, their presidential campaigns were launched on the day of their nominations at their party conventions rather seamlessly; no tarrying, no foot dragging, no dithering. Everything seemed to have been pre-positioned to kick off their presidential campaigns using both traditional and modern tools; including but not limited to rallies, public debates, television appearances, talk shows, interviews, public lectures, political ads, internet solicitation and, of course, the “ground game” itself, with “mop up operations” carried out through phone banks, mailings and knocking on doors by party foot soldiers. Yep! It’s all in the ground game!
The whole world watched how this played out live. While candidate Obama was drawing huge crowds at rallies all across the country, McCain, at 72, threw himself into the ring crisscrossing the nation with his, you guessed right, “Straight Talk Express” bus countering Obama’s “Yes, we can” slogan aided by his pesky Alaskan petrel and vice presidential nominee, former Governor Sarah Palin, who was hauling insidious and diabolical verbal missiles at Obama, which have become her trademarks till date.
However, while many of these tools are available in Nigeria they may not all be applicable or utilized for the campaigns for the simple reason that every democracy has its own democratic culture and campaign styles. However, the traditional political rallies, media advertisements and grassroots mobilization are universally applicable, with huge rallies being the foremost and the most effective of them all as indicate earlier.
Politics is not a game for the faint hearted. It consists of grueling political fireworks for the gritty, sharp witted and unflappable individuals who believe whole-heartedly in their missions. And that should be clearly demonstrated by the candidates themselves and never assumed by the people. Therefore, candidates who want to be taken seriously by the electorate should first of all demonstrate seriousness in their campaign profiles and activities. It’s not enough to sit in some cozy office somewhere issuing bland statements, attacking INEC or conjuring up rigging scenarios calculated to undermine the credibility of the results of yet-to-be-held elections. People just can’t sit back, relax in their couches and expect to win elections by some other means necessary, fair or foul. That is dubious and unconscionable. And the nation cannot afford to wait on tardy candidates and their parties, which in and of itself is evidence of their unpreparedness and ipso facto, lack of capacity to lead the nation. Rather it is the other way around. It is the candidates and their parties that wait on the nation not the nation waiting on candidates to get their acts together when the whistle has been sounded by the nation through the electoral agency, the umpire, to begin the ground game.
Could you imagine a referee in an athletic competition sounding the whistle and some of the athletes complaining that they are not ready to go and expect the referee and the spectators to wait on them, and if they refuse to do so turn around to complain of being rigged out of victory and head to court to litigate their claims? It’s never done. But that precisely is what has been happening in Nigeria where opposition candidates wait on the ruling party to campaign and win elections only for them to head to court to complain of rigging and in some cases have actually succeeded in hoodwinking the nation with their propaganda.
It’s perhaps only in Nigeria that these things happen where the courts have become the electoral umpires themselves. The fact of the matter is those who are not ready have already lost the game even before it begins. It is as simple as that and I can imagine that happening in Nigeria in the April elections. While previous elections have not been perfect I don’t belong to the clan that shouts “rigging!” from their bedrooms when it is clear as night and day that the opposition had been sleeping at the wheel throughout the campaigns as it is doing today. And I don’t care how loud they scream about rigging and all that crap. Elections are not won by propaganda on pages of newspapers and television screens but through hard work on the ground known in my neck of the wood, as “the ground game”. Is the Nigerian opposition into the ground game today? The answer is an absolute no and in my part of the world, that spells electoral defeat. No two ways about it!
And that verdict shouldn’t surprise anyone who understands the vocation of politics, which has rightly been described as “war by other means” in which the contenders must be seen to be competitive and well matched as though in a boxing, wrestling, or soccer tournament. And there is even more to it: Politics is not just a game of entertainment like athletics, it governs our lives both as individuals, groups and nation, without which nothing, absolutely nothing moves in modern societies. Therefore, only the very serious who are ready, willing and have the requisite capacities and wherewithal to do the heavy lifting involved need show up as presidential candidates; complete with their programs and campaign plans to hit the ground running when the moment finally arrives, not pretenders or those who have no business being in the field of play in the first place. From the nomination to the election everything should be pre-planned by the parties rather than adopting ad-hoc methods while limping about in crutches. And that’s why parties and candidates have plans “As” “Bs” and “Cs” and even “Ds” in some cases to take care of surprises or exigencies that might be flung in their way in the course of their preparations.
It’s unfortunate that unlike athletics where only the very best and proven materials are fielded, politics, particularly in Nigeria, has become an all-comers game at the gubernatorial and presidential levels where charlatans and Lilliputians press their claims against real contenders and thus make a complete mockery of the elections. What, for instance, is Pastor Chris Okotie and his so-called “Fresh” Party doing in presidential elections in Nigeria when they cannot even win a local council seat anywhere in the country? What has being a pastor of a Pentecostal church got to do with presidential elections? Kris Okotie was there in 2007 and he couldn’t win even the ward his church is located. He’s symptomatic of the caricatures that have emerged from mushroom candidates and political parties purporting to vie for the presidency of the greatest black nation and democracy on earth.
And those with the capacities including intellectual and physical resources to contend in the field of play have gingerly and earnestly stepped forward to launch their campaigns as and when due. It is common knowledge that Mr. President and the PDP presidential candidate, Goodluck Jonathan, has been on a campaign binge since he won his party’s nomination. Since then he has been traversing the length and breadth of the country to sell his candidacy to the various regions and peoples of the country with no let up. So far he has taken his electioneering campaigns to the six geo-political zones in the country and in addition to twelve states the latest being Delta and Anambra States.
Though he’s the president having the advantage of incumbency which the opposition candidates are signally lacking, with considerable goodwill throughout the land in virtually every geo-political region of the country, he has nevertheless thrown himself into the campaigns headlong without taking anything for granted given the needlessly contrived controversies surrounding his candidacy. Though he’s the president bearing the heavy load of governance on his back, attending to state duties, he has nevertheless found time to traverse the length and breadth of the nation leaving nothing to chance and interacted with Nigerians from all walks of life at huge rallies across the land. This is what is required not just of Jonathan but of all the presidential candidates at this time with elections around the corner; no more, no less, because to whom much is given much is expected. People cannot sleep on their presidential nominations and expect to wave some magic wand that would take them to the presidency on the cheap.
In throwing submitting himself to the electorate, however, Jonathan seems to have taken advantage of an open field where there appears to be no competition against him. He has competitors alright, at least theoretically, but none of them is in the field of play at the moment and he seems to be the only player in the field with his opponent seemingly nipping at his feet from the sidelines. For reasons that are hard to fathom, all the opposition candidates seem to have totally yielded the field to Jonathan who has been bestriding it like a colossus without a fight, not even a challenge. This must be extremely puzzling to political watchers to the extent that Tony Anenih, former PDP BoT Chairman, PDP’s Women leader, Hajia Inna Ciroma and the acting Chairman of the party, Bello Haliru Mohammed, have all called out the opposition whom they have accused of willful indolence in separate statements.
The PDP chieftain are pointedly accusing the opposition parties of doing nothing to win votes and awaiting the PDP to do all the campaigning to win the forthcoming elections and then run to court to allege rigging and claim victory through the back door via the judiciary. It is not altogether difficult for one to align himself with these accusations given what the ACN has been doing with the judiciary, which this writer had long been crying about and the nation is now finally coming to grips with, with the brewing Justice Ayo Salami scandal.
Why would it take such taunting from the PDP for the opposition candidates and their parties to wake up from their slumber? Why should they be begged, cajoled, persuaded or mocked before they launch their campaigns nationally for the presidential elections in the first place? What are they waiting for? What else would they be doing but waiting on the PDP to campaign and win and then head to the Court of Appeal headed by Ayo Salami to allege irregularities and challenge the results declared by INEC in the hope of gaining power through the back door?
It’s an open field out there but we see only one player in the field and that is odd, to say the least. Why no presidential candidate wants to contest the field with Jonathan at this time beats me hollow. Buhari is busy manipulating gubernatorial candidacies in his one-man CPC and having running battle with Muhammed Abacha in Kano who had won the gubernatorial primary but single-handedly substituted with Buhari’s favorite who is an ex-general, compelling Abacha to go to court to reclaim his victory and duly recognized by INEC. But Buhari wouldn’t take it. He struck back demanding reversal of Abacha’s recognition by INEC. When INEC would not bulge at his dictatorial fiat he is crying foul at INEC and accusing the body of hidden agenda.
Rather than launch his presidential campaign with rallies as Jonathan is currently doing Buhari is engaged in petty bickering and has only succeeded in launching a website and asking Nigerians to go see it and vote for him because, according to him, he represents change. Oh, really? I thought he was part of Nigeria’s despicable past leaderships, first as former Head of State and secondly, as Sanni Abacha’s trusted right hand man, who was chairman of Petroleum Trust Fund which had been rightly accused of pursuing a sectional agenda in its development activities that favored his part of the country to the detriment of other parts, including Niger Delta that produced the oil in the first place, even though one Tayo Akpata from Niger Delta was the powerless Secretary of the PTF.
By the way for those too young to know this because it is a long time ago, the PTF was Abacha’s slush fund that was outside the nation’s budgetary surveillance and it was almost equal to the nation’s budget. Abacha and Buhari alone had access to the PTF operating outside the budget and answerable to none. Like the Egyptian army, Buhari was running a parallel administration in the PTF under Abacha and answerable to Abacha and Abacha only. Today there are no enduring legacies of the PTF with its constructed feeder roads washing out with the first drops of rains especially in the southern parts of the country. Trillions of naira that were poured into PTF were washed away with Buhari’s makeshift earth roads and clinics executed in the name of development. Yet Buhari fancies himself incorruptible and the change candidate in Nigeria. He is entitled to his delusions and Nigerians are entitled to their opinions of him as well. One who could substitute a winning candidate with a losing candidate in a party primary cannot claim to be incorruptible. And one who managed trillions of naira in an intervention agency as the PTF with nothing to show for it but earth roads and makeshift clinics cannot claim incorruptibility or competence either.
And if Buhari has worthy legacies with PTF, why is he shying away from launching his campaign and beat his chest about his legacies? Let him come out and point to any landmark achievements that the nation can see, touch and feel. Where are the monuments to Buhari’s leadership? And what exactly is preventing Muhammadu Buhari from campaigning like Jonathan is doing? Is it because he is so popular in the country that he doesn’t need to campaign? Or is it because he has victory in his pocket already? I don’t get it. I will not go into other areas of Buhari’s legacies including WAI and the dehumanization of Nigerians it had brought and, of course, his infamous Decree 4 which sought to protect corrupt public officials from the press through which journalists were jailed. The long and the short of it is that Buhari is no change candidate, but part of the old order that the nation is only now beginning to put behind her through the fresh team of Jonathan/Sambo. And once a dictator, always a dictator and it shows! Any wonder he found good company in the late Sanni Abacha, the maximum ruler in whose death Nigerians were jubilating in the streets! At a time dictators are being thrown out in parts of the world, who would wish another dictator on Nigeria?
On his part, Nuhu Ribadu, the ACN candidate, is having a running battle with the sole proprietor of ACN, Bola Tinubu, over the choice of his running mate, which is unfortunate because unlike Buhari, Ribadu represents a change. True to character, Tinubu wants to impose his own nominee which Ribadu has reportedly rejected out of hand pleading that he should be given a free hand to choose his running mate. Doesn’t that sound reasonable and prudent? Tinubu appears to have a different agenda altogether by planting a mole in a potential Ribadu presidency that he could later use to undermine the president. That is the truth of the matter that has torn the ACN apart with Tinubu men reportedly threatening Ribadu of undisclosed repercussions should he run against Tinubu’s wishes. Who is Tinubu? A dictator or godfather? You bet he is both! But he accuses others of the same thing. He fancies himself the Emperor of Lagos and has sought to extend his territory to the entire South/West including even to Ondo state ruled by the Labor Party whose governor he has reportedly threatened to dethrone for refusing to decamp to the ACN to extend Tinubu’s reach.
Thus Ribadu’s party had been engrossed in a simple matter as choosing a running mate that it has no time to plan its presidential campaign. All that has been seen so far other than verbal salvos fired by its talking head, Lai Mohammed, at both the PDP and INEC, was the so-called symposium it organized with some hired talking heads pontificating to themselves in one hall in Abuja in the name of proffering solutions to Nigeria’s problems. And you wonder who is listening to them in a hall. And you wonder also if the party is only now beginning to diagnose Nigeria’s problems in a symposium this late in the day when elections are only a few days away. What has it been doing all this while? Talk about tardiness. The question is what is preventing Nuhu Ribadu from hitting the ground running? Is it lack of funds or lack of preparedness or both? Does he need Bola Tinubu’s permission to launch his campaign too?
It’s inconceivable that these folks who have no governmental duties to attend to but their own party affairs have been unable to raise their campaign teams and hit the ground running. While this has been a noticeable pattern with Buhari in previous elections in which he would not bother to campaign except in a few places in the North only for him to claim of being rigged out of victory at the end of the day, it is hard to fathom why Nuhu Ribadu who is the fresh blood in this whole business is seemingly unable to find his feet. Has experience got anything to do with it? If so, why is he not being helped by more experienced aides in his party? The ACN loudmouth and serial alarmist, Lai Mohammed, who is always seeing rigging even in his own shadows would do well to help his party’s presidential candidate get up to speed to sell his candidacy to the electorate rather than looking for excuses for his party’s impending electoral disaster. The party appears to be preparing for the litigation of the results of the 2011 presidential elections rather than working to win the elections. That appears to be its winning formula—snatching victories through the judiciary with Justice Ayo Salami of the Appeal Court seemingly at the head of its judicial operations.
Else, how in the world is the ACN going to win the presidential election without at all campaigning and campaigning hard nationally for that matter? Or is the South/West equivalent to the nation? Pointedly, is the ACN counting on winning elections through the judiciary again, courtesy of Justice Ayo Salami after all the allegations and revelations against him? Is the ACN investing its capital on subsequent electoral litigation even before the elections are held or is it investing its capital on the electorate who alone should have the final word not the judiciary? Who in Nigeria would believe again in dubious electoral verdicts procured through the judiciary behind the people? Like this writer had been campaigning and the nation has now caught up with, the cat has been let out of the bag that ACN had been procuring court “victories” through under handed deals with some judges even before Justice Salami made his confession of using special squad in the Court of Appeal to undo some governors in the nation. ACN should be party enough to mount the soap box now and slug it out not just in its comfort zone in the South/West but throughout the six geo-political zones in the country. Or does it think that propaganda alone does it?
I don’t want to waste my time on ANPP that is still waiting on IBB to come pick up its presidential ticket. Pathetic–isn’t it? The mere thought of it sickens me. Well that is the color and character of the Nigeria’s window dressing opposition for you. They follow the lead of the ruling party they want to displace in virtually all matters including primaries and campaigns and call that opposition. It’s all fluff and paper opposition and nothing else substantive. But hey, wait for the election results in April and hear them howling and kicking like deranged horses denied of a good meal by their riders. Opposition my foot! Like I have always said, political opposition in Nigeria died with the late sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo. He was an embodiment of it not the caricatures of today who can’t tell their left from their right. But wait a minute: How about taking a page from APGA that has realistically and prudently adopted Jonathan for the presidential elections rather than pretending to go it alone like the rest of the bunch? Makes sense to me. Both candidates and their parties should carefully and realistically weigh their electoral chances before throwing their hats into the ring in the name of contesting presidential elections because it is not a game for all comers. And that doesn’t sound to me like rocket science but common sense. The people at APGA seem to have plenty of that good stuff upstairs…perhaps they should share some of it with ACN, CPC or ANPP!
From the stable of –Cutting-Edge Analytics—More than a blog—It’s a learning experience!
Franklin Otorofani is an Attorney and Public Affairs Analyst.