By Chudi Okoye
I am sending this memo simultaneously to the three of you who are currently leading the 2023 presidential election field in Nigeria. Though the field is full, I focus on the three of you for this simple reason: many are pledged, but few are fledged. You are set apart as the top triad in a field that’s crowded, even though hedged.
Well, it’s on, guys! It really is on now. I’d suggest you buckle up tight because it’s going to be a roary ride to February.
Oh I know, you came through your parties’ primaries in commanding form, each making a boss move that got you where you are today as flag-bearers. One of you, with a political machine that’s nonpareil, beat out a swarm of weighty aspirants in his party. One other of you, with an unquestioned hegemonic advantage, got his party to renege on a sacred promise it made to a very loyal geopolitical zone. The last of you showed incredible political agility when the party mentioned above decided to shaft his geopolitical zone. To avoid being nipped, he zipped over to some nondescript party where his star power and youth appeal got him quickly adopted as the presidential candidate.
So, yeah, the three of you got to the frontline of your parties by some sort of power play or nimble move. But check this, fellas: though you aren’t quite at statistical parity in terms of your electoral chances, you each have some Achilles heel that seriously impairs – and could even imperil – your presidential pursuit. My goal in this memo is to probe your circumstances to assess how you might make out in the coming election.
Warning: You may find this memo somewhat irreverent. It may hurt your pride a little, but please take it in your stride. I know you can.
Let me start with you, Triad Member 1: the slugger who vanquished a sitting VP, buried a Buhari bootlicker from one of the watery states, and pipped a pompous Senate president at the post in his party primary. Wow! Guy, you are the man! Everyone says you are the kingpin of politics in your geopolitical zone, and that you control your area almost like a Mafia boss. You built a formidable political machine which you have used over the years to install not only elected officials like governors and legislators but also government appointees, including commissioners and heads of parastatals. It’s such that it’s said you even control the treasury of the state you once governed, palming off a percentage of the state’s revenues which has enabled you to build an incredible wealth, so much so that you are now considered the wealthiest of any politician in the land. So you have a machine. You have money. And it seems you have no scruples whatsoever deploying your assets to achieve your target. Boomshakalaka!
But hey, though you may think the cards are stark for your competitors, they are not all stacked in your favor. Let me mention what I consider your handicaps and then discuss each in some detail. You have the machine, but there could well be emergent forces in this election cycle which may limit the efficacy of machine politics. You are also at once dreaded and distrusted by the hegemonic forces in Nigeria who feel you might be too hot to handle as a president. And you are certainly not an appealing choice for the growing army of idealistic youths who are coming into the fray hoping for a qualitative change in Nigerian politics. Of course with your stash of cash, you can smash your way through potential youth resistance, buying off some sizeable numbers of the hungry youths. Or, you may use primordial pull as spool to rope some unschooled youths into your web.
One other thing you could do might be to pad your manifesto with youth-friendly programs. Why not? It’s been done before by cynical politicians. But let’s be honest, our people don’t really study manifestoes. We have a vocal tradition. So it’s more what you say that will swing them to your ring side. Still, it’s funny just to picture you mouthing off some youth-targeted programs on the trail; it may be a case of Jacob’s voice and Esau’s hand, or simply political ventriloquism. You would sound totally inauthentic. So, all in all, I suppose you’ll lean heavily on your money and your machine, and maybe the phalanx of mercenaries under your patronage. With these, you stand a good chance in the coming election.
The sad thing though is to contemplate the kind of presidency we’d have in Nigeria, were you to win. Just as with your primary slam, you’d have lammed your way to the presidency using all means necessary. It would feel as if you snatched the presidency. And it would feel like a further dirtying of the country. The moral ambience would be grim as the country, drenched in the stench of a presidency you clenched, slides into deeper decay and decrepitude. You might have electoral victory, but you would certainly not have moral legitimacy as president. Many a Nigerian would not be proud to have you as president. Why do I say this? Here’s why. You will go down as the most corrupt president we’ve had so far. Because, even though Nigeria is as corrupt a country as they come, we’ve not actually had civilian heads of government that were too deeply implicated for personal corruption. Not Tafawa Balewa. Not Shehu Shagari. Not Ernest Shonekan. Not Musa Yar’Adua. And, well, not Goodluck Jonathan either. There certainly was corruption in their day. But these guys were never personally indicted, at least from public records.
You would be, if you won, the first president of Nigeria to be considered personally corrupt and morally bankrupt. We’d have a jaga-banned Nigerian president who couldn’t travel to fastidious foreign countries except with diplomatic immunity. A Nigerian president that might be susceptible to blackmail by the dark forces of international finance and commerce, especially with the very murky record you left with your financial dealings in America. Tufiakwa!
Now, let me turn to you, Triad Member 2: the one with hegemonic advantage. Dude, you’ve been running for president since 1993, before about 70% of the current Nigerian population was born! How do you feel, as an advanced septuagenarian, trying so desperately to lead a country with a median age of 18, especially as we’re just coming off a period of anemic gerontocracy with the incumbent president? You were once, for eight years, a resident of Aso Rock. Pray, what did you forget there that you are trying to recover? Tell us, please, so we can put it in the post and send to your manse in the Middle East, where we understand you are ensconced these days enjoying your loot from Nigeria.
Anyway, I am getting ahead of myself. Let me first say that no one should minimize your chances in this coming election. Though you should now be knackered, you’ve hankered after the presidency for so long that you might get it this time around. You certainly have the hegemonic advantage in the current set-up. What do I mean by this? Well, this will sound like a mouthful but no one should be doubtful about it: you would be preferred by the ethno-politico-religio-security complex that controls power in Nigeria, behind the façade of our democratic institutions. You are certainly one of them. You also enjoy the advantage that we have today a highly parochialistic incumbent in Aso Rock who might rather you won, being of same region and religion as he, than that power shifted to a different polisphere and thrust into the capricious hands of an avaricious member of his own party. In any case, this incumbent might not even consider you as an opponent, though you now belong in a different party. After all, in your political peregrination, you were once a member of the incumbent’s party. In fact, you helped to found the very party that you now oppose. Chai, my head hurts just tracking the zig-zags of your political journey. Maybe I need to take an APC!!
Yes, Mid-East man, you might actually win. We’ve seen recently some suspicious moves pointing to a possible orchestration towards that outcome. Since the bullion man above, Triad Member 1, purloined the primary of his party, we have seen some quickened defections from that party to yours, most of those defections, by the way, from a certain geopolitical region.
Still, you’ve made a lot of enemies. Powerful enemies. And you’ve offended the revenant gods of a certain geopolitical zone. I see that the president you once served, a wily but widely admired farmer and former soldier, has put on his shoulder the task of pushing you under the boulder. When you ran for president in the last go-round, he gave a Mark Anthony-like speech at some august gathering in Lagos, with you sitting right there, seemingly extolling but really pistolling you. You lost that election. Now you’ve stepped out again. And so has he! Whilst addressing some kids a few days ago on entrepreneurship and mentoring, the intrepid former president piped up again, totally unprompted, telling the kids that he regretted picking you as his second-in-command. And get this, my guy, his face looked like he was doing a ‘number two’ (i.e. defecating) when he spoke about you, his former number two! So disgusted was he.
The former president’s disgust cannot match the distrust you have now earned in a certain geopolitical zone – you know, the zone that your party finagled to give you the presidential nomination. I did some quick calculations and estimate that in the 2003, 2011, 2015 and 2019 presidential elections this perhaps too-loyal zone gave 84.4% of its total votes to your party, and only 5.9% to the other major party. The remainder of its votes was cast for candidates in the smaller parties, including – can you imagine! – the much-beloved warlord who once led the zone to war. All that, and your party would treat this zone with such disdain, snatching its opportunity to make room for another of your quixotic presidential runs. Not only that, even as the party began to cast about for your running-mate, the gunning spate against the zone continued. Yet again, it was bypassed. Well, the zone is now poised for its pound of flesh. You can expect a thrashing in that zone in the next polls, for all the bashing your party has meted out to it.
Still, your party has apparently calculated that it can afford to forego the votes from the zone. Perhaps, with what I am sure you are now cooking up, you might be able to snatch victory from the jaws of electoral improbability. We will see. But, guy, I shudder also to imagine the kind of presidency we would have under you. Like Triad Member 1, you have a corruption rap sheet in America the length of fabricated molue bus. In your own case, it was so bad that it seemed you couldn’t even be allowed to enter America because of your dodgy dealings and the corruption charges brought against you in that country. When you ran in 2019, America allowed a temporary suspension of the travel ban it had placed on you, because it felt you had a fair chance of winning. So, if you do win this time you might get a diplomatic pass. Maybe to some folks this won’t really matter. But, to have a personae non-grata as president… Chai, area will scatter!!
This now brings matters to you, Triad Member 3. What can one say about you, my guy? Ramrod straight. Firm and assured in your gait. From your record and the type of campaign you are running, some frenzied folks see you, just like the leading apostle of Jesus, as the rock upon which the church of Nigeria’s new polity will be built – a democratic haven in which the corrupt agents of Hades will not hold sway. Let us pray!
You certainly come with the receipts. Where the other candidates offer only deceits, you tout a governing record which some believe is unblemished, though sometimes embellished by you and your supporters. You have an occupational record, outside of politics, that appears to be clean, though it is lean in the details we can glean. But other than some complicated offshore financial dealings revealed in some foreign reporting, no one has accused you of engaging in any shenanigans as we find with the other contenders in the triad.
It is because of your seemingly unimpeachable record that some previously unreachable and unteachable folks have now begun to build what looks like an unbreachable support base for your candidacy. Folks like me insist that political structure matters in campaigning to win the presidency of a large, geographically variegated and socially differentiated country like Nigeria. You need the political machine to help you penetrate Nigeria and generate momentum for your candidacy, and also to mobilize people to actually vote on election day. But building a political machine takes time and it costs money. Right now, you are behind on both. You have been suggesting that just like government, a presidential campaign can be run on a budget, with great efficiency. As part of this, you and your supporters seem to be making great use of online assets, especially social media.
Maybe it will work for you, my guy. It’s a new theory of Nigerian politics that envisages a mixture of traditional formats of political campaigning, which can be expensive, with cheaper social media mobilization. We will see if it works. Though you should do well to remember what the INEC Deputy Director who’s in charge of Voter Education, Mrs Mary Nkem, said recently: “INEC does not conduct election on social media, nor do we count ballots on Twitter or Instagram.” That’s just it, brother. Online emotion must translate to offline action. Just remember that in the last presidential election, some 82.3m of Nigerians registered to vote but in the end only 26.8m voted, of which 27.3m votes were valid. Effectively, a 33.2% voting rate. Think about that.
One other thing that’s worrying is your philosophy of campaign. You seem like a really nice guy who won’t have anything to do with negative campaigning targeted at specific individuals. The current presidential field, like the broader Nigerian political landscape, offers a target-rich environment for a populist candidate with a crusading mission. As I mentioned above, the criminal predilections of your main competitors are well documented. But it’s doubtful if you would take any direct aim at them. Your critique seems to be mainly systemic. Yes, you make general statements about “gangsterism” in Nigeria’s political leadership, but it seems you won’t name names or zero in on folks causing the very systemic distortions you criticize. To me, that’s inadequate. There’s a saying about being tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime. Same thing with systemic distortions. You have to call out the causes and the causers of those distortions. The problem is that if you don’t name names, it would look like you don’t have the balls, and it would raise a cogent question as to whether you can actually change anything if you win the election. I’d say go for it, my guy, or at least make sure you have some mercenaries to do this for you. It might help you to push through the force fields of Nigeria’s presidential politics. If you don’t, and continue to peddle your nice-guy politics against your opponents’ bulldozing style, it would be tough odds if you might actually win. But who knows, the wind is certainly behind your back, and you may be doing the very thing voters want, despite my misgivings. Good luck, dude! Hope your labor won’t be in vain.
So there you have it, members of the presidential campaign triad. I have addressed each of you in rather elaborate ways. I know some of what I have said to you is pointed. But this is how I feel. And it might be how lots of folks out there feel too. It’s now up to you to see if my candid words will help you amend your campaigns. Our country has suffered for too long. One hopes the outcome of this election will begin to offer them much-needed respite.
By the way, guys, did you like the portmanteau word I coined from your names, ‘Atinuobi’? Cool, right?
Yeah, I’m slick like that!