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Nigeria 2023 Elections: Gubernatorial Results (Source:INEC)

Random thoughts on campaigns

Election seasons are marked by such intense political activity that even those citizens who otherwise don’t pay attention to the news or vote can hardly…

Election seasons are marked by such intense political activity that even those citizens who otherwise don’t pay attention to the news or vote can hardly avoid some of the politicking in the campaigns intruding into their daily lives. For politicians, journalists and active voters who breathe the political air for survival, this sense of unusual attention to politics during election campaign seasons is even more so.  

For all, that sense has been enhanced by the somewhat unique nature of this particular election campaign itself where so much political activity is being packed into it by not just politicians and media but also by citizens and citizen groups. As someone for whom paying attention to politics at all times is as much a hobby as a job and professional calling, I have been both amused and alarmed at some of the events and activities playing out so far in this campaign cycle.  

On Chatham House Pilgrimage 

One of these is what we might call the emerging Chatham House Pilgrimage by our presidential candidates. To the best of my knowledge, this pilgrimage debuted in 2015 when President Buhari, then a candidate for the office he now occupies, got the opportunity to use the Chatham House platform to burnish his credentials to a global audience. We now know that Candidate Buhari’s invitation to Chatham House was not a random event at the instance of the organisers, but the result of an active lobby by his friends and friends of friends in the international political arena.  

Since then, three of the four leading presidential candidates—Tinubu, Obi and Kwankwaso have spoken at Chatham House in this election so far. Reactions to the whole idea of talking Nigerian politics officially from a foreign platform has been rather negative. Many Nigerian pundits have dismissed it as part of our general attitude of kowtowing to foreign powers and institutions. There is a grain of truth in this because for our politicians and leaders, external legitimacy is always much more precious to them than giving accountability here at home.  

Still, for me, Chatham House Pilgrimage merely fills the vacuum left by our own local institutions, particularly civil society organisations, media, universities and think-tanks. In the 2003 election, both the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) organised a debate each among presidential candidates in that election, in Abuja and Kaduna respectively. These debates were not only wholly local Nigerian initiatives, but were funded entirely by those organisations themselves.  

These two factors are key. And if both NLC and ASUU had continued and fine-tuned the practice in subsequent elections since then, these two platforms would have become an institutionalised part of our presidential election processes by now. And by now, every presidential candidate would know that they must give account of themselves and their suitability for office at either one of these platforms. More broadly, other than the Daily Trust Annual Dialogue, which independent and serious platform is available for our political leaders, both sitting and prospective, to showcase their ideas and thoughts to the electorate? So, while we might grumble about what the Chatham House Pilgrimage might mean for our political independence, let us remember that both nature and politics abhor vacuum. 

Be ‘Obidient’ and ‘Yusful’ 

No one has done more to animate this campaign than the supporters of the Labour Party presidential candidate, Mr Peter Obi. Of course, the candidate himself and his running mate, Senator Yusuf Datti Baba-Ahmed are in the lead for not only throwing the election open, but also by using social media to engage their supporters. All of this is good. However, I cannot but observe two things, one amusing, the other alarming, about the Labour Party presidential campaign.  

Has anyone noticed that since Governor Charles Soludo publicly called out his predecessor’s fanciful projections of his achievements, Peter Obi has literally stopped talking about his Golden Years as Anambra State governor? Suddenly, Peter Obi no longer reels out his superlative accomplishments and untenable statistics when he was governor of Anambra State at every turn as he began at the beginning of his campaign. In fact, the man no longer talks about his time as governor at all. Even his supporters no longer talk about Anambra as much as before. What changed? While I have nothing against Peter Obi, I find it amusing that just one critical voice is enough to pull the rug from under his campaign’s main thrust.  

It is also hard not to say shame on the Nigerian media whose job it is to call out any candidate’s exaggeration or even falsification of their previous records in office. Unfortunately, the media went to sleep and gave Obi’s fanciful statistics a free pass and by implication, conferring legitimacy on them. But if Mr Obi can no longer tout his achievements in Anambra, he still has many lieutenants doing the campaign for him, not only social media, where he leads other candidates but also from the pulpits across the country. That places of worship are also campaign spaces in Nigeria is not new, but its intensity and pervasive reach this time should worry us all.  

But more worrisome still is the dominant attitude with which the ‘Obidients’ come into this election. I have attended several Twitter Space discussions by Peter Obi’s supporters, in addition to following others of their social media activities, just for my own personal education as a Nigerian. The unmistakable impression you get is that in the minds of his supporters, Peter Obi has already won the election and that the only thing that would prevent him from assuming the presidency in May is if the election is tampered with one way or another. His supporters don’t see any scenario for Obi losing the election free and fairly, and cannot even psychologically accept such a scenario as a possibility in this election.  

I find that attitude dangerous and I hope the authorities have a plan for cooling tempers if the election does not go as the Obidients expect, since one cannot count one’s eggs before they are hatched. The attitude to accept victory or defeat is important for democratic elections, more so at a time when, the world over, democracies are dealing with the consequences of the inability to accept electoral defeat, as we have seen in the U.S and Brazil recently. 

Kano Peace Accords 

While looking to meet with some governorship candidates in Kano to reinforce discussions and preparations for the Media Trust Kano State Gubernatorial Election Debate holding on February 4, myself and some colleagues received informal invitation to attend the Peace Accord event signed by candidates in that state’s governorship election last week. It was a saucerful event, even though I couldn’t help but wonder about certain aspects of it. For a peace accord between the political parties and their candidates in Kano State, the presence of Muslim and Christian religious clerics was rather too prominent in my view, since it implies potential conflict between these two groups in the state. But that cannot be the case in a governorship election in Kano, unless someone somewhere is making spurious assumptions. More tellingly, I thought that such peace accords should really be in the South East in this election, rather than in Kano. But then again, these are just my random thoughts on the campaign.