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Why Nigeria must pay attention to UK’s elections

Voters in the United Kingdom will go to the polls tomorrow in what some analysts have described as a defining moment for one of the…

Voters in the United Kingdom will go to the polls tomorrow in what some analysts have described as a defining moment for one of the countries that prides itself as a beacon of democracy, especially as most opinion polls have predicted an end to the 14-year rule of the Conservative Party. On the ballot are at least 30 candidates of Nigerian origin, making it even more appealing to Nigerians in the UK and those at home. In this interview, Oluwaseun Awogbenle, a UK-based Nigerian development and public policy expert and author, explained some of the intricacies of the election and what it means for Nigeria, among other issues.


As the UK goes to the polls tomorrow, some have described it as a watershed moment for the country after 14 years of uninterrupted Conservative Party administration. Why do you think many people liken this to Nigeria’s 2015 presidential election?

This is because of the palpable sense of change in the country; the Tories have lost considerable goodwill and have become largely unpopular. The general sentiment right now is anything but the Conservatives. Many citizens and residents think the Tories have done a bad job managing the country over the last 14 years. This is reflected in the unprecedented cost-of-living crisis, the growing National Health Service (NHS) waiting list, the sky-high inflation before it started falling recently, the high cost of mortgages, and the issue of public trust.

Nearly all the polls have placed the Tories behind the Labour Party. For example, research and data analytics firm YouGov predicts the Tories are likely to slump to the lowest number of seats since the party was formed. The polls place Labour ahead of the Tories with an over 200-seat majority. In addition to the palpable sense of change, there is also the rise of ultra-nationalist sentiments and far-right politics championed by the Reform Party and its leader, Nigel Farage.

Reports indicate about 30 candidates of Nigerian origin on the ballot for the election, with 20 of them representing mainstream parties: the Labour Party, Conservative Party, Liberal Democrats, and Reform UK. What are their chances in this pivotal election?

The truth is that their chances are just like that of anyone else. To be clear, unlike in Nigeria where candidates are sometimes more popular than their political parties, what you find here is that it is the political parties that help candidates win, not the other way round. People vote for their local member of parliament based on the broader ideas and manifesto of the parties. So, the chances of candidates depend on which parties are popular in the local area. In essence, you could have an unpopular candidate running on a popular platform like Labour as it stands; and their chances of winning are quite high. In essence, it is party first.

The case of one candidate, Olusola Oni, standing as the candidate of the Yoruba Party of the UK in Peckham, has garnered significant attention. What are the locals’ thoughts on this party?

To be honest, I have not been following the activities of the Yoruba Party because it is not a mainstream party. I am also not sure how far the party can go in the scheme of things. It would be good to see the candidate win, and I wish him the best. However, none of the polls I have seen suggest that the Yoruba Party would win any seat. It has been mainly Labour, Conservatives, Liberal Democrats, SNP and Reform UK.

Based on the manifestos of the major parties, as a Nigerian living in the UK, what do you consider the major implications of this election for Nigeria, Nigerians living in the UK, and Nigerians hoping to come to the UK?

There are a number of implications for Nigerians living in and those looking to come to the UK. For the Nigerians already living in the UK, I think they should assess the proposals of the political parties and vote for parties that offer compelling ideas on how to fix the economy, end the cost-of-living crisis, cut taxes, make the NHS more efficient and fit for the future, guarantee safer streets, and sensibly achieve net-zero.

I think the big elephant in the room is the issue around immigration. You would recall that earlier, I mentioned the rise of ultra-nationalist, anti-immigration sentiment, and you are likely to have also observed this emerging trend across Europe. In the UK, it has been made even more popular by the right-wing ideologies of the Reform Party, with its extreme proposal to freeze non-essential immigration.

In addition, almost all the parties believe that the number of immigrants is far too high and it must come down. Labour, for example, said they would introduce a points-based immigration system and invest in homegrown skills shortages to reduce the reliance on overseas workers. Conservatives want to reduce the number of immigrants over time by setting a legal cap on visas issued annually. However, the Green Party and Liberal Democrats have relatively friendlier policies; the only problem is that they may not quite have the numbers to win majority seats. I think that for the foreseeable future, there might be significant restrictions on immigration and the free movement of people.

The election coincides with some Nigerian lawmakers advocating a return to the parliamentary system. Do you think the outcome of the UK election would embolden or weaken this agitation?

I think it is neither here nor there; the UK parliamentary system is not a new thing. It has always been there. In my prognosis, I always like to think that the problem with Nigeria has never been the system or structure; it has always been the people. So, even if Nigeria were to move to a parliamentary system, and you have the same set of political class, I am not sure you would get a different outcome.

Are there other general lessons that Nigeria’s political leaders can learn from UK’s election?

Yes, I believe there are a number of lessons emerging democracies like Nigeria can learn from the UK elections. First, the pre-election campaigns have been dominated by real issues and big ideas on the economy, the cost-of-living crisis, the NHS, immigration, climate action, and deepening public trust. They have managed to offer a clear roadmap on how they intend to address these issues if they are elected. This is quite different from what you would see in Nigeria, where campaigns are never about real issues or big ideas; they are always about simple considerations like religion and ethnicity.

Apart from running a completely issue-based campaign, the leaders of the political parties have also been accountable by staying engaged in public debates and engagements to sell their ideas. This is unlike Nigeria, where people could win elections without attending a single debate or media engagement.

Another important lesson for Nigeria is how campaign manifestos are fully costed and funded. The political parties provide a detailed cost implication of their proposals and highlight where the money would come from. They explain how the government intends to raise revenue for their ambitious plans, either through new borrowings or by raising taxes. This is different from the situation in Nigeria, where political parties present manifestos that are bland and scant on details. They also fail to provide the cost and funding for their plans. This should no longer be acceptable. Political parties must back their proposals with cost and funding details.

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