By Dele Sobowale
“Hain’t we got all the fools in town on our side? And hain’t that a big enough in any town?” Mark Twain, 1835-1910.
Mark Twain, one of the world’s greatest writers – long before the Nobel Prize was introduced – delighted us at Igbobi College in my 58-62 Class with his immortal classic TOM SAWYER. It was a delight demonstrating how, all over the world, the majority of people are permanent fools. Don’t get me wrong. Everybody, including columnists, is foolish at one time or the other. The difference is that a few people learn from their mistakes and quickly correct themselves. The majority never learns and never makes corrections.
By and large, we have been electing clever rogues into office in Nigeria. That is why we continue to grumble about how they over-pay themselves, their corrupt practices and still troop to the polling stations on Election Day and vote for them. Ask yourself what has your Senator or member of the House of Representatives done for your benefit since he/she was elected and you will most probably draw a blank. I vote in Lagos Central – and you can’t be more Centre of Excellence than that – and I search in vain for what those elected to the National Assembly since 1999 have done for Lagos Island. But, don’t worry. They will come again with rice, vegetable oil, phony empowerment programmes for women, cash and thugs in 2019 and thereafter they will smile daily to the bank. We will, well, grumble again. You can multiply Lagos with all the constituencies in Nigeria and there is no substantial difference.
Now, as long as politics is going to be reduced to “monkey work baboon chop”, we might as well make it turn by turn. We should make sure nobody goes for more than one term. David Mark and Femi Gbajabiamila should go home in 2019. They and some others have been there since 1999. What do we have to show for their long residence in the National Assembly?
But, things need not be that way. One cardinal reason we don’t have more upsets in elections in Nigeria is because most challengers don’t start their campaigns early enough. Invariably, they wait until a few months to the election to announce their intention to run for office. About six people have suddenly indicated interest in becoming governors of Ekiti and Osun states – with only a few months to go. It was the same story with Anambra. There, almost forty people came out wanting to be governor; some as late as two months to the day of election. It was stupidity of the highest order – especially when the goal is to unseat an incumbent governor who started campaigning for second term right from his first day as first term governor.
Even an incumbent finishing his second term, like Rochas in Imo State, and is hell-bent on imposing a successor, has a wicked advantage – as well as a devilish disadvantage. The advantages are known to most people; but very few can spot the disadvantages. Fewer still know how to take advantage of them.
The major advantages of an incumbent seeking second term include access to state funds for campaign, recognition by the electorate, support by the DSS and Police Commissioners posted to the state and the Independent National Electoral Officers, INEC, posted to the state. Most Commissioners of Police posted to any state, unless they don’t want it, receive land allocations in choice areas of the state free of charge. They are there to allow the governor’s thugs to operate freely at all times. It was that arrangement which turned Abia, Imo and Akwa Ibom into killing fields from 2007 to 2009 – when the abduction of kids in a bus in Aba forced Yar’Adua to disregard the governors – all PDP – and to crack down on the kidnappers and assassins. Akwa Ibom State once ranked first nationwide in those crimes. Till today, the DSS and Police have not solved any of those crimes because the security officials were alleged to have been compromised.
The reader would have thought that Akwa Ibom would have been a state where nobody would dare to challenge the incumbent governor. That was not the case. The challenger in 2011 faced not only the governor but the Police and DSS – who even charged him with crimes until after the election when the charges were suddenly dropped. Most people in the state were of the opinion that only massive rigging, aided by federal government officials prevented a major upset in that election.
Fortunately, most state elections are not like that of Akwa Ibom State in 2011. The question which should be of interest for those who want to run for office is: how was it possible in AKS?
One unknown young man went into Ekiti State and challenged two people and an institution at once – the incumbent Governor Adebayo and his father late General Adebayo (rtd) who was a living legend in Ekiti. The institution was the Afenifere or Awoists. He beat all of them. He was impeached; returned and defeated another incumbent governor – becoming the first man in Nigeria to beat two seating governors. The man is the irrepressible Ayodele Fayose. How did it happen in Ekiti?
There are lessons there for all those still sitting on the sidelines wondering whether they have a chance. One, if you don’t play, you can’t win. So, get on the pitch. Two, the incumbent almost always carries a load of disaffection for his performance in office. Even the best performing is still vulnerable. Third, believe it can be done; because it has been done before, right here in Nigeria.
Without going into specifics, the answers can be summarized in three parts. The first is starting early to campaign. You need as much time as you can get to reach the voters in your constituency. The campaign for a Christian Governor in Lagos for 2015 actually started just before the 2011 elections which brought Fashola a second term. By the time the first article came out in December 2011, several leaders of one-man churches in Lagos State had already signed on. Several thousand volunteers had started working for the agenda by the time political leaders in Lagos State got to know there was a movement. It took them more time to know the direction. By then victory was assured.
Next to starting early, it is important to have a game plan. Incumbents, the political establishment is very often complacent. They take victory for granted and disdain every attempt to dislodge them until it is too late. But, the worst mistake a challenger can make is to try matching them in spending. There is nothing more pathetic than the outsider trying to compete on posters and billboards. That is a no win strategy. The trick is to make the hundreds of thousands of posters work against them. Jonathan overwhelmed the nation with posters in 2015 with the help of TAN. But, most voters were disgusted at the colossal waste on display. Each time I went to talk to groups in 2015, those posters constituted the major points of attack. Hungry people can very quickly see the sense in voting against a person who spends so much on waste. There is an alternative and it is quite effective. Fayose adopted it in two ways twice in Ekiti and won.
Disregard INEC. The election time table always favours the incumbents and the established political parties. Start your campaign as soon as you can. And, surprisingly enough, it can be done without breaking the law. This is not the forum for disclosing how to do it. But, believe me, it can be done. You don’t need more than twenty dedicated people in any state to give the governor the fight of his life. Since every politician has some natural adversaries, the place to start is with them. Senators and members of the House of Representatives are even more vulnerable. They cannot be at Abuja, sharing money, and be at home at the same time. That is the advantage the challenger has. He can, like the tortoise, work slowly but surely, such that by the time the incumbent returns home, the battle is mostly lost. Digging a hole under the feet of the current lawmaker in Abuja is now so easy that one wonders why more people have not declared to challenge them already. Most of them judging from what people tell me when I travel are seating ducks…