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Interrogating ethnic syndicates and political endorsement

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By Charles Onunaiju

IN the  run-up to the Presidential election on February 16, ethnic syndicates acting in the names but certainly not on behalf of our ethnic nationalities, are on the political prowl. Their newest game in town is political endorsements.

What some reports called “leaders and elders of all geopolitical zones,” gathered recently to endorse the presidential candidate of the opposition party, the People’s Democratic Party, PDP, Alhaji Abubakar Atiku, as their choice. While no one would challenge the ‘leaders and elders,’ for their choice, it is certainly beyond them to do so on behalf of any ethnic nationality in Nigeria, since there is no mechanism by which they are established as being in representation or consultation with any ethnic nationality group.

Beyond the nebulous status of the ‘leaders and elders,’ which is clearly deficient in both representation and consultation, the politics of endorsement is past its time, especially in the era when votes are reckoned to count. In the past ignominious era of vote allocations, the perceptions of geo-political support and endorsement could attract block vote allocations, translating automatically to electoral advantage and prospective victory. But this is certainly not anymore. Any politician relying on group endorsement and support certainly has not accommodated himself or herself to the sea-change of electoral politics brought by the revolutionary and  game-changing “permanent voter’s card, PVC. The simple implication of the PVC and the consequence that vote counts, is that political middleman-ship is as obsolete as multiple voting by proxy, when voters cards are bought, hoarded and issued to paid agents to vote as many times as it was possible then, and group political endorsement does the magic of covering up and rationalising brazenly stolen polls and other electoral infractions.

While issues in electoral politics here are not yet sharp and clearly discernible, electoral success in the ballot is now certainly based on direct appeal to voters than engaging ethnic syndicates or other political middlemen.

The new confidence of the individual voter that his or her vote counts and that he or she, therefore, has some measure of influence in the electoral outcomes, makes the voter all the more independent against past practice where the feelings of helplessness impels the voter to dissolve into identity group.

All these, does not mean that the electoral process has reached an Eldorado and is no longer beyond manipulations and distortions, but it has certainly reached a critical mileage beyond the previously electoral sham of votes allocation and other backhand deals, surreptitiously reached, even before elections are held. In the era when voting was actually a ritual meant to give a veneer of legitimacy to election results written behind the back of voters, electoral politics is essentially bargains among influential ethnic and religious groups and even front organisations of political entrepreneurs, but certainly, not anymore in the strict sense.

However, nothing in this analysis suggests that organised groups lack influence on the political and even electoral choice of voters, but such influence rests on the extent to which such groups articulate issues voters are discernibly interested and which have reasonably direct impacts on their wellbeing. But the way voters are influenced by groups is by articulating issues of their concerns and not by railroading by the excessive brinkmanship of political endorsement.

The perception that political endorsements are chiefly transactional, involving cash payments or political IOUs to be paid off in political appointments and contract awards, means that the era of the new found confidence of the voter can actually boomerang, especially if the voter feels that his or her votes are being traded behind his or her back.

The fact is that political endorsement can actually be counter-productive, especially when done by ethnic syndicates fronting the name of ethnic nationality which was neither consulted nor has delegated any group through any verifiable mechanism of democratic consultation to act on its behalf.

Ethnic nationalities are in themselves, epitomes of diverse political interests and views and no ethnic nationality can claim to represent a specific political tendency. Only ethnic syndicates acting in the name and guise of specific political tendency can make a partisan choice of political endorsement but the actual problem confronting ethnic syndicate is that through the political fraud of false claims, conflates their obvious partisan choice with the generality of the ethnic nationality that they merely act in its name. Despite short-term gains in terms of financial gratifications or other promissory political notes, such ethnic syndicate invokes on itself definitive political perdition which comes with increasing irrelevance and eventual extinction.

As Nigeria matures in electoral politics, there are discernible critical consensus that is emerging which includes that any political bargaining forged at the back of the voters are likely to be voided at the ballot box, meaning that all issues of critical political concerns must be directly communicated to the voter on which he or she takes a stand with the PVC. The improved electoral transparency is emboldening the voter that he or she could actually take a hard knock on political impostors purporting to act on the voter’s behalf.

However, while hardcore political party members and supporters spread across all ethnic nationalities are more likely to treat political endorsements with either enthusiasm or disdain, the generality of the free-floating voters, far more numerous in number are likely to treat endorsement as affronts to their sense of political judgments,  which are ever maturing with the passage of time and improvement in the electoral process.

The old style of electoral politics, including political endorsement, may not simply vanish, but their viability as critical inputs to electoral success leave much to be desired in any scientific interrogation of our contemporary politics.

Symbolism of group political endorsement might inflate political ego, but critical changes in the contemporary political process make ego tripping an unworthy act, totally deficient of any electoral value.

Mr. Onunaiju, writes from Utako, Abuja.

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