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Why elitist third parties fail miserably at general elections – 2

By Dele Sobowale

“It is difficult to see how an arrogant, authoritarian, self-admiring egomaniac can be transformed into an effective leader.”—VANGUARD BOOK OF QUOTATIONS, VBQ, p 123.

There is need to summarise the first part of this series on why elitist third parties and their candidates fail miserably at general elections. First, they invariably adopt the “Awolowo template”, meaning they form political parties and they were the Presidential candidates. It did not work for even great Awo; it will never work for anyone in Nigeria. Second, they are too full of themselves. I visited two such candidates in the past and it was all I could do not to vomit. They addressed their campaign workers, including managers, in language that would shock slave owners. No other idea was acceptable but their own. Third, they fail to identify which segment of the voting population is their target. Their self-admiration blinds them to the fact that, popular as they might be with the elite, they are not everybody’s favourite – even among the vocal elite.

“There are only two families in the world, my old grandmother used to say, the Haves and the Have-nots.” Miguel de Cervantes, 1547-1616.

Cervantes, the immortal author of delightful DON QUIXOTE, left the world with a lesson which our elite candidates have not learnt till today.  Invariably, they establish limited network nationwide and they seem to be individually and collectively allergic to associating with people at the grassroots. Despite their towering intelligence, they are blinded to the fact that ninety per cent of the votes are with the “Have-nots”. They spend most of their campaign time on Broad Street Lagos, VGC, Maitama and Asokoro and on televisions.

They are erudite, full of facts which the Haves agree with. But, they fail to reach the millions living in slums all over Nigeria; they probably never campaigned in the barrios throughout the period. Their designer suits must not get dirty. And, nobody campaigned on their behalf because they recruit clones of themselves. A real example will illustrate the point. Because these guys are thin-skinned, I  leave out the name; not because I am afraid of a rejoinder but it serves no purpose.

In 2007, one elitist candidate declared for the Presidency, based on his popularity on television, his well-received criticisms of government policies in newspapers and as a guest speaker in various places. We met at Kano airport three months after his campaign got underway. I had visited Gezawa town in Kano State and was waiting for a flight to Maiduguri. Candidate came to meet some important people for endorsement. At Gezawa, I had asked people drinking beer and at Motor Parks about all the candidates, including this one. Nobody has heard of him.

The same was true in several rural communities. But, at the Kano Airport, he was recognised. People milled around him; some were eager to shake hands. I walked up to him to ask how the campaign was going. “Dr Dele, why do you ask that question? You can see that the people love me.” I did not have the heart to tell him that he was caught in the worst sort of self-deception. Having lived in Kano for years, I knew the largest votes in that city are not at the airport. For the entire state all the votes at the airport represent a drop in big bucket of water. Yet on such flimsy evidence, a presidential candidate was basing his hopes.

Trips through all the 36 states in 2007, revealed that the fellow had offices in only seven states and Abuja; none outside the state capitals. I could not find a single state in which the candidate addressed the Have-nots. The results – less than 200,000 votes nationwide was a fair reflection of what the voters thought of him. Please follow me to Wushishi, Niger State in 2018 after candidates trooped out for the 2019 elections.

To reach Wushishi from Minna you have to pass through Ngeru – Dr Azikiwe’s birth place – as well as several rural communities. Apart from Buhari and Atiku only one candidate had posters in some, not all, communities along that axis. My trips in 2018/9 took me through 27 states of Nigeria. No third party candidate had posters in most of them and they were too few and very ineffective. For people who were campaigning against waste in government, what was easily demonstrable was their criminal waste of funds on quixotic quests for the presidency. None of them stood a chance.

What then is the way forward for these candidates? At the risk of being accused of making a mountain out of an ant hill, permit me to point to an example of how to upset the establishment and make a head way.

One, those embarking on change must start with an agreed basic principle or sets of principles which will constitute the rallying point of all the activities that will follow. Second, the founding leaders of the political association should not be prospective candidates for any office; certainly, not for President. The primary focus should be to gather under one political movement all those who strongly believe that the change sought is in the interest of the people and for each of them to be prepared to work wherever they are for the triumph of the idea.

Third, candidates should only emerge from among those well-known to the rank and file; and he/she should be someone who embodies the ideals and aspirations of the political party. Forming a political party and allowing a disgruntled politician decamping from another party to run for office on your platform will continue to frustrate the formation of viable third parties.

Fourth, those involved should give themselves sufficient time to strategise, plan and prepare to execute their plans before challenging established powers. To fight before you are ready is an invitation to crushing defeat.

All these ideas were applied successfully here in Lagos State. The only difference lies in the fact that we were not starting a new political organisation. But, we were determined to force the leader of the progressive party to change his mind on a decision already made regarding who would succeed Governor Fashola in 2015. I was deeply involved.  Readers would recall the series of articles titled: LAGOS STATE GOVERNORSHIP – 2015 CHRISTIAN AGENDA, which appeared on these pages from November, 2010 till February 2011. Others were to follow till 2014 when the leaders of APC presented Akin Ambode as the candidate of the party. It was not a voluntary choice by Bola Tinubu. Here is the story for the record – those embarking on third parties might learn from it.

One of our members at WAKA CLUB 1945, one of the oldest indigenous private clubs in Lagos city, late Archbishop Magnus Atilade, approached me in October 2010 and said: “Dr Sobowale are you aware that Christians are being marginalised in Lagos State; that appointments by Lagos State Government have become lopsided in favour of Muslims?” Without waiting for an answer he then went on: “You use your column in VANGUARD to fight for others, while your own people in Lagos are suffering. We are thinking of challenging Fashola in 2011. We need your help.?” It was like a blow to the balls. But, recovering my composure, I replied: “Archbishop, you know I have never joined a political party and I am not about to start now. But, I will help you if you tell me what your objective is.” Then he said: “We have reliable information that four Muslims have been short-listed to succeed Fashola and we think it is time for a Christian to be given the chance.” That was the beginning of the crusade. But, first, I advised against fielding a Christian candidate in 2011. “He will be humiliated; so will we. We must go for 2015.”

The first in that series of articles was written that night to serve as a wake-up call to Christians and to act as a catalyst for starting a movement. Very soon one group was formed; then another. I held no Executive positions and none of the EXCO members were allowed to be candidates. We were going to push the idea of justice for Christians without presenting a candidate. That way, nobody could accuse us of self-interest. Throughout, mine was the public face of the struggle; I received the maledictions and death threats from Muslims who felt aggrieved and the encouragement from Christians who agreed that it was a just cause.

Next, we went to meet the Christian masses; because most of the established Christian leaders were (and are still) benefiting from those in power. None wanted to openly associate with us. But, our simple message, the plea for equity resonated well with the masses in ways that I cannot disclose now because injustices still exist and reforms still need to be made.  History will record that without violence and without begging the All Progressives Congress, APC, and the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, in 2015, the two political parties presented Christian candidates and they have repeated it in 2019. It was not by chance.

I left after the election. My mission had been accomplished. The last thing I wanted was for anybody to think that I had material interest in the struggle.

I can state categorically that no kobo was received from Ambode for the work we did till today. Yet, when the first report was received that he was going to serve only one term, I immediately called twenty former co-campaigners. We wanted to be sure that APC was not going to replace Ambode with a Muslim after one term. We would have returned to the trenches. We disbanded once it was revealed that Sanwo-Olu, another Christian would follow him. We have no quarrel with Bola Tinubu or APC. We just want an idea established.

“Everything’s got a moral; if you can find it.”—Lewis Carroll, 1832-1898, in ALICE IN WONDERLAND.

In case somebody has missed the moral of the struggle for Lagos 2015, let me summarise them briefly.

First, we were fighting for a principle not vying for office. The leaders were committed to the idea and each had renounced any political ambition. None ran for any office even when the parties decided to give Christians a fair deal.

Second, no matter how brilliant you might think you are, build a team of committed people and who can think freely and talk easily at meetings. “Come let us build together” will beat “Come and join me” most of the time. As we expanded, each new comer was made to feel as important as those who started – as long as he had contributions to make.

Third, every effective organisation consists of three types: those with money but no time for meetings, those with ideas but no money and perhaps little time as well and those with lots of time but no money and no ideas. Leaders of new parties must know how to distinguish them, to recruit them and to deploy them. They are all important for success.

Four, as long as success depends on having large numbers of Have-nots buying your ideas, then opening access to them is an imperative. Tone down the language. In marketing and sales it is called KISS – Keep It Short and Simple.

I withhold the message we sent to the Christian Have-nots in Lagos; and they would have made APC to pay dearly if they have failed to field Ambode.

LAST LINE: The new aspirants for political leadership should gather themselves into one or two political parties comprising of people with compatible ideologies. Develop manifestoes; start selling their ideas now, and not wait until 2022; then let the candidates emerge according to the parties’ constitutions. Everybody cannot be President. They are wasting everybody’s time at the moment.


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