I think it’s only right to start this post by saying a kind word about the good people at The Republic who are home to some of the best writing this side of the world. When I saw the blast about a Q and A session with Ayisha Osori, I knew there was no other place I’d spend my Saturday morning. It didn’t matter that I had been out till 4am that morning. For those who aren’t familiar with her, Ms. Osori is becoming an increasingly popular figure on the commentary circuit. Her key insight being rooted in a failed attempt at running for office through the PDP at the last elections and the insights that experience has informed. These insights are contained in her book, Love Does Not Win Elections which I must confess to have read in bits and bobs. I bought the book at the event (autographed with the note “Mayowa, Nigeria needs you. Get involved”) and will spend the next couple of weeks getting familiar.
The event was hosted by Wale Lawal, The Republic’s Editor in Chief. Wale introduced his guest and then basically offered some thoughts that evolved into questions built from what I now understand to be experiences covered in the book, upon which Osori spoke. It inspired some action in my head which I will riff about in the lines below. Let’s go!
Campaigning is useful
A couple of years ago, (when I still lived in England) right after the Trayvon Martin incident happened, I joined a protest outside the U.S embassy in London. It was a stage of my life where I felt it important not just to talk about things and how they affect me, but to also put my actions to good use. When I told my mother what I’d spent my beautiful summer day doing, her response went something along the lines of “Mayo, I love you and are proud of you for doing this. But when you move back to Nigeria, you can’t do things like this”. Campaigning is one of the more effective ways to express displeasure at those in power. Using the Bring Back Our Girls and Not Too Young To Run campaigns as case studies, we see that there’s a subtle wave of these campaigns bearing fruit. To get the things we want, it’s not enough to talk. The talking has to be sustained so as to ensure it’s near impossible to ignore. And when it’s near impossible to ignore, we can get through the door and make the demands and compromises we need to make.
How do you solve a problem like Stomach Infrastructure?
Politics is defined and centered around patronage and money. More often than not, the Politician spending the most money in a race is likelier to win. Contemporary Nigerian politics has been defined by what Ayo Fayose famously described as “stomach infrastructure”.
In his column on the 10th year anniversary of famed Stomach Infrastructure Architect Lamidi Adedibu’s death, Reuben Abati wrote;
“The Nigerian electorate, should be reminded that when a politician offers them food in exchange for their votes, that food will soon digest and end up in the toilet, and you’d need to eat again. When the politician dies, or leaves politics or no longer needs you, you’d still have to eat. It is better always to vote wisely and focus on the need to build and strengthen public institutions for the people’s benefit.”
This spirit was summed up by her “Daddy Oyoyo” conceptualization referring to the manner in which young kids would greet their fathers in joy. In effect, Nigerian politicians will rob the treasury and then act the hero to the electorate with a fraction of this loot. And the unsuspecting voter will scream “Daddy Oyoyo.”
This raises a question about the best ways to tackle “stomach infrastructure” and its pervasive hold on Nigerian politics. In speaking, something that came up was the need for a stronger degree of involvement amongst the Nigerian elites. Political participation amongst the middle and upper classes is quite poor, to say the least. To me, this is centered around two paradigms. One of them being that “Politics is a dirty game” and involvement in it soils participants. A good friend of mine who shares a filial relation with a serial governorship aspirant told me of the near disdain this ambition has been met with by other family members. In opting not to ‘get dirty’, we’re letting some of the worst the nation has to offer, into power because ultimately, there’s more to be lost from the country going to the dogs. The other one being that if push comes to shove, an easy escape awaits. British passports and London houses will not be enough shield and ultimately, there’s more to be lost from the country going to the dogs. The Nigerian elite have the network of people and ideas to direct the governance and policy base and this underlines why need to get involved.
Simplification of the Political Process
The internal democracy of Nigeria’s biggest political parties is terribly skewed. Staturorily, they are compelled to choose candidates through direct or indirect primaries.
A direct primary will involve all the registered members of a party casting a vote for their preferred candidate.
Indirect primaries take place when a preselected group of party members called delegates are the ones tasked with voting for candidates. This system is curiously favored by the major political parties. It’s clear why- it’s easier to manipulate. When there’s no clear criteria on how delegates are picked, those in charge of the party machinery can essentially fill the list with their cronies.
Ms. Osori also spoke of how she ended up running on the PDP platform. Her original plan was to run on the APC platform but the process of securing party membership proved to be so erratic she had no choice but to go for the simpler process. Nigerian parties need to build their structures around actual people. To do this, the process around engagement needs to be simplified. Why shouldn’t I be able to walk into my local party branch and come out with an ID card half an hour later? This will also help the parties build their financial bases. In 2015, when I felt it was important that I took part in the Leadership Election for the Labour Party, all I had to do to get a party membership was go online, fill out a form, commit to paying a nominal sum and I was able to exercise my vote from Nigeria. The process of political participation should be so simple that people can get everything they want in one visit.