Dennis Onakinor bemoans the absence of the spirit of socio-political mass-mobilization in Nigerian politicians. Citing the example of the ongoing voter registration exercise, he berates all eighteen registered political parties in the country for failing to use the opportunity to mobilize voters to their respective camps. While decrying their politics of immobilism, he advises them to learn from their American counterparts, who are adept at mass-mobilization of voters.
ast Wednesday, July 27, 2022, at the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) voter registration centre in Eti-Osa LGA office in Lagos, there was palpable anxiety among the hordes of intending registrants who had thronged the venue in order to beat the July 31st deadline for registration closure. Most of them had earlier visited one or two inoperative registration centres before arriving at this particular one, where a few visibly-overworked officials were having a hectic time coping with the swelling motley crowd. The searing heat did not help matters as they endured an agonizing wait under the scotching sun for hours on end.
Amidst the din of expressions of frustration and anger, three male youths provided unsolicited commentaries on the three front-running candidates for the 2023 presidential election, dishing out banalities bordering on the cynical and the bizarre. Bola Tinubu, they said, is busy stockpiling wads of Dollar bills in readiness for an onslaught against his main-challenger, Abubakar Atiku – a situation that has occasioned further rapid decline of the Naira against the American currency in the foreign exchange market. Atiku, according to them, is being sponsored by a foreign power that is poised to buy up every single vote in a bid to secure victory for its stooge. Peter Obi, being a very poor fellow, they maintained, has promised to seize the wealth of all Nigerian multi-millionaires and billionaires, including that of Tinubu and Atiku, and redistribute it evenly among the poor and downtrodden masses of Nigeria.
On and on went the three youths as they inundated the tiring crowd with unbridled gossip that assumed incendiary dimensions in its progression. At some point, one of them, wearing a dreadlock hairstyle and prison-culture sagging trousers, gleefully announced that he had just received an “authentic message” to the effect that the 2023 presidential election would not hold, since outgoing President Muhammadu Buhari had finalized plans to cede power to ethno-religious Fulani militants in a Taliban-style power seizure.
The inadvertent intervention of a young woman with a crying baby straddling her back somehow halted the youths’ commentaries. While rocking her baby to sleep, the woman vociferously berated the country’s politicians and their parties for not being available, at least, to provide succour for “our troubles,” although she would not categorically state the nature of that “succour.” Hear her: “Why are all the parties and their power-hungry politicians not here to see what we, the poor masses, are going through in our efforts to register and vote? They are waiting to reap where they did not sow. Is it too much for them to come and help in coordinating the efforts of those of us trying to register and vote?”
Upon hearing her query, an elderly lady responded, fuming with anger: “Don’t mind them. The only thing they know is how to win elections by hook or by crook. They forget that this is the right time to begin working for victory, instead of waiting till election day to rig the results. As you can see, most of them simply believe that they can buy their way into office with the money they have stolen from the people.”
The elderly lady’s fulmination roused the ire of a ponderous-looking young man, who launched into a tirade: “Nigerian politicians are useless when it comes to mobilizing the people. And that’s because they believe that they do not need the support of the people, since they can seize power through election-rigging. As a matter of fact, they care little or nothing whether the people are registered or not for the upcoming election. The politicians and their parties, especially the APC and PDP, are only out to seize power and use it to loot the treasury.”
Indeed, the sentiments echoed in above-highlighted statements could not have been more germane. As every keen political observer can attest, all of Nigeria’s eighteen registered political parties have been missing in action even as intending registrants scramble to beat the End-of-July voter registration deadline set by INEC. And, in a perceptible neglect of one of the cardinal roles of political parties in any polity, they have failed woefully in the task of mobilizing supporters for the registration exercise. Perhaps, it hasn’t dawned on them that elections are often won and lost at the voter-registration stage of the electoral process.
Other than presenting candidates for elective offices and forming the government, political parties also perform the function of socio-political mobilization. Thus, they help to articulate and aggregate the interests of various segments of the populace and mobilize the people towards the realization of national objectives. Essentially, they are vital instruments for mobilizing voters towards electoral success. Hence, any party worthy of its name must ensure that its supporters are duly registered to vote in an election, otherwise that support counts for nothing.
In light of the foregoing, the ruling APC and the main-opposition PDP ought to have seized the opportunity presented by the voter registration exercise to mobilize eligible voters to their respective camps. Similarly, the bourgeoning Labour Party, desperately seeking to unravel the APC-PDP duopoly, ought to have cashed in on the exercise to mine huge chunks of potential voters for itself. Alas, they have all failed to rise to the occasion.
There is no doubt that Nigerian politicians have some vital lessons to learn from the American political system in terms of mass-mobilization of the electorate. For, it is well-known that the Democrat-Republican duopoly has occasioned the possibility of predicting electoral outcomes based on each party’s projected voter-strength. As a matter of fact, both parties have perfected the practice of mobilizing voters through the process of “Gerrymandering” or “Redistricting,” which critics have cynically dubbed “scientific election-rigging.”
Presently, Nigerian politicians are abysmally deficient in the practice of mass-mobilization of voters even as they desperately seek to acquire, consolidate, and deploy state power towards selfish ends. Largely, this unsavoury situation is traceable to the divisive role of the country’s ruling elite in the quest for nation-building. Bitterly fragmented along ethno-religious lines, and united only by the desire to gain access to the country’s vast oil wealth, the Nigerian ruling elite alienates, rather than mobilize, the masses toward the goal of national unity, peace, and progress.
In his 2011 publication titled “Nigeria: Dancing on the Brink,” John Campbell, a former US’ Ambassador to Nigeria, observes: “Nigerian elite behavior is too often self-interested, lacks a national focus, looks almost solely for short-term advantage and is distorted by competition for oil wealth. Whether military or civilian in form, the government reflects the paralysis of the country’s fragmented elites. Nevertheless, control of the federal government means access to oil riches by the political victors and their clients. This encourages the elites to hang together.”
There is little doubt that Nigerian politicians, who constitute a sizeable chunk of the ruling elite, aptly reflect Campbell’s characterization, which is corroborated by Tom Burgis’ 2015 illuminating publication, “The Looting Machine,” where the then-ruling PDP is described as “a platform to seize power and then share the resultant booty.” Suffice to say that that description equally fits the now-ruling APC, and even the rest sixteen political parties – obscure as many of them may be.
As earlier hinted, the ongoing efforts by the Nigerian masses to register for the 2023 general elections is neither driven by the registered political parties, nor individual politicians. Rather, it is all due to a desire on the part of ordinary folks to do away with the voter-apathy that had hitherto pervaded the country’s political landscape. For, amidst the raging ethno-religious militancy that is posing an existential threat to the country, and faced with unbearably-harsh living conditions occasioned by spiraling hyper-inflation, the masses have no other option than to resort to the ballot box.
Apparently frustrated by their inability to register at the aforesaid Eti-Osa LGA INEC registration centre, the three gossipy youths began to depart the venue just as the scotching sun started to set. I asked if they would be back to try their luck the next day. No doubt they would, came their unanimous response. One of them volunteered further information: “If we come back here tomorrow and are unable to register, we shall go back home quietly. We will not kill ourselves to register to vote for any politician. They are not worth the trouble. What has been the outcome of the votes we have been casting for them? Did they bring any change to the country? So, what is the point killing ourselves in order to be registered to vote?”
The cynicism in the youth’s statement prompted further interrogation as I asked who he will be voting for in the presidential election. Instead of him, the response came from his colleague who had earlier gossiped that President Buhari would not handover to an elected successor: “For now, I don’t know who I will be voting for. There is still a lot of time to decide on that. I remember that in 2015, everyone was chanting Sai Baba! Sai Baba! (Buhari’s populist appellation), but see where Sai Baba has led us now: terrorism, banditry, lawlessness, inflation, hunger, etc. So, I am not in a hurry to decide how I will vote. Anything can happen between now and February 2023.”
When I reminded him of his earlier gossip that outgoing President Buhari would stage-manage an Afghan Taliban-style cession of power to Fulani ethno-religious militants, he smiled indulgently, repeating his earlier statement that “anything can happen between now and February 2023.”
Later reminiscence of my encounter with the three youths only led to the sad conclusion that Nigeria operates in the mould of Orwellian Animal Farm, where “life goes on as it had always gone on, that is, badly”; where “hunger, hardship and disappointment are the unalterable law of life”; and where the masses toil to prop up leaders who turn around to exploit them brazenly in a vicious circle of poverty, exploitation, and socio-political immobilism.
- Dennis Onakinor, a global affairs analyst, writes from Lagos – Nigeria. He can be reached via e-mail at [email protected]