Politics can be as interesting as it can be complex. It is an interesting game to both the politicians and the people. The saying that in politics there are no permanent friends or permanent enemies but permanent interests rings true. In a developing democracy like Nigeria, the political parties are not really different on basic ideological convictions. This is why the membership of the political parties are very fluid in a way that politicians often defect from party A to party B, C or party D.
The easy movement from party to party has been seen as due to personal or immediate group expediencies. Unlike in developed democracies like the United States and United Kingdom that is identifiable on the two major political parties like the Republican and Democratic parties in the US or the Tory and Labour parties in the UK, the Nigerian environment is different. Over the years, the political party system has been very unstable. The post-independence political parties were basically regional in nature and followership was tribally coloured in a way.
The military incursions into governance in a way corrupted the political system and the politicians seem to have been struggling ever since. The attempt by former military President, Gen. Ibrahim Babangida (Rtd.) to institute two major political parties, the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and the National Republican Convention (NRC) ahead of the 1993 election was truncated by the annulment of the election believed to have been won by late MKO Abiola of the SDP.
The return of civilian democracy in 1999 has seen the political elite struggling with political parties like the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) ,the Alliance for Democracy (AD), the All Nigeria People’s Party (ANPP) All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) , the Social Democratic Party (SDP), the National Conscience Party (NCP) and some others with mergers along the way. With time some other parties like Accord Party and Action Democratic Party (ADP), Young Democratic Party (YDP) etc. all came into the political space.
There is a sense in which many people believe that the Nigerian Democratic experience is still nascent. There is still so much that has to come to play for the democratic experience to be in sync with viable democracies across the world. The politicians seem as confused as the voters because political choices at the polls seem to still be based on more mundane issues like ethnicity, religion, North and South and other divisive issues that do not help development.
The Roundtable Conversation has therefore been a keen observer of the new political tool as the campaign period opened by the end of September. The organization of political rallies by supporters of the three major political parties, the APC, PDP and Labour Party is now more frequent than in past elections. The political rallies often publicized across the orthodox and social media seem to have taken the roles of the candidates talking directly about their manifestoes and reaching out to the electorate.
The organization of rallies is good but cannot replace other functional campaign methods but it does seem that there is an over reliance on rallies in ways that seem to give political parties and their candidates a false sense of support bases. Nigerian political parties do not really have defined political ideologies that have been sold to the people in very convincing ways that there is strong followership that can be identified through organized rallies which means that the same crowd can switch from one political rally to the other. This might just be an ill-wind that blows no party any good realistically.
The political parties must understand that times have changed. Elections are can no longer be won based on old rhetoric. People are more aware and more demanding of clarity of policies and strategies of political parties and their candidates. The people already know the problems they want solved. No candidate in any election either at the executive or legislative levels can claim to have an exclusive knowledge of the problems of the people.
The Nigerian electorate might file out for rallies because as all rallies are, it could be exciting to join the crowd no matter where they are headed. The issue remains, how impactful are rallies when each individual gets in to vote on each election day? Would the excitement at rallies cascade through to election cubicles? What is the magic wand that political parties can use to identify those that attended their rallies from those that attended that of their opponents?
The Roundtable Conversation has had some discussions with different rally attendees and from all indications, most attend the rallies for the adrenalin rush and the temporary elixir from the vagaries of their current socio-economic situations not totally out of the attachment to any political base.
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Nigeria is at the edge of the precipice at the moment. There is so much despair in the land, people are only hopeful that 2023 will open a new vista for them. The different voting blocs are yearning for new lease of life in different sectors of the economy. The economic problems seem hydra-headed and the voters are seeking for those who can confront the issues realistically .
Political rallies are good but they cannot replace the door to door campaigns, the meeting with different groups and interests across the nation in the case of presidential candidates. There is a constitutional requirement for winners at that level in terms of spread and numbers. INEC will not count the number of people that attended any rallies. The heart of the matter is how widespread the votes for a presidential candidate are across the 744 local governments across the country.
The internet must not be relied upon as the winning ground for elections. The real loyal voters are in the rural communities, they are in the creeks, in the inaccessible hinterland some of where pregnant women are taken to the hospital by donkeys or rickety vehicles kilometers away to give birth. They want to know the candidates that understand their needs. They might never attend rallies because they might never have the internet connection or data to even know of any rally. Women in such areas can only recognize the candidates that remember they exist. Their votes will count.
The farmer in Zamfara, Jukun, Ikot Abasi, Ikare Ekiti, Awgu , Asaba who have stopped going to farm because of fear of violent herdsmen or kidnappers might never be seen marching during rallies. They are too exhausted by their state of helplessness to joyously attend rallies of any sort for any political party. They need to see the candidates and understand what they can do to get them to go back to their farms to earn a living.
Women in the North East who have either withdrawn their female children from schools for fear of their being abducted would want a candidate that can reassure them that their children would be safe in school from 2023. Most parents now appreaciate the value of education so not allowing their children to go to school so that they can live want that burden ceared by a candidate who can remember that they exist and must be allowed to enjoy the freedom democracy brings.
The people living in IDP camps across the country might be too traumatized to attend any rallies at the city centers. They would want to engage candidates who can assure them they can touch the walls of their ancestral buildings or what is left of it again. They want their lives fixed back. Rallies are not for them but most of them have their PVCs.
The workers who are owed salaries or pensioners whose gratuities are trapped in unnecessary bureaucratic bottlenecks would not enthusiastically line up at rallies for political parties so serious candidates and political parties must device creative ways of reaching out to them and assuring them that truly, their welfare matters. The mistrust they have for governments either at state of federal levels must be cleared before elections. Rallies might not voice their pains so they might never be there.
The Roundtable Conversation believes that complex as electioneering period can be, it presents each country with opportunities to access, evaluate and talk about nationhood/development in an all-inclusive way. It must be a period of bonding and conversations. It is a period for patriotic candidates to reassure the people of their citizenship and what comes with it. The mistrust between the people and governments is deep.
Political parties and their candidates must begin to take the campaigns more seriously. Political rallies can be fun and energizing but it does little to convince individual voters of the promise of a political party or the candidates. Party Spokespersons must understand they have work to do. Their efforts at winning potential voters for their candidates must be dipped in the best persuasive tones. Voters must not be polarized in any way because every vote counts and must be counted according to INEC.
Political parties must be concerned about the perception of each voting bloc across the country. The African socio-cultural environment must be understood properly. What works in the Europe and America might not really work in Nigeria. The political victory as we understand it would be for those who understand that political campaigns are serious business beyond the euphoria of rallies.
The dialogue continues…