The much-awaited 2015 General Elections have come and gone, and thankfully, it was not accompanied by violence and chaos as many had feared. While the winners have started planning ahead to their time in government, the losers are either doing a stock-taking of what went wrong or preparing to challenge the results at the election petition tribunals.
The elections represent an epochal moment in our democracy as we passed an important litmus test with an incumbent president losing re-election, and with it, the PDP that had been dominant since 1999 now having less than half of the 36 states in their control for the first time ever. This really makes the next four years look exciting in politics.
But what other lessons are there to learn from these elections as we move forward? Here are seven thoughts I have learned from the elections:
- The biggest beneficiary of PDP losing is PDP itself: The English novelist, Eric Arthur Blair (better known as George Orwell) once said, “Whoever is winning at the moment will always seem invincible.” That seeming invincibility is what PDP got carried away with – after being in power at the centre for 16 straight years, they thought that it will continue for long, or at least 60 years, going by their own predictions. Not only did they underestimate the APC (from predicting that the party will disintegrate by the primaries to boasting of how they will beat General Buhari again), the PDP carried on its internal democracy with quite some impunity. There was an abandonment of internal democracy as they imposed candidates on people without a care in the world. This in particular the reason that the PDP lost states like Kogi and Benue in the presidential elections, and Benue and Plateau in the governorship polls – something that was previously thought impossible.
The loss of the PDP in the elections is sending them a huge message – that the party needs reform and internal democracy, where the better candidates emerge and not the choices of special interests and godfathers. It is also saying that non-performance comes with stiffer penalties than before, as Nigerian voters have woken up and are more demanding of good governance. They should also not make the mistake of confining themselves to the states they now control – largely the South-East and the South-South. It will be their doom to transit from being the ruling party to a regional party.
- There is really not much difference between the APC & PDP: Yes, despite the ‘Change’ slogan of the APC, the new ruling party is not much different from the PDP in terms of ideology. This will come as a disappointment to those who were hoping that APC & PDP will be like Republicans & Democrats in the US, because those ones at least, have ideological differences. In Nigeria, both parties agree largely on the same issues – both will oppose gay rights, for example. Members of both parties are also agreeing on the need to devolve power from the centre and have true federalism practiced. Both parties also have their fair shares of really smart and respected people, and those with dodgy pasts. In the end, what makes the difference is the effectiveness of the party machine nationally and at local levels.
Before the election, I was having a conversation with a friend who is a PDP supporter living in Lagos that the APC is too capitalist-oriented judging by the multiple taxation in Lagos, an oft-repeated complaint. However, I objected by saying that you can’t use what APC is in Lagos to claim that the party in general is anti-business and excessively capitalist. After all, the APC in Osun State offers free meals for primary school students and the APC in Ekiti State under former governor Kayode Fayemi was the only government in Nigeria that had a social welfare system with residents of the state over 65 years of age being monthly stipends. APC can do what it is doing in Lagos because it knows that the state can support it. Thus said, it is possible for PDP to have won the governorship in Lagos and do the same – after all, it has helped the state to be largely weaned off federal allocations.
None of these parties can have a top-bottom policy that can be implemented in all states they are in charge of. Considering the fact that the factors in each state are different, what will work is pragmatism – making the best decisions for the state and not based on any party ideology.
- There might likely be a third national party: The PDP might not be the only national party in opposition for long. There is a possibility that the other smaller opposition parties: APGA, SDP, Accord and the Labour Party might merge into one entity. This is also because many of their prominent members are former PDP or APC members who were pushed out or left and will find it hard to gain relevance within the two national parties. Merging into one party will give them greater reach: APGA is dominant in the South-East, Accord in Oyo State, the SDP fielded governorship candidates in Adamawa and Taraba and the Labour Party still has members in Ondo State despite the defection of Governor Mimiko to the PDP. On the other hand, they could merge with PDP and make the former ruling party even more formidable.
- Even political parties will now hold themselves to higher standards now: It was quite surprising to see the APC openly advise PDP members intending to join them to stay in their party and build it up. While it showed a party not desperate for members, it also made sense that whatever goodies come with them becoming the ruling party should be enjoyed only by those who worked for it to win – it is their due reward for loyalty. This said, even the PDP will begin to value loyalty more, especially as they make a comeback effort in 2019. As such, there will be less carpet-crossing in our politics especially for those in search of appointments and favors.
- Money is still a very important factor in our politics, but in a different way now: Expectedly, a lot of money was spent by both parties in the elections, record amounts we may never know for sure. However, it is an open secret that the PDP spent more than the APC, as well as the PDP was unlucky to have more people that pocketed large sums of campaign money rather than do the work. How the monies were spent also mattered – large sums were spent on media and advertisements with digital media spending showing massive increases from 2011 naturally, mobilization and also handouts to influential people in communities and traditional rulers. However, inducement of voters for votes seem to have reduced, as more voters seemed to believed that their votes count, despite the below-expectations turnout. Many other voters still voted for the candidates of their choice after collecting money.
- The media narrative is very, very important: Personally, I don’t think President Jonathan lost the elections in 2015 – I think he lost in 2012. After the #OccupyNigeria fuel subsidy protests, the media narrative turned substantially after him and he never seemed to get it back. For too long, his administration was on the back foot trying to defend itself, rather than taking control of the narrative about what he was doing. A large part of this is solely down to incompetence – responding to critical issues too late and seeing every critic as an enemy to be attacked. There was also the fact that they underestimated social media’s influence, and allowed opposition supporters to run the narrative there. Unknown to them, seemingly harmless labels like calling the president ‘clueless’ and alleging that he had spent six years instead of less than five years stuck, even going offline. With this election, social media had a massive influence on talking points offline but it seemed only those against President Jonathan realized this.
The APC and its supporters, on the other hand, had a media strategy that as we say on Twitter ‘on fleek’. It made effective use of the two national dailies under the control of influential people in the party, and individual supporters drove the conversation online and focused excellently on the obvious failings of President Jonathan.
For the PDP, it is important that whoever is intending to run in 2019 within it should start shaping public perception in their favor, and should start now rather than waiting close to the elections.
- Know the place of the propaganda: Truth be told, you cannot take away propaganda from every election in this world. The idea of propaganda is to put out information of a biased or misleading nature to promote a political cause or point of view. It could be by amplifying what could be insignificant or making a small part of an issue the main issue. However, how you use it is what matters and it is on this that the APC differed strongly from the PDP.
The APC and supporters, for instance, successfully made it seem that the Jonathan administration did not achieve a single darn thing, and often, did twist facts out of place to achieve their aim. Sadly, the PDP too followed this route as the elections got closer – rather than market the achievements of the President so far, no matter how few, they largely focused on the person of General Buhari, from his SSCE to religion to his health. It backfired as even the religious angle which unsettled many Christians from voting him in the past 3 elections did not deter a lot in Benue & Plateau to vote him. Apparently, the law of diminishing returns had set in.
As an extra, I will add this last point:
- Are you young? The time to join a political party is now: The reason I emphasized being young is because it will be to your advantage to join a party, be active in it especially from the ward level, build political capital and cash it in when you decide to run for an office much later. I should add being young and with a career already, because having a career you are earning a living from makes you less desperate to be gallivanting from party to party in search of appointments to sustain you. It is also because for far too long, we have left politics to jokers and those cognitively deficient only to end up having those making crucial decisions for the nation. This can only change if we start preparing smart, young people to do a generational takeover. It is not enough that smart people wait for appointments; it is time they got their hands dirty by entering the game.