It is another celebration of Nigeria’s Democracy Day, and this, for many Nigerians including the writer, is a reminder of how far behind we are from where we are supposed to be as a nation. But to put it in the context of local politics, we have just one more Democracy Day to celebrate before the next general elections. We are getting closer every day to 2023 and the politicking has started, forget about the state of insecurity or the absence of posters and jingles. The politicians are busy again with series of consultation and horse-trading going on.
One of the states where the stakes are high is Oyo state where the All Progressives Congress (APC) lost their governorship seat to PDP in 2019. Asides waiting for the PDP-led Oyo government to make major mistakes that can swing the wave of popularity, the APC will be looking at the gains of 2019, upon which they can build for 2023 and herein lies the danger of misconception, as the party might be focusing on the wrong things.
At the last governorship election in Oyo state, the APC got 39.04% of the votes making a total of 357,982 votes, while PDP’s Seyi Makinde got 515,621 votes, which is 56.24%. Many would like to assume that this is a good foundation to build on. It appears so to the layman but for a real politician, relying on this impressive number and planning based on the need to just improve on it can only lead to a bigger loss. This is because 2023 is a totally different scenario and too many things have changed since we last voted.
Going into any election, the only relatively guaranteed votes are those from loyal members of your party and your family. These are the ones who choose not to have an excuse for betrayal. Every other vote, you have to work for. If you are lucky to belong to the right religion, come from the desired region and come at the right time for a difference as in the case of Buhari-Osinbajo in 2015, then a part of your job may be done.
However, the most potent tool for winning elections in Nigeria is the power of incumbency as it bestows on you, many powers to get the people on your side. The idea is to promise continuity, use blackmail, manipulate and device all means possible to remain in office.
The Carrot and Stick strategy is that approach that combines promises of continuity with outright blackmail. In Oyo state, when a sitting governor visits the traditional kingmakers like trade unions, market associations, NURTW members, teachers and civil servants and other high population power blocs within the state, he is surely reeling out all that he has done in the past and the ongoing projects, loans, grants and other largesse, which they would lose if they fail to vote for him.
What this does to the people is that they already have the mindset that the incumbent has a better chance of winning the election than any other candidate and they would not want to be on the other side when the results start to roll out. This strategy gets as far as threatening not to support the leadership of those unions and especially for the transporters, we know what being on the side of government means in their perennial power tussles.
The carrot and stick strategy, along with the Buhari wave, helped former Governor Abiola Ajimobi of blessed memory in 2015 and the only reason it failed to help his anointed candidate in 2019 was because he had made monumental errors and had lost all goodwill with the people. Oyo people practically voted for pride and vengeance. Currently, the APC cannot leverage any of these.
Ongoing projects is another trick that incumbency has given to politicians for years. Check out the pattern from Borno to Cross River, across the Benue to Ogun and Abuja at the federal level. Ongoing uncompleted projects have been one of the strongest baits for winning elections. “As you can see, we have started the construction of your road and we need another two years to complete it, would you rather vote us out now and go back to being abandoned?”
For many deprived citizens, forgotten communities, this campaign needs nothing more to add. In Oyo state today, only the PDP has that claim.
Most parties that have won governorship elections in Nigeria in recent years are the ones with the stronger access to the security apparatus of the state. As the Chief Security Officer of the state, Governor Seyi Makinde or any serious governor does not need to be reckless in his operations to have the loyalty of the police, DSS, NSCDC and other security agencies in the state. The roles these agencies have been accused of playing in past elections have left us giving up on any chance of noticeable change any time soon. Add the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to the list of agencies whose principal officers have been accused of enjoying privileges from governors for mutual benefits. He who plays the piper dictates the tune.
Let’s talk about the role of local governments. Having all the LG council chairmen and councilors automatically gives the party access to the traditional rulers and some religious influencers. These are council chairmen and councilors whose return to office would be dependent on their ability to “deliver” their local government. This is another blackmail strategy but it is a mandate, they would do anything to achieve.
All these elements I have itemized contributed to the 350,000+ votes that the APC got at the 2019 governorship election with which they still lost. The bad news today is that none of these channels will be available for the party to leverage in 2023. Would it be wise, then, to assume that your job is to continue from where you stopped in 2019? No. This has to be a fresh start if APC would avoid another embarrassing loss, come 2023.
In my 2019 post-election analysis, I asked rhetorically if APC’s failure at the poll was all about Ajimobi? I argued that going by the margin of defeat, perhaps, the APC candidate, Mr Bayo Adelabu had enough opportunities to retell his own story but he did not seize the opportunity as many Oyo voters were left wondering if he wasn’t just a younger version of Ajimobi. One can only hope that they, especially the Ibadan voters, have forgotten about whatever pissed them off in 2019.
In the 2019 House of Representative elections, after scoring 25,560 votes in Ibadan South West/Ibadan North West federal constituency, Hon. Saheed Akinade Fijabi lost by 2,800 votes to his PDP opponent, Olajide Adedeji Stanley who polled 28,360. Adeniyi Olowofela also lost his election by just 1,217 votes. Should we consider it smart if the party returns in 2023 saying their job was 70% done with the mindset to just get the 3,000 or 1,217 votes needed to get the majority?
The essence of this article is not to paint a gloomy picture of APC’s chances in 2023 but to highlight the need to be smarter and more united in their business. The APC members are aware that their party is not the most popular in Nigeria right now. In fact, they are the hard sell, regardless of how well their governors are performing. Therefore, in Oyo state, whoever will be facing PDP’s potential candidate, Governor Seyi Makinde in 2023 must be the party’s best candidate – a consistent politician who has both the goodwill and track record of performance as a reference point for their competence.
We cannot shy away from the influence of religion and ethnicity in our polity. It is left for the party to decide if 2023 will be another battle of Ibadan sons, or they would be presenting an Oke-Ogun or Ogbomoso candidate, or perhaps they will present a woman. Whatever line they toe, the APC must be smart enough to know that their candidate must be either a Christian who has the capacity to get the Christian bloc vote or a devote Muslim who can get the solid support of the Muslim community in the entire state.
The party has to be united on this mission. It is not the time to build castles in the air and assume the existence of a popularity that has since waned. I suspect that the Oyo APC governorship primaries might be more intriguing than the main governorship election in 2023. Whoever emerges as the APC flagbearer will determine if the main election wouldn’t be an anticlimax. But I will like to say that the good people of Oyo state deserve the luxury of choosing between two good candidates in 2023. The APC must not be a disappointment.
While the stage is being set for the 2023 showdown, we must remember that only a peaceful state can hold an election and only the living can vote. I hope that Oyo state will be safer and the people will have peace. Remember, there will be no one to govern if everyone is dead?
Keni Akintoye is a PR & Communications strategist and political analyst