Nigeria Election 2015: Pundits’ Reading of the Political Tea Leaf

Published on 30th June 2014

One of the greatest achievements attributed to modern humans is the emergence and evolution of language of varying linguistic complexities. This simple feat differentiates humans, from other primates.The transition of language from direct linguistic communication to speaking for others or in the name of others (either in their presence or absence) further confers on modern man an esoteric dimension which is never experienced by other primates.

Given the foregoing, human stories--personal and public--can be told by the protagonist, those around him/her, or those with sufficient knowledge and interest about the protagonist, as long as the narrators maintain a certain level of fidelity in the narration. Fidelity and honesty in narration are sin qua non of narratives involving another, particularly when the narrator pre-supposes publicly their filial respect and affection for the protagonist in a discourse.

The recently concluded Ekiti election has generated volumes and acres of information, given the interest it elicited within the political punditry community--both within Nigeria and outside the country. For the cursory observer, the question is: why the interest? For most long suffering Nigerians--earnestly yearning for a change (this includes almost all Nigerians, besides the tiny ruling cabal)--it would be why not? The wider ramification of this single state election has far reaching implications.

Dry Run

A significant number of political pundits, including various segments of Nigerian talking-heads, concluded that the election was a dry run--a thin edge of a future wedge that is on its way against the opposition party. I am not about to join the fray as regards the freeness and fairness or even the legitimacy of the result; these issues have been raised by some political and social critics on the ground, including the Nobel Laureate, Wole Soyinka.

My concerns regard the comments and/or analyses of some of the politicians and political commentators who seemed to have used this particular election to conclude that the forth-coming 2015 election is a done deal. A few may have unwittingly concluded--without any hard evidence-- that there are no real alternatives to the ruling party. This is unfortunate. The sordid slush of mushy peas served to the long suffering Nigerians as the only staple on the menu is rather very disrespectful, disheartening and dangerous. At a time Nigeria is slowly sliding to the abyss from existential threat, the ruling party’s leadership remains in denial; this makes its legitimacy and claim to government dubious, after its current mandate.

This sordid slush of mushy peas served to the long suffering Nigerians as the only staple on the menu is rather very disrespectful, disheartening and dangerous, particularly at a time Nigeria is slowly sliding to the abyss from existential threat from Boko Haram. The clear and present danger Nigeria faces--while the ruling party’s leadership remains in denial--makes legitimacy and claim to government dubious, after its current mandate.

Mr. Femi Fani-Kayode’s article--which made the rounds on different online and print publications under the caption Ekiti: Some Hard Lessons for APC--stood out, not just for his inimitable bombastic style, but for what he believed were germane to the election. Mr. Fani-Kayode--in his usual emotive style of writing--started by treating his audience to ‘a lively prolonged discussion’ he had with the declared winner of the gubernatorial race in Ekiti State, Mr. Ayo Fayose, a few months earlier where he ‘projected’ inter alia his (Mr. Fani-Kayode’s) departure from All Progressives Congress (APC)--the opposition party. Further, Mr. Fayose predicted his own victory at the state election during the same conversation.

Curiously, I was taken aback by his choice of word, projection, rather than its synonym, prediction in describing Mr. Fayose forecast. I wonder if there were covert trends that he is privy to that have eluded the general public.

In the same article, Mr. Fani-Kayode alluded to his filial respect and affection for Mr. Kayode Fayemi, who he described as a ‘brother.’ Further, he poured scorn on the leadership of APC; used some fruity language to describe the party and in one fell swoop, mutated the full meaning of the acronym, APC. This was unnecessary, and was neither elegant nor honourable of a man who previously was a minister of aviation.

The Idiom of the Story

Every human story is fragile, given that within it, is embedded the permission to sum it up. Headlines and summaries may have the unintended consequences of increasing this fragility of an already vulnerable story. With the foregoing, a certain level of fidelity is imperative to capture the moral of Ekiti election, given its significance to the average Nigerian--yearning for change--and the opposition party that recently set aside their differences in their determination to have a fighting chance against the ruling party.

In just one sentence, the idiom of Ekiti election can be summarised: change is not impossible, but it is an orphan, particularly in an ossified political landscape. A landscape where the only thing the current crop of politicians have bred in its numbers besides corruption is an enclave of Nigerian sehnsucht in their aspiration for an elusive better life. It was Machiavelli in The Prince who eloquently captured the forces against change; he may as well have been talking about the Nigerian political landscape.He said:

It ought to be remembered that there is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things. Because the innovator has for enemies all those who have done well under the old conditions; and lukewarm defenders in those who may do well under the new. This coolness arises partly from fear of the opponents, who have the laws on their side, and partly from the incredulity of men, who do not readily believe in new things until they have had a long experience of them.

In Mr. Fayemi’s passion for the introduction of a new order, he may have unwittingly miscalculated the response of the forces that have benefitted from the old ways of doing politics in Nigeria and the incredulity of men who could not see beyond the fog of change, the rest is history.

The Economist aptly captured the morale of the story on their blog post Why Reform is so Hard (25 June 2014). It stated: Mr. Fayemi was one of the ‘most reform-minded and articulate governors’ and was ousted ‘by a populist who was once impeached following charges, albeit unproven, of embezzling public money.’ It went further, ‘Mr. Fayemi laid new roads, improved the university system, presented a plan to get more young people into job, created a social security scheme for the elderly and cut corruption wage payment to government [ghost] workers. But such reforms upset people with vested interest in the old political system.’

What is more to say? Mr. Fayemi challenged the old ways of doing politics because of his belief--the enclave of Nigerian sehnsucht in which aspiration for a better life remains a mirage was not consistent with dividends of democracy--and set out to reverse the democratic deficits that have plagued Nigeria. And what happened? Before the green shoots of democratic dividends were barely able to put down roots, the agents of the old system sowed thorns to choke life out of the tender shoots. And what did the Nigerian talking-heads do? They identified the symptoms, but mistook it as causation. In the field of psychiatry, it would be akin to rightly identifying some of the phenomenology and missing the underlying pervasive deep rooted psychopathology. Some of the talking-heads went as far as coining an idiolect--‘stomach infrastructure’--a phrase I dislike with every fabric of my being. They stated that it was Mr. Fayemi’s neglect of this “vital” infrastructure--a euphemism for favour culture with impunity--that was largely responsible for his ousting.

The less charitable amongst them, accused him of elitism. I can’t understand the word, elitism, within this context; unless elitism has lost its meaning.  One wonders: When did good governance and accountability become elitism? Is welfare reform for the elderly elitism? When did fight against corruption and demand for public servants and officers to account for their stewardship become elitism? Is providing good roads or paying serious attention to education system elitism? Is provision or upgrade of infrastructure elitism?

Frankly, I believe that the tiny ruling cabal and its cheer-leaders are taking Nigerians for a ride. It was about time Nigerians kicked the favour culture which underpins the old order into the long grass--where it belongs. At present, the politics of Nigeria has been characterised largely by pervasive paternalism which is pernicious and fosters the favour culture to a new height. At the same time, its tendency is towards the infantilisation of the average Nigerians--stripping them of their God given free will and autonomy. This politics with its tactical grounding in tribal, ethnic and religious imperatives has not only impoverished Nigerians, socially and economically, but its continuation in its present form is untenable. It has run its course, a new narrative is imperative.

APC must seriously look at how it can harness the yearning and aspiration of hardworking Nigerians and work with them in a collaborative arrangement that values dignity and respect within a climate of candour, in order to mutually develop a common a language towards realising a new narrative. This may be challenging, but realisable. I think--I may be wrong here--it was this challenge that Mr. Fayemi overlooked, while marshalling out his development plan for the state, which in some strange way cost him his re-election. The inability of his handlers to communicate his vision for the state in their engagement with the electorate in an affirming and validating way, may have led to a kind of disconnect; and the lurking lacuna was exploited by the agents of the old system.

The real idiom of Ekiti election is: change is possible, but concerted efforts must be made at grass root level to initiate, sustain and maintain the momentum of engagement at all times, while developing a simple and coherent narrative that is mutually relevant between the governing party and the electorate. It would be patronising to say that Ekiti people lack the emotional readiness for change; the key in the change process is identification with the grass root and maintaining a clear communication, particularly during the phase of transition, given that change and the fog of change may appear initially messy. However as the dust settles to reveal the new reality and the accompanying future, the people can’t but recognise this dawn of new beginning to be in alignment with their yearnings and aspirations.

By Dr. Anayo Unachukwu

The author  [email protected]  is a doctor based in the UK and holds a Masters of Law (LLM Medical Law) degree.

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