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2019: The illusion of Oby and other rookies

In this article, Louis Odion argues that serious contenders for the presidency in 2019 Nigeria general elections must accept that it will take more than national popularity and visibility to succeed.

Oby Ezekwesili was minister for education and also solid minerals at different times during Olusegun Obasanjo's presidency / Photo credit: Premium Times
Oby Ezekwesili was minister for education and also solid minerals at different times during Olusegun Obasanjo's presidency / Photo credit: Premium Times

Oby Ezekwesili caused quite a stir on Sunday on Abuja streets.

Even as ruling APC and main opposition PDP continued to trade insults days after individually presenting their election manifestos ahead of what promises to be a grudge “rematch” in 2019, the presidential candidate of Allied Congress Party of Nigeria opted to share pamphlets to folks gathered probably more out of curiosity than solidarity.

In her own estimation, that roadshow should suffice as answer to growing taunts that she is bidding for the highest office in the land without a structure. So, the street campaign strategy is to make up for her obviously lean pocket for the campaign in the countdown to the elections due in roughly 80 days.

Hear her rather simplistic argument: “What we’re doing is distribution (of booklets and leaflets), because a lot of people do say ‘Where is your structure’. As if choreographed, two major national dailies - THISDAY and Guardian - also published her extensive interviews same day.

While Oby’s commitment to save Nigeria has never been in doubt and her courage to step forward now and bid for power must be saluted, there can be no evading reality check however.

With the confidence she pontificated, we are tempted to suspect Oby might have been burning the midnight candle understudying the Lula model.

"Without wishing to dampen the spirit of the likes of Oby who I am sure are getting involved for purely altruistic reason, the bitter truth is that they stand no fighting chance with the present national structure of leadership succession."

The man who had barged onto Brazil’s political scene in the the first decade of this millennium similarly came empty-handed. Lula da Silva also started by sharing leaflets at city squares with the stalking tenacity of the proverbial Jehovah Witness in Nigerian speak.

Before the existing right-leaning political establishment knew it, he had captured the people’s imagination sufficiently enough to win the presidency. Between 2003 and 2010, he would inspire a populist fairytale never seen in the history of the Latin American country.

However, the pretender thinking the Lula formula could easily be transposed to Nigeria today is hardly prepared to answer one hard question: do they have a ready critical mass behind them like the fanatical labour movement that enforced Lula’s victory back in Brazil in 2003?

Without wishing to dampen the spirit of the likes of Oby who I am sure are getting involved for purely altruistic reason, the bitter truth is that they stand no fighting chance with the present national structure of leadership succession.

Only those who had run for presidency before and got thoroughly squeezed are perhaps best placed to attest that the arena is certainly not for those with modest means or where you count on luck instead of commonsense.

How utterly naive of Oby then to downplay the challenge of election day. Were the motive behind her current exertion the mere thrill of participation or the symbolism, such characterization could be pardonable. But if indeed it is to capture power, then more rigour is certainly required.

While it may be possible now to leverage modern tools like social media to minimize spend on publicity  which the old media would make relatively more prohibitive, the zestful presidential candidate will sooner than later find that the first real acid test actually awaits them on the eve of election: where to recruit incorruptible agents and how to mobilize such foot soldiers to defend their interest at each of the well over 100,000 polling stations located in the 774 councils across the 36 states of the federation and the Federal Capital Territory.

That outing alone requires billions of naira.

Of course, that is always the first fortification against being rigged out.

While the novelty of card reader in 2015 and the promise of electronic transmission of results by INEC this time will alter the character of tabulation and summation from what we are used to, nothing suggests a change yet in the human factor - the siege by those representing potentially the 91 political parties in the contest.

"How utterly naive of Oby then to downplay the challenge of election day. Were the motive behind her current exertion the mere thrill of participation or the symbolism, such characterization could be pardonable. But if indeed it is to capture power, then more rigour is certainly required."

In reality, the agent constitutes the first line of defence on Election Day. It is at this point the more established parties bring their weight to bear through sharp practice referred to as “Cooperative Society”.

Once the agents of “lesser” parties are compromised, the field is cleared for the dominant one to manipulate the results to favour the paymaster, but not without the active collaboration of unscrupulous presiding electoral officials.

Of course, once you are not captured in the results originated from the polling station, it is needless attending the collation centre thereafter, unless as spectator or “election monitor”.

This is the stark reality at the moment. It probably explains why the variable of personal popularity had always counted for little or less in electoral transactions in the country till date.

Indeed, if national visibility, demonstrable credibility and articulation of a seductive vision are all it requires to win the presidency, immensely popular and articulate Gani Fewehinmi would have easily won in 2003 on the platform of National Conscience Party. Popular journalist, Dele Momodu, similarly put up a brave fight for the presidency in 201, framing Obama-style messages targeting mainly the nation’s millennials.

But at the end, he had bitter tales to share, including being swindled of his cash by some sharks in one of the very parties he associated with.

Given the referenced institutional barrier, one therefore shares the view that it would perhaps have been more prudent if folks like Oby had chosen to fish in little political river with better prospects of victory rather than spreading their scant net too thin in the vast ocean without hope.

For instance, what would have stopped her from scaling down by contesting the chairmanship of Abuja Municipal Authority where her vision of the good society can be pursued with a view to making it an island of success and the progress made easily measurable along the journey.

"If national visibility, demonstrable credibility and articulation of a seductive vision are all it requires to win the presidency, immensely popular and articulate Gani Fewehinmi would have easily won in 2003 on the platform of National Conscience Party. Popular journalist, Dele Momodu, similarly put up a brave fight for the presidency in 2011, framing Obama-style messages targeting mainly the nation’s millennials.

On the other hand, Omoyele Sowore would make a great senator. It is lot surer to put a bet on him for the senate or Reps had he sought to parlay his cult-following among student population by, say, seeking to represent the mainland in Lagos on the platform of debutant African Action Congress with huge campuses at UNILAG, YABATECH and LASPOTECH.

Needless to stress that true visionary doesn’t always have to insist on capturing federal power to cause the progress our society badly needs. The lowly placed counselor who keeps faith with the oath of office is, let it be said, already advancing their community in their own little way. It is when such islands of exception are aggregated that we can then aspire to evolve the archipelago of redemption for the country futuristically.

That miracle is however not likely to happen in one or two election seasons. In fact, the first real test is knowing how to judiciously invest limited political capital to make maximum impact.

Ikeogu, oh no!

Ikeogu Oke was known for performing his poems in his native Ohafia war custom / Photo credit:Ikeogu's Facebook page
Ikeogu Oke was known for performing his poems in his native Ohafia war custom / Photo credit:Ikeogu's Facebook page

There was an echo of frailty in his voice when last we spoke three weeks ago; but nothing had prepared me for the bombshell I received early hours of Sunday from Azu (Ishiekwene). Azu’s text from Houston, the United States whispered the tragedy: Ikeogu Oke passed on moments ago!

He was the laureate of the NLNG Prize for Literature in 2017.

In what turned out our last chat in October, Ikeogu had expressed delight at my column, “Intifada of the old Guard”, summing it a rare rendition in patriotism.

Responding, I wanted him to view it as a mere re-echo of what other truly committed artists like him say or write in defence of society and not tribe, ideals and not deals.

With the nation faced yet again with the dilemma of choice ahead of 2019, Ikeogu promised to join more vigorously in the public debate once he got better from “having had something removed from my body that was not supposed to be there.”

He earlier underwent a surgery for pancreatic cancer.

"Ikeogu was the quintessential artist: truly liberated soul for whom life or talent meant nothing if not devoted to the service of community or the pursuit of truth."

Before going under the knife, he probably had glimpsed death. This is the epitaph he would pen for himself in September: “My Epitaph: Here lies a man who loved virtue and art, And gave to both his fortunes and his heart. Ikeogu Oke (1967 – 2018).”

How prophetic!

Ikeogu was the quintessential artist: truly liberated soul for whom life or talent meant nothing if not devoted to the service of community or the pursuit of truth.

Leveraging his immersion in Igbo rich oral tradition, he brought a new intensity - pulsating in resonance  - to Nigerian poetry. He lent clarity to the expression of human emotions in a way no photography could.

Living out the creed of true artist as moral crusader, Ikeogu had fiercely refused to be recruited into a scheme to defraud at the American University of Nigeria Yola owned by Atiku Abubakar. He was supposed to get a handsome cut from the deal in dollars.

For this, he was persecuted by his superior. Rather than mortgage his conscience, he chose to resign from the job and walked away with the joy of righteousness.

Adieu, the people’s poet.

Written by Louis Odion

Mr. Odion has nearly three decades experience in journalism, from National Concord to ThisDay and SUN newspapers, where he held senior editorial positions. He was Managing Director/Editor in Chief of the daily National Life and also Commissioner for Information in Edo State. He's a serial award winner in punditry and a contributor to Nobel laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka's book, "Green Cards, Green Gods". He is a Fellow of the Nigerian Guild of Editors.

Ikeogu Oke, who won the 2017 NLNG Prize for Literature, died last Saturday at the National Hospital from Pancreatic Cancer

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