Love does not win elections
Take Law degrees from University of Lagos and Harvard. Throw in a decade with a number of multi-nationals in Nigeria and then another 3 years running an NGO. Then add in an analytical mind and a gift for writing very clearly. Stir gently. Then pour the whole mix into Nigerian politics. What you get is Ayisha Osori’s forthcoming book titled, ‘Love Does Not Win Elections’. I’m privileged to have received an advance copy and I’ll go out on a limb and say this is the most important book that will be written in and about Nigeria this year.
What is the point of Nigerian politics? Why does it exist? On the evidence of Ms. Osori’s attempt to gain the PDP ticket to contest the Federal House of Representatives seat for the AMAC/Bwari constituency in Abuja, Nigerian politics is in a serious crisis. The most recent Atlas of Sustainable Development Goals report by the World Bank showed that, from 1990 to 2013, the number of Nigerians living in extreme poverty increased by 35 million. Among the 10 most populous countries in the world, Nigeria was the only one to ‘achieve’ this shameful result. It is painfully clear that Nigerian politics, as currently practiced, is incapable of coming up with solutions to the deep problems afflicting the nation.
Consider one of the points she makes about female representation in Nigerian politics, a subject close to her heart and which should be close to the heart of every Nigerian. Before the elections, President Jonathan and the PDP made a lot of noise about increasing the number of women in elected office. You might expect such a party will then work to get more women through primaries. But the same person who shouted that promise turned around and enforced a policy of making sure all incumbents retained their seats. As she writes “only 8 out of 109 senators were women, so if all the incumbents were guaranteed their seats, how would we get more women elected?” It gets worse. You often hear parties saying they have waived or reduced the nomination form fees for women. In reality, this is a big disadvantage for women because at the local level, they are simply looked at as people who have not contributed anything and are then penalised for it. Because the parties are set up to plunder or share money, increasing the number of women without increasing the amount for sharing is a problem from the point of view of the insiders. And why are important meetings always held at night? This is another inbuilt disadvantage for women.
It is hard to decide on who is more annoying between the politicians or the ‘delegates’. The politicians can’t be trusted, of course. But the delegates are almost universally only interested in the money. On almost every page, she documents how she gave envelopes to one person or the other. At one point, she tells someone that even if she loses the primary (spoiler alert: she lost to the incumbent), the conscience of the delegates ought to prick them. “No! Don’t think that. The person with no work has no conscience,” he replied her with one of the most profound lines in the book. There is so much treachery and disloyalty that I kept reading and waiting for her campaign experiment to come to an abrupt end. It is remarkable that she went as far as she did to come second in the primaries.
Ms. Osori provides a fascinating insight into the role that money plays in Nigerian elections. She documents that from the day she began her campaign to the day of the primary, she managed to raise N9,471,000. Money is important but it provides no guarantees. She probably would have got more votes with more money but ultimately, what she ran up against, is the incredibly short term thinking that is pervasive in Nigerian politics – politicians are willing to betray their voters if they think it will get them over the line. Money cannot do anything for you when you’re faced with this kind of challenge.
If there was one thing I felt a bit let down by in the book, it was the 14 ‘survival tips’ she listed at the end for those considering running for office. To be clear, each one of them is sound advice and will probably deliver a better outcome for anyone who uses them. But each tip is to help you navigate the current system as it is. We must ask a question – why should anyone bother with Nigerian politics as it is? No matter what ideals you enter this system with, the price of ‘succeeding’ in Nigerian politics is that something is damaged irreparably inside you. In the most heart-breaking scene in the book, she describes how she invited delegates over to an Abuja hotel, just before the primary, for another round of begging and envelope sharing. This begging is not real. You can see it in the eyes of the delegates that they are not totally with you. Indeed, even the delegates were ‘begging’ her. “It was getting harder to differentiate the scammers from the scamees and the screwers from the screwed (sic)” she wrote of the macabre dance. What then is the point of engaging with such a system? I don’t pretend to have the answers but on the evidence of this book, simply entering the system with your ‘church mind’ won’t solve any problems.
Democracy can be a force for good. Politics can be a noble path to delivering economic development. Yet Nigeria is currently missing out on these possibilities. It is not difficult to look at Nigerian politics today and conclude that the whole system needs to be torn down and rebuilt. But before doing that, it is necessary to understand the current system and why it continues to fail Nigeria.
Ms. Osori spins a very good yarn. The candour with which she has documented her experience means the book can serve the purpose of shining a light on the deep dysfunction of Nigerian politics.
I commend it to the house.