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Binary politics

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My sympathies lie away from either of the APC or the PDP. I am tired of this binary, but forced to choose one of the two for the 2019 cycle however, I would choose the challenger. My personal voting pattern since 2003 has always been against the incumbent. In 2003, I voted against Obasanjo (voted for Gani). I was not in Nigeria in 2007. In 2011, I voted against Jonathan (voted for Ribadu), and in 2015, I voted against Jonathan (voted for Buhari). It is my principle that you cannot be on seat for years in Aso Rock, fail to deliver on the promises you made, and expect another term. I make no apology for that, and I hope to never change it.

Let’s consider the history of American presidential debates briefly (since we copy them). In 1858, Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas borrowed the British tradition, and debated when competing for the Senate. However, when both men ran for POTUS two years later, they did not debate. It was not until almost a century later that Wendell Willkie challenged Franklin Roosevelt to a debate. FDR, who was incumbent at the time, realised that a debate would do him harm, and declined. With the increasing popularity of television, VP, Richard Nixon agreed to debate challenger, John Kennedy in 1960. Kennedy crushed Nixon. Since then, debates have become an American staple, although not mandatory, the candidates understand that given the access television guarantees, it would be suicidal not to attend a debate.

Last Saturday, there was a major furor about the presidential debate, the sitting President Buhari did not even bother to turn up at the venue, and then his main contender, Atiku Abubakar, who was already present, declined to step on the podium. This led to a major backlash online, as many seemingly undecided voters ripped into Atiku especially. I also feel that Atiku threw away a chance to explain himself directly to the Nigerian people, but let us ask a real question here, which Nigerian people?

As per the World Bank in 2010, the last available figures, only 40% of Nigerian households have access to television (in America it’s almost 100%). This doesn’t take into account our frankly, abysmal power situation, but you begin to see the potential limits of a televised debate.

To be clear, while I do not agree with them, I admit that Atiku’s advisers made the right strategic decision as there was no upside to him debating people who frankly would not make a dent in the general elections. The numbers from 2015 bear them out. In 2015, Buhari had 15.4 million votes. Jonathan had 12.9 million. All the other candidates combined had just fewer than 310 thousand votes. The number of invalid votes was 845 thousand.

We have built a binary electoral system, and participating in the debate would have simply made Atiku a lightning rod for attacks from the other candidates, who based on 2015’s numbers, would not get up to 1% of the vote. That would likely have taken something off of his momentum. Politically it made no sense to stay if Buhari was not there. We may not like it, but it’s the harsh reality.

One of the things I enjoy about my job is the travel opportunity that complements it. Asides Taraba, I have been to every state in this country. A project we just completed meant I should have gone to Taraba, but in the end, the decision was made to send someone else to supervise the survey. We are currently working on a project to make sense of Nigeria’s internal migration, a travel intensive project. The first draft of this piece was written in a hotel room in Kano on the morning of January 20. As of that moment, in 2019, I’d been in the following states – Abuja, Akwa Ibom, Anambra, Delta, Edo, Imo, Katsina, Kano, Niger, Ogun, Ondo, Rivers, Sokoto and Zamfara.

In all of these states, I spoke with people who are resident. Maybe I did not move around enough in each of these states, but it is only in Abuja and Lagos that I saw Kingsley Moghalu posters. It is only in Lagos that I have seen Sowore posters, although I expect that they’ll be many in Ondo, besides Okitipupa, Ore and Owo which I visited. I have seen none for either Oby Ezekwesili or Fela Durotoye. Maybe I’m not looking hard enough, but I’m willing to bet three months’ pay that the majority of Nigerians have not heard of the other candidates. Not one of the people I spoke to in either Akwa Ibom or Sokoto had heard of anyone outside of Atiku and Buhari. And that’s a huge problem there.

I’m sick and tired of the APC/PDP binary, but how do we break it if other candidates don’t have a footprint outside of the noise spots of Lagos and Abuja?


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