Change will have to wait till 2023
In early march, during one of my regular visits home, I ran into Adaora Mbelu – Dania – a brand strategist, who I had watched and respected from a distance as one of the more brilliant minds of our generation.
Casual banter evolved into a strategy session and before long we veered into politics, as with most conversations in Nigeria.
During our discussion, she asked if I ever felt like we (Nigerians) weren’t putting our best foot (candidates) forward.
She said she worried that we were just changing candidates for change sake, but never really creating change.
So it appeared hopeful on the surface, but never resulted in real change.
In that moment I realized that while this was a somewhat popular refrain that I agreed with on every level, I recognized my culpability in deflecting responsibility to act to the faceless “we the people”. Never taking ownership or charge for it.
She channeled what the singer, actor, media executive and now political activist – Banky Wellington would later articulate in his TedxLagos talk – “If you really, truly sincerely want your country to be better, fix it yourself.”
I spent the next month trying to figure out what I could do in my own capacity to make an impact on a country so large.
I wrote about what I believed was the best way to achieve transformational change. In the article titled “Want to create transformational change?
Recruit candidates to run”, I discussed the corrupt and undemocratic indirect system; recently echoed by the First Lady Aisha Buhari, by which the political elites like former President Olusegun Obasanjo and APC Chieftain Asiwaju Bola Tinubu hand pick their cronies to run for office and then convince the public to support them.
I talked about the revolving door of power capture and recapture by the same group of people – now evident by the flag bearers of the two major political parties who have jointly run for higher office an astounding 9 times.
Then I charted a path to circumvent that process, asking the everyday citizen to go beyond registering to vote and showing up on Election Day to instead actively participate in getting their candidates to run and securing the nominations of the major parties.
Understanding that it is much more feasible to commandeer the existing political party structure and use it as a vehicle for change than it is to convince disillusioned voters; many of who are already card-carrying members of said existing parties, to abandon their parties for a vision of change.
After I wrote that article, I realized that talking was insufficient, given the dire nature of the problem we confronted and so I decided to figuratively and literally put my money where my mouth was.
Inspired by the “Draft Biden” campaign, which unsuccessfully tried to persuade former US Vice President Joe Biden to run for president in the 2016 US elections, I decided to launch a grassroots campaign to persuade the United Nations Deputy Secretary General – Amina J. Mohammed to run for president of Nigeria in the 2019 elections.
From its inception, the campaign was widely praised as bold, fresh and just what Nigeria needed.
But that quickly turned to the usual despair, with even progressive Nigerians proclaiming, “Nigerians” would never vote for a female candidate, likely projecting their own unconscious reservations about a female candidate to others.
The most common rhetoric however was that no one should be persuaded to run for president.
Naively assuming that most people who run do so entirely on their own volition, as opposed to the reality that they are pushed and prodded by special interests.
Over the past weeks, as the primary season drew to a close, I began receiving inquiries about what we planned to do with the “Run Amina, Run” campaign.
Some asking if we would consider backing the candidacy of former World Bank Vice President for Africa – Oby Ezekwesili, who entered the race at the last minute.
The ‘Run Amina, Run’ campaign did impressively well for a ragtag operation on a shoestring budget, but fell embarrassingly short of the 100,000 signatures we believed would compel the DSG to seriously consider running, while simultaneously pressuring the major opposition parties to adopt her as the people’s choice.
After months of silence, she acknowledged the existence of the campaign, responding to questions in a private forum with young Nigerians.
She praised its use of independently sourced images, words and text as “genius”, adding that while she was flattered by the effort and impressed by the ingenuity, she wasn’t going to run because “there are other ways to serve.”
While this was deeply disappointing, it wasn’t surprising, because the campaign was never really about just getting the DSG or a qualified female candidate to run; historic as it would have been.
It was about highlighting the tremendous power we have in participatory democracy to change the poor governance we experience.
It was about understanding that the drive to register voters; noble as it is, isn’t going to fix the problem if we do nothing to upend the existing 2-party structure.
So while these elections will almost certainly yield another recycled septuagenarian president, we suspend the campaign with the comfort that we have awakened the consciousness of the polity to the fact that fixing our country will require a lot more than getting our PVCs.
We must pry our democracy from the cold crinkly claws of the political cabals.