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Want to create transformational change? Recruit candidates to run

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A few weeks ago, I woke up to messages from a few friends urging me to apply for a high profile job at a music streaming company, which they thought held the keys to transforming the burgeoning African music landscape. While I was flattered to be considered, I told them I was happy in my current role. But they insisted I do it “for the culture”. That this was simply too important a role, at too important a time, to let fall into the hands of just anybody. I wondered why people unaffiliated with this company were heavily recruiting for it.

Then I realised, that beyond the access and influence they stood to gain by having their associate in that position, they were getting involved because they recognised that something they felt very passionately about and were invested in, was simply too critical to leave to the whims of chance or other industry brokers. The Nigerian electoral process works the same way.

The political elites, like the ruling All Progressives Congress National Leader, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, and former President Olusegun Obasanjo, convince their cronies to seek elected office, map out a path to victory, and then marshal the voters and resources to get them elected. This explains why administrations change, but circumstances of the working class and poor don’t. If we are going to move beyond the cycle of power capture and recapture simply for the trappings of the office, influence and personal enrichment, into building and sustaining a good society, we must go beyond simply registering and showing up to vote on election day, to actively participating in the sourcing, engagement and nurturing of candidates for elected office.

In recent months, there has been a concerted effort to get Nigerians to get their permanent voters cards (PVC) — the document that allows eligible citizens exercise their franchise. Several high profile celebrities like recording artist and executive Banky W, presidential candidate Fela Durotoye and most recently Redeemed Christian Church of God General Overseer — Pastor Enoch Adeboye, have championed the voter’s registration drive. With the respected cleric going as far as suggesting that not registering to vote constitutes a sin against God.

Their contention is that registering to vote is the most important part of the electoral process. While we can all agree that registering and voting in elections is one of most solemn responsibilities of a citizen, it doesn’t go nearly far enough. In reality, the singular focus on registration only serves the interest of the established opposition, while doing nothing to challenge the underlying power structures that impede transformational change. It erroneously assumes that the best candidates voluntarily apply for the job and outsources the electoral process to unelected party operatives, often leaving the electorate with a choice between the lesser of two evils.

Anybody who has ever recruited talent for a high-level executive position like Chief Executive Officer or President of a company, knows the best talent are most likely not on the job market looking for jobs. They are in highly fulfilled jobs at other companies, effecting transformational change. You have to court, convince, incentivize and poach them. After assessing the pool of declared and rumoured candidates for president in the 2019 elections; which amongst its other flaws does not include any women, I surmised that the best candidates were not even in the race.

I set out to try to remedy this troubling situation by starting a grassroots petition calling on the Deputy Secretary General of the United Nations, Amina J Mohammed, who had previously served as Nigeria’s Minister of the Environment, to run for president. Predictably, I was inundated with people who despite lauding her accomplishments and fit for office, had trepidations about coercing someone who had not declared an interest in the job. My response was – NOBODY runs for president or any high level job entirely on their own volition. They are almost always persuaded by someone else.

Even a narcissist like Donald Trump was initially drafted to run for president by Mike Dunbar, a New Hampshire-based carpenter and grassroots politician. When they land the role, they inevitably prioritize the interests of those who nominated them, sometimes over those who elected them. So the question is, are we going to do the sourcing to ensure that they serve us? Or, are we going to naively imagine that those who have declared their intent to seek the highest office are doing so purely out of their altruistic desire to serve the public?

Politicians and political strategists often chide the electorate to stay engaged throughout the political process for leaders to be effective. Well, I submit to you that the process doesn’t start after Asiwaju and Baba have handpicked their cronies. It starts with the citizens; who occupy the highest office in the land, recruiting the candidates we want to run for office. Getting your PVC is a great first step, but you cannot abdicate your responsibility to find the best and brightest candidates to a few political elites and the nomination to party insiders and then hope to make transformational change at the ballot box. We must get in at the recruitment phase; otherwise, in the words of Mr. Durotoye , ‘it’s just a selectocracy.’


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