It is becoming evident by the day that the February 25, 2023, elections will be decided by factors other than party affiliation. Psychological attachment of voters to parties may have some influence on the run of victory, but will do little to help its cause. The strength of victory will be decided by a contestant’s convincing power, his performance rating, diligence and the subtle manner in which he handles the people’s emotions in this trying time. More than that, the performance of each candidate will be a factor of perception and of grace that transcends mundane efforts.
Yes, it will be a tough election, and it is already bearing signs of disruptive change that may leave the self-assured vacuumed of confidence and grossly diffident.
Almost as a rule, party affiliation has been a major influence on the outcome of elections, often trumping most if not all the other factors that commend the process. Perhaps that explains why some of the candidates in the coming elections who cannot point with justice to any verifiable achievement to their names and who, without any important qualification for the office they seek except being candidates of parties with “structures”, are deluded into believing they will win.
But before the delusion is cleared, it may be important to observe a sea change of attitude – a profound transformation going on among Nigerian voters that indicates that this election may not be business as usual. The frustration and hunger in the land are too compelling for a Nigerian voter to rethink the value party, tribe, religion and all have added to improve his living condition. He is not just aware of their oppressive influence, but ready to spurn companionship with them in this election and vote his conscience. Winners in the election will be decided not at the instance of wheeler dealers, but on the strength of popular votes. There may be a scheme or two already in the offing to compromise the fidelity of the process, but the level of consciousness currently in focus will ensure that subversion has no chance of a foothold.
The compulsive pull to take Nigeria back from the decided decline is so deep that it cannot be negotiated away either by loyalty to party or lust for lucre. No party in the election however its primacy of existence or spread will win the election if it is seen as an accomplice in the oppressive system that has kept the people down. And none which does not pay heed to the plight of Nigerians or has as yet to convince them on its seriousness in tackling the heightened insecurity, ethnic/sect agitations, debt overhang, nepotism etc, which are threatening to sunder the country, will come out of the election, wearing a smirk. There will be no smirk in triumph for such party.
Nigerians, especially the youths, are angry and loath to identify with a party for the simple reason that it has long been in existence or because it has spread. Such thinking exists in the past and the election will be won and lost on individual capacity and not party. The current high cost of fuel and the provocative cash squeeze may have stretched the patience of Nigerians like a taut muscle without a whimper. It may have ignited no known demonstration or violence except reports of customers running berserk and charging at everyone at filling stations and going naked in banking halls. However, compared to what violence that will erupt if there be manipulation of the election results, the EndSars experience will be a child’s play.
Any party claiming to have more structures than the others and hopes to exploit it to criminal advantage may be shocked at the turn of events. Nigerians have come to realize that individuals not parties are the real instruments of change just as they know that a good number of these change agents do not always make it at the primaries of the parties with “structure”. The level of criminal manipulations at party selection often leaves the good aspirant scurrying out of the party of choice. The corrosive influence of money tends to stifle out the good, but impecunious aspirant, out of the parties. But that is as far as the disadvantage goes because winning an election proper is more the effort of an individual rather than party’s.
In 2011, Dr Chris Ngige of the less-fancied Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) contested and beat the late Professor Dora Akunyili of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) in the Anambra Central Senatorial election. As at the time of the contest APGA was not just the party to beat but was the party in government in Anambra State as well. But Ngige won not on the basis of his party, but through personal recognition. In 2015, President Goodluck Jonathan lost re-election on the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) – the party in government – to current President Buhari of the All Progressives Congress (APC). Buhari won not on account of his party, but on assumed belief he was an agent of positive change.
Any party that takes for granted that it has structure or is too popular to field anyhow candidate will be rewarded accordingly. It does not matter how entrenched it has been or how popular it is presumed to be. No party in a country like Nigeria with a surfeit of brilliant men and women that decides to field a candidate with near dysarthric and incontinent condition has a chance of winning, its structures regardless. And none that chooses to disregard fairness in adopting its candidate and pretends indifference to the outcry should expect good result. Except the election is compromised, individuals have greater chance of making impact in this election than parties. Victory in the election will be less party-driven and more personality-inspired. Individuals with proven record of performance have greater chance of being elected than parties with structures. Candidates will be isolated and rewarded each according to their work.