In more than two decades since Nigeria’s return to constitutional democracy, this is the longest campaign politicians have run before a general election. And that’s a good and a bad thing.
It’s good because it gives politicians a longer runway to meet more citizens and also gives citizens more time to involve them in what they plan to do if elected. But as various politicians, especially those of the Nigerian variety, will tell you, it’s also a bad thing because it will make them spend more and leave them almost exhausted at the finish line.
But that is not all. When it comes to electoral politics, there is no guarantee that more time spent campaigning will equal promises kept in the end. I have said before that the only promises that politicians make are those that they often do not intend to keep.
But Tim Marshall said it even more eloquently in his book, Divided: Why We Live in an Age of Walls. “In politics,” he said, “the present is often more important than the future, especially when you want to get elected.”
Put bluntly, campaign promises are made to be broken, with hardly any pieces left for voters the next morning. Ask the British what happened the morning after Brexit. Yet in our love of rituals, we hardly remember that campaign promises and manifestos are produced and packaged in glitter and translated into poetry.
Since Nigeria’s general election campaigns officially began in September, we have seen candidates from all 18 political parties flitting across the country, holding rallies, attending town halls and debates, and meeting with different groups and communities.
Three of the presidential standard-bearers – All Progressives Congress (APC) candidates Bola Ahmed Tinubu; Labor Party, Peter Obi; and the New Nigerian Peoples Party (NNPP), Rabiu Kwankwaso, have even gone beyond Nigeria, taking their campaigns to Britain’s Chatham House, a private political think tank.
Virtually every candidate competing at the national, state or local level has vowed to turn our night into day and reclaim paradise lost.
Well, if you’ve been living in Nigeria or have known about it for the last eight years at least, this is what the promises look like: to tame the banditry and widespread kidnappings that have made the main roads and highways in some parts of the country unsafe, with railway lines as new targets; curb inflation that currently exceeds 20 percent and unemployment at more than 30 percent; reverse the new wave of “japa” that drains the country of some of its best professionals and young people; address systemic corruption; and fix a political system that serves fewer and fewer people.
It’s a full basket. But all the politicians on the campaign trail insist that they have the magic wand. Does anyone really take them seriously? Do campaigns, manifestos and electoral promises affect the electoral results? A response from a young audience member at a recent public conference on campaign monitoring organized in Abuja by an online platform, NPO Reports, got me thinking.
Campaign manifestos are sophisticated electoral tools, but in the end they are irrelevant to election results. The young man did not use these exact words, but gave a parable from the odyssey of former Governor Kayode Fayemi’s first term of Ekiti State to illustrate his point.
Even though Fayemi kept the faith and significantly followed through on his election promises, he lost to Ayo Fayose, who ran against him when he ran for a second consecutive term. Fayemi was accused of “speaking grammar” and dispensing “big, big English,” compared to Fayose, whose “stomach infrastructure” she prioritized, a euphemism for distributive politics, and hanging out for roadside roast plantains.
In the end, it didn’t seem to matter what Fayemi’s election manifesto was or how far he actually went to keep him in his first term as governor. What mattered, it seemed, was that a perverse side of the lawsuit (widely exploited by security agents working hand-in-hand with vested interests) had given in to the psychology of voter exploitation.
It’s not a peculiarly Nigerian thing. Whether it’s Donald Trump, Boris Johnson, or Jair Bolsonaro, we’ve seen political demagogues get elected on what appear to be the most absurd election promises, only to have voters bite their nails later.
But we have also seen those with good intentions fail when the tire of political campaigns meets the path of governance. Ghana’s President Nana Akufo-Addo, for example, made big promises ahead of the election, including creating a “Ghana Beyond Aid.” He was the poster boy, not just for Ghanaian politics, but for a continent that seemed devoid of role models.
But as a result of a combination of COVID-19 and the aftershocks, including wild swings in commodity prices, Akufo-Addo is hanging by the skin of its teeth today, with the same voters who praised it to the skies now. poured into the streets to demand his crucifixion. He is making Ghana worse for foreign aid and loans!
However, that is not a reason not to track campaigns and manifests. Since the MIT Media Lab developed Promise Tracker in 2014, there has been increasing use of tools to track politicians in many parts of the world. The evolution of these applications, hardly capable of taming the antics of politicians or even the complicity of voters, which I am sure have been around even since ancient Greece, has also aroused interest as to whether campaign documents should be justiciable or not. .
That is, if he is an APC candidate, Tinubu says he will rebuild our national security infrastructure, create jobs for the youth and make Nigeria an exporting country; DPP standard-bearer Atiku Abubakar promises quality education, restructuring and prosperity; and LP candidate Obi promises an industrial revolution and seven security issue areas; Shouldn’t we be able to sue them if any of them don’t keep his promises?
And why, in any case, are we so obsessed with presidential candidates that we easily forget that candidates at the state and local council level should be on the radar?
Asking politicians to legislate campaign manifestos is like proposing that the goat be prosecuted for the yam in its care. It’s never going to work. However, the good news is that, as a result of improved demand for service delivery by citizens and other stakeholders, some state governments are making conscious efforts to create self-monitoring mechanisms, including monitoring and evaluation.
It’s good to blame politicians for breaking campaign promises and I think we should keep hitting them over the head until they learn that it’s not just campaign rituals and campaign poetry that we care about.
But if politicians are ever going to take their promises seriously, then voters will have to do better on the demand side. Voters can’t accept getting paid during campaigns and then turn to complain that politicians don’t keep their promises after they’ve been elected. The reward is the promise kept.
And it’s not just about money. Perhaps if voters focus less on the drama and aso-ebi of the campaigns and spend a little more time reflecting on the “why” and especially the “how” of the promises made, much can be avoided. post-election misery.
How many times have we heard politicians promise to deliver the moon on a stick only to say after the election that they never actually knew the predecessor made such a mess? And that excuse becomes the trope for a few more years before the incompetence manifests itself for what it really is!
As well-intentioned as promises may be, extenuating circumstances like COVID-19 can override even the best of intentions. However, even in such circumstances, there is always bandwidth for a change. And we have seen, even from the examples of COVID-19, that the choice of leaders by voters was not only vital to the recovery, but could also be insurance against calamity.