‘Love does not win elections’
Ayisha Osori first came to your attention at the gathering of journalists, politicians and the literati that was convened recently in Lagos to celebrate the sixtieth birthday of Kunle Ajibade. Her appearance on the podium, the unaffected almost ingenuous manner of her presentation, and the fact that most people in the gathering had not heard her name until that morning marked her out for curious scrutiny. So did the rather intriguing title of the book that had launched her to prominence on the dais, where she could sit and say her piece alongside Wole Soyinka, Femi Falana, and Segun Osoba.
Ayisha is a lawyer, a writer of children’s text books, and a newspaper columnist. She is also a woman who has dipped her toe in the hot, male-dominated waters of Nigerian electoral politics, and lived to tell the tale. That tale provided the grist for the writing of ‘Love Does Not Win Elections’.
On the day of the Ajibade event, the book was available for purchase in the foyer, and you picked up one.
The author, an Eisenhower Fellow, graduated from University of Lagos and Harvard Law School. She has a Masters in Public Administration from the Harvard Kennedy School. She hailed originally from Kogi State, but has made her working life in Abuja.
In her book, she feels compelled to tell the world the story of politics and elections in Nigeria. Reading the book, you get the sense that the author believes that the picture she has to paint is so different from what everyone seems to think is really happening that she has to get it out from its shroud of mystery. Every patriot has the hope that someday, even if that day is not now, clean, wholesome, un-compromised leaders would arise to take their country Nigeria to the promised land. The thrust of the author’s story seems to be that the system through which everyone must pass in order to occupy political office, whether as president or governor or legislator, is so fraught and so fraudulent that nobody can come out if smelling of roses. It is a harsh and rather alarming message, but it is detailed in the flesh and blood experience of an intelligent, ambitious and socially concerned lady who has been through the needle’s eye.
The title of the book, in a way, is a give-away. ‘Love Does Not Win Elections’.
Ayisha’s story starts in 2014, as the two major political parties begin to gear up for the general elections of 2015. Ayisha is caught up in the passion to make a change, starting at her local level. She wants to run for the office of Member of the House of Representatives representing her Abuja Constituency, which includes the Abuja Municipality Council Area and Bwari.
When she announces her intention, a few of her friends and family are understandably aghast, but most are supportive.
She looks into the structure and content of the two major political parties in the field, concludes that there is not much of a difference, and decides to plunk for the PDP – which is the incumbent party of the day in the federal government, and in Abuja.
She is irked by the fact that Nigeria is far below the internationally recommended target of 35% female representation in the legislature. She is also irked by the fact that female representation has tended to smack of tokenism, with no distinct impact being expected of, or achieved by, having women in the room. As example, she notes that after the abduction of the Chibok girls, there was no uniform gender-based position taken by the thirty-two female legislators. Rather their reactions, lukewarm at best, were split along party lines.
She has been warned by several people that, for the woman, running for political office is getting into a land populated with landmines and prejudice. Setting out, she prepares a list of ‘will not do’ items. She will not trade sex for access. She will not eat her words. She will not write obsequious articles in the newspapers about the First Lady of Nigeria, and she will not wear aso-ebi with anybody’s image on it.
Ayisha proceeds over the next few months of her life to learn the basic wisdoms undergirding parties and the electoral system in Nigeria.
She loses the election ‘by a landslide’, despite assurances up till the last moment that her opponent, the incumbent and winner, is widely reviled and certain to be rejected.
At the grassroots, registration for the party is not really encouraged for everybody. You are apt to be asked ‘Who sent you?’, if you walk in from the street and ask to register. There are whole generations of ‘grassroots leaders’ who control the party structure, and pass it from hand to hand for their chosen folk, usually their children.
The system of ‘delegates’ is a gravy train, and a major cost centre. Everytime you see a ‘delegate’ anywhere, including passing you on the street, you have to give him money.
There are other nuggets of wisdom.
‘Everyone can help you win, but it will cost you.’
‘Choose your campaign manager …carefully…If the person thinks it’s okay for the party chairman to fill in the ballot for the delegates who cannot write, this is not a good sign.’
‘Do not assess your chances based on how much people claim your opponents are disliked…’
‘Mint bank notes are a must: the newer the notes, the greater the perception of your influence in the world.’
‘Money is a lubricant. It eases open the doors of influencers and party leaders.’
Ayisha’s final sentence in the book carries a worrying note of rationalization.
‘An idealistic focus on the corrupting nature of money in politics risks forgetting that contesting elections has real and legitimate costs’.
True. But most of the money Ayisha spent on her election – some ten million naira or more – a very modest budget by the standards of her fellows – was not spent on those ‘real and legitimate costs’.
In the end, Ayisha’s story says it all.True change needs to start with the process of cleaning up the structure of political parties in Nigeria from the ground up, as only then can good people – ‘outsiders’ in the current scheme of things, begin to see a place for themselves in the Party Politics.
‘Love Does Not Win Elections’ is published by Narrative Landscape Press Limited
Last week Friday on this page, we erroneously published a picture of Dapo Olorunyomi as that of Kunle Ajibade, who was the subject of the piece. We apologise for any inconvenience caused.
Big Read |