By Ugo Ben-Nwauzor
For the first time in Nigeria’s history, it appears democracy has come to stay after 17 years of uninterrupted civil rule. With the defeat of an incumbent president by an opposition candidate, it is also safe to say that it can only get better, as the country gradually deepens its democracy. Therefore, Nigerians who for years shied away from active participation in politics are beginning to have a rethink and many are considering giving shots at elective positions in the next election cycle of 2019.
For these aspiring politicians, they must realize that subtle campaigns in this modern age of electioneering and technology have to start early due to the expense and logistics in running. Politics requires time, money, people and dedication. Candidates who wait too long to enter a race can often jeopardize valuable early support, especially from the ‘political establishment ‘stakeholders’, ‘founding fathers’, ‘elder statesmen’, ‘traditional rulers’, ‘civil societies’, ‘religious rulers’, and the prophet Mbakas. In addition, the earlier you start, the more likely you are going to be able to raise the funds for ‘stomach infrastructure’, ‘empowerment programs’ and ‘mobilization activities’ necessary to win.
The career and experienced politicians understand these facts. Most recently, former governor Sule Lamido became the first to declare his intent to run for the presidency in 2019 under the platform of PDP. While the uninitiated or the naïve may think he is jumping the gun even as President Buhari is yet to settle down in his first four year term, others are already scrambling their “fighter jets”. Whether some of these jets will include the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) or the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT), we can only but speculate at this time. But the fact remains that Lamido knows his onions, especially with the national convention of his party coming up soon in Port Harcourt. His early declaration is quite strategic and a warning to his potential contenders, both in his party and, for the ruling party, APC.
However, making the final decision to run for an office does not mean you have to announce immediately as the former governor of Jigawa has done. It only means you need to get organized. The first steps you take are crucial as potential voters, the media, party establishment, volunteers, and donors will closely watch and judge your initial candidacy.
Therefore, the following is an initial list of steps for any candidate, to take before INEC blows the whistle and they kick-off their campaigns with momentum.
Step 1 Discuss your ambition with your family
The first step is to discuss your potential candidacy with your family. You will need their support to go the long haul as the impact of a political campaign can be financially and emotionally devastating to family life. Once you step your feet into the murky and muddy waters of politics, they are likely to get splashed with some of those muddy waters. Therefore, you must have them prepared and get your skins toughened.
Step 2: You sure can afford to run?
Do you have the time to devote for meetings even at odd hours of the night? While men may appear to have an advantage, as a woman do you?
That said, I strongly advocate that more women should get involved in our politics in order to make it more humane, less aggressive, less threatening and less intimidating.
A friend recently asked “Ben, are you suggesting a good husband should unleash his wife to attend those deadly mid-night, early morning meetings with drunken Nigerian politicians without morals?” Now, if a good wife can unleash the husband, I think a good husband should be able to, as well. However, my question to the woman is, can you stand and be able to call out such drunken male politicians without morals or lack respect for womanhood? Yes you can.
I would also assume that a woman of over 45 years, a single woman, a woman with grown up children may have more time at her disposal for active politics.
Secondly, if you are in business, you must be able to afford the time away from your business financially. If you are an employee will you be granted a leave of absence or not? Will your salary continue or not? If you are a civil servant you may have to determine the most strategic time to resign your appointment and go head on into the political ring.
Step 3: Make a good decision to run & Get a Party’s Membership Card
Here are a few questions to consider: Can you win? Do you have a name recognition? Can you raise enough money? Is this the year? “The vision is for an appointed time”, says the Holy Book. So, is this the appointed time? Is the incumbent vulnerable? Does your constituency or State vote APC or PDP? Is there a large swing vote in the area? Any leadership crisis within the political platforms? What are the political values of those constantly decamping in and out of the party you are eyeing? Finally, get a party’s membership card, if you do not have one already.
Step 4: Host an Exploratory “inner circle” Committee Meeting
You will need to involve the right people who will be working closely with you in making the decision to run. People who will share commitment to the goals of the campaign. So, host a small gathering of friends in your home to pitch the idea of running and what kind of support might be available. You must keep in mind that good attendance does not equate to support.
If they want you to run, they should ask you tough questions, be impressed with your answers and be excited about your possible campaign. Some may not want to hurt your feelings especially if you are a really ‘big man’, therefore assess their body language, look at the shift in their eyes, listen for hesitation and doubt in their voices. Maybe they are struggling to say you should not run. And finally before they leave, ask for a “yes” or “no” answer if you should run and don’t forget to ask if they are willing to make significant commitment to the campaign.
Step 5: Do an evidence-based Survey
Recruit an independent researcher or consultant to do a poll within the constituency you intend to run. The results will give you significant insights on what issues are topical in the minds of the potential voters, the biggest liability for your opponents, your potential negatives, and estimate of number and demographics of registered voters. These, will help you plan your campaign strategy.
Step 6: Please, update your CV
Much of a campaign’s written material includes personal and professional data from the candidate’s background. Therefore, you should update your resume. This will make it easier when it gets to designing commercials, campaign literature materials for the media and other stakeholders. This must be accurate because both traditional and social media and your opponents will certainly comb every detail for inaccuracies and exaggeration. Scrutinize your Wikipedia entries. Don’t just leave the job to your aides else you end up paying dearly. You may want to ask a former Aviation Minister, Stella Oduah about her Wikipedia entry. In addition, don’t forget to do an online audit of any negative stories about you and immediately activate corrective measure well ahead of time. Do not bank on the “fire brigade” approach.
Step 7: Master why you are running
You must define your rationale for seeking the particular office. Does it make sense? Can you make a difference? You must articulate why you want to run and know your reasons for running both on paper and at the back of your mind at all times. Nigerians are angry and tired of promises never fulfilled by politicians. So, you must go beyond the bogus “promised land” if you cannot define its meaning.
Step 8: Find the key team members
The first persons you need to join you on the campaign trail are a visionary strategist, an accountant and a lawyer. They must know or quickly learn the electoral laws and other statutory requirements. They must also be conversant with the constitution, ideologies and manifestoes of your political party platform.
Step 9: Raise seed money
No campaign gets off the ground without the seed money to rent office space, buy office supplies, make posters, travels, entertainments etc. If you are running for a governorship or senatorial ticket you certainly need more money than for a House of Representative or House of Assembly.
Raising funds is actually one best way to “test the waters” on your candidacy. So, do not throw in your personal funds this early otherwise they will “chop” you bankrupt, even before you start. For the first millions of naira, you have to make direct solicitation to friends, former school mates, and business associates. You need them to invest before strangers will. If you cannot create a list of at least 100 people to call for money you should probably bury the idea. You may need to organize an exclusive dinner for these 100 people to intimate them on your intent and seek for their financial support. It will be a disaster to count on money from your political party in the early stages because of the fierce special interests in the primary. Party funds may come when you secure the party’s flag. However, with the ongoing searchlight on how PDP funded its last presidential campaign, you may want to put your eyes beyond free government funds. A big “Sherriff” is watching!
Step 10: Visit successful and failed Candidates and the ‘Stakeholders’ in your Constituency
As a fist timer, learn from winners on how to run a successful campaign and how to be a good candidate. Also get insights from unsuccessful candidates to learn how not to run a failed campaign. This will save you valuable time, money and avoid costly mistakes. Remember to visit other “stakeholders” in your constituency and hopefully they won’t be too demanding.
Step 11: Organize your Kitchen Cabinet
You need to form a sounding board for your ideas and to troubleshoot potential problems. They will make up your brain thrust or ‘soul’ of the campaign. Each must be smart, loyal and can take a “bullet” on your behalf. This group will help keep you grounded, be your ears to the whispers and allow you to discuss options frankly. Schedule regular meetings to update them on your progress.
Step 12: Hire the right Campaign Manager
Every campaign needs a manager. Your duties as a candidate are meeting voters and asking for money. You must remember that potential voters are drawn to candidates that are charismatic and accessible. So devote your time to voters and let the manager handle almost everything else. Your potential manager should be a man or a woman who has lots of energy, able to organize, determined, competent and has experience. Never allow nepotism, tribalism or religion to determine your pick.
Step 13: Write a Campaign Plan like a Business Entrepreneur
A written campaign plan is one of the most neglected aspect of most of our campaigns. With the help of a political consultant develop a plan. This has to include key components of a budget, fund raising plan, organizational chart, media strategy, and implementation timeline. Set goals that are realistic and please do not plan to snatch electoral boxes.
Step 14: Publish and launch an Autobiography
Write an autobiography or get someone paid to do it on your behalf. You must remember that most voters may not know who you really are, so begin with background information that defines who you are as a person. This will establish a lasting and impactful image that helps to convey your qualifications, values and passion.
In simple and concise words tell your story of personal and professional experiences including your birth, family, education, NYSC, previous and present occupation, extracurricular likes, community service activities, civic engagement, charity works, philanthropy, awards and any public service offices you have held. Incorporate old photographs as supporting documentation for your skills and experiences and to fortify the words used to describe you.
Step 15: Make it official and hold a “Declaration of Intent” Party
As the election cycle approaches, it is important to hold a small party to declare your intent. Do something different. Don’t go to the party’s secretariat to declare. Everyone does that. Do something novel. Maybe on a university campus, a great place to recruit young, energetic and non-violent volunteers or at your city’s freedom square or at the gates of your State House of Assembly.
Plus 1: Finally, go for it and don’t forget to prepare both a Victory and a Concession Speech
Once all is done, be determined to stay the course. Your opponents will come out swinging against you, throwing muds, friends and family will be dismayed at some things that will be said about you, the EFFCC may suddenly wake up and start inviting you for a chat, the DSS may come breaking your gate, and the road to victory or failure will be filled with many unforeseen potholes. Victory at the end is sweet, but if you lose, make the best use of your concession speech and shine!
––Ugo Ben-Nwauzor (PhD) is an analyst at AsoGates Strategies, a US & Nigerian Public Affairs Consulting Firm.