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To the Church in Nigeria
2023 Election: Prophets, Pollsters and Endorsers
GUEST COLUMNIS BY JOHN AYOADE
The year 2023 will be an interesting year of hopes, hopes raised, and hopes dashed. It will also feature punters, guessers, guesstimators, prophets, pundits, pollsters and endorsers. It is a good game to predict the result of an election before the votes are cast. Diverse procedures and methods with varying accuracy can be used to achieve the same goal of telling the future. It ranges from clairvoyance to spirituality to educated and/or uneducated guesswork to mere baseless bold pontification to and unscientific polling and observation. As one can observe, most of these are unprovable and unverifiable because they are not evidence-based. In the case of prophesies, they are transcendental open only to the initiated. It sounds attractive but available to only a few. However, the attractiveness tempts many to acquire long garments, develop long beards and self-proclaim as prophets. The paradox is that there is no known curriculum for the formation and training of prophets. It therefore defies a known certification process. It also results in the possibility of contradictory and multiple prophesies on the same issue where the result should invariably be finite and only one. If prophecies are indeed divine, there can only be one prophecy on one and the same problem because God who is omniscient is incapable of guessing. The existence of two or more prophesies on the same problem therefore falsifies the prophecies and they cannot issue from God. Since every prophet claims divine revelation from a single common source, prophecies on the same problem must indeed be synoptic as a synoptic prophecies cannot issue from the same source. For prophecies, there are no sub-divinities or substitute divinities. Omoyele Sowore hypothesized an individualized prophecy by saying that every candidate is a potential winner just as every supporter of a candidate has a prophecy of the winner.
Incidentally, the fact that someone says something that eventually happens does not make him a prophet. Prophetic words can also come from the mouths of false prophets. Causation must not be confused with coincidence or accident. When a few ‘prophecies’ come true out of many, they fall more into the category of chance and happenstance than prophecy. For the faithful, prophecies cannot fail because they are of divine origin. God is always on target for he never fails and can therefore not be subjected to a pass or cut-off mark. Be that as it may, what has prophecy got to do with who wins the Presidency in 2023? Surely Nigerian Prophets are Nigerian citizens but involvement in predicting who wins is a form of political participation and politicking. At that point, the citizen in the ‘prophet’ takes over from the spirit. The failure of prophecies is proof positive that the ‘prophet’ is not at one with God. The gift of prophecy is not a requirement for the performance of normal sacerdotal functions. In the language of youths, it is over-syllabus. Faking prophecy is therefore a disqualification just as faking University degrees University degrees by politicians when only School Certificate is required. So, to congregations, caveat emptor. Fake prophecies will split congregations which are normally multi-party. Predicting victory for one party amounts to political marketing which is an abuse of the pulpit which puts the sacred to the service of the secular. It also tarnishes the image of the Church and renders it ineffectual in its primary purpose of the salvation of the soul because of the personal ambition of the pastor for celebrity status.
So much for the prophets of our time. The next group are the pollsters. Unlike the prophecy, polling a scientific and serious business based on rigorous field survey, anchored on appropriate sampling method and statistical analysis. It can also be abused although statistics does not lie, it can be used to lie. Possible errors may occur at the different stages of deciding the universe, the sample size and scope as well as the analysis. It is both laborious and expensive. To short-circuit the stages is to falsify the result. The devil is in the compliance with survey protocols particularly when it is politicized or sexed to yield a desired outcome. There can be errors of cognition or deliberate falsification. In feverish politically charged environments like now, politicians may be tempted to pay consultants to deliver a favourable poll. This is more likely to happen when a consultant does not care about his professional reputation, or where there is no enforceable code of conduct, or worse still, where the consultant is a political stakeholder. We have, in recent times, been treated to some electoral polls indicating that one or the other candidate is ahead of the others. The professional finds it difficult to reference these polls because the pollsters failed to disclose the survey methodology. It is the full disclosure of the protocol that will enable anybody to determine the credibility of the outcome. Unless that is done, the result becomes a ‘prophecy’ by other means. It may as well be the expression of the political wish of the pollster. A critical look at some of the poll results so far suggest that they may not meet the professional standards particularly because there is no disclosure of the professional rubrics of procedure. Secondly, the different polls have offered the presidential election to different candidates with different margins. Granted that this is a possibility, we cannot still not be too sure that the outcome is not sexed by the pollsters. They therefore appear suspect and probably a creative work of art.
The above will lead us to speculate about the intention. It may be the pardonable work of an amateur or the intentional product of either a political stakeholder or a paid agent. Even worse still, it may be the weaponization of the poll for election purposes. It easily becomes a covert campaign technique. The poll result may persuade the unsuspecting floating or fickle-minded voters to shift their political preferences. It therefore succeeds as a subtle or camouflaged campaign gimmick for the less politically savvy. A fake poll must therefore be seen for what it is.
The clearest and overt candidate campaign recommendation is the political endorsement technique by social and/or political notables who stake their socio-political visibility by naming a preferred candidate. It is a potent form of political communication which however requires some skill and expertise. There are direct and indirect endorsements as currently demonstrated in the 2023 Nigerian presidential race. An endorsement is anchored on the positive reputation of the endorser on the one hand and on the positive credentials of the candidate which deserve to be highlighted and popularised. The endorser cannot build endorsement on a bad record or, as the saying goes, build something on nothing. The candidate must deserve the endorsements by his previous record. The direct endorsement is the unequivocal recommendation of a particular candidate. Examples are the endorsements of Peter Obi by Chief Ayo Adebanjo and a former President of Nigeria, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo in separate pronouncements. Both of them are highly credentialed political notables. Chief Ayo Adebanjo is a prominent political figure of the First Republic of the Awolowo stable. He has remained politically active ever since and was the Acting Chairman of Afenifere during the furlough of Chief Fasoranti. It was in that capacity that he endorsed Peter Obi as the Presidential candidate. The endorsement was later contested and denounced by the Afenifere for two reasons. First, it was not based on any consultation with key people in the Afenifere structure. Second, it violated an unresolved sore issue in Afenifere modus operandi. A section of the Afenifere had argued that the organization should not identify head over heel with a political party but should remain an umbrella organization for Yoruba of all political persuasions. Chief Adebanjo’s endorsement therefore violated both principles. The endorsement is almost void and of no effect for two reasons. First, it has been over-ruled by the hierarchy of the Afenifere. Second, Chief Adebanjo at a very advanced age is not in a position to give effect to his endorsement which runs against the Yoruba grain of political persuasion. In fact it is surprising that Chief Adebanjo who was a very close associate of Chief Awolowo would so easily forget the travails of the Action Group in the First and Second Republics. It is most likely that the endorsement will come to naught among the older generation of the electorate while the effect is indeterminable but dicey among the youths who have more presence on the social rather than the political landscape. The youths tend to have more voice than action and more heat than fire in the political arena.
The respected vocal senior political figure, Chief Edwin Clark in the same age bracket with Chief Adebanjo also endorsed Peter Obi. His support was probably based on the shaky ‘oral understanding’ of the political parties that it is the turn of the South-East to present the presidential candidate. For him, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) fielding of Atiku Abubakar, the All Progressives Congress (APC) fielding of Bola Ahmed Tinubu and even the New Nigerian Peoples Party (NNPP) fielding Rabiu Kwankwaso violated the gentlemen’s political agreement on the rotation of the presidency. Unfortunately, it is a non-justiciable agreement whose strength lies more in empathy than in political right. Since rotational presidency is not enshrined in the Constitution, it lacks the force of law. The National Party of Nigeria (NPN) in the Second Republic used it to score political point but never implemented it. Now that all the political parties have tacitly and feebly agreed to rotate the Presidency, the situation has become very complicated. In fact, depending on the political strategies adopted by the parties, the Presidency may not be rotated because the zonal choice of one party may be neutralized by another. Chief Clark deserves to be heard but not necessarily obeyed. He played a very significant role during the Jonathan Presidency but his political catchment area has since shrunk significantly. Even in the South-South geopolitical zone, Peter Obi may be a hard-sell particularly because he is a stranger to the Labour Party which he joined very recently and within weeks secured the candidacy of the party for the highest political office in the country. Secondly, Peter Obi’s class and disposition, to all intent and purposes, negate the advertised philosophy of the Labour and may become critical if and when Peter Obi wins the election. It will be an irksome paradigm and highly incompatible for a member of the propertied class to lead the proletariat.
The last direct and most popularized endorsement of Peter Obi that we shall examine comes from Chief Olusegun Obasanjo. Chief Obasanjo is a former military Head of State and a President of Nigeria. He is highly credentialed as both a military dictator and a ‘convert’ to democracy. He is very vocal and politically emphatic and ponderous in whatever he believes. He had successfully got two endorsed candidates from his party, the Peoples Democratic Party, elected as President and also successfully endorsed Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress for the Presidency before. He is a veteran endorser and remains so even after self-retiring from active partisan politics. He has a tendency to suffer from his past success. Chief Obasanjo is a long distance political actor often to the point of giving strange support to strange candidates. This time around, he forgot that it is power that makes anybody powerful. It is the masquerade’s attire that transforms an ordinary mortal into a ‘native of heaven’. On this occasion, he presented a technically correct format for endorsement by adopting the political-rationale-proof (PRP) strategy. He made a strong and detailed case for his endorsement. He based his oracular endorsement of Peter Obi, on character, antecedent, knowledge, discipline and vitality. Of course, these are general expletives which he did not bother to prove or even explain. He however employed a metaphor which amounts to a Freudian accident that betrays his intention. He argued that Peter Obi, his ‘mentee’, is like a ‘needle with a thread’ meaning that he has ‘people who can pull his ears’. Unfortunately, he had thought that that Yar’Adua and Jonathan were also needles with threads yet they got ‘lost’. Peter Obi can get similarly lost if he remembers, and he will, that he was impeached as Governor of Anambra during Obasanjo’s Presidency in 2006 for, among other things, refusal to inflate the budget of the State. He was impeached in 2006 for the same reason that he is being endorsed in 2023. On the third anniversary of the Buhari Presidency, Garba Shehu, the Senior Special Assistant to President Muhammadu Buhari listed Peter Obi as one of the people who suffered injustice while in office as Governor. Obasanjo could not help him then because of well-known adventitious personal and political alignments. Obasanjo possibly sees 2023 (seventeen years after) as an opportunity to make amends. It will appear difficult to separate Chief Obasanjo from the love of the Presidency even when all his previous ‘mentees’ have ended disastrously. One was rail-roaded to the presidency in ill-health. Another was rail-roaded out of office as clueless while yet another is alleged to have admitted that he badly needs a rest after what many people adjudge to be a disappointing performance.
We argued earlier that in order to fully understand political endorsement generally, it is necessary to understand the endorser and the endorsee. What attracts the ‘endorsee’ to the ‘endorser’? Is it altruism, patriotism or egoism? Peter Obi was a balanced budget administrator or as his critics see him, a miserly bureaucrat. He reconstructed the burnt Governor’s lodge in Awka with N81 million instead of the N486 million that was appropriated. He was anti-pork barrel and that possibly pitched him against the Anambra big boys who had overpowered Chris Ngige. This is possibly what attracted him to Chief Obasanjo now but not then. Secondly, Peter Obi also offers Obasanjo an opportunity, or maybe an excuse, for public relevance and to remain his controversial self. He is also probably driven by the unfinished assignment with his former Vice, Atiku Abubakar, and Bola Ahmed Tinubu. Like Charles De Gaulle, Obasanjo has a long memory and like Nicholo Machiavelli, he utilizes every opportunity to settle a political score. He longs to be a godfather but every inch of his body language suggests that he can be eternally overbearing. This leads us to raise the question whether Chief Obasanjo qualifies to endorse anybody at all. The Yoruba aphorism that a prospective beneficiary should first take a critical look at anyone who offers the gift of a dress. Chief Obasanjo in his endorsement said none of the Presidential candidates is a saint. He failed to mention that he himself is not one. The Nigerian electorate has a large heart always allowing sleeping dogs to lie. Those who cared to comment on Obasanjo’s endorsement reeled out why he is the least qualified to offer the ‘gift of a dress’ to anyone. Many Nigerians see Obasanjo as the best of Nigeria’s poor Presidents since 1999.
Other political notables have also stepped out to endorse a candidate. Both Ibrahim Babangida, a former military President and Abdulsalami Abubakar, former Head of State endorsed Atiku Abubakar. Babangida was highly cerebral, popular, innovative and almost perfect in political executive selection. Unlike Obasanjo who endorsed a candidate outside his region of origin, Babangida endorsed a fellow Northerner. It is important to point out, though, that being a ‘next of kin’, so to say, does not disqualify a candidate. In fact, it does not matter that years before, Babangida could not appoint Atiku Abubakar to head the Nigerian Customs Service. It is possible to argue that the two offices require different skill sets. It is even possible to argue that Atiku Abubakar has made up for the administrative deficiency that prevented Babangida from appointing him to the headship of the Nigerian Customs Service. There are people, though, who will be hard to convince that somebody who was not adjudged administratively endowed enough to run the Nigerian Customs Service would be competent enough to administer Nigeria. Be that as it may, Babangida and Abubakar have a right to endorse Atiku Abubakar or anyone else. What is important is whether that endorsement can have electoral efficacy. What matters then is whether the electorate agrees with the judgement of the endorser. That can be subject to a multitude of extraneous factors. For example, Southerners are likely to point attention to the fact that the endorsement violates verbal the Constitution of the Peoples Democratic Party for the rotation of political offices. The violation is in respect of the candidacy of Atiku as well as the Chairmanship of his party, the Peoples Democratic Party. The inability and/or lack of political will to redress that violation says something about the conflict resolution skill of Atiku. The suggestion that the issue of the Chairmanship will be resolved after the election amounts to the procrastination of essentials that cannot wait. It also shows that, faced with serious administrative dilemmas and there are bound to be many in any presidency, Atiku will leave it to fester because of the deficit of administrative courage.
Even if the electorate is ready to make a deal with Atiku as a candidate, it is likely to also consider the political credibility of the endorser. General Babangida was a populist President who dropped the baton in a most crucial promising race thus preventing a Southerner the Presidency. It is a heavy political baggage that will not be forgotten or forgiven too quickly. For the last thirty years, Babangida has been grappling, most unconvincingly, with why he annulled the 1993 presidential election. He has offered several versions of the reasons for the annulment, none of which necessitates upturning the electoral wishes of the people. This time around, one would have expected that he would have endorsed a Southern candidate even if it is a feeble attempt to redress the hurting past. Babangida will still have to live with how to redeem his indelible political past. A wrong endorsement makes it worse and keeps reminding the people of the electoral injustice that has been at the root of Nigeria’s political tribulations.
We have said enough for direct endorsement and endorsers. There is also the possibility of indirect endorsement which by and large is preliminary, tentative and cautious. It is often stated in a descriptive fairly generalized fashion. They say, tongue in cheek, that they do not know who will win but they know those who will not win. They are often very cagy as they are not known to point directly to a particular candidate, although their un-named choice is clear. General Babangida is known, at some point, to have identified youth as the prerequisite of the next President only to recently opt for Atiku who is closer to eighty than seventy. Of course, indirect endorsements always leave an escape route. An indirect endorsement can also be a strategy to invite attention because contestants are likely to think that the door is still open. It may as well be a strategy to leave the door open for political negotiation. We must concede the right of indirect endorsers to play the game and political games are near-infinity.
The question is what is the intention of prophets, pollsters, guessers and endorsers? Whatever they will accept or renounce as their intention, one incontrovertible thing is that they are an interested party. Their interest may be altruistic, patriotic, or even selfish. For the notables who endorse, their effusive display of enthusiasm tends to leave room for the suspicion that their endorsement is neither altruistic nor patriotic. For sure, they want to be godfathers with all the attendant benefits. They also want to be in the political limelight for they are uncomfortable in political doldrums. We cannot be too sure that they will be relevant given their past. In fact, they are in search of political reincarnation which is not necessarily in the interest of the candidate or the system generally. There is the danger of the spectre of a godfather nuisance in which the officeholder is captured to the exclusion of public interest. The candidate may be hurt before the election and even in office if he ever gets there. Most individual endorsers have limited numerical value as most of them lack desirable political magnetism. In the first place, the attempt to create a godson may scare or, even worse still, nauseate the electorate which is free to feel that it has had enough of a godfather for whom there was a sigh of relief when he left office. To have him back under a new name will result in extended electoral incarceration. In the second place, an expired godfather who is out of touch with political reality is a potential overbearing agent of political regression. Old political wine in new wineskins is a foreboding of political instability. The assumed superiority of one who endorses disqualifies him/her from being a democrat. He/she cannot even afford to be. The candidate-turned officeholder will be harassed with nightly telephone calls, unsaintly notes and memos as well as advice that are intended to be orders and commands. Ultimately, therefore, the godfather enjoys more than the average share of citizen democratic rights. To the extent that the godfather is in fact an honorary campaign ‘consultant’ through endorsement, he /she surreptitiously increases his/her vote beyond one person one vote. In our clime, endorsement creates an anti-democratic super-class that may diminish, dilute or even neutralize the rights of the rest of us. Endorsements are subject to abuse and will surely be abused. It is an advanced democratic practice in politically mature democracies but hardly in developing democracies. Endorsements are however not illegal but can be employed for illegalities.
There is no problem with the prophets who prophesy winners of the election. From time immemorial there have been prophets and prophets. They are not accountable to the citizens, not even to their congregation although some of them dabble into prophecy to increase their clientele for pecuniary reasons. It is however a deviation from their primary assignment but they are the only witness of the voice they heard. The only pertinent advice in the circumstance is “Listeners beware”. The same is appropriate for the unprofessional pollsters. Although they are marketing sub-standard products, no one is forced to buy and it is even difficult to prove that anyone voted one way or the other because of the poll. The voter is absolutely responsible for his electoral choice. The voter must be reminded that he is alone in that decision. He is also to blame for believing guesses even when they are intelligent. Elections are seasons of promises, fraud, outright lies by high and low. It is also a time to keep the mighty under watch because they are constantly in search of almightiness. The reality is that their electoral value and catchment area are smaller than we assume.
•Ayoade is Emeritus Professor of Political Science, University of Ibadan