HERE’S HOW FELA DUROTOYE CAN BE NIGERIA’S NEXT PRESIDENT, BUT PROBABLY NOT IN 2019
P.S: I wrote this a month ago,but deemed it too long to publish. However, after a discussion with a friend, followed by Buhari declaring his intention to run hours later, I remembered I’d written something down. I offer it with a caveat attributed to Harold Wilson: a week is a long time in politics.
As 2019 draws near, we are becoming inundated with the usual declarations and campaign promises. To the discerning however, it has been apparent for a long while now that with their present construct, neither the APC nor the PDP hold the answer to Nigeria’s ills.
Post-2015, the definitive sign the PDP wasn’t changed and had not learned from its mistakes, asides recycling old faces at their last convention was that they zoned the presidency to the North and declared their intentions to “take back Aso Rock in 2019.” There was no introspection about their failure in providing leadership to Nigeria and no concern about looking for the best (wo)man to rescue Nigeria out of this morass. All that was present was an insistent craving to claw back power by all means.
The PDP does not hold the key to the problems its half-brother the APC have further deepened and additionally inflicted on Nigerians in the last 3 years. Obasanjo’s third force does not hold the answer too. For all its good intentions and grandstanding, it is dead on arrival, wearied by its own baggage of being complicit in the problems it claims it wants to solve. Apart from being aptly named, it is a purely blunt force without the finesse of strategy or a clear chart towards political and economic recovery.
This is why it is cheering to see people like Fela Durotoye provide the much-needed alternative. This is also why we must examine them critically and support them overwhelmingly if they represent a different way of thinking. Their emergence is the beginning of a welcome rethink and an active protest of the obnoxious narrative that the two major political parties can continuously zone the presidency to a part of the country without recourse to the quality of contestants and finding the right (wo)man for the job.
In millions of frustrated Nigerians, they have a ready followership who subscribe to the thinking that the present political structure and its players cannot be trusted with Nigeria’s leadership, and there is a need for an injection of fresh blood. However, it’s not that simple. If it were, someone else would have already done it. Being young is not enough, or we would be singing the praises of Yahaya Bello. Being an idealistic patriot is not enough, or Gani Fawehinmi would have won when he contested. Having sound economic credentials isn’t sufficient, or Pat Utomi would be our president. Even having an enviable track record isn’t adequate, or Donald Duke would have won in 2007.
In Nigeria, it all boils down to the very complicated game of politics and the million-dollar question: Can Fela navigate these murky political waters? If he is really serious about the next election, he needs to consider certain practical realities of Nigerian politics and count the cost. Does he know how to push his agenda through the National Assembly? Does he understand the power of vested interests in Nigeria? Outside of his inspiring speeches delivered in Queen’s English, can he connect with bus conductors, market women, and ordinary people on the streets across the 36 states and build an army of foot soldiers out of them?
Then there is the curious matter of the Alliance for a New Nigeria (ANN), Fela’s political platform. Until the ANN becomes a national force, Fela won’t win. Even if he wins, he won’t succeed. The ANN needs to sponsor councilors, representatives, senators, and governors across the country. Without this framework, even if Fela were to miraculously win the election, he would simply cut a frustrated figure for much of his tenure. It has to have a national base of people who share the same ideology. It must disavow current practices such as cross-carpeting and evolve beyond being a mere party to a movement so fueled by ideology and dissatisfaction with the status quo that pretenders are easily caught out, unable to sustain a relationship without selfish benefits in return.
Unlike the APC, the ANN must not be so desperate to simply win elections that they accept anyone. If they get to the point where they are accepted by the people, Nigeria’s career politicians being opportunists, would readily jump ship, trying to hijack the ANN as a vehicle for their selfish ambitions. Fela and his party thus need to determine how far they are willing to compromise as they build coalitions across the country. If Fela is not invested in playing this long game, then he’s no different from other politicians, who merely see political parties as platforms to push personal agenda, and he’s not the change we seek.
The vital thing that I’m not sure Fela Durotoye gets is that the 2019 election is not merely about presenting alternative candidates as it’s about showing an alternative way of doing politics that works. If you’re promising us a new Nigeria, start by showing us new ways of getting into office. We want to see new models of running a party, new models of grassroot politics, new models of raising the needed finance to run a national campaign spanning over 7 months. In other words, we want to see a new way of thinking, of doing, an ideology. That’s what our politics has lacked for so long and Fela’s job is to present himself as the face of this ideology and get us to line up behind him as adherents.
In winning Nigeria’s presidency, you cannot rule out the Northern factor. For outsiders like Fela the key to penetrating the much-maligned Northern region lies in the hearts of students scattered across various tertiary institutions in the geo-political zone. Every other route flows from the top to bottom, with religious/traditional/political leaders who are more often than not the same persons determining what their followers know and do. Without this, his message will get missing in a familiar discordant tune engineered to keep the core North voting along party, religious and tribal lines.
No matter how much clout he seems to command on social media, Fela’s brand is still not big enough to promote his candidacy around the country. He is still largely unknown in several parts of the country, with questions being asked about the seriousness of his candidacy and his qualifications to run for office. In answering these questions, Fela luckily has the hearts and keypads of several young Nigerians across the country. All he needs to do now is to provide content that can drive the ANN into national consciousness, content that shows a clear position on economic and political issues and proves he has transferable skills to run a country. Enough of the rhetoric, let’s begin to hear what Fela and the ANN stand for.
For there to be any chance of success, this nascent political consciousness must be more than just Fela. It must morph into a movement. This is particularly important at a time where more youths are eligible to vote in the 2019 election than ever in Nigeria’s history and it’s Fela’s responsibility to present himself as the face of a new Nigeria. In doing so, he must essentially engage these youths, and bring them to the realization that the next election is a vote on their future. He must push for mass involvement in the electoral process, ensure that they get PVCs, redeploy their PVCs if their locations have changed, vote on Election Day, and defend those votes until the real results are announced.
Fela in essence needs an army of foot soldiers: an army of offline and online volunteers that would knock on doors, recruit their neighbors, influence social media, and drive the country behind him. But first, he must give them a message that goes beyond simply having a vision for a new Nigeria. Only then would support develop around his candidacy with supporters confident that they can defend questions about their candidate with facts, policies, a clear ideology and a feasible roadmap to a better Nigeria. Recruitment however should not be an arduous task for a man renowned for his oratory prowess. Like never before, Fela would have to rely on his powers of persuasive speech to inspire his biggest audience yet.
Without the soft landing that is provided by running on the platform of a major political party, billions of Naira in funding or an affiliation with a political heavyweight, Fela would have to be inventive and ingenious about the way he runs his campaign. He needs to build from the ground up a new system of gaining loyalty that’s not based on having a godfather, keeping thugs on a retainer, sharing money, developing stomach infrastructure and cooking Ibadan’s infamous Amala politics, all moves that are in reality the principles that have guaranteed success in Nigerian politics for many years.
It should now be obvious why the current time frame is too short to do a good job. There’s simply too much work to do, and too little time in which to do it. And this is why we have not yet seen anything like this before since 2007.
This is why Fela must understand the delicate situation that he is in; there can be no turning back or supposedly disappearing to regroup after 2019. He must continue to engage the political space, driving citizen engagement in the democratic process, being a critical voice when it comes to public policy instead of merely waiting till 2022 to declare for office again. The enthusiasm about alternative candidates beclouding the 2019 elections must not be allowed to dissipate. It is important that the candidacy of the right person is actively sold for 2019 so much so that even if s/he does not win, there is a mental shift for Nigerians that allows us to see the possibility of an outsider challenging the status quo and winning in 2023.
Given the present political calculations, I think Fela should be preparing for the coming elections with the 2023 race as the endgame. And that is not in any way suggesting that he should give up. On the contrary, it is more reason for him to give it his very best shot. The 2019 race allows him to build name recognition, voter awareness across the country and puts him in an influential position to become a critical voice during the next four years.
In running for office, Fela is simply not running for himself, or a new Nigeria. He is running for a new way of winning elections, a new genre of candidates and a novel electorate that can make informed choices based on actual issues. In a race where the finish line is not clearly defined, Fela has taken the pole position egged on by millions of Nigerian youths urging; “Run, Fela Run.” Would he lengthen his stride and be in this for the long haul? Is this the race that changes the dynamics of Nigerian politics forever? Time would tell.