It baffles one to watch those tagged as political heavyweights, political juggernauts and seasoned political players with a pool of experience running from coast to coast seeking for endorsement from expired leaders who overtime, contributed to the underdevelopment of our motherland, created artificial unemployment to deny the educated children of the poor from easy access to government employment opportunities and jerked corrupt practices to the highest level.
As the much trumpeted election year of 2023 is already with us, fittingly, former president Obasanjo got things off to a controversial start on the very first day with his endorsement of Peter Obi, Labor Party Presidential flag bearer. Obasanjo’s timing was symbolic and, no doubt, designed to generate as much mileage as possible.
While jubilant supporters of Obi have been celebrating the endorsement tagged as mockery by supporters of other more serious contenders, they are celebrating as if Obasanjo’s endorsement is the final seal of approval to Aso Rock Presidential Villa while the furious clap back from Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and All Progressives Congress (APC), may just have exaggerated the importance of the ex-president’s intervention.
After Obasanjo’s funny endorsement, another expired tribal warlord, Chief Edwin Clark, joined to endorse Obi for Nigeria.
Clark had famously in 2015 endorsed and backed the re-election of Goodluck Jonathan, and we are all living witnesses of how Buhari floored Goodluck in the keenly contested presidential election without the endorsement of Obasanjo and Clark.
In the coming days and weeks other individuals and groups who consider themselves important enough to influence voter choices at the coming election, would grandly inform us of who they are backing and urge us to do likewise. The beneficiaries may be PDP’s Atiku or APC’s Tinubu or even Obi or the Peoples Redemption Party’s (PRP) Kola Abiola or New Nigeria Peoples Party’s (NNPP) Rabi’u Musa Kwankwaso.
So, how much store should we place by such endorsements? Would they significantly sway the electorate and determine the outcome of the polls? Would we look back and acknowledge that the contest was turned on its head the moment Obasanjo stepped in to tell us who to vote for?
It would be dishonest to say they are valueless. Were that to be the case, candidates and their campaigns wouldn’t be pursuing them. But let it be clear that nobody ever won an election on the strength of mere endorsement from anyone, but by the number of votes cast and counted and publicly declared at the polling unit.
The strength of an endorsement lies in the established capacity of the one giving you backing to turn things in your favor. That is why those who made light of Obasanjo lining up behind Obi have a point. In failed woefully and those he opposed emerged victorious.
His previous attempts to sponsor some sort of third force option against APC and PDP flopped spectacularly, leaving him in such desperate straits that he was constrained to back an Atiku—whose character he had savaged on severally—in a vain bid to spite the incumbent Muhammadu Buhari in 2019.
In coming days and weeks, we should expect more dramatic endorsements from the usual suspects: Self-ordained Prophets, Juju Priests, Soothayers, Marabouts, Afenifere, Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF), Odua Peoples Congress (OPC), Northern Elders Forum (NEF), Ohaneze Ndigbo, Middle-belt Forum, League of this, League of that and sundry associations of ex-this and ex-that. But we all know that support from these groups is only good for the newspaper headlines and the social media. Which of our legion of office holders owe their election to these folk tales? In reality, the business end of this electoral cycle would be determined by active political players, community leaders, governors, local power brokers and money bags that have looted enough from the public till to throw about.
Another reason endorsements are overrated is that they are a product of some individual’s or group’s assessment of who is the better or best of the candidates. These judgments are hardly ever objective, but rather a function of whether they agree with the position of the party on the ballot. On the strength of that test, he or she is graded either the ‘best’ out of all or the ‘better’ of them all.
But political observers around the world would tell you that elections are not always won by the ‘best’ assessed candidate, no electorate anywhere would ever agree on who is ‘best’ other than his choice.
Let’s face it: elections are just akin to beauty contests where one man’s ugly duckling is another’s queen.
In the Second Republic, Chief Awolowo of the rested Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) was often touted as the most cerebral and prepared of all the presidential candidates. Such was his reputation that former Biafran leader, Chief Emeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, wrote in the condolence register at Awolowo’s death, “the best president Nigeria never had”. In 1979 and 1983, Awolowo squared off against the National Party of Nigeria (NPN) candidate, Shehu Usman Aliyu Shagari —a modest school teacher—and Awo lost gallantly.
In 2015, much of the campaign was devoted to mudslinging over the fact that Buhari’s educational accomplishments didn’t transcend the secondary school level and there was much ado over whether he actually had a certificate to support that attainment. Buhari contested against an incumbent Jonathan who had a Doctorate Degree and prevailed against a rival most would insist was better educated and qualified for the position. Why? Buhari got the winning votes!
Former American president Ronald Reagan is today rated as one of the greatest American presidents of modern era. He came into his 1980 contest against the more intellectually endowed Jimmy Carter with a reputation as an ageing Hollywood actor notorious for nodding off in the middle of important meetings. But he was affable and presentable, and that appealed more to American voters than the studiousness and seriousness of Carter.
Endorsements by self-appointed influential individuals and groups may count for something where the contest is wide open. But for the first time in a long while we see race in which many have made up their minds quite early. People have made, or are making their choices, not on the strength of a candidate’s manifesto or track record, but on such base factors as religion, ethnicity, age or just blind hate. This is an election blighted by fake news and contestants have been defined by how much falsehood has been dumped on them in social media.
In the end no endorsement can change the mind of a serious, committed and determined voter who has already made up his mind to vote one way or the other come what may. So VIP or celebrity barking at this critical stage amounts to an elitist mockery and gimmick that only helps with the optics, nothing fundamental to disturb a sleep.
Not every side would love to bag such mockery of endorsement spiced with extortion. At time, such endorsements and in most cases only create sense of momentum where the endorsers may likely have political weight. Otherwise, they only provide temporary comfort for their candidate to feel in the pit of his stomach that he’s headed for a good old shellacking. What value will it add to your political fortune if former military president, Gen. Babangida endorses your candidature? Is IBB of any political value even in Niger State? What of Gen. AbdulSalam Abubakar, Jerry Gana, Ango Abdullahi, Patience Faka Jonathan, Theophilus Yakubu Danjuma, Jonah Jang or any of those self-appointed lords? Is it not better, more honorable and valuable to have the endorsement of your village head or any renowned political thug in the locality than from any of those public parasites that still live on purse?
But the reality rests with the voters not with the endorsers who feed fat on the sweat of the voters and rate the voters as their personal goats that can be loaded into trucks anytime for the market! Anyway, we should love to have more endorsements and defections at this critical moment as cheapest drama entertainment without subscription charges. No serious and experienced politician can welcome defectors to his fold from opposition at the wee hour for fear of being sponsored moles on a dangerous mission.
Muhammad is a commentator on national issues