APC: Form Over Substance, By Frank Ofili

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It still baffles me how even highly educated Nigerians are easily taken in by cheap political trickery of politicians.
 
When pretty face Diezani Alison-Madueke was appointed Minister of Transportation by President Umaru Musa YarAdua, she visited Benin Ore Road and made a public show of weeping in full glare of press cameras over the state of that road in 2007. Many thought her tears were of genuine concern for the deplorable condition of that road at the time; and that after the ministerial tears, would come immediate action to fix the road. Several years down the line, the condition of that road, especially Ijebu Ode/Ore axis, is not significantly different, and Nigerians now know better. Although some would argue that as Transportation Minister she could hardly have done much in terms of roads rehabilitation, we know that if she truly wanted, she could have pulled some strings.
 
Similarly when Rochas Okorocha was campaigning to be governor of Imo State, he was reputed to always stop by road side akara sellers, buy and eat the local bean cake in full glare of press cameras. Today nobody has been able to tell me that the lot of akara sellers in Imo State has significantly improved since Okorocha became governor.
 
In the same vain, when governor Adams Oshomhole of Edo State, in a momentary feat of ungubernatorial umbrage told a hapless street trader to “go and die” and, in regret of that undignifying verbal tirade, later invited her to Government House, Benin, where he shared a cup of tea with her in full glare of press cameras, Nigerians were taken in by the later gesture. The governor was soon to have another encounter with a teenage plantain street trader for whom he promptly wrote out a cheque for tens of thousands of Naira, again in full glare of press cameras.
 
The question begging for answer however is whether the governor’s gesture has bettered the lot of street traders in Edo state. Wouldn’t a policy of affirmative action aimed at eliminating the condition that gives rise to teenage street traders have been better? Does a school-age teenage girl hawking wares on the street have to depend on a chance meeting with a government big man before she can have the chance of a better life?
 
There have been other stories of political trickery and vuvuzella politics. Governor Ayo Fayose of Ekiti State had to make a public show of riding on okada round the streets of Ado Ekiti, and bumping into beer parlours for isiewu and odeku during his campaign for governorship of that state. Senator Iyiola Omisore also used to suddenly develop hefty appetite for street corner roasted corn, and was on one occasion found eating it with both hands in public during his governorship campaigns. Although Omisore eventually lost to Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola while Fayose won, none has been seen replicating their antics post electioneering campaign, except perhaps for a decrepit run-of-the-mill vintage Mercedez Benz which Fayose announced to a bewildered Ekiti people, would be his official car. But of course we know better.
 
I could go on and on with stories of similar political publicity stunt but one thing that is clear is that none of these less-than-sincere gestures has improved the condition of the ordinary man on the streets of those states for the simple reason that they were simply forgotten after the election.  Nigerians have been taken through those routes several times before.
 
It is on this plank that I cannot but wonder what practical purpose APC’s latest gambit with its Presidential running mate, Professor Yemi Osibajo’s street lecture, would serve? Why on earth would APC detail its presidential running mate to go lecturing street “bole” vendors, vegetable sellers and shoe shiners on the difference between APC and other parties? Are there no other APC foot soldiers that could have done this more effectively? Shouldn’t Professor Osibajo, his boss General Muhammadu Buhari and other APC tacticians rather be concentrating on putting in place the policies and programs they would  execute to the benefit of the same ordinary Nigerians if they are elected into office? This cheap political showmanship will not wash because Nigerians have been fed that pot of political hypocrisy before.
 
If APC thinks this is the way to grab power from the sleazy behemoth, the PDP, then it is grossly mistaken. The ordinary Nigerian people don't care about lectures. What they care about is what would make life meaningful for them. So instead of this charade, APC leaders should engage themselves more productively in articulating and selling to Nigerians programs and policies they intend to pursue to make life worthwhile for Nigerians, not selling their party on the crest of individuals purely for electoral votes. I want to see substance, not form.
 
Even more confounding to me is the strategy of adopting person-to-person approach instead of rallies. How many street corner vendors can Prof Osibajo and individual APC egg heads reach through this method? If they must hit the street, which is a good idea by the way, why not do it through rallies and public enlightenment campaigns instead of this one-on-one approach? What significant impact would this method make? This approach might just produce a reverse effect. Just look at the sharp contrast – Professor Osibajo with his SUV and security detail, and the plantain seller struggling to make ends meet.
 
Yet the Prof is coming to lecture the woman on how to vote to perpetuate him in his splendour. Who told the Prof the woman does not like to ride in Jeeps? Instead of the Prof to articulate good programs that would ensure APC victory and ease life for the woman and millions of other down-trodden Nigerians, he is instead coming to show the woman the stark social inequality and urging her to use her vote to perpetuate it. The simple logic of social psychology tells me that the Professor Osibajo gambit might produce a political anti-climax, if you get what I mean.
 
I plead that no one should attempt to get me wrong. I am not saying that a strategy of street engagement as is practiced in advanced democracies is a bad idea in itself. I am simply saying that the Prof Osibajos of our clime do not have the pedigree of street engagement. It is ok to think that what works in Europe and America would work here, but I am a realist; I know that what the ordinary man on the streets of Nigeria needs is not some blue blood with fancy cloths coming to him with some lectures – a blue blood with no known history of street engagement by the way. That aspect of political engineering is better left with those who speak the same language as the ordinary man on the street.  These are the Femi Falanas, the Femi Aborishades, the old Adams Oshiomholes, the Mike Ozekhomes, the Okei Odumakins et al – I mean people the ordinary man can easily connect with based on their antecedents.
 
Send a thousand Professor Osibajos to the streets of Nigeria, they cannot convince the shoe maker, the akara seller, the pepper and tomatoes seller. And you know why? It is because they see the blue blood professors as part of those who have been oppressing them. But send the Femi Falanas to the streets and you would see instant impact. Has anyone ever wondered why a Basket Mouth or a Gordons can connect better with the ordinary man than a Prof Pat Utomi? The reason is simple. They speak the same language. We should not kid ourselves thinking that political literacy in Nigeria has suddenly attained the level of Europe and America. So we should not think that the same strategy that works i n those climes would work here. APC needs to rethink its strategy if it hopes to defeat PDP at the polls in 2015.
 
Given our wont to be sentimental in these matters, the danger of adopting a one-on-one approach, in my view,  is that at the end of the exercise, those the APC chieftains are not able to reach may likely feel snubbed and alienated and may in fact vote against APC because of that. In fact, I venture to posit that the approach may unwittingly draw attention to the stark reality of the social inequality between the high and mighty and the ordinary Nigerians, because after the lecture, the Prefessor Osibajos would drive off in their air-conditioned SUVS with their security detail in tow, while their students remain in scotching sun trying to earn their day’s meal. The ordinary Nigerians have seen all this before, having been deceptively used and forgotten.
 
Inspite of the foregoing however, it will be gravely mistaken to assume that I am a PDP apologist. I am neither PDP nor APC. To me, both are like 6 and half a dozen. What I am simply saying is that APC should not feed me the same rotten food the PDP has been feeding me for the past 15 years. It should do things differently, and better too.
 
Given the near-zero choice before Nigerians in terms of credible presidential candidates, I would vote the available personalities based on my conviction of the relative personal qualities of each. For this, I would pick Gen Muhammadu Buhari ahead of President Goodluck Jonathan, not because he is the most qualified, but because the incumbent, President Jonathan, has simply failed to provide leadership, in my own opinion.
 
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