Years ago, I went into local politics in Belgium. I was encouraged by the then mayor of my city, the late Marcel Hendricks, to run. I respected him a lot but I was reluctant. I was young, I was very busy and I had zero experience. With Naija as my frame of reference, I never imagined myself in politics. Not even at the local level. On the other hand, I also complained a lot to anyone who would listen about the underrepresentation of minority groups in public spheres in my city (and in Belgium as a whole).
While I was still deciding whether to run or not, I ran into a friend who said I should stop dithering and just do it because “als je niet aan tafel zit, word je vergeten.” If you’re not at the table, you’d be forgotten. Also, the then ambassador of Nigeria to Belgium paid a visit to my city and had lunch with Mayor Hendricks and me. The mayor ‘reported’ me to the ambassador. Long story short, folks, I agreed to run.
We put up posters (paid for from the party purse) and campaigned door to door. Some people were polite, others less so. It did not cost me a single euro. I did not have to distribute branded bags of rice to anyone. Of all the people we spoke to, only one person asked what was in it for them personally. An African man. He asked me what I’d give him to vote for me. He was convinced that if I won, I’d be in enjoyment heaven making money hand over fist and therefore, I had to pay him for the privilege of his vote. “You’ll get in and chop money, so invest now,” he might have said to me. I told him I had nothing to give him , and that in fact, I could not even give him anything had I wanted to. It is illegal in Belgium to give out anything that could be construed as a bribe to potential voters. He shrugged and said that in that case, he’d be voting blank (Belgium has the oldest existing compulsory voting system although you can exercise your right to vote for no one) because he couldn’t give me his vote for nothing.
It never occurred to this ‘brother’ of mine that voting for me might mean having a member of his family at the table making sure that he got food. Or that I might have been running because I wanted to serve my community, not benefit from it. I remember this story now because I have been ruminating on the just concluded PDP primaries in Anambra State and on Naija elections in general.
Folks have alleged, for example, that religious denomination and money and godfatherism all played roles in these primaries. In a state that is predominantly Christian, apparently it matters what denomination one belongs to. And in a race to choose who would represent the state, it was important that zoning agreements be respected. Seriously? I, a naturalised Belgian could run (and win a seat) in Turnhout, but Anambra North and Anambra South are so radically different that there is an agreement in place to rotate gubernatorial candidates between the two regions? I am sure a similar agreement is in place with APGA and APC too.
Some folks have also said that the better candidates – as far as they were concerned- got the fewest votes from the delegates and that the reason is that they did not have the support of a strong godfather. Godfatherism in Nigerian politics is not new. These wealthy men who sink money into campaigns and into electing their desired candidates so that the godfathers can in turn influence policy and demand their pound of flesh are a blight on our political system and should be done away with.
And why were there 217 super delegates rather than the anticipated 3200 delegates? Who’s going to be the gubernatorial candidate if two candidates claim to have won? Why were there two parallel primaries for the same position? I am so confused right now. Meanwhile APC leaders claim their own primary in Anambra State was fraudulent and 11 of the 14 aspirants have rejected the result. And in APGA, Prof. Soludo who won had been suspended by a faction of the party before the primaries and that faction does not consider his win valid. Wahala just full ground.
Apart from the shenanigans, there is the disheartening fact that in 2021, there were hardly any women on the tickets of the parties despite the concessions some of the parties have made for women. However, these concessions mean little when the environment itself does not encourage their participation. Someone trustworthy told me that a big shot/ political godfather of one of the parties in the state said that he’d vote for a woman over his dead body. Chances are that there are many who think like him.
We must be intentional about having more women in positions of power; otherwise whatever concessions made for them are more performative than heartfelt. One of the things I was pleasantly surprised by when I entered politics in Belgium was the fact that my party reserved half of the spots on the ticket for women and a certain number for the youth. There was an energetic recruitment of viable candidates to fill the quota. We got enormous support from the party and successful young women candidates also stood a good chance, ensured by the system, of becoming aldermen handling important portfolios. This is how one ensures that politics isn’t dominated by fossilised, mostly male politicians with youth (and women) rarely getting a look in. If we are to achieve truly democratic governance, then we must invest in and encourage women and youth participation in active politics.
And a truly democratic governance is what we all want, abi?