Fellow Nigerians, let me start by wishing you a Happy Easter. For Christians, this is a very special, significant and symbolic season, as well as one of the pillars of Christianity. Jesus Christ was crucified in order for our sins to be washed away and for us to have a place in the bosom of our Lord on Resurrection Day. Please, enjoy your COVID-19 vacation quietly at home with family and pray for good health and better days ahead. That is why I have decided to take you a bit away from these dreadful and dire times when we are all fearful of what could happen next, and ask us to focus on what we should now call, normal times past.
My epistle today is about my Presidential bid in 2011. You may be wondering why now. I will try to explain in a jiffy. I have no plans of contesting again, except barring a miracle, something happens which makes me to take the plunge again. I know there is no such thing in the foreseeable future, but from this COVID-19 pandemic, I am learning that we can never say never! However, I’m aware of those who plan to try their luck. Many of them are already making clandestine contacts and consultations. A brave few are more open and blatant about their aspirations.
I am not really concerned about the older generation. They seem able to hold their own and as the saying goes you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. However, I believe my epistle would be useful for the younger aspirants who may take many things for granted. The lessons I learnt were many and varied, but I will only pick a few and present them to you in easy to read and digest format. Unless you wish to contest for the fun of it, please read carefully before you become a serial contestant.
One. My first major error was to think Nigeria was America where Obama came out of the blues, took on the establishment with uncommon gusto, oratory, technology, charisma, carriage and comportment. Since the youths of every nation make up about 60 to 70 percent of the voting population and they grumble perpetually about the preponderance of geriatrics in politics, I was confident I could pull off a monumental upset in Nigeria’s political history. I was proved monumentally wrong. Nigeria is simply not ready for that kind of politics and will not be ready in 2023. It is a statement of fact! I say to the young guns out there, use technology, use your intelligence and charm, but do not forget to try and fit in as well. Some of the things still have to be done the old way. Not every voter is on social media. Indeed, the majority are not.
Two. My second assumption was as bad. I believed Nigerians truly detested the two or three leading parties at the time, PDP, ACN and CPC, and so would want a change of party and government. In actual fact, PDP was the only truly national party while the others were more regional in outlook and configuration. So, I headed to the Labour Party, determined to awaken the party from its slumber and make it a formidable fourth force. My permutation was simple. It should be easy to have all Nigerian workers under one banner and galvanise them into an impressive and intimidating workers’ party. In my abject naivety, I also presumed that the workers unions would help the Labour Party gather donations from members. I expected this to eliminate godfatherism and make members stakeholders in the polity. I was too Utopian. Except the two main political Parties, APC and PDP implode as it is anticipated they will do, there is no third force. You must start to align yourself now and if there is an implosion it will become obvious pretty soon which of the Parties will have some sort of upper hand.
Three. I premised my every move stubbornly on working for a brand-new Nigeria with the elimination of the so-called “old cargoes!” I had linked up with the British Labour Party and they were ready to help with policy making in education, infrastructure, public health, agriculture and so on. They were also going to introduce my party back home in Nigeria to relevant Labour movements globally. When I returned and briefed my party leadership, I realised I was moving too fast for them. The reality on ground was starkly different from what I envisaged. I was approaching them from a theoretical rather than practical basis. What concerned the leadership was how they would fit into the scheme of things as they presently stood and not whether they could be a part of a grand history making epoch. Our young aspiring youths must combine theory with practical. As they imagine creative and innovative ways to develop Nigeria into the top nation that it should be, they must also realise that their dreams will never be fulfilled until they achieve their objective. To do so, they must sacrifice some of their idealism.
Four. I assumed my party was going to field a Presidential candidate and that my popularity alone would carry me through. But politics, especially in Nigeria, is more than mere popularity, it is a game of big money, and Nigerian politicians have no mercy, they take no prisoners when it comes to demanding their pound of flesh. Poverty and ignorance have combined and conspired to rub people of their souls. Therefore, seek ye first the kingdom of money and everything else shall be added unto it! I forgot that no one was more popular, with a cult followership, than Major General Muhammadu Buhari, especially in the Northern parts of Nigeria, yet he could not win a Presidential election on his own, because he simply did not have the wherewithal and neither did his followers. He eventually won when the so-called “bad guys” supported him. Labour Party told me clearly, that they were not ready to field a Presidential candidate, after submitting my letter of intent, collecting my nomination form and, how can I forget, the mandatory nomination fees! This is another reason our young aspirants must join a mainstream Party. Once you are accepted as candidate, the funds will flow. Nowhere else will you have access to the funding that the big guns have and accordingly you will not be able to reach the whole country. Poof goes your hopes!
Five. In utter frustration and desolation, I left the Labour Party. I had to think of the next Party to join and this decision wasn’t an easy one to reach. My next move was predicated on principle and ideology. I wanted a Party without much blemish. I still wonder what got into me that I thought I could import angels from heaven to take over the affairs of Nigeria. In retrospect, I think it was discarding this same mindset that catapulted Buhari back to power. I decided to join the National Conscience Party, which had previously fielded its founder, the gadfly, Chief Abdul-Ganiyu Oyesola Fawehinmi as its candidate. After a keenly contested primary, I emerged winner and became the flag-bearer of my Party. A monumental mistake! I should have learnt from history. Gani was popular amongst the masses, even being conferred with the honour of Senior Advocate of the Masses (SAM), when his legal colleagues wouldn’t confer on him the Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN). He eventually became one before he died. However, they did not vote for him. He lost his deposit woefully and so did I. Most Politicians are not saints, and none can survive without being associated with a mix of angels and demons. That is politics and it is one of the sad realities of life. There will always be a quid pro quo!
Six. I was elated and started my campaigns in earnest. With my team, we decided to mobilise funds from our seemingly enthusiastic youths. I was close to so many wealthy Nigerians but most of them knew from experience that I stood no chance of winning no matter how noble my intentions were. They kept their wise counsel to themselves though! One day, I sent out about a thousand SMS to friends. Only two people responded and only one sent N200,000 to which I’m eternally grateful. A good friend now, Bob Olukoya, donated a vehicle without ever knowing me. If most Nigerian youths acted like him, the younger candidates would stand better chances. A few older and richer friends sent their bits and pieces in dribs and drabs, but nothing substantial enough to upturn the apple cart ever came my way. My ambition was thus dead on arrival. Everything pointed in the direction of a colossal failure, but I was determined to finish the race. Oh, let me not protect my media friends, they did not do well. Many of them were so hostile, so much so that I began to wonder what the problem was. Anyway. I had read somewhere that your biggest enemies sometimes are those living closest to you. So, I endured it all with equanimity and grace. Let me not bore you with all the shenanigans I faced. I must however set one record straight. The day of the election, I went out to cast my votes with many reporters in tow. I must give special thanks to both Channels Television (they ran a live feed from my home) and the Bisi Olatilo Show for their professionalism and support. My wife, her Mum, our Housekeeper and I left home together to the nearby school where we voted. There were two voting centres within the grounds. I voted at centre 23 while the others voted at 24. By evening a mainstream newspaper announced that my wife and those who accompanied me did not vote for me. This was plainly false. Just imagine such cheekiness! I say to our youths, beware of some friends. Assume you have few. In politics, it is the order of the day to make new friends.
I’m grateful to all the youths who supported me against all odds, morally and/or financially. They are too many to mention.
Seven. The major factors in Nigerian politics remain ethnicity, religion and loads of cash. My prediction based on experience is as follows: The core North will do everything to retain power perpetually. Forget about any phantom zoning formula. If either of the two main political parties field a Southern candidate, the other will counter with a Northern candidate. Then we shall witness the unimaginable happening at the speed of light. The North will resist a Southern Muslim candidate as it will not normally want a Northern Christian as President or Vice President. In my view, they will consider such as Haram. Chief Abiola was forced to pick a Northern Muslim as Vice Presidential candidate because the North would not agree to him picking a Northern Christian. It would be easier for the North to support a Southern Christian as President or Vice President, but I’m almost certain that President Buhari may not want anyone to dismantle his unabashed favouritism towards the North, especially the Fulani. I foresee a lot of realignment in order to frustrate the South. I suspect that the thoughtless cash being carelessly flung around the Northern parts at this time is nothing but a way of enticing and corrupting the unverifiable poor people of that region, and a preparation for full scale obliteration of any Southern candidate in 2023. Anyone who doubts these postulations should just wait and see. The young contender, especially one from the South must bear this in mind and start calculating how to surmount this mega problem.
Eight. Anyone with eyes on the villa must be ready by now. Nigeria is still largely a country run by a cabal, some kind of Mafia. The young challengers must be able to persuade about 70 percent of the key Mafioso members including former Heads of State, a few revered and well-positioned monarchs, some Governors, and members of the privilegentsia, those I call the economic cabal, led by Aliko Dangote, Mike Adenuga Jr, Tony Elumelu, Jim Ovia, Abdulsamad Rabiu, Femi Otedola, Theophilus Danjuma and others. Inevitably, there are also foreign interests, especially United Kingdom, United States of America and China. You may add Germany, Russia, Saudi Arabia and France. They too keenly follow what is going on in Nigeria, because we will always affect their interests, being the most populous country in Africa, with the richest human and natural resources.