The en­dorse­ment game

Sunday Trust - - VIEW POINT -

Iam in­trigued by the flurry of en­dorse­ments swirling over the heads of the two, ar­guably, lead­ing pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates, Pres­i­dent Muham­madu Buhari and for­mer Vice-Pres­i­dent Atiku Abubakar. And I won­der, what ef­fect does an en­dorse­ment have on the po­lit­i­cal for­tunes of pres­i­den­tial and gov­er­nor­ship can­di­dates?

I know this for sure. We are partly im­i­tat­ing what hap­pens in the United States and partly sub­ject­ing the po­lit­i­cal cul­ture of the Yan­kees to what is known as the Nige­rian fac­tor. In the US, an en­dorse­ment of a pres­i­den­tial can­di­date by politi­cians who have more or less be­come po­lit­i­cal in­sti­tu­tions in their own right, is im­por­tant be­cause it helps to sway their own sup­port­ers who rely on their su­pe­rior po­lit­i­cal judgement about the suit­abil­ity of a par­tic­u­lar can­di­date for the high­est po­lit­i­cal of­fice in the land. Those who are sit­ting on the fence are per­suaded by such en­dorse­ments to come down and make up their mind about the can­di­date/s ap­proved by the im­por­tant po­lit­i­cal voices. It is about Amer­ica.

Amer­i­can pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates openly shop for such en­dorse­ments be­cause they of­fer them a mas­sive po­lit­i­cal cap­i­tal. In 2008, the late Sen­a­tor Ed­ward Kennedy en­dorsed can­di­date Barack Obama. Obama reaped great po­lit­i­cal cap­i­tal from that en­dorse­ment. In en­dors­ing him, Kennedy re­jected Hil­lary Clin­ton. It en­raged her hus­band, for­mer Pres­i­dent Bill Clin­ton. En­dorse­ments by in­di­vid­u­als have be­come part of their re­spected po­lit­i­cal cul­ture.

Ours? Well, if we leave out the imi­ta­tion on the part of Nige­ri­ans, what do such en­dorse­ments amount to in terms of po­lit­i­cal cap­i­tal? What, in­deed, is the rel­e­vance of en­dorse­ments in our po­lit­i­cal sys­tem?

I can find per­haps the rea­son but not the rhyme for them. And the truth is that th­ese en­dorse­ments are for sale. Or, to be po­lite about it, the en­dorsee says a big thank you to the en­dorser. With the 2019 elec­tion­eer­ing cam­paigns kick­ing off only last week, we are al­ready swamped in a flurry of en­dorse­ments by eth­nic groups and groups formed ex­pressly to per­form this func­tion in re­spect of par­tic­u­lar in­di­vid­u­als.

An en­dorse­ment in our own po­lit­i­cal cul­ture is about two things: money and the care­ful cal­cu­la­tion for power grab, oth­er­wise known as power shift. In the nat­u­ral or­der of things, in­di­vid­u­als and groups that have no elec­toral val­ues mock the sys­tem when they en­dorse a pres­i­den­tial or gov­er­nor­ship can­di­date­be­causetheiren­dorse­ments are not likely to trans­late into elec­toral cap­i­tal. No mat­ter. It is a game.

I find three groups that are adept in this en­dorse­ment game. The first group is made up of the eth­nic as­so­ci­a­tions, such as Ohaneze, the Igbo eth­nic group in the van­guard of fight­ing­forand­pro­tect­ingth­e­p­o­lit­i­cal and other in­ter­ests of the Ndigbo; Afenifere, its Yoruba coun­ter­part, do­ing the same for the Yoruba and South-South Con­sul­ta­tive Fo­rum, their mi­nor­ity coun­ter­part in the South-South geo-po­lit­i­cal re­gion in the strug­gle for the col­lec­tive voice of the dis­parate tribes in that re­gion to be heard and be reck­oned with in the na­tional power cal­cu­la­tions. The Arewa Con­sul­ta­tive Fo­rum is, of course, try­ing to be rel­e­vant in the tribal strug­gle too. But it is not as po­lit­i­cally ag­gres­sive as Ohaneze and Afenifere. Its weak­ness is that it pur­ports to rep­re­sent and speak for a re­gion, not a tribe or a col­lec­tion of tribes. Its lead­ers are wary of jump­ing head first into the fast mov­ing wagon of en­dorse­ments.

The se­cond group of en­dorsers are the tra­di­tional rulers who are re­quired by our tra­di­tional cul­ture to con­fer royal bless­ings on pres­i­den­tial and other can­di­dates. They try to do so in an even-handed man­ner by be­ing nice to ev­ery­one who seeks their bless­ings. You are the one, biko.

In the third group of en­dorsers are the preach­ers, aka, men of God, the good and sin­less men with pri­vate mo­bile tele­phones to the di­vine throne where the af­fairs of mankind are de­cided. Per­haps, the most vo­cal of them is the Catholic priest, Rev Fa­ther Mbaka. He en­dorsed can­di­date Buhari in 2015, telling the then sit­ting pres­i­dent Good­luck Jonathan to go home. And the elec­torate sent him home, per­haps not on the say so of the rev­erend fa­ther. But in the cur­rent po­lit­i­cal sea­son, Buhari has lost his sup­port. He has switched it to can­di­date Atiku. And the pres­i­dent’s men are grum­bling.

The three groups are ar­guably mo­ti­vated dif­fer­ently although their meet­ing point is their claim to be help­ing the elec­torate to make a ra­tio­nal choice for the coun­try and parts thereof. An en­dorse­ment by a tra­di­tional ruler can­not trans­late into more votes but in our tra­di­tional sys­tem, the bless­ing of a royal fa­ther is some­thing to trea­sure by those who re­ceive it. The royal fa­thers in turn re­ceive a gen­er­ous thank you from those they bless. Quid pro quo.

The preach­ers find some rel­e­vance in the sys­tem be­cause they are the prayer war­riors, the only group of peo­ple who can force­fully per­suade the di­vine to say yes to some­one on whose be­half they ha­rangue him. Dur­ing the 2011 elec­tion sea­son, Jonathan cul­ti­vated them, mov­ing from one wor­ship place to an­other. He was pho­tographed kneel­ing in a prayer ses­sion be­fore Pas­tor Ade­boye, the Gen­eral Overseer of the Re­deemed Chris­tian Church of God. The pho­to­graph went vi­ral. The men of God too are given grate­ful thanks by en­dorsees in en­velopes that look like Ghana-must-go bags.

Of the three groups, the eth­nics groups would be con­sid­ered the true en­dorsers. Be­cause they rep­re­sent their eth­nic groups. The vot­ers are tribes­men and women. Th­ese eth­nic groups pro­mote them­selves as the spokes­men for the tribes they rep­re­sent. This claim car­ries a po­ten­tial po­lit­i­cal cap­i­tal. In their sales pitch, they make it look like if they en­dorse a par­tic­u­lar pres­i­den­tial can­di­date, their tribes would vote en masse for that can­di­date.

There is yet no em­pir­i­cal study which shows that a man’s po­lit­i­cal for­tunes are made by en­dorse­ments by eth­nic groups. But pol­i­tics is a game, even if, like all games, it needs some de­ter­gent. The be­lief that the eth­nic groups have the clout makes it dif­fi­cult for can­di­dates to ig­nore them. It jolts the sys­tem each time a pow­er­ful eth­nic group en­dorses a pres­i­den­tial can­di­date. The fear that such an en­dorse­ment is the holy and col­lec­tive de­ci­sion of the tribe is real and can be un­set­tling.

What is in­ter­est­ing about the eth­nic group en­dorse­ments is that they do it as part of the cal­cu­la­tion for power shift. They throw their weight, nat­u­rally, be­hind the can­di­date whose end of ten­ure prom­ises them an eas­ier and per­haps the sure path for a mem­ber of the tribe to be­come pres­i­dent. Although money still talks at this level, the main mo­ti­va­tor is the prom­ise of power shift. It is an im­por­tant con­sid­er­a­tion, ob­vi­ously. But it is also im­por­tant not to for­get that th­ese eth­nic en­dorse­ments are not about the most com­pe­tent and the most qual­i­fied can­di­date to make Nige­ria rise again. They are about eth­nic po­lit­i­cal in­ter­ests. It is not what is best for Nige­ria but what is best for the tribes. It fig­ures.

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