Elections are very keenly contested in Nigeria; they are often a do or die affair. To win elections in Nigeria, you should be ready to deploy a lot of resources like money, people, material and time. Whether we like it or not, political positions are seen as business ventures in Nigeria. Most politicians contest for elections just to win and start making money for themselves, the members of their families and cronies.
How can you explain that Nigerian politicians kill themselves just to win elections? Why will a politician sell all his assets, take bank loans and do everything possible to ‘serve his people’? Why will Nigerian politicians arm thugs and criminals to maim and even kill their opponents? Why will an old politician who is obviously very sick and weak want to keep himself in power for as long as possible? Let us face the fact, I doubt if we can get more than 10% of politicians in Nigeria who are really willing to serve Nigerians and not their pockets.
Nigerian politicians have deployed a lot of tactics to win elections in the past. I will discuss these manipulative and controversial strategies below.
Strategies rogue politicians use to win elections in Nigeria
If you think you can win elections into top political posts in Nigeria without deploying massive cash, then you are just deceiving yourself. Politicians deploy as much as N20 billion just to win governorship elections. A politician who won a House of Representatives position told me that he used over N2 billion to fun his elections.
To win the primary election of your own party, you may need to spend billions of naira. Some Nigerians know how dollar bills were flying around during the last presidential primary election of a popular political party in Nigeria. A popular former Governor was alleged to have spent over N15 billion for the primary election alone.
For primary elections for positions like House of Representatives, the politician may need to put the primary elections delegates in a hotel overnight, entertain them and buy them the foods and drinks they want. Putting them in a hotel is a strategy to make them inaccessible to his opponents. The politician drives them to the primary elections venue in the morning; he would have settled them with cash before taking the delegates to the primary election venue.
Cash will also be needed for campaign cars, campaign buses, recruitment of foot soldiers for campaign purposes, doling out of cash to unions and the masses, logistics, advertisements and other logistics needed for campaign.
During the main elections in Nigeria, it is not uncommon to see party delegates giving cash to voters in exchange for voting for their candidates. This is done in public and nobody really cares. In the one of the gubernatorial elections in a south western state in Nigeria, party officials were at almost all the pooling stations giving cash ranging from N2,000 – N5,000 for every voter who votes for their candidates. This strategy was called dibo ki o sebe (vote and cook soup for yourself). It is a strategy that has worked well in Nigeria, the highest bidder always wins. Most of the people who vote in Nigeria are the poor masses and because poverty and illiteracy, they will rather trade their votes for money.
You will also need money for ‘stomach infrastructure’.
Play the religious card
This is common in the core northern part of Nigeria, because of the high illiteracy rate in this region; politicians easily deceive them with religion. Politicians bribe community and religious leaders to tell their subjects that voting for an opposition candidate who professes another religion is tantamount to disobeying God and this may lead them to hell fire.
In the core northern part of Nigeria, you see crooked politicians especially the male one trying to be very holy and religious in public. Some may not even shake the hands of females to the delight of poor masses who have been brainwashed with religion. These politicians will never educate their people because they know that once they are educated, they will be emancipated from the deceit of their leaders. Instead, they tell them to continue to suffer on earth but that their main reward is in heaven.
Part of this religious strategy is to make a large portion of their youth population remain unemployed and not in any school. This set of young people wander around begging for food and money; they often do not have a decent place to sleep. During elections, these homeless and poor youths are used to carry out nefarious acts.
This strategy is common in all regions of Nigeria. Politicians desperate to win will tell their people that they should not vote for someone because he is not of their tribe. Some of these crooked politicians can even say their opponent is falsely claiming to be the indigene of their town.
We have heard instances of people claiming that the great grandfather of a politician is not from a particular town, hence the people of that town must not vote for him. Most of the politicians using this strategy do not have any good thing to offer their people, hence they hold on to this strategy. Because, an average Nigeria is a tribalist, this strategy has proven to be very effective.
Set up troll farms
A troll farm is an organization set up to create controversy and mini war on the internet especially the social media and internet forums. Though this strategy is not too common but smart politicians have started to deploy it for their political gain. A politician may decide to employ a group of young people who are very skilled in digital marketing to malign their opponents in the social media. They may start up very controversial topic just to malign the opponents of their political paymaster.
A certain organization is in Nigeria that continuously posts propaganda and lies so that people can be deceived that their master is performing in government.
There are allegations that President Donald Trump used troll farms to win the last presidential election in the US.
Having a godfather
Having a strong politician as your godfather can be a plus for you if you want to win elections. You will have an agreement with the godfather that you will do all his biddings if you win. The godfather may take you to traditional shrines to take an oath that you will not break the agreement. Okija shrine is a popular place godfathers take their political boys to swear an oath. As most Nigerians believe in the efficacy of traditional religions (most Nigerians pretend to be Christians and Muslims in public), they are always very afraid to break any oath taken in a shrine.
Politicians wanting to win elections often use simple psychological tactics like appearing poor, relating well with masses, eating food in local canteen, buying snacks from the roadside, going to villages to talk with farmers and all manner of tactics that will depict them as ordinary people. People are always attracted to people to look or behave like them.
A popular governor in the south western part of Nigeria deployed this strategy to win an incumbent governor. The governor he defeated had the habit of thinking that the people he was governing at that time were not sophisticated, while organizing ordinary parties, he will bring caterers and food vendors from Lagos. His people noted his attitude to them and his opponent capitalized on his poor attitude to defeat him in all local government areas of the state. It was a landslide win for his opponent.
Infiltrating the rank of an opposition party
Some smart politicians may infiltrate the ranks of opposition parties by putting their moles and spies in the top echelon of the party. This is strategy is used to stop the opposition party from putting up a very strong candidate for elections. The moles and spies will make sure that any candidate put forward by their parties will be weaklings that can be easily defeated by their paymaster who is in another party. Some of these moles can even break the party into factions just to make them weaker, after achieving the break-up; they defect with their factions to the party of their paymaster.
Stomach infrastructure is a concept popularized by one of the best retail politicians in Nigeria – the governor of a southwestern state in Nigeria. This strategy entails the feeding of poor members of the society by politicians. These poor people do not believe in real infrastructure, what they want is just food. Politicians often give people food stuffs, chicken during festive period, rams even free beer and alcohol. This selective generosity strategy is very effective, the few you are generous to will serve as your ambassadors and blow your trumpet so hard that other members of the community will hear about you.
Rigging is not a new strategy in Nigeria. The British were even alleged to have rigged the first election in Nigeria to favour a section of the country they know they can control easily. These colonialists were also alleged to have inflated the population figure of a section of the country just to make sure that less educated people rule over highly educated and smart people. It is a strategy by the colonialists to continue to control us even after the so called independence.
During elections, thugs may snatch ballot boxes in places they know the opponents of their paymasters are strong. People may also be prevented from voting in places they know the opposition candidate is very strong and popular. There may be sporadic shooting or unrest just to make people become afraid and stay indoors instead of coming out to vote.
In a particular era in Nigeria, election results were just written by someone and so be it. We have had the case of Barrack Obama, Bill Gates and the late Joseph Ayo Babalola voting in Nigeria. The names of these people were smuggled into the electoral register just to inflate the voting figure for a particular candidate. One will ask, how can Barrack Obama come to Nigeria to vote? How can late Joseph Ayo Babalola suddenly resurrect and vote in Nigeria?
Delay in bringing electoral materials by officials is also a tactics used to deny popular candidates votes. When elections are meant to start by 9am, some officials may appear with electoral materials by 3pm when elections are almost over.
Another form of rigging is the buying of voters’ cards. Poor people do not know the usefulness of their voters’ cards; hence they can sell it for pittance. These voters’ cards are later used to rig elections.
Drivers’ Union and other unions
It is a known fact that having drivers’ union (NURTW, RTEAN), motorbike riders’ union, market union and other unions largely peopled by uneducated and semi-educated people on your side is very important if you wish to win elections into key political posts in Nigeria. These unions have large followership, so the leaders of these unions can tell their members to vote for a particular candidate. A popular trade association/union in Nigeria is also known for brigandage and violence; the members of this union are used as political thugs by some politicians.
Concentrate more efforts on the masses, illiterates and the low class
Concentrating your campaign efforts on the masses and the low class often pay more than preaching your manifestos to the elites. 80% of those who vote during elections are the masses. The elites hardly vote, they sit in their houses during elections to monitor the result. The elites are also very difficult to deceive; they know what is right and wrong. However, the masses are gullible, once you appear nice and generous; they will follow you even to the ‘grave’.
Nigeria is a peculiar country when it comes to electioneering, if you use the strategies taught in schools, you can be sure that you will fail woefully.
The sad part of elections in Nigeria is that once the politicians win, they forget everybody that helped them to win. Their first work is to deploy Machiavellianism; they try to totally defeat the princes and princesses (godfathers) that helped them to win the elections. These politicians know well that these godfathers can easily remove them so they immediately strike to make the godfathers powerless. They also make themselves inaccessible to the masses.
These politicians are in the habit of doing small community projects but they will use the media to make the project look so big. What will you say of a senator that built a wooden bridge costing about N1 million but used over N20 million to pay media houses and spin doctors to spin the news all over the media.
Despite not doing anything to benefit the people that voted them in, some of these politicians will further engage their troll farms to continue to write propaganda and good things about them on the social media.
When elections are nearing again, like 12 months away, these politicians turn to nice people and they start deploying all the strategies I discussed above. Unfortunately, once the masses are seduced and bribed, they forget the sufferings and vote for these politicians again.
While I do not approve some of these strategies, I only highlighted what I have observed over the years. Do you know any other strategies used by politicians, let us discuss on our social media handles or on the comments section.