Tolu Ogunlesi: 2015 is Already Here


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Every time I open the newspapers, I get a reminder, almost like an SMS alert, that 2015 is already upon us. Let’s start with the Nigerian Governors Forum gist. I consider that group the most powerful cabal in Nigeria, after the Presidency. Sometimes you’re not even sure which is more powerful. The governors were so powerful they drove President Olusegun Obasanjo into an obsession with cutting them to size. Those that could be impeached were impeached, those that could be ‘abducted’ were ‘abducted’, those that could be hounded by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (which was almost everyone) were. The story is that the governors almost managed to deny him a shot at second term. Not much has changed since then. The governors remain ever powerful. And have rattled President Goodluck Jonathan to the extent that he’s been forced to try to dismantle the very powerful Governors Forum. For now, of course, he’s succeeded, with the Peoples Democratic Party Governors Forum. (At what cost, is the real question).

Then there’s the funny matter of the three APCs. Until recently, APC meant, in popular imagination, ‘Armoured Personnel Carrier’. That is, until the news of the merger between the four main opposition parties, to form the All Progressives Congress. Apparently, the party leaders were so caught up in the excitement of creating a formidable opposition to the mis-ruling PDP they forgot one very small detail – the matter of a party name. No one thought of approaching the Independent National Electoral Commission to secure the name, whilst they negotiated the terms of marriage. Of course, someone beat them to it.

The political landscape is full of feverish activities, players and interests are aligning and realigning. As we speak, there are no certainties. Everything is up for grabs. The only thing we’re sure of is that Goodluck Jonathan, his cries of “It’s too early” aside, will be contesting the 2015 elections. Let’s not deceive ourselves. And he will be, as the incumbent, the man to beat. All opposition, please take note.

But no doubt, it will be a different Jonathan from the one who contested in 2011. It will be a man shorn of much of the goodwill of 2011 – the sort of goodwill that led to the publication of a Facebook-inspired book titled, ‘My Friends & I’ ,- unless he somehow manages to take electricity supply to 10,000MW by then. (Mr. Jonathan will of course be counting on a divided opposition to improve his chances of reelection).

It’s also likely to be a different PDP from the one that won the 2011 presidential election – a more deeply divided one. As things stand, it’s already a grievously wounded beast, limping into an uncertain future. Rumours are rife that the PDP’s internal opposition is a sizable one, and might actually soon make a drastic move by pulling out of the party. But, there’s one thing that shouldn’t be forgotten: the PDP is a house used to being divided. From the beginning, it has been so. For all we know, all the news of governors disenchanted with Mr. President might not translate into anything disruptive. The PDP knows how to take care of its prodigal children – that much we can say.

And it’s not that the opposition is perfect, anyway. True, there’s a lot of justifiable anger at the PDP for a generally disappointing performance since 1999, but we should also note that, in the states in which they rule, the opposition parties also often get it tragically wrong. And there’s a part of me that still somehow believes that maybe the PDP is not totally beyond redemption. I’m aware that there’s a determined push by a group of young(er) people within the party – they go by the name ‘PDP Youth Circuit’ – to create a new face for a party memorably described by Nasir el-Rufai as a “franchise” and an “opportunistic coalition of interests.” It remains to be seen just how influential this bloc can become within the behemoth.

We should also expect the rise of more political platforms, as 2015 approaches. Already there’s news of the G37, which, according to newspaper reports, has brought together people like Orji Uzor Kalu, Gbemi Saraki, Odein Ajumogobia, Bode George, Femi Fani-Kayode, Akin Osuntokun and Nuhu Ribadu. It may or may not transform into a political party.

Away from the high-stakes-Chieftains-At-Work battlefield, things are equally busy. I recently attended a retreat in Abuja, on “Youth Participation, Electoral Reform and the 2015 Elections.” The retreat provided a good opportunity to catch up with all the work that’s being done to ensure that young people become more politically aware of and engaged with the electoral process.

I came to learn of the impressive work that’s already been done in terms of seeking to influence the electoral reform process. There were discussions around the acceptable age-limits for youth (important in a country where 60-year-old ‘youth leaders’ abound), constitutional age prescriptions for public office, Diaspora voting, independent candidature and social media (I delivered a presentation on “Social Media and the 2015 elections”). At the end of the three days, a three-year (2013 – 2015) “Youth Charter and Action Plan” was drafted, focusing on how to engage the various election “stakeholders” – political parties, the youth constituency, INEC and the legislature (at state and federal levels).

I realised one thing. It’s easy to sit on Twitter and Facebook and clamour for change in Nigeria (let me quickly add that there’s nothing wrong with being active on the social media platforms!), when there’s also a lot of real work to be done on the ground mobilising and organising. I think the big challenge for this generation is to find out how to connect traditional and new ‘engagement’ platforms for maximum effect; how to use them to support one another.

My message, regarding 2015, is that ‘siddon-look’ is no longer an option, especially for young Nigerians. My debut article for this column was titled, “We are all politicians.” Indeed we all are. This season will forgive neither silence nor nonchallance. The question all young Nigerians should be asking ourselves is this: How can I get involved in the 2015 elections? There are of course the obvious ways: find a candidate you believe in (which is not always as easy as it sounds; sometimes Nigeria’s elections appear to revolve around choosing the person who’ll do the least damage; register to vote; and vote on election day! There are many who make noise on social media and then do nothing on election day. At the aforementioned retreat, someone pointed out that Lagos, with its population, and high level of social media penetration, had (along with the rest of the South-West), ironically, the lowest rates of voter turnout during the 2011 presidential elections. That’s a shame.

As the late pan-Africanist Tajudeen Abdul-Raheem liked to say: “Don’t agonise, Organise!” There are lots of vacancies for committed community organisers and mobilisers. There are vacancies for visionaries who can devise exciting new ways to use technology to empower citizens and create more transparent electoral processes, and for young people who can build classless, pan-Nigerian political platforms and connections. It starts of course with realising that young people have got the numbers to be sufficiently influential in Nigerian politics.

On the whole, I think that these are exciting times to be a young Nigerian. 2015, here we come…


Tolu Ogunlesi is an award winning writer. Follow him on Twitter @toluogunlesi

This article was first published in the Punch. 


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