It is election time once again in Nigeria and political parties have begun to take positions for the contest ahead. Characteristically, some are putting more thought and effort into the conduct of the day of election, than building the relationships that should be in place before election day. This has been the modus of the power play in Nigerian politics of the last two decades. Political parties jostle, not for the hearts of the people but for power, because with power, people can be cowed and subdued.
But things have changed, so much so that even the PDP has suddenly awakened to the importance of winning over an electorate that it has ignored for so long. The average voter is a lot more savvy than he/she used to be. In the Ekiti and Osun elections, voters demonstrated a new resolve and independence of mind, by coming out to vote across party lines for their choice of governor. It is pertinent to also mention the INEC under its new leadership. We may not be in Shangri-La yet, but the electoral umpire has certainly covered some ground since the days of Maurice Iwu, a controversial INEC boss who appeared to be overtly sympathetic to the interests of the PDP. These days, the INEC under Jega has improved the processes and conduct of elections, although they still fall short on logistics and supervision.
So, as election day looms, candidates and parties must start to unfold their plans for securing as many votes as possible on election day. Some parties will focus on the usual logistics of thuggery, ballot box stuffing/snatching, and collusion with INEC officials, although that approach is likely to be a lot less successful this time around, for the reasons mentioned above. A more pragmatic approach would be to deploy a strategy that will develop emotive connections and some relationship with the voters before the election day. This strategy must sustain the relationships to the point at which a voter places their ballot in the ballot box, and until the mandate is confirmed by INEC or other means.
The first thing of course is that the opposition candidate and his/her party should set up an electioneering cabinet or strategy team that will take responsibility for devising, documenting, communicating and supervising the strategy. The strategy team should be formed from party executives, party activists, professionals within the party, and some external consultants. This will provide a mix of intellect, experience, political savvy and street knowledge. Each member of the strategy team must have a vested interest in the success of the party at the elections at hand, every one on the team must have something significant to gain, pecuniary or otherwise, if the candidate/party win. The strategy team must produce a three phased blueprint that covers the pre-election, election-day, and post-election time periods.
Before the election, focus should be on analysis, building awareness, mobilisation, fund-raising, and preparation. The analysis will try to build a picture of the ground in which the election will be contested and understand the people that will be key to victory. Mobilisation is all about voters and donors, and how they can be linked in to a coherent plan of action for electioneering; mobilisation is also useful for verifying some of the findings of analysis and for giving feedback. Awareness is simply projecting the candidate into as many media as possible without being forward or overbearing. Fund-raising builds a matrix between sources of donation, the targets for expenditure, and the contacts or enabling parties that can connect the donations to the candidate/party. The preparation plan is for actions that build on the outcomes from analysis, awareness, mobilisation and fund-raising. As can be expected, most candidates/parties will already have their strategy teams in place and will be working through their pre-election strategy by now. All aspects of the pre-election strategy must have been executed and wound up by the end of the last day before elections, at which time the election day strategy kicks in.
There is no point complaining about electoral shenanigans after one has lost, because we all know that by default, the incumbent will rig, or at least make a good attempt at rigging. For the opposition candidate therefore, wisdom is to deploy such a strategy as to make the act(s) of rigging, impossible, difficult, or undeniable. The order of priority is significant. Making it impossible to rig is the best that can be hoped for, working to make rigging difficult is preferable and more within grasp, but where all else fails, political parties should at least ensure that the evidence of rigging is secured and therefore undeniable. The election day plan must be all about getting the voters out and getting the ballot paper into the ballot box, after it has been properly marked for the candidate/party, and afterwards to ensure that the votes are correctly counted and reported.
Election day Strategy:
On election day, the strategy team will be primarily concerned with maintaining real-time communication with street-activists, and party executives, as well as the security services. All things may not work out as planned, so there could be some last minute changes, re-organisation and updates to the field. Preparation on the day is important, but simple enough; while we all hope for violence-free elections, we cannot guarantee it; let every team pray, revise the plans for the day, motivate and encourage each other, and move out with their best foot forward. The main focus areas will be the management of voting and the forensics. In Nigeria today, the forensics are very important; win or lose, parties will need independent evidence to satisfy themselves of the true outcome of an election. Also important is security, and this relates to the voters, the vote, the evidence and the result. Security will involve coordination and communication between the strategy team, the security services, street activists and voters. The psychology for victory needs to be sustained all day long, but it relies on good security. The day is not over until each group of voters has ensured that the results at their polling booth has been collated and declared, at which time, street activists should circulate the result, including evidence of its declaration, to their strategy team and other partners.
The final part of the blueprint is the post-election strategy, which begins as soon as the first results start to trickle in. Contrary to the position of INEC, every party should maintain records of results as/when they are announced. This is part of the psychology of victory that the party will need to project across the nation, and which could influence the outcomes in other locations. This should not be seen as a threat to INEC, but rather a complimentary service and an exercise of the inalienable right to freedom of speech.
Immediately after the conclusion of voting, the opposition candidate or party must once again take the moral and psychological high-ground by publishing as much information as possible about the outcome/result and appeal to all constituents to remain law abiding. Evidence of the result should be disseminated to contacts outside the context of the election so as to establish the credibility of the process and lay advance claim to the mandate. It is also astute to immediately begin to take actions that seek to unite all the constituents behind the party/candidate and the common interests and well-being of the community.
The future of our country is truly in the balances and a wrong turn at this juncture would have devastating consequences. The conduct of the elections itself is an issue that can divide and unite; INEC and the two major parties must be seen to have conducted themselves with respect for the laws of the nation and empathy for the people whose lives will be impacted by the outcome of the election. The prayer of most Nigerians is that the February 2015 elections will be free and fair and will produce credible results, without attendant violence.
Parties help these prayers only by adopting a strategy for electioneering rather than one of thuggery and subversion. We pray that the best candidates for each office wins, and that the votes and will of Nigerians prevail.
May God bless Nigeria; amen.
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