YOUTHEXIT: Navigating The Ramp To The Next Nigerian President– Vitus Ozoke

By Ikenga Chronicles January 15, 2017

YOUTHEXIT: Navigating The Ramp To The Next Nigerian President– Vitus Ozoke

If everything goes according to schedule, Nigerians will be heading back to the polls in a little under 800 days to elect their president, governors, senators, congressmen and women. Some current political office holders will be fighting to keep their offices. Whether they will be successful in fending off other ambitious office seekers, who are already gearing up to give them a run for their money, remains unclear at this moment. One thing is clear beyond any doubt: change is not going to be a winning message in 2019. Change is dead as a political mantra in Nigeria. And that’s a shame.

Question then becomes, what is going to be the winning message in 2019? What organizing message will put candidates in government houses in Abuja and across Nigeria in 2019? The answer is: it depends. The message that wins Nigerian elections in 2019 will depend of what office one is seeking, and in what part of Nigeria. For this purpose, I have chosen to arbitrarily break Nigeria into five political units: Southeast Igbo, South-south Niger Delta, Southwest Yoruba, the North, and Abuja federal.

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Anybody who wants to be the next governor, or who seriously desires to keep their gubernatorial positions in Southeast Igboland in 2019, must run on Biafra. Same for senatorial, congressional, and local council offices. Will any of the currently serving Igbo governors, senators, congress and councilmen make Biafranism the centerpiece of their 2019 campaigns? No. But that is going to be their vulnerability. Candidates in southeast Igboland who build their campaign on Biafra will be sure of a very massive following. If such candidates openly endorse IPOB, they will not only be very viable in Igboland, they have a good shot at dethroning current occupants. Scary, isn’t it? But that is just a realpolitik assessment of the present Igbo.

The next governors, senators, congress and councilmen and women to emerge from the south-south Niger Delta in 2019 will be those who make resource-based federalism the crux of their campaigns. They must express strong support for resource control activists. Unlike those in southeast Igboland, who must go the extra mile of endorsing Biafranism and IPOB, to gain optimal leverage, office seekers in south-south Niger Delta only need to stake a very strong resourcist position. They do not need to openly endorse the Niger Delta Avengers or any of the non-state regional actors. They only need to shout themselves hoarse on the vexed issue of increased derivation ratio for the resource producing region.

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For southwest Yoruba candidates, there is so much room for nuance. Yoruba politics, right from the time of Awo, has always been guided by one single and simple philosophy: pragmatism. For the Yoruba, it is whatever works. The Yoruba will go with whatever and whoever best advances collective Yoruba interest. Unlike the southeast Igbo, where a sizeable majority would vote to secede from Nigeria if a referendum were held today, the Yoruba are not decided on either staying in or out of Nigeria. The Yoruba will stick with Nigeria if their collective interests are adequately guaranteed. They will also pull out in a heartbeat if that serves their collective interest better. For them, it is whatever works at any given point in time. They are pragmatists. They are the most sophisticatedly organized ethno-political group in Nigeria. And it has always worked to their advantage. The Yoruba have never been out of leadership loop in Nigeria, a testament to their ever pragmatic willingness to align and realign with whatever ethnic group that offers them the best collective deal. So, the next governors, senators, congress and council men and women to emerge from the Oduduwa enclave will be those who best articulate the collective Yoruba interest within the larger context of the emerging national political configurations.

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For our cousins up north, their next governors, senators, congress and council men and women will be those who exhibit neither shame nor weakness in not just advancing the tenets of Islam, but also in keeping Nigeria corporately intact. There is this fear among northerners that they are materially under-resourced, and that they have not built up enough human capacity to be independently viable in a decentered Nigeria. Whether this fear is real has never been, and may never be, tested. But it is a fear that easily masks as patriotism in preserving the country’s corporate integrity.

Beyond corporatism, candidates for northern regional offices in 2019 must be able to articulate an Islamist message. It is a burden that southern candidates are not beset with. Religion is a more salient and organizing principle (almost existential) for the Muslims than it is for Christians. Christianity in Nigeria is a loose collection of theologically and ideologically disparate groups – over five thousand churches. Islam, on the other hand, is a relatively tight knit family of brotherly sects. Those sects may have their internal differences, but they close their ranks in a second to secure a broader Islamic interest.

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So, those are the regional centers, and what regional candidates need to do to win regional offices in 2019. The southeast Igbo candidates will craft their campaign message around Biafranism. South-south Niger Delta candidates will preach resourcism. Southwest Yoruba will be pragmatic in developing a best Yoruba interest message, while northern candidates will win on Islamism and corporatism. With this complete region-centric political grounding, how will a president emerge in 2019? Will any of these arguments – Biafranism, resourcism, pragmatism, and Islamism – muster enough constituency to win a presidential election in 2019? The answer is no. So, given that no one ethnic group has the number to independently elect the president of Nigeria, which combination, configuration, and calibration of the regional fault lines is possible in 2019?

It was the coalition of the southwest Yoruba and the broader north that produced Buhari in 2015. The All Peoples Congress (APC) ran on the overarching message of change. Change was such a powerful opium in 2015 that many Nigerians got too high too quickly. But change is dead and buried. And buried with it is the scroll memorializing the memorandum of understanding between the Yoruba and the north.

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Can a coalition be forged between the southeast Igbo Biafranists and the south-south Niger Delta resourcists? Maybe. If the Igbo are willing to abandon the injustice of post-war Abandoned Property, and if the south-south are convinced that the Igbo will not dominate the alliance. But even if you matchmake the southeast and the south-south into a convenient political nuptial, they still don’t have the number that clears the path to Abuja.

Will there ever be a southeast Igbo and northern political marriage? No. Not in this generation. The woman that will give birth to the lawyer that can craft an acceptable prenuptial contract that can induce comfort in the parties has not been born. Igbo’s misgivings with the north run too deep. And it is not just the scars of the Civil War, it is also the schism and skepticism of religion. Will the Biafranist Igbo feel comfortable aligning with the Yoruba pragmatists instead? No. The pragmatism that works for the Yoruba is the one thing that the Igbo loathe the most about them. The Igbo interpret, right or wrong, Yoruba pragmatism as chameleonic opportunism.

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On the other hand, the Yoruba nurse strong reservations about what they view as the Igbo’s inordinate acquisitionist drive. The Yoruba are still jittery over de facto contestation of Lagos by the Igbo, a sentiment that boiled over when Oba Akiolu of Lagos, in the heat of the 2015 Lagos gubernatorial contest, made his ill-advised lagoon threat against the Igbo. Obviously, the resourcist south-south Niger Delta will never cease to view the north – indeed the rest of the country – as a bunch of freeloading resource moochers, and would rather blow everything to smithereens than let them. Sadly, I might add.

So, yes, an interethnic coalition is needed to elect the next, or keep the current, president, but I can’t find parties to this coalition. Yet, a president must be elected in 2019. How do we do it? Given that none of the regional messages has a strong national appeal, how does a candidate for president in 2019 strike out of his regional enclave to the national stage? Put differently, what message will have a national galvanizing appeal in 2019?

Given the pervasive economic malaise in the country, economic populism would seem like a sure bet. The problem with economic populism, as an organizing campaign slogan in 2019, is that it will be an across-the-board, every candidate’s message. Besides, hardship is relative in Nigeria. For the young enterprising Igbo, hardship is the lack of mansions and cars. For the nomadic Fulani, hardship is the scarcity of expansive grazing fields.

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Take-Back-Our-Country will not fare any better either. The inorganic and mechanical process used by the British in cobbling Nigeria together robbed the country of the nativist fervor needed for a takeback campaign. Can a candidate borrow from Donald trump’s playbook and want to ‘Make Nigeria Great Again’? Two problems with that. One is the word ‘again’. Nigeria has never been truly great. Apart from the stain of the civil war, successive inept and corrupt leaderships have always stood between the country and greatness. Two, the railroad of fear and hate that connected Trump’s electors across rural America is nonexistent in Nigeria. Yes, we do have interethnic and interreligious fear and hate, but we fear and hate each other too much to come together and deploy our fear and hate to a common national cause. And like I have already noted, the message that wins Abuja in 2019 can no longer be change. Change, as a political campaign mantra in Nigeria, is either dead or on a Do-Not-Resuscitate coma condition. Sad! But something must work. Something must work that has never been tried.

Hope!

Hope will work. Hope will win Nigeria in 2019. Hope is a belief in a better future, and Nigeria’s better future lies in her youth. Hope, future, and youth is a combo that has never been tried in the Nigerian electoral experiment. Nigeria has tapped all of its energy, but one: its youth. The next candidate must not only be youthful, the next candidate must deliberately and unabashedly sell youth as a political asset. Youth is one message that can have a broad national appeal. Youth across Nigeria can transcend their regional parochialisms for a national political project in a highly dynamic globalizing world.

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This next candidate should run a national campaign built around taking back our country from the out-of-control pillaging gerontocrats. Call it youthexit, the youth of Nigeria must seek to exit this crippling morass and cesspit of ‘Bad Grandpas’, otherwise known as Nigeria. The ticket that wins in 2019 will have two youthful candidates – a young man and a young woman. And because this candidate is young, the next Nigerian presidential will be tech and social media savvy. We will have a president who is proficient in text, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, emojis, and other high context cyber communication innovations.

The youth candidate must galvanize eco-activists and be an environmentalist. It is a candidacy that must stress digital connectivity, availability, and affordability for all Nigerians. Such a candidacy must bring Nigeria into the 21st century. It is a failure of the Nigerian youth that in a 21st century digital world, old men who cannot navigate personal email accounts still rule. Arguments for youth education and youth employment, as cornerstones of a national economic rebirth, not only ring true on the lips of a youthful candidate, they also resonate with teeming Nigerian youth.

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This message of hope and youth will, essentially, be an anti-establishment message. In the Nigerian political context, establishment refers to the elite club of corrupt and thieving geriatrics. As a society, we have been socialized to respect our elders. What we have not been socialized to do is to respect thieving elders. Thieving elders who have looted the commonwealth deserve to be exposed, humiliated, embarrassed, and exemplarily punished.

Let me conclude by recognizing the big elephant sitting at the center of Nigeria’s political square: money. The potential youth candidate may be discouraged by a lean war-chest. This concern is made worse by mad money at the disposal of the old politicians who have stolen mindlessly from the public. Not to worry, campaigns in the age of the social media are not as capital intensive as they used to be. Donald trump has proved that a free Twitter handle can win an election.

2019 is going to be a very consequential election for Nigeria. The APC will not have as easy a path to victory as they did in 2015. The PDP still do not have an explanation for their sixteen years of colossal waste. Between both parties there is nothing for the Nigerian youth. The Nigerian youth have been squeezed out of existence in Nigeria. They must find their way back. To do that, the Nigerian youth must now organize. It is either the youth stage a hostile takeover of an existing party or they form one. Either way, Nigerian youth must exit the morass of the status quo and begin to navigate its way to Aso Rock. It can be done. Believe me, it can be done!

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