One mystery that amused as much as it confused me was the audacity of the political aspirants who join the race for elective positions aware of the impossibility of victory. Not because they’re unqualified nor is this about political or social discrimination. Rather, this is in consideration of the absence of structures to sell them to the electorate and also because they lack resources to appeal to our prebendal politics; they can’t match notoriously generous and more popular opponents. Some call this breed of emergency politicians “jokers”, even while excusing such bids for power as exercises of their franchise. But I had never paused in my sympathy for their misadventures.
I had an opportunity to hear from one of these politicians weeks ago. Having listened to his reasons for vying for an elective position, and why he needs the support of media-savvy indigenes to legitimize the project, I had to express a concern. For he is a man I respect, and consider somewhat politically awake, and also immensely intelligent. But these are not the credentials of a politician in this space.
“You know, the odds don’t favour you in this election,” I began. “First, you’re not really popular there, and you’re also not close to the kingmakers. They may not even like your name. They go for the bigger pockets, not for the progressive.”
I couldn’t be patronising even though he was an older man. He deserved honesty. His political bid, without analyses, is a waste of money, time and energy. I was surprised that he didn’t, or pretended not to, see through the prism. And for a man whose wealth, probably chickenfeed for his legendarily extravagant opponents, is hard-earned, lacking political sociability, and also not a son of a big man or famous family, my fear for his disastrous ambition was legitimate.
“Gimba,” he said, wearing a smile, a mocking smile, the smile of an all-knowing prophet. “If somebody comes and tells me that you’re this naive, I will dismiss that.”
That preamble is his style, his way of diminishing a challenger’s ego. But, well, I was ready for the education. He continued:
“Why do people contest in an elections they know aren’t in their favour? You need the honesty? Many do it for the social relevance that comes with it. You step out of the blues, and suddenly you’re dining with the high and the mighty. As a contractor, this aspiration will boost my business.”
At that moment I was conditionally dumb to comprehend his justification of how “wasting” the chunk of his savings could redeem his business enterprise, so I muttered a faint “how”, sure that would inspire a summary of the impending lecture.
“How? Look at it this way. Do you know the opportunities that come with being addressed as a onetime legislative, governorship or presidential candidate in our society?”
That was when I got the point. But, still, I didn’t admit to doing so. So he continued:
“It opens several doors for you. Your networks expand, and the quality of your friends also improve. Let me tell you a story. I once attended a wedding Fatiha with (name withheld) and even in the mosque, he was recognised by the Imam. At the Reception, he was invited to sit with the VIPs, and this is a man whose campaigns I almost single-handedly funded. Even though he lost the election, it has opened so many doors for him. He has become friends with (the winner of that election), and you know what that means. Connections, contracts, favours, name it.”
I didn’t praise his genius until he answered my question, a reservation about his theory, on the fallout of political rivalries: what happens when the winner of the election rejects your friendship. First, in his response, some “jokers” join the race to intimidate by instigating frightening fireworks and then fizzle out, on being noticed or invited by the Establishment.
Second, he explained: for politicians who would not back out or accept the olive branch offered by the handlers and sponsors of the big-spending opponent, eschewing smear campaigns while investing in the media in your campaigns is another smart way to remain friends after the election. And, true, I know so many contenders who fit these categories.
I pondered his theory of political contests, and for once I began to connect the dots, realising why the Chris Okoties of this world waste their Church’s money in an aspiration that is unachievable. Even Obama would consider as delusional, this odd audacity of Hope. This is because Obama doesn’t know the trappings of Nigeria’s Big Man syndrome, doesn’t know that membership of the establishment is an invitation to join the scavengers in feasting on the treasury either as contractors or undeserving appointees.
Aside from self-serving politicians like this lecturer of political opportunism, there are party-designed scams. In this, the party members are not known for commendable struggles to win elections. Our multi-party system is simply a diversification of shared interests, for there’s no reasonable way to explain the existence of about 56 political parties formed by citizens only interested in being addressed as, say, Chairman or National Secretary of this-and-that parties, citizens only interested in the connections that comes with such formations. For, yes, the chairman of a party that has an indecent shop in an unknown slum as its headquarters considers himself a political mate of the chairmen of big-spending parties, hence the connections!
But political opportunism is already an enterprise in which every ambitious citizen is a potential beneficiary. At least that’s the indictment I got in another interaction with a friend from a famous family. In our heart-to-heart conversation on the state of Nigeria, he observed how he owed all he had accomplished to his being the son of a Big Man, and that, whether we both agree or not, 10 to 20 years from now, we could both be variables of the nation’s power equation: “I’ll be there being the son of my father, and you will be there either for our friendship or for your social relevance and a little favour here and there. You know what I’m talking about.”
He laughed. I laughed. But that’s a joke that should actually be a cause to cry. May God save us from us!
By Gimba Kakanda
@gimbakakanda on Twitter