For the first time in Nigeria's history, the three largest state economies in the country are in the hands of the opposition â€“ the All progressives Congress controls the governments in Lagos, Kano and Rivers states. The House of Representatives is almost effectively in the hands of the party, and the Senate might actually follow suit. In 2015, there’s the exciting possibility that the party will go ahead and snatch fresh ground from the Peoples Democratic Party.
And even if it ends up losing the presidential election, it seems quite clear already that the margin will not be the 10 million votes that we saw in 2011.
I find this very exciting, considering that the whole point of a democracy is to present alternatives to citizens. We have come a long way from the one-party state that the PDP seemed intent on foisting on us years ago. (Recall when one national chairman of the party boasted that the PDP would rule for 60 unbroken years. Today, not even the next six years are certain!)
But the APC has a lot of work ahead. It will need to build considerable loyalty amongst ordinary Nigerians. A registration exercise for new members is due this month. It will be an opportunity for the APC to do things differently or be seen to be doing so. One thing to do would definitely be to target the youth.
If you think about it, there are millions of Nigerian teenagers who have come of voting age in the last three years, since the April 2011 elections. Let's break it down. The voting age in Nigeria is 18. This means that anyone born after January 1993 would have been ineligible to vote in the 2011 elections (considering that voters' registration was last done in January 2011)
In 2015, those born in 1997 will finally be eligible to vote. What this means is that there's a mass of Nigerians born between 1993 and 1997, who could not vote in 2011 but will now be able to vote in 2015.
In the mid-nineties, an estimated four million children were born annually in Nigeria. Even accounting for child mortality figures, the size of that 1993 â€“ 1996/7 demographic should still be in excess of 10 million. That's a sizable number, for any political party seeking to target new demographics. (This is where we have to give a nod to the Nigeria Tragedy: The fact that, going by our school enrolment rates, a sizable number of those young people will have never stepped inside a classroom; that they will be illiterate, destitute, frustrated, and completely uninterested in partisan politics outside of the context of thuggery and banditry).
Perhaps, the APC will consider starting a "wing" for these 18 â€“ 21 year-old "first-timers". This can be an experiment to see how politics can be made appealing to the youngest voters. How can we "un-complicate" our politics for the benefit of young Nigerians? And this is where the planning units of our political parties should be considering breaking up the existing youth monolith. I'm not sure how helpful it is to think of 18 â€“ 35s as a single voting bloc.
A 35-year-old is almost twice as old as an 18-year-old; and even 29-year-olds will generally not consider themselves to be in the same grouping as 22-year-olds. So, perhaps we should start thinking of the 18 â€“ 21/22 class as a distinct sub-unit, and targeting them accordingly, depending on their economic and educational class. What are the issues that concern them the most? Education will be key. At that age, the most fortunate ones will be in university. Most others will be on their way out of secondary school, struggling to find a place in post-secondary institutions. They will be struggling with the Senior Secondary Certificate Examination, National Examination Council, General Certificate of Education and the Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination.
The youth engagement route will, to a large extent, need to be built around technology. The easiest way to reach those millions of young Nigerians will be through the social networking sites and mobile phones.
The Obama presidential campaigns for 2008 and 2012 in the United States have set an example for the world regarding the potential of the youth vote. According to one American Think Tank, it was the youth vote that gave Obama the edge in four states (Ohio, Florida, Virginia, Pennsylvania), which jointly accounted for 80 electoral votes. Had Mitt Romney managed to take at least 50 per cent of those votes in those states, he would have won in them, and taken the US Presidency.
Which leads me to the issue of strategic approaches to the coming elections. For far too long, Nigeria's elections have been exercises in "vote-capturing" â€“ blatant acts of rigging and manipulation. The emphasis on transparent data-driven strategy has always managed to be less than impressive. But I think that is starting to change. Even though we all know that acts of rigging and manipulation and voter intimidation will continue to beset Nigerian politics well into the future, I think it also seems clear that we are moving (slowly, of course) towards an era of increasing electoral transparency. And it’s time to start preparing for when that Age fully dawns.
In March 2011, I wrote an article for NEXT newspaper, titled: "Don’t we need data and ideas in Nigerian politics?" In it I said:
"Have we got â€˜strategists' in Nigeria; who do such things as crunch numbers and data, divide up the electorate into â€˜catchment areas', and devise campaign plans to reach all those segments? Do we have, in the engine rooms of our political parties, people obsessed with polling as a means of understanding the electorate? (In the first place, is polling feasible in the Nigerian system; can it ever be considered credible enough to depend on as a mechanism for electoral planning?)
"We are witnesses to how the revelation, from INEC, that the largest numbers of voters lie in the North-West and South-West, have shaped the ongoing presidential campaigns. In the absence of such basic statistics, how is a candidate supposed to prioritise and allocate scarce campaign resources?
"Or, are Nigerian elections meant to be driven solely by crudeness we have come to associate with them â€“ noisy campaigns full of cursing your opponents and remixing gospel songs; sharing biscuits, cash and bags of rice; and the use of plain old voter intimidation before and during the voting?"
I think those questions are still relevant today. The 2011 elections were not perfect, but they were a significant improvement on the shams that took place in 1999, 2003 and 2007.
The future will lie in the use of technology. I'm aware that there are already a number of initiatives involving the use of technology in election monitoring and reporting and transparency, rolled out in 2011, and being fine-tuned for 2015. (Perhaps I will focus on them in a future article).
Our political parties also need to wake up, and embrace modern technology, as a tool for engagement with the people. At the very basic levels are mobile phones â€“ there are more than 100 million phone lines in this country. Even illiterate people are proving that they can learn to use mobile phones. The APC needs to consider becoming a tech-savvy opposition party.
Having said all that, the biggest potential for the APC will of course lie, not in what it says, tweets, or texts, but in what it does; what it does that sets it apart from the ruling party. One example: As far as I'm concerned, allowing a prominent member like Senator Magnus Abe to be flown to London for treatment for injuries allegedly sustained from rubber bullets tells me that the APC is not eager to be taken as a serious alternative to the PDP.
Are we to believe that none of the 16 states currently controlled by the APC has a government-run hospital capable of taking care of Abe? If no, then what exactly is the APC selling? Sometime last year, the APC Leader Bola Tinubu was away for a few months, seeking medical treatment abroad. If the President and First Lady are running abroad for medical treatment, and the leaders of the Opposition are doing the same, where lies the hope for the ordinary Nigerian?
If the APC becomes the ruling party, what will change?
The APC should however be aware that it will not get a wildcard in this ‘tournament’. It needs to prove itself beyond reasonable doubt, that it is a credible alternative to what the PDP has been offering us for 15 years.
If it can't do that convincingly, I foresee many Nigerians quietly resigning themselves to the fact that sticking with the devil they already know will be preferable to switching to a different devil.
- Twitter: @toluogunlesi