LOUD WHISPERS: A Glossary Of Political Terms

We are now right in the middle of an intense political season. There are many women and young people who want to enter into the political arena but find it difficult to make much progress. They find things confusing and don’t know who or what to believe. They also come across a lot of new terms and jargon which takes them time to understand. Many times, they have to provide answers when they didn’t even fully grasp the question. There are also quite a number of veteran politicians who need to keep up with the times. I hope this mostly Nigeria-specific glossary (it is not in alphabetical order) will help, and that you can relate to it regardless of where your political farm is.


The Godfather is real, he is not a myth. You will find people who will tell you a Godfather is not necessary for you to succeed in politics. If you agree, you have failed already, you don’t have to take my word for it. A Godfather doesn’t have to be rich (most of them are), old (a lot of them are) or very loud (the louder the less effective). A Godfather is someone who gives the word and it gets passed down the value chain. You need to get on his radar, or on the radar of someone who knows someone who knows him. The most important currency you need when you are relating with a Godfather is Loyalty. Forget about how brilliant or competent you are – all those can be found elsewhere.


This one might sound strange, but she exists. The curriculum vitae of the Godmother might even be longer than that of the Godfather. She was a young girl who served tea at meetings with Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe. She was Welfare officer of her Ward when Chief Obafemi Awolowo started Unity Party of Nigeria after rebranding from the Action Group. She was one of the young girls who ironed the prison uniforms of Hajia Gambo Sawaba. You can afford to piss off the Godfather, the Godmother can intercede on your behalf. The problem this presents is that whatever you do, you never cross the Godmother. If you do, you are on your own.‘


In politics, if you run into a problem that seems intractable, it means you have run into ‘barbed wire’. If you are not careful, as you try to extricate yourself from the wire, a wrong move could plunge you deeper into the mess of wires. There are many barbed wire situations in politics. You cannot always avoid getting into trouble, but at least don’t be foolhardy and look before you leap. Examples of ‘barbed wire’ situations are refusing to follow instructions of party leaders, dating the lady the Party Leader is interested in, forgetting to supply diesel to the Party Chairman or sending a goat to the Market Women Leader instead of a cow.


In 2019, I was trying to support one of the female candidates in Ekiti for the State House of Assembly. She was a strong candidate, from a prominent family, well educated and a committed party member. She ticked all the right boxes. I had put in a good word for her and assumed that all would be well and the process would take care of itself. I travelled out of the country for two weeks. When I got back, my plan was to stay in Lagos for another week to attend to some things. I spoke to my husband when I got home from the airport and when I asked how things were going in Ekiti he said, ‘I understand your candidate is not ‘on ground’. I was stunned, I had no idea what that meant. Everyone knew who she was! I abandoned my plans to stay in Lagos and went straight back to Ekiti. After a week of face to face meetings (which included kneeling) appeals, and the necessary motivations, my candidate was firmly ‘on ground’. Being ‘on ground’ is metaphorical as well as literal.


This one is straightforward. The leaders invite you to a meeting. They appeal to you to accept their proposals. They offer you incentives or make promises. You listen and agree to play your part, whatever that part is. If you dislike your part, you are free to join another party.


Yes, ‘Stingy’ is a political term, hence it deserves a place in this glossary. Facilitating a school for your community, providing a primary healthcare clinic, digging a borehole or providing solar light are commendable things. You are still ‘Stingy’. You bought ‘empowerment materials’ and gave out Okadas, sewing machines, hairdryers, grinding machines. You are still ‘Stingy’. You gave Christmas/Ramadan gifts to the Chairman, Youth Leader, Woman Leader, Labour, Artisans, Okada riders and so on, you are still ‘Stingy’. Do you want to know how not to be ‘Stingy’? Forget the Bible verse about the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing. Next time you do anything in your community, forget about being modest. Modesty is the downfall of the ambitious politician. Grab a microphone or megaphone and let the whole world know who was given what, where, when and how. Until then, you are ‘Stingy’.


As a politician who doesn’t have a lot of experience, everywhere you go, you will hear, ‘You are the first to do this…….’. You will visit ten places and they will say this to you ten times. It is a lie. They have said the same thing to every person who went to campaign there.


As a politician, you will seek endorsements from many important stakeholders. Royal fathers will listen to you and pray for your success. They will tell you what their communities need. Religious leaders will lay their hands on you. Market women will list their demands and dance for you. Young people will demand for jobs and more attention. Women will demand for 35% inclusion. You will say yes to all demands and they will say yes, you have our support. Everyone asks for endorsement. Everyone gets it. You will not know for sure till election day.


In political circles, you will hear this a lot, ‘I have not been carried along’, or  ‘We the leaders have not been carried along’. You will stand there scratching your head in disbelief. You invite people to meetings to discuss issues and take a position and they still turn around to say ‘We were not carried along’. If you do not make time to visit a leader and have a private session with him and believe he will be happy with a town hall meeting that involves many other people, you have not ‘carried him along’ because you have not made him feel special. If you invite people to a meeting and do not provide adequate transport fare, you have not carried them along. If you only gave your party leader N50,000 when his daughter was getting married, you have not carried him along. If you only sent two chickens to the wife of the leader for Christmas, you have not carried her along. If you did not sponsor anyone to Mecca or Jerusalem from your constituency, you have not carried people along. Hope you understand the term better now.


The citizens in these units are very passionate and engaged. Their opinions and insights are interesting and can be profound, all reflections of the patriotism that drives many of them. Though there are those who give cause for concern about the state of their mental health, these political units serve as a rallying point for a lot of young and middle-aged voters. The problem is the number of opinions and solutions in these units does not match the number of voters’ cards needed to make a difference. There are no physical polling units here and while these units have many returning officers, they are all illegal. Many political fortunes have been led astray in these units. If you are a politician who is serious about winning elections, maximise your engagement with the people who can actually vote and are keen to do so in real polling units and wards.

There is a lot more to share, but let me stop here for now. Good luck with all your political adventures. I am available for political consulting. I do not come cheap, but I guarantee you value for money. You can contact me after your party primaries.Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi is a Gender Specialist, Social Entrepreneur and Writer. She is the Founder of Abovewhispers.com, an online community for women. She is the First Lady of Ekiti State, and she can be reached at BAF@abovewhispers.com

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