LOUD WHISPERS: As Political Rookies Get Ready

Last week, I attended a book reading in Abuja, an event that was organized to present Ayisha Osori’s book ‘Love does not win elections’. I am not writing a review of Ayisha’s thought provoking account of her experiences. I however urge everyone reading this to try and get a copy of this really good book which is available in several leading bookstores around the country and will also be online soon.

In the run up to the 2015 national elections, Ayisha attempted to win a seat to represent one of the constituencies in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Abuja. It was Ayisha’s first venture into mainstream politics. She was an ideal candidate – a Harvard trained Lawyer, with corporate executive experience, a human rights background and strong civil society affiliations. She would have been an excellent choice to represent the FCT in the National Assembly. Considering the woeful numbers of women we have in the National Assembly in Nigeria, having someone like Ayisha would have at least given a sense that what women lack in numbers, they make up for with a qualitative presence. Sadly but not surprisingly, Ayisha did not win her party primaries.  Most of the experiences that Ayisha shares in her book are very familiar – wading through the maze of party machineries and big people (mostly men), the humongous financial requirements, endless and sometimes pointless meetings. Perhaps one of the most disturbing things that becomes apparent to Ayisha, is that the decision to choose the winner rests in the hands of certain people who are courted, cultivated, and wooed non-stop. These people are known as the almighty Delegates. How and why many of these delegates are chosen is often shrouded in mystery.  What is common knowledge though is that delegates  decide who wins and who loses. Whoever ‘controls’ the delegates wins the day. How does a relatively young, inexperienced political ‘outsider’ get access to this all important group?

The political space in most African democracies continues to be problematic for those who want to try for the first time. Except for those who are considered to be part of political dynasties, access to party machineries often controlled by Godfathers (there are very few Godmothers) is almost impossible for those who want to be part of an agenda for transformation. Even with all the provisions for multi-party democracy in a country like Nigeria, what we have now is a default two-party system, with written and unwritten rules that make it almost impossible for the new entrants to venture up the political food chain. So what can be done? I spend a lot of time with people who have contested for elections or who are planning to do so. I have many stories to tell about how politics at all levels works in a country like Nigeria. For those who might be thinking of running for political office in the next election cycle or further down the line, I would like to share the following advice:

  1. Learn about how political machineries work

Many new politicians do not understand how political parties function, who makes decisions on paper and who makes the call for real. Party people are always on the lookout for ‘rookie’ politicians so that they can tell you what you want to hear and milk you for as long as they can. Before you make a decision to contest, take time to study the party you have joined and arm yourself with useful and relevant information. You need to find out who you need to consult with before you even open your mouth to say you want to run. You need to ask questions such as who actually controls the party machinery? If there are different political caucuses within the party, should I join one or set up my own caucus with people who think like me? What is internal democracy like in my party? How can I put a good political team together?

  1. Every new politician needs a Godfather/Godmother

 Don’t believe anyone who tells you that you don’t need a Godfather to help you when you are starting out. It is important to demystify who or what a political Godfather is. Godfathers don’t go around with evil signs written on their foreheads. They do not have to be warlords who force you to sign a contract committing resources that you have control over should you win. Your Godfather does not have to be a money bag who keeps you on a tight leash as you are jerked around or take you to a shrine to swear an oath of allegiance. Your Godfather could be your Ward Chairman who will vouch for you and hand you over to those who will support you. It could be your local Priest who can discreetly put in a good word for you, or your traditional ruler. Your Aunt who is the Market Women leader could be your Godmother. Anyone who has the clout to sway critical people your way can be your Godfather/mother. The point is, don’t pretend that you don’t need one. Otherwise you have lost before you start. Back in the day, Barrack Obama had a number of Godfathers and Godmothers who helped him up the political ladder. If it makes you feel better, you can call them ’Helpers’ or ‘Angels’. Whatever you call them, you need them, so look for one.

  1. Build political capital

The most successful political leaders are those who have made a case for themselves in their communities over time. You can’t live and work in Lagos, build a name and fortune for yourself there, and assume that you can show up in your state of origin and become an overnight sensation. You don’t attend your annual town celebration day. You do not belong to any development club concerned about your community. You do not know the full name of your traditional ruler. You have never donated even a bicycle to your town. Your extended family members don’t see you because you refuse to spend Christmas in the village because you are afraid of ‘witches’.  You don’t attend funerals and weddings because ‘you don’t like noise’. Then you decide you want to be a Senator or a member of the House of Representatives and then you start showing up. You have zero political capital and the party operatives will have a field day shaving your head. If you want political relevance, get engaged in your community. You don’t have to wait till a time when you want to run for anything, you might decide that contesting is not for you. However if you have political and social capital you can use it for yourself or for someone else.

  1. Don’t let money deter you…………..but yes, you need to have some!

Money plays a huge role in politics. Sadly, this is the reason why qualified, decent people find themselves excluded, and high office falls into the hands of sundry miscreants. For those getting into politics for the first time, I advise them to think and plan ahead. Develop a resource mobilisation strategy that can attract support in cash and kind from your networks. A friend might offer to do your posters. Your alumni association might hold a fundraiser. You might have a friend who sells rice and can support you with in-kind donations. The most difficult part is raising money to contest the primaries. If you are able to clinch the party ticket, it will be much easier to mobilise the resources you need. Even if you are lucky and you have a wealthy supporter, you have to get help from a variety of sources because politics is terribly expensive. Hopefully, one day we will have campaign financing rules that are transparent enough to create a level playing field.

  1. Clarify your intentions and expectations

A question I often ask people who talk about wanting to run for office for the first time is, ‘What is your Plan B’? The responses vary.  Some say they have no other plan. If I lose I will go back home they will say. Some are open to discussions about other roles they could play to serve their communities. It is always good to have some clarity about why you are contesting and what would be another way to serve. If it is all about you, then by all means be prepared to go home and try again in four years. Sometimes circumstances make it impossible to have any option other than to go back home, for example if your party loses to another party. However if there is a context where serving in some other capacity is an option, then I usually advise to go for it. This will keep you ‘politically relevant’, it will help you keep your political family together and you will have more experience in public service. If you see that your competitors are getting the upper hand, see if there is at least one of them whose politics is in alignment with yours and negotiate  with them. This is a smarter move than finding yourself with one delegate out of four thousand delegate votes in a primary election. You will score points for bravery and determination (which is a good thing) but you might also be on the way political oblivion.

  1. Be prepared to learn

If you are an aspiring politician, there are so many things you need to learn or unlearn. Learn more about your community, you will be surprised at what you do not know. Listen carefully to what is being said and what is left unsaid. Develop a thick skin. Be prepared to be lied to, lied about, called names and accused of things you know nothing about. You will be dragged in so many different directions and you will have to agree to be pushed and prodded. Also, the mathematics of politics has a different logic, 2+2 is never 4. Sounds terrible? It can be.

There is a whole lot more but I will stop here. I do hope Ayisha Osori runs for office again, or considers serving in some capacity. Nigeria needs people like her. To all those out there with dynamic and innovative ideas, go for it! It is certainly not easy, but the ride will be worth it.

Have a great week.


Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi is a Gender Specialist, Social Entrepreneur and Writer. She is the Founder of Abovewhispers.com, an online community for women. She can be reached at BAF@abovewhispers.com



Sign up for Updates

17 Responses to LOUD WHISPERS: As Political Rookies Get Ready

  1. Dom Dom August 28, 2017 at 2:31 pm

    As someone who has never really considered a future in politics generally, i must confess this is an eye opener. These lessons are as insightful as ever, and i hope the book gets to be online soon. its always easier to procure books that way.

  2. Femi Diipo August 28, 2017 at 2:37 pm

    It is always interesting to read realistic articles about Nigerian politics, where one can easily compare the supposed political ideals with the messy realities of politicking in this country. A corrupt political system can hardly birth a government free from it and the evidence of this is ever apparent. However, as reflected in this article, those with good intentions and are prepared for service can still find their way around it. Perhaps with time, such will make this nation great again someday

  3. Femi Diipo August 28, 2017 at 2:38 pm

    It is always interesting to read realistic articles about Nigerian politics, where one can easily compare the supposed political ideals with the messy realities of politicking in this country. A corrupt political system can hardly birth a government free from it and the evidence of this is ever apparent. However, as reflected in this article, those with good intentions and are prepared for service can still find their way around it. Perhaps with time, such will make this nation great again someday

  4. Victoria E August 28, 2017 at 4:18 pm

    Very true. Very practical. Very deep from the wealth of knowledge.

  5. omilola Adeleke. August 28, 2017 at 4:23 pm

    I love this. This is real! We must allow aspiring politicians know what they should know and not just jump at the not too young to rule thingie.

  6. Victor Udoh August 28, 2017 at 4:23 pm

    The lord will prosper your wealth of knowledge in Jesus name

  7. Vivian. August 28, 2017 at 4:26 pm

    They must learn and unlearn. This is key in every society. I love you so much ma. You are so blunt and very sincere. God bless you.

  8. Zainab Andrews August 28, 2017 at 4:27 pm

    This is something deep that every politician must work with. Let’s allow women come into politics on a smooth platform. It is needed. We must allow our women assist themselves.

  9. Fola Richie-Adewusi August 29, 2017 at 8:41 am

    Excellent piece as always!!

  10. Olakunle Olajide August 29, 2017 at 3:57 pm

    Wow! It was just on Sunday, we were having a family talk on politics as a young aspirer was in our midst. I am so glad to read this because it just validated almost everything i said. Like the piece here, get all the information, the intels, the cabals, a thick skin and much more. But i sincerely don’t think anything will change in Nigeria politics except there is a revolt or a genocide(pardon if this seems harsh). What our politicians control is deeply rooted into the Nigeria system making it very difficult to break that very long chain. We just don’t know it, but most masses are actually surviving and not living and are ready to compromise at any instance. I sure hope this knowledge shared will help all aspirers gain grounds.
    Thank you for sharing ma’am.

  11. DSEED August 29, 2017 at 9:07 pm

    These outlines are mind blowing. I always know that there are more to politics than to make yourself a political thug. I also think most politicians lack this foundation, they run their political life on lost or on chance. It is good to know the basic of everything before giving yourself a go ahead. Thank you ma for this piece.

  12. Funmi Cole August 30, 2017 at 8:00 am

    Excellent! Really excellent. I look forward to the meeting in November.

  13. Florence Jimoh August 30, 2017 at 8:05 am

    Very apt! Clarifying intentions matters a lot. Most of them just want the power. They are not willing to serve.

  14. Princess August 31, 2017 at 9:29 am

    This is reality because most people just go into politics for selfish reasons and gullible ones would vote them in based on sentiments.

  15. Akpes August 31, 2017 at 9:39 am

    If you don’t
    have anything to offer please don’t go into politics, because many folk get involved in politics due on their selfish motives. And this is very common in Nigeria, may God help our understanding. Amen!

  16. Mofe Lukman August 31, 2017 at 2:27 pm

    If you don’t know the tenets of politics in Nigeria, failure awaits. Thanks for sharing this with us.

  17. Oluwatosino August 31, 2017 at 4:59 pm

    Thanks ma for sharing this insightful points with us… We keep saying we are the leaders of tomorrow but we don’t even have understanding of what we need to get to the leading position. This is like foundation of it.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Notify me of new posts by email.