The array of support enjoyed by various frontline politicians during campaigns has not always translated to election victories, writes DANIEL AYANTOYE
Since 1999 when Nigeria began her new democratic experiment, general elections, especially presidential elections, have attracted special interests which are most times publicly displayed in form of endorsements.
The backing of candidates remains an enthralling feature in the electioneering process with several publicity stunts by some groups of people claiming to represent the interest of the masses through publicly displaying their support for a political office seeker.
Although this is not only applicable to Nigeria, the act has become a common style of politicking among political jobbers especially for the offices of the President and governors. The objective is to create an impression of a groundswell of public support against the realities at the polls. The intention is to make people believe that the person being endorsed is the right candidate and as such has the support of the endorsers and the more the endorsements, the greater the chances of winning.
One would wonder if the endorsement were truly a determinant to the outcome of the elections or the vote of the majority of people who are not affiliated to any group. Prior to the 2015 general election, the incumbent President then, Goodluck Jonathan had several endorsements against his counterpart in the APC, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), but the outcome of the election didn’t favour Jonathan despite the endorsements from various groups.
Jonathan’s endorsement was released like a torrential rain with several groups and individuals who lent their support to his candidacy, insisting that he was the best man for the job and should be allowed to continue. The deluge of support started with an endorsement by his party, the Peoples Democratic Party, which displaced other aspirants in the party. No doubt, being a sitting President influenced the party’s decision to solely give him the ticket.
However, despite other endorsements by the National Association of Nigeria Students, Yoruba socio-political group, Afenifere; women and youth organisations, professional associations, Nigerian Welfare Associations in the Diaspora, and all PDP governors, Jonathan failed to win the 2015 presidential election.
Just like the 2015 and other previous elections, as campaigns begins ahead of the 2023 general election, some frontline presidential candidates have begun to enjoy such backings. The All Progressives Congress flag bearer, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu; his counterpart in the PDP, Atiku Abubakar; Peter Obi of the Labour Party; and Rabiu Kwankwaso of the New Nigeria Peoples Party have all been benefiting from the current wave of endorsements.
It is now almost indubitable that many groups; real and fake, spring up during election periods with a view to enjoy one political benefit or the other. These groups are quick to approve the candidacy of politicians, most times for financial gratification and necessarily to achieve the main objective of these politicians, which is to win elections.
Although some of these endorsements have generated several controversies, political, tribal and religious groups have continued to align themselves to their preferred candidates. Recently, a delegation of Abuja-based pastors and bishops under the aegis of Nigerian Coalition of Pastors for Good Leadership endorsed Tinubu’s presidential bid.
Although the apex Christian body, the Christian Association of Nigeria, kicked against the move, the NCPGL assured the APC candidate of their support at the 2023 poll. According to the group, it is not concerned about the Muslim-Muslim ticket controversy that has surrounded the APC candidacy but resolved to support him on the basis of capacity.
Another group in Minna, the Niger State capital, comprising the All Farmers Association of Nigeria, Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore, Maize Association of Nigeria, Rice Farmers Association of Nigeria and the Federation of Agricultural Commodity Association of Nigeria also endorsed Tinubu as their candidate.
Earlier, some family heads (Mogaji); Baale and other notable groups, including Agbekoya, O’dua Peoples Congress, Fasehun’s faction, Irorun O’dua and non-indigenes represented by people from Akwa Ibom in Ibadan, also endorsed the Tinubu/Shettima for the 2023 presidency.
In October, during a dinner organised by the Lagos State Government with veterans in the Yoruba Nollywood industry at the Lagos House, Marina, theatre practitioners and Nollywood Stars unanimously endorsed Tinubu for presidency and the Lagos State Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu for a second term in office with a promise to work for their victory in the 2023 presidential and governorship elections. One could state that the APC candidate is receiving quite a number of endorsements as a ruling party.
On his part, the PDP presidential candidate, and his running mate, Senator Ifeanyi Okowa, received the endorsement of former President Goodluck Jonathan recently. Although Jonathan is a member of the PDP, it is believed that his influence as an ex-President will be a plus for the presidential candidate and his running mate.
Some northern youths under the aegis of Arewa Youth Progressives Alliance, also endorsed Atiku for 2023 presidential poll. Recently, another group, United Nigeria Movement also endorsed the candidacy of Alhaji Atiku Abubakar for the 2023 general elections. According to the Chairman of the group, Baba El-Nafaty, they were backing Atiku because of his track record in politics and in governance.
Another notable account is the endorsement of the Labour Party presidential candidate, Peter Obi, by the Yoruba socio-political group, Afenifere. The leader of the group, Chief Ayo Adebanjo, had maintained in many fora that the group decided to back the LP candidate for equity and inclusiveness.
He had said at a press conference in Lagos, “The current President is a Fulani from the North-West and by virtue of the zoning arrangement that has governed Nigeria since 1999, power is supposed to return to the South.
“Peter Obi is the person of Igbo extraction that Afenifere has decided to support and back, he is the man we trust to restructure the country back to federalism on the assumption of office.”
However, Afenifere’s endorsements generated controversies after another leader of the group, Pa Reuben Fasoranti, endorsed the APC presidential candidate. Tinubu was endorsed during a visit to Pa Fasoranti and other leaders of the group at his country home in Akure, the Ondo state capital.
Although the Secretary-General of the group, Sola Ebiseni, had clarified that the endorsement of Obi was the original, the endorsement of two presidential candidates of different parties by the same group exposed the group to receiving backlash from the public.
Aside from Afenifere, other endorsements that has been shown on the LP presidential candidate include that of the South-East and Middle Belt Forum, an interfaith body from North-Central states led by Archbishop Leonard Kawas, the General Overseer of World Harvest Ministry and Sheikh Muhammed Muritala Mahmood, and a host of others.
Meanwhile, analysts have argued that such activities, which are indicators of the candidates’ popularity, may not translate to victory after the election.
A professor of law and political analyst, Nnamdi Aduba, said the endorsements were meaningless in the Nigerian context, adding that Nigerians were copying the American style of endorsement without following the process used in the developed countries.
According to him, in developed countries, every group endorses a candidate based on its interest while also backing the endorsement with funding as well as ensuring that the candidate gets the votes of their members. He stated that the Nigerian style of endorsement was characterised by deceit and the desire for incentives from the candidates. Aduba added that greedy people were endorsing candidates to secure monetary or other favours but, in the process, jeopardise the interest of their people.
“You know as Nigerians, we are known for our copycat attitude. In the United States of America, when they are doing endorsement; suddenly, everybody copies and starts doing endorsement. Even those who are worth next to nothing in terms of votes also want to endorse. It’s unnecessary and doesn’t mean anything to the outcome of the election.
“People who are doing the endorsement are just those who want to corner one favour or the other. Sometimes, these are people who are claiming what they are not. For instance, when you see these tribal groupings, you should ask how many votes they command.
“Most of them are urban-based. If it were the traditional rulers, I can understand, because some of them have a crowd; they can talk to their indigenes. I mean when you talk about people like the Ooni of Ife, Oba of Benin and the rest of them; again, some of those traditional rulers are careful not to endorse anybody because they are occupying sensitive positions and they are elderly people.
“Endorsing a candidate does not determine who wins. Take for example, Afenifere; how many votes do they individually cast apart from their own personal votes? What leverage do they have in the political realm? How can they themselves help somebody in securing votes? You are going to canvass for votes on the basis of the impact you have had on the people.
“Those endorsements don’t mean anything in the Nigeria context. If you see the context and how they do it in America, you will see those who are in charge of labour. Those who are in charge of gun rights, among others will give you an endorsement, and it’s not an empty endorsement; they will also add funds for you to push the election because they have a lot to gain if you are in power.
“Labour and trade unions endorse because they will see that if the democrats are there, labour laws that will advance the welfare of the workers would be passed. That’s the meaning of these endorsements. You don’t endorse for the sake of endorsement. The term, ‘endorsement’, in Nigerian context has been misplaced completely. What is the ideology behind it? It is just about ‘stomach infrastructure’.
Another Analyst, Malachy Ugwummadu, said elections were not based on the premises of endorsement but the numbers of votes.
“Election is a contest driven by numbers but predicated on votes. When you harness diverse groups’ endorsement that cut across, it’s indicative of your popularity and acceptance. But the big problem is the quality of the endorsement. Are their endorsements genuinely reflecting a choice or just a bandwagon process? Are they just people who are endorsing because it has become fashionable during election times to make declarations?
“It is only when you are dealing with a critical mass that has the capacity to evaluate and make choices on which they want to elect that you can be talking about endorsement in the positive sense. If it is an endorsement for the purpose of satisfying a political godfather or a political leader within a constituency who has probably traded with contestants, then it is an issue. Certainly, such defeats the purpose of choices. In other words, what is the mental capacity of the people endorsing with respect to the endorsement. Is it voluntary?
“Election is a contest predicated on numbers but decided largely by choice. So, the credibility and integrity of that choice is what is the issue. It is also a reflection of the maturity of our exercises. If it’s based on genuine choices then you can find no fault in it, but if it is the usual thing that Fayose called Stomach Infrastructure, where most of the time the people don’t know the people they are endorsing.
“The endorsement is an indicator of popularity but not a confirmation of the candidates’ popularity. A candidate can be endorsed and at the end, the person endorsed records failure.
“Student movements like NANS should not be seen in partisan politics. Again, Afenifere did endorse in 2015 and is still repeating itself again this time in a more disastrous manner. Such should be done consciously. Election periods are like festivals in Nigeria and there are political jobbers everywhere who want to take advantage of the period,” Ugwummadu added.
However, an APC chieftain, Osita Okechukwu, was of the opinion that endorsement had become an integral part of campaigns that built the faith of the candidates ahead of the elections. He stressed that candidates had more chances when endorsed as such endorsement may translate into votes.
He said, “Endorsement is a tradition in legal democracy. They say political campaigns are the festival of democracy; so, it’s like in any other festival where every dancing group wants to be recognised. Endorsement is a symbolic recognition of candidature by individuals or organisations. It’s symbolic more or less but also strengthens the faith of the candidate by depending on their support.
“For instance, when Pa Adebanjo, Afenifere endorsed Peter Obi, it became historic because it’s very rare, because the Igbo and Yoruba are not enemies, but they are competitors in this regard. So, it’s like extending a hand which is historic, and for some of us, we immensely commend Pa Adebanjo for that.
“Even if it is only his votes and those of his people in Afenifere because they willed support, and it might not be monetary. When you heard that Pa Reuben Fasoranti has endorsed Asiwaju, it’s also a big plus in the Asiwaju campaign. It means there are people who will sit at home and say, ‘if papa had endorsed this man, it means the man has something to offer’.
“Assuming the man has gone to say Peter Obi is a thief or Fasoranti has come to say Asiwaju is a thief, it could have been painful as well as damaging. So, their endorsements are symbolic. The support may be translated into votes. You cannot go out of your way to endorse somebody and on the voting day, you vote for another person.”
The spokesperson for the PDP in Kwara State, Mr. Tunji Moronfoye, said a candidate should be concerned about the credibility of the group endorsing in order not to be a victim of deceit.
Recalling the 2015 general election, Moronfoye stated that ex-President Jonathan was deceived by those who claimed to have endorsed him. According to him, endorsement should be done by groups that sincerely have votes to deliver to the candidates.
“There are some deceitful endorsements; we saw such during the 2015 election where people said they endorsed Jonathan and at the end, he couldn’t win those areas where he was endorsed. When somebody who is a member of the government endorses the government, you know it is the government endorsing the government. When you see endorsement all over, you now need to look carefully through it to see which one is deceitful and which one is not.
“Sometimes, if you are not a politician, you just hear the endorsement and believe it. For example, I endorse someone now, what difference does it make? I have just one vote, but when you see a known body that has a thousand followers and the group endorses, that’s something to take home.
“Look at what we are having about Asiwaju Bola Tinubu presently, where the Afenifere broke into two because of endorsement. That goes to show you that endorsement doesn’t really matter in comparison with what will really happen at the poll.
He also said, “Sometimes we have royal fathers endorsing candidates who are already governors and you do realise that they are sometimes protecting their jobs. But again, they are the fathers of everybody, and it’s only normal that they endorse everybody. Sometimes, they go overboard, most times, they stay within their zones, they don’t overdo it. If the PDP comes, they will endorse them, if the APC comes, they will endorse them as well. You as the person that’s been endorsed should be able to figure out if the endorsement is really worth it,” he added.