Whether during elections or referendums, citizens seem to have stopped playing ball and political analysts are playing catch up. Recent political upsets across the world have shocked seasoned observers as their expert ‘predictions’ have been proved wrong.
The best part of all this is that Nigeria might just be next.
Recently, Nigeria has been praised for conducting better elections, which largely explains how we unseated an incumbent in the last vote. As a voter, 2015 was memorable because of the vivid memories of packs of rice and ‘mineral’ which miraculously appeared at my polling unit. For a split second, I was in awe of the generosity of the Nigerian state for rewarding us for exercising our civic duties. This lasted as long as it took me to realise that the source of the rice was my ‘future governor.’ At this point, I knew that my vote would count for nothing. Nevertheless, I stuck to my preferred candidate; there was rice at home.
The Lesser of Two Evils
There is a problem with modern democracy, and Nigeria cannot avoid it. In 2015, it was clear that neither presidential candidate was the best we had to offer. In 2016, Americans seemed doomed to the same fate - voting between two unpopular candidates. And in 2017, the UK suffered the same grim choice between a robotic candidate and a controversial opposition candidate.
Observers can see a very clear pattern: democracies with two dominant parties can present voters with choices between unattractive candidates, creating a situation where the voter feels the need to pick the lesser of two evils.
Even in strong two-party systems like the US, there are multiple candidates, but we continually see voters support major parties due to familiarity, and an acceptance that the two leading parties have the money, experience and political machinery to win and govern.
As a child, I always wondered why Nigerians supported unelectable candidates like the economist, Pat Utomi. He didn’t have a realistic chance, making voting all the more futile. One supporter responded: “so that PDP knows that not everyone approves of them, even though their boys might destroy my ballot paper when they see it.” Her words stuck.
Now, we live in a different global political landscape, where we see the collapse of party systems like in France. It is an interesting case, cause the collapse of the two parties was met with the emergence of a charismatic candidate with impressive traits. One lesson for this is that an impressive candidate might be a key part of a minority party's success.
However, the odds are not great for those of us who like to ‘waste’ votes. In 2007 and 2011, the two leading parties in Nigeria secured about 93% of the votes between them. In the 2015 election, it went up to 99%! This means that those who thought there was a chance for 'new candidates' might have been living in a false Nigeria, definitely not ours.
That being said, for the first time, real momentum appears to be building for alternatives to the major parties in Nigeria. Opposition parties such as KOWA, alongside groups like the new Coalition for Nigeria and the Nigeria Intervention Movement appear to be gaining increasing publicity and media attention.
President Obasanjo has hinted at his willingness to support an alternative to the potential frontrunners in his widely publicised statement, Oby Ezekwesili’s Red Card to PDP and APC movement is gaining traction on social media, and the recent registrations of 21 political parties has taken Nigeria to a record number of 67 political parties.
Fela Durotoye in his interview and Kingsley Moghalu in his announcement speech also appear to want to beat the system. However, there are a few reality checks ahead for all minor parties and candidates.
Vote Splitting is an ever-present danger to multiple minority parties. This sometimes allows established parties win. In addition, while we have seen that an impressive canididate is a key part of a minority party's chances, Nigeria seems to have a strange relationship with quality.
The ability to filter for quality in elections is also something that comes with the ability to 'vote well', which is still difficult for developing countries like ours. Finally, there is the question of how a Fela Durotoye will finance a successful campaign in an environment where power brokers use war chests to retain political power.
Sadly, it remains safe to say that the inauguration speech at Eagle's Square by a female visionary might still be light years away in our rugged democracy. However, the one thing we now know from the wider world is that there remain no certainties in politics. Don’t ask me, ask Hilary.