How do we deliver? What can we deliver? MKO Abiola’s political campaign strategy is an example for all to emulate.
Late Chief MKO Abiola’s election campaign is an epitome of first class political advertising. Fantastically issue-based, it met the yearnings and aspirations of Nigerians. Tagged “Hope ’93,” his presidential aspiration-cum-campaign truly boosted hope in a country on the verge of collapse. It was but a short-lived hope to a people in dire need of reassurance. The Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP), a neo-liberal economic reform initiated by the Bretton Woods Institution, World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) had crashed and landed Africa, including Nigeria, in deep trouble.
This situation strangulated the manufacturing and agricultural industries and in turn heightened unemployment crises and social insecurity. People were immersed in severe hardship and poverty through relegation of their purchasing power parity and challenges in accessing basic social services such as schools and hospital facilities. The increasing adversity inflicted by the adoption and implementation of SAP became too much to bear. Anger set in; there were sporadic industrial disputes and strikes, which further hampered economic development in Nigeria. The debilitating consequences of SAP gave way to militia groups: yandaba in the North, area boys in the South West and Niger Delta militants.
But MKO’s presidential campaign doused this dilemma. When Abiola threw his hat in the ring in 1993 to contest the presidential race, many Nigerians beamed with hope of a better tomorrow. His campaign, designated “Farewell to Poverty,” built bridges of reassurances across the regions of the country through promises of bringing succor to the downtrodden. His strategic campaign led to his massive victory at the polls that was later negated by an unexplained annulment.
His election campaign was issue-based; logically marshalling out strategies to confront Nigeria’s hydra-headed social, economic and political problems. The campaign identified particular problems facing the electorate that the presidential candidate and his party, SDP, had to solve. Some of the catchy issues raised by Abiola were the burden of schooling, the high rate of poverty and bridging the ethnic and religious divide. This approach won the hearts of many Nigerians and Abiola became the “expected Messiah.” The party’s slogan, “Progress and Action,” propagated by the best political campaign song Nigeria has ever had in the history of presidential campaigns, fostered more trust, confidence and hope in Abiola.
It was a robust campaign that resonated with the people. One of the jingles, “On the March Again,” was particularly striking. MKO’s campaign was weaved around the storyline that Nigeria was on the march again to greatness. And that story was believable; the lyrics touched on the needs of the electorate that bordered on hunger, joblessness, inaccessibility of health facilities and a host of other challenges militating against them.
Anchoring the campaign on hope and solutions to the debilitating effects of SAP of the Gen. Ibrahim Babangida regime that had drained many Nigerians economically was the magic wand, which won a resound- ing vote for the SDP candidate. The memorable campaign song was well received and the lyrics stuck.
Till date, Abiola’s SDP is still regarded as one of the most organised political parties in Nigeria with a clearly defined ideology and manifesto. They bombarded the airwaves with political campaigns reaching out to the needs of the ordinary people with a promise of improved welfare and health espoused by the political party.
Abiola was elected President of Nigeria solely based on ideologies as run in his political campaign, coupled with his philanthropic gestures and enormous wealth. But the hope never was. The election, which is still unarguably cited as the freest and fairest presidential election in the history of Nigeria, was unexplainably annulled by Babangida’s military regime.
Three remarkable events occurred at the annulled election that today’s politicians must pay attention to. These are indeed lessons that must be harnessed for success of political campaigning. The June 12, 1993, election defied all odds and geopolitical sentiments that had and still challenge Nigeria’s aspiration to take a deserved place in the comity of nations. A Muslim who picked another Muslim as his running mate won the votes of many Christians who disregarded the religious slant of his ticket. A southerner from Ogun State, MKO won votes from across the country, beating his opponent, Bashir Tofa, in his home state, Kano.
These uncommon feats could only have been achieved through a campaign savvy laced with issue-based conversations.
One of Nigeria’s prominent human rights lawyers, Dr. Olisa Agbakoba, in a recent interview with journalists, entreated presidential aspirants to model themselves on the legacies of the late Abiola to reinstate good governance in 2019 and beyond.
“Our presidential aspirants in the coming 2019 elections should be purposeful and think about the electorate, the people, like the late Abiola. When you are running for an office, you are running to carry the burden of the people. It is like becoming the father of the house,” he said.
Issue-based campaigns tend to lay bare before the electorate the actual shades and enormity of the challenges ahead, while also proffering solutions. Messages of political parties and their candidates should, therefore, be centred on addressing issues, specifically, job creation, security, improving the economy; generally, making life more meaningful, and getting Nigeria to work again.
Since this most contentious election, politics in Nigeria has been a step forward and three steps backward. Currently, politics in Nigeria has become a do-or-die affair. Politics in some parts of the country is retrogressing, and thus accelerating hate speech aggravated by the fast approaching 2019 elections. Not much attention is paid to political ideologies. Some politicians with their reckless drive for votes tend to engage more in dangerous hate speech in order to tarnish the image of others and have their names written in gold, instead of deploying issue-based political campaigns.
Political advertising in times past helped to shape voters’ perception about candidates vying for elective offices. Marketing Matters sought the views of advertising practitioners in the ability of the unique selling proposition (USP) of the candidate’s political advertising campaign to sway votes. Would political advertising still play a key role in influencing votes in the face of increasing smear campaigns, godfatherism and fake news that tends to be more believable?
Mrs. Bunmi Oke, lead consultant of Ladybird, said that the unique selling proposition of a candidate’s political campaign can influence votes, especially in developed nations where majority of the voters are well educated and informed via political party campaigns in appropriate languages, media and tones of the uniqueness of the party’s ideologies to be well understood.
She advised politicians to desist from campaigns of calumny, bitterness and venom, and deal with real development issues rather than igniting the emotions of the populace.
Decrying that Nigeria has too many political parties, she stated that this has constituted a barrier to effective and efficient political communication. She explained that, “There is a problem. We have 91 political parties with two mega parties. So much needs to be said about each party’s ideology, yet there is not enough time to even enlighten the electorate of what each party stands for, whom the candidates for political offices are, before the 2019 elections start.
“So much clutter on the internet and other ‘free-to-air’ radio, television and print media/channels, which easily fuel fake news, as people brandish opinions as news. No time to discern facts from fiction. At best, we may be able to recognise the party logos by colour and symbols.
“We have never had such a complex choice in the past for political campaigns, so it was a bit easier to understand. If the ‘brand recall’ principles are anything to go by, people will simply vote for the ‘familiar party’.”
Enumerating the elements of good political advertising, Oke stated that the fundamentals of good advertising for a product, service, country and a political party remain basic round the world. “For political advertising, messages in campaigns must be issue-oriented, from the ideologies upon which the political party is formed.
It must be devoid of ‘abusive statement’, must be true, and must not misrepresent or misinform/mislead the general public.”
Mr. Udeme Ufot, group managing director, SO&U, concurred that political advertising can be impactful, and the level of impact is to a large extent limited due to the mindset and the challenges that voters face.
“Before any advert can change voting pattern of the electorate, it must first resonate with them. In political advertising, the electorate is the consumer, the politicians the clients. So, we must understand the electorate before crafting messages. The strategic framework of political advertising must connect with the minds and needs of the electorate and drive them in the direction that they should go,” he said.
According to Ufot, the Nigerian electorate is that typical man on the street who wakes up every morning thinking of what to eat for breakfast.
“The demands on him are so much; for example, getting a job so he could pay house rent, children’s school fees and medical bills. So, he is deprived; desperate and only active at the most basic level of existence. Faced with these challenges, when he decides to vote, he does so for a man who can meet his immediate needs,” he further stated.
So, 24 years after the annulled June 12 election, with a mix of seven successive interim, military and democratic governments, the lyrics of Abiola’s memorable campaign TV and radio commercials are still valid: “…No work, no food, no light.”
Nigeria’s most pressing problems, hunger, unemployment, poverty as well as weak governance, corruption, the Boko Haram insurgency, and persistent inter-communal conflicts still persist. Despite President Buhari’s vision for reform, the country’s security challenges are surging as factors that fuel violent conflicts remain largely unaddressed.
The 2019 elections will offer yet another opportunity for the respective parties and their candidates to say to themselves, how can we attend to these issues? How do we deliver? What can we deliver? MKO Abiola’s political campaign strategy is an example for all to emulate.
All campaign messages should be kept issue-based and focused on lasting solutions.