The crux of democracy is the will of the people, not the whims of some sycophants. Since the return of democracy in 1999, we have had a couple of general elections which were fraught with histrionics right from the campaign stage. Incumbents generally seek to be re-elected but it is up to the electorate to determine if they deserve another term. With what is playing out in the polity and the imminence of 2019 elections, nobody needs to be told to think twice before endorsing or voting any incumbent governor, legislator or even president.
Once election is approaching, second-term crooners appear. We see individuals, groups, clubs, different characters telling anyone who cares to listen, reasons why they think an incumbent should be re-elected. There is nothing wrong with this. Incumbents readily attract sycophants who can’t even tolerate a constructive criticism of the incumbent. Pay too much attention to these second-term crooners and your sense of critique will be lulled to sleep; this is not the time for us to sleep. The HolyWrit says that: “but while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat and went his way.” As we prepare for 2019 elections, we must become vigilant and critically-minded so we do not get hoodwinked into putting unfit candidates in positions of leadership.
It is now almost like a tradition, a second nature, for us to re-elect incumbents. It is rather disgusting when people serving currently in government are the ones applauding themselves and endorsing the incumbent for another term. Encomiums from the electorate – the masses – carry more credibility than the noise made by sycophants and beneficiaries. I don’t expect anyone benefiting directly and indirectly from the current administration to speak negatively about it but it is important we think beyond our immediate self. Self praise is no praise at all, especially when the achievements of the incumbent are almost invisible to the bulk of the electorate.
Everyone is at liberty to express their opinion – to praise or criticize the government. In the end, election results largely reflect public opinion. Given their ability to shape public opinion at the grassroots, opinion leaders in our society have a highly sensitive role to play: doing an honest examination of the incumbent and other aspirants, their strengths, weaknesses and potential.
The media is a great opinion moulder. In 1972, Maxwell McCombs and Donald Shaw in Public Opinion Quarterly pointed to the agenda setting function of the mass media. They suggested that the media tells people the important issues to think about. According to the scholars, in choosing and displaying news, editors, newsroom staff, and broadcasters play an important part in shaping political reality. Readers learn not only about a given issue, but also how much importance to attach to that issue from the amount of information in a news story and its position. In reflecting what candidates are saying during a campaign, the mass media may well determine the important issues—that is, the media may set the “agenda“of the campaign.
If the media truly understands the enormous influence they have, they will begin to focus on real issues, provide factual and critical analyses that the reading public needs to adjudge the right candidate they should endorse and vote for.
Naturally, incumbents have an advantage over the other aspirants. They have a lot of resources at their disposal, so many people at their beck and call, and some achievements to showcase since they are still in power. They are contesting from a position of power. Unlike the new contestant who probably has the character, competence and compassion to make a difference. When compared to the other aspirants, the incumbent is often seen as the tested and trusted candidate. It is for these reasons that the incumbent sometimes gets easily re-elected.
Having second thoughts about something requires critical thinking. We should ask critical questions and seek satisfactory answers before concluding that the incumbent is worth another term in office. In terms of character and competence, how did the incumbent fare? Another fair measure with which to judge is the extent to which the incumbent delivered on his/her campaign promises. Think twice before you endorse/vote an incumbent for a second term. It’s been said that elected government officials strive to perform during their first term so that the voting public can re-elect them. And that once they are re-elected, they begin to show their true colours.
In a case where the incumbent has performed well and can be trusted to continue on that note, it would be commonsensical to support a second term for such an incumbent. For example, Lagos State, the commercial nerve-centre of Nigeria, has been under the leadership of progressives since 1999, that almost two decades. In between, incumbents have been re-elected. A lot of voices and banners are already screaming for the re-election of Governor Akinwunmi Ambode. This is somewhat explicable. Somehow, the Ambode administration has been able to instigate visible development across the five divisions of the State, particularly in the area of road infrastructure. I know he has not officially declared his interest yet. When he does eventually, I won’t be surprised if he is re-elected. I would rather be surprised if he is not, because APC seems to be the only party in Lagos State for now. Even though Ambode has made visible efforts to sustain the tempo of progressive governance, the electorate has started to question his zeal to rake in more revenue. This is what democracy is all about. The electorate must be free to ask questions and hold the elected accountable.
Nigerians are getting more politically aware and active everyday. Social media platforms have allowed citizens to express their reservations and expectations. The APC’s victory over PDP during the 2015 presidential election is perhaps a classic instance of when we started to think critically as a country. What never happened before in our nationhood history happened: an incumbent president was defeated. The electorate, for the most part, desired a positive change and they voted out the then incumbent president. Critical thinking won over sycophancy. Olusegun Adeniyi’s book Against the Run of Play better captures the intricate details and factors that occasioned APC’s historic victory.
In many states of the federation, there is a dearth of better options. By this I mean that the electorate does not have enough candidates to choose from. This situation, of course, works for the incumbent. More patriotic Nigerians need to step out, especially young people. New alternatives are needed so that people can have the freedom of choice to select the candidate they are confident would perform. This attitude of nothing concerns me will take us nowhere. Mr. Fela Durotoye’s declaration to contest for the office for the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria is a powerful statement that should inspire young Nigerians home and abroad to join the political process.
2019 elections are almost here! Let’s critically assess the candidates put forward by the different political parties, especially the incumbents seeking re-election. Incumbents, who have clearly proved their mettle. deserve another opportunity but the ball is in the court of the electorate. A new Nigeria will emerge when we put on our thinking caps, shun sentiments and place the right people in power.
Omisore writes from Lagos