2015: WHAT BRAND OF CANDIDATES WILL NIGERIANS GET?

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The history of all previous societies has been the history of class struggles. – Karl Marx

For those who thought 2015 was a date that was light years away, the announcement by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) of the 2015 General Elections’ Timetable must come as a stark reminder that 2015 is just around the corner.

According to Mrs. Augusta Ogakwu, the Secretary of the INEC, the Presidential and National Assembly elections will hold on February 14, 2015 while the State Assembly and Governorship elections are scheduled for February 28, 2015. Also, June 21, 2014 and August 9, 2014 were slated for governorship elections in Ekiti and Osun States, respectively.

Mrs. Ogakwu further reminded us that The Electoral Act 2010, Section 31 (1) states that, “Every political party shall not later than 60 days before the date appointed for the general election under the provisions of this Act, submit to the Commission in the prescribed forms list of the candidates the party proposes to sponsor at the elections.” No one needs be told that the die is cast.

Since that announcement was made, I have been agitated by what I know could follow in due course. I have wondered what brand of candidates and electioneering we shall have this time around. I recall with anxiety how Lagos was on a boil when Koro squared up against Fashola in 2007. Campaign rallies were serially attacked by party thugs. Anytime a particular candidate was on the road mayhem was unleashed by his supporters on innocent road users and commuters. It was therefore with great appreciation that Lagosians saw that election come and go.

If what I described in Lagos gives cause for concern then our concern should be times three for many other states where kidnappings, assassinations, intimidation, harassment and inducement are routine tools of electioneering. It is no surprise that crime rate increases significantly during and post  electioneering years; and the signs we are getting are not palatable. Only recently, news filtered in that there are strong indications of increase in the smuggling of arms and ammunition into the country as preparations for the 2015 general elections and  2014 governorship elections in Ekiti and Osun states gather steam, According to a report of the Nigeria Customs Service, the records of seizures of arms and ammunition in 2013 by the Nigeria Customs Service were seven times more than those of 2012. The Public Relations Officer of the NCS, Mr. Wale Adeniyi, said in Abuja on Thursday January 30, 2014 that the service now seizes contraband including arms and ammunition daily.  As if that is not alarming enough, also on the same Thursday, the State Security Service Operatives were reported to have intercepted high-calibre ammunition in a 20-foot container at the Port Harcourt  Port in Rivers State. According to reports, the vessel identified as MV Iron Trader was carrying 2,700 anti-aircraft and anti-tank bombs.

But do politicians really need to go this route to win the voters hearts? I had in a previous write-up in this column posited that now that elections are becoming freer and fairer, our politicians need to begin to engage the services of marketing communications experts and companies so that they could be properly branded and sold to the electorate. It was quite disheartening to see how unco-ordinated even some presidential candidates’ campaigns were packaged during the last presidential elections. Some of the campaigns were bland, banal and soulless. It was obvious from the quality, depth and strategic brand architecture (or the lack of it) that the necessary professional contributions were lacking in some of the campaigns.

If serious candidates get a professionally astute marketing communications company or expert to work for them, the following scenarios will play out in their electioneering campaigns:

You will know your electorate: Whether we like it or not, the days of imposition of candidates are gradually being phased out.      So even with a powerful Godfather, the candidate needs to understand the psychology, world-views, expectations, fears and emotional dynamics of the electorate he wishes to serve. A certain governor in the South East paid the supreme political price when he chose not to understand or ignore his electorate’s needs.

Whether we like it or not, the days of imposition of candidates are gradually being phased out. So even with a powerful Godfather, the candidate needs to understand the psychology, world-views, expectations, fears and emotional dynamics of the electorate he wishes to serve. A certain governor in the South East paid the supreme political price when he chose not to understand or ignore his electorate’s needs

You will consolidate your team: It has been observed that due to so many vested interests, financial and human resources are usually inefficiently deployed in elections in Nigeria. While ‘more is definitely better’ during elections, it is pertinent to harmonise the message of the candidate across his support base so as to avoid a miscommunication of an otherwise powerful message and candidate.

You will anticipate your opponent: Clearly a SWOT analysis of your opponent (and yourself) is a sine qua non before you even throw your hat in the ring. Electioneering is a very expensive business. If you want to ‘do or spend like your main opponent’ you could be heading straight to bankruptcy and possible failure in the polls. The truth is that money alone cannot guarantee you victory in a free and fair election

You will stretch your sponsorship base: These are your ‘shareholders’. People who either believe in you or wish to invest in you for possible future political or business gains. Unfortunately, In Nigeria ordinary citizens are yet to imbibe the culture of pooling resources together in order to sponsor a desired candidate. Most sponsorship funds come from the candidate himself, his/her family, a godfather, a moneybag and for incumbents, contractors, companies and, yes, state coffers. But will that be the case if say, 5 million ordinary people support a candidate with just N100 each. That time is not too far away and your communications consultant should provide useful tips on how to galvanise requisite support. Just think about it. If a your impressionable voter lays down N100 for your campaign, you can rest assured that his/her vote is guaranteed for you.

You will mind your language: A candidate need not necessarily be grandiloquent but every serious politiciam must have style – his/her style. This used to be the case in the first and second republics but these days politicians are simply content with being themselves and end up being dour and uninteresting to watch or listen to.

You will define your brand: The simple message in this write-up is that if you are a serious politician with an eye on public office you must define your brand, build it, nurture it and protect it. Since true electioneering is the activity of trying to persuade people to vote for a particular candidate or political party what politicians need are marketing communications and brand consultant not guns; not thugs.

You will stand a good chance of winning: so long as you sell the right attributes, promise and deliver the right dividends. That way when your tenure is over, you will not just leave office but you will leave a legacy. Let us do electioneering right!

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