So you really want to run for office?

I’ve had my fair share of politics and while we can politicians all sort of names ranging from selfish to cruel, wicked, corrupt and lacking political will – which might be true – yet, they are anything but fools.

In 2019, I worked closely with the campaign team of former Nigeria Presidential Aspirant – Prof Kingsley Moghalu and former Plateau State Governorship aspirant – Alex Ladan, and both experiences gave a foray into the intricacies of politicking and running for office in Nigeria.

Somehow, I happen to do great at behind the scene stuff – operation, strategy and planning. Anything more than that is definitely not for me. Over the course of my career – both professionally and socially, I’ve come to terms with the reality that I’m usually that guy when given the option, avoids leadership positions like a plague. I do better with appointed/selected positions that require some level of technocracy. However, for some weird reasons, I still get those leadership positions thrust upon me.

Well, except for these two occasions where I went actively running for an elected office;

In 2015, I was posted to Calabar, Cross River State for the mandatory NYSC program and I joined Service Devilvery/ Servicom Community Development Service (CDS) Group – which was one of the largest CDS by the membership. I ran for President and won. Prior to this, I’d held several leadership positions (as an undergraduate) most of which, I was appointed. As already established, willingly running for office wasn’t my forte.

Long story short, few weeks after joining the group, I travelled to Lagos for a project. Upon returning back to Calabar, as fate would have it, the following meeting I attended, we were told that a certain fellow (who was largely unknown to me) was running unopposed, and the excos were going to throw it open for last-minute submissions. You bet, I objected. You see, I did not have any problem with a candidate running unopposed per se, I only had a problem with the quality of the candidate running unopposed, and I was slightly offended that in a group of over 500 young people, more folks didn’t have the guts to challenge or lead.

All these just didn’t sit well to me and in a brief moment of determination mixed with fear and anxiety, I raised up my hands, got called out, shared my briskly-made sketchy manifesto – which wasn’t that bad given the loud applauds I got from the audience when I finished. Oh yeah won – by a landslide. I couldn’t tell if I was really a better candidate or my opponent wasn’t a better option. Regardless, he had a very bright and likeable personality – an area which wouldn’t count as a strength for me. A few weeks later, when the dust settled, I approached him and asked him to be my number 2 – vice president. 

That’s how it all started, I generally got fixated on the idea of how elections are won on the part of the equator.

[errm, there was a second story, but I pulled it out, due to the sensitivity of the actors involved.]

Personally, I think there are a few things that I have learnt from these experiences which might come in handy for anyone, who is nursing the idea or want to run for office – professionally or in your county/municipal/state/nation/place of work.

  1. Elections are decided and won years before the election date: I’m usually surprised or somewhat bilwedered how educated folks just get up few months before election and make a public declaration to run  for office. How? Where did we learn that from? Well, except that itself is a strategy and you’re a paid actor or mole and double-agent from the opposition or maybe, someone who has built a career out out running for elections every 4 years. Let be factural, a radom political victory takes at least 8-10 years in the making. To win election is not like making instant noodles.
  1. Nobody wins alone: One person can not win an election, it’s simply impossible. You need a strong alliance, godfather, sponsor or some form on keen interest from someone or a group in with real influence and soft power. 
  1. Elections are bloody expensive: Sometimes I wonder how people expect politician not to steal or be corrupt when they get into office. The system is intentionally designed to breed corruption. It cost round $50m – $100m to run for office in the US. (Infobloom) In Nigeria, you need $125,000 to buy presidential form. In the 2019 Nigerian elections, the gubernatorial expression of interest form of the ruling APC attracted N2.5 million, while the nomination form went for N20 million. Both categories attracted N1 million and N20 million charges, respectively in the PDP. That said, I’m not talking about just money. It takes other resources, time, relationships and an expansive network. 
  1. Negotiate with the enemy: I wonder why no one talks about how important negotiations are in elections. You simply can’t win all states/regions/factions – so make peace with that fact. With that, learn to negotiaite from a position of strength. Approach your opponent with a strong base in Ekiti, who you know can not win the governership; ask him to rally his supporters for you and in exchange you’ll give him a position in the Senate. Repeat this strategy for other states and power blocs. Whatever you do, consolidate your power and you better keep your word.
  1. For every Obama, there is a David Plouffe: A great candidate is good, but marketing is better. I really do not care how amazing and eloquent your candidate is, if your polictical strategist/campaign team is mediocre, best believe, you’ve lost. Give a shitty candidate/product to an exceptional marketing guru, and watch how you smash the numbers at the polls. Sai Baba, Prof., Former Customs Boss, yet General conquered. You gerrit? If you don’t, forget abourrit.
  1. Your word is your bond: You better dont go around talking like a drunk and making promises you have zero intent on keeping. You’ll lose both credibility and your name. When approached for a deal, if you know you can’t commit, keep a straight face and be nodding your head. As long as you don’t get anchored, you owe no one shit. Smile and promise you’ll think CAREFULLY and do what’s in the best interest of both parties.

Conclusively, you must have noticed how I struggled to make this fit for professionals; given it was written from and with a political perspective in mind. However, simply replace office with position; godfather/power block with board/directors, Ekiti/state/municipal/nation with department/unit/team. You should then come to the central point that this is pretty much useful for professionals as much as it is for politicians.

See you all next week!

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