For some young Nigerians, the 2023 general elections would be their first as the number for permanent voters’ cards’ registration shows. So it’s no gainsaying that young people are the biggest voting bloc that will swing next year’s elections. If you are a young person, next year’s elections are about you and not about any politician or political party. No let anybody use your future take play tumbo tumbo baskelebe!
It’s no surprise that our political class deliberately teaches us the pay-for-play model instead of the people-powered model – it’s part of the conditioning. In a previous essay, I identified one of its signatures: “you may have been conditioned to expect mediocre leadership, which is why when you see a non-establishment but competent aspirant running for office, you summarily conclude that he or she won’t win because all they bring to the table are ideas and not a heavy financial war chest.”
That’s why it was very important for me to give groups of young people their flowers for their community organising in October 2020. A month after that, I shared what they represent: a glimpse of the possibilities that abound when we get ourselves organised. Taking a critical look at their MO, I believe it’s a model that should be deconstructed and replicated on numerous but unique levels. Deploying the Stacey Abrams effect, we urgently need to move from agonising to organising, using simple but collectively powerful tools such as purpose, networks, platforms, integrity, empathy, professionalism and patriotism.
When I think of historic firsts in politics, I think of Barack Obama – the first black man in the White House. Notice that one of Obama’s earliest involvement in politics was through community organising at the local level ahead of an election which saw the Democratic Party challenger, Bill Clinton defeat the republican incumbent, George Bush Snr. Who would have thought that the same young man would be elected as the 44th President of the United States sixteen years later? The same thing for the current Vice President Kamala Harris who also broke that glass ceiling by being the first-ever woman in that capacity – she was part of Obama’s Campaign as a community organiser leading to his 2008 victory at the polls. Today, she occupies the most powerful office in global politics by a woman. While you could say the stars aligned for her when President Joe Biden chose her as running mate, you could also say she had paid her dues. Truly, “we” in “we did it Joe” shows that it takes a village to pull off big dreams and the result of putting in the work always comes true with the help of a circle.
My point is this, as a young Nigerian that wants to run for office in the foreseeable future, volunteering for others is a great way to cut your teeth politically. You will glean so much wisdom from the field that will certainly come in handy because there are many things on these politico streets that no book or school will teach you. You will also develop adequate social capital which is a very critical asset in a political arena that has been deliberately monetised to ensure that the eggheads are systematically shut out of leadership in Nigeria. Even if you don’t have any such political ambitions, you still have to be invested in the workings of governance because it determines the very things that are important to your having a decent life and a respectable existence.
A few of her longtime supporters asked for a meeting, and when I showed up they advised me to get out of the race. The community couldn’t afford to give up Alice’s seniority, they said. I should be patient; my turn would come. I stood my ground – I had volunteers and donors who had already invested a lot in the campaign, after all; I had stuck with Alice even when Jesse Jr. got in – but the room was unmoved – A Promised Land, Barack Obama.
Sounds familiar, abi? The idea that youths always have to wait for veteran politicians before it is our turn is not exclusive to the Nigerian political space. The narrative that you have to endlessly wait for some gratuitous chance to serve in public office is so mediaeval. People should serve in public offices when they are at the peak of their powers – not when they are past their prime or have been corrupted with the dysfunctional thinking of the status quo. Obama would later write after that experience: “I suppose there are useful lessons to draw from that first campaign. I learned to respect the nuts and bolts of politics, the attention to detail required, the daily grind that might prove the difference between winning and losing.” They told Obama to wait too but bros na comrade wey get coconut head, e no dey hear word.
What struck me as well was the growing role that technology played in our victories. The extraordinary youth of my team allowed us to embrace and refine the digital networks that Howard Dean’s campaign had set in motion four years earlier. Our status as upstarts forced us to trust, again and again, the energy and creativity of our internet-savvy volunteers. Millions of small donors were helping to fuel our operation, emailed links helped to spread our campaign messaging in ways that Big Media couldn’t, and new communities were forming among people who’d previously been isolated from one another – A Promised Land, Barack Obama.
People who tell you that tech-savvy youths are making empty noise on social media know exactly what they are doing. They are simply trying to dampen your spirits. If the shoe was on the other foot, they would be waxing lyrics about how their candidates had mass appeal across demographics, especially among the youth. They would force it down your throats every day. Facebook was founded in February 2004 while Twitter was founded in March 2006, Obama was elected in November 2008.
Obama’s campaign leaned heavily on young people who were early adopters of the new tech at the time. This helped him to save costs on big media ads and further democratised his message. His campaign style was avant-garde. This isn’t my first rodeo; it was something I religiously followed that year even before his memoir came out, so you suppose to know say me no be newcomer. Again, one of the disasters of our society is the lack of veritable models; no surprise a flurry of mega apps popped up post-2008 in America because the founders could find examples of successful business models.
I had asked something hard of the American people: to place their faith in a young and untested newcomer, mnot just a Black man, but someone whose very name evoked a life story that seemed unfamiliar – A Promised Land, Barack Obama.
Young fam, 2023 has to be personal for you because next year’s elections have huge consequences. It’s open season on political campaigns and the granular model is the way to go because politics is indeed local. Time is of the essence, and that’s why every other day, we need to organise. Volunteering is one of the ways to have equity in this new Nigeria that is upon us. “Nigerians don’t make contributions” is a lie peddled by those who benefit from dysfunction. Where you can, donate financially to causes and candidates you deem fit to lead but are hampered by resources to incite an effective campaign. It’s upon us to rise above the archaic politics of bigotry and dream of something beyond our respective identities. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.