What if your Candidate does not win?

Tinubu, Atiku, Kwankwaso and Obi

By Simbo Olorunfemi

“Political tribalism is about identities and thus is rooted deeply in emotions. This is why political arguments these days often degenerate into outrage and animosity: people feel as if their identities are under attack when their politics are attacked.”

– Shiao Chong


Even though this was written a few more suspense-filled days before the election, by the time you are reading, the election might already be over. Nigerians should have been done at the polls carrying out the highly important civic duty of electing the next President along with members of the National Assembly for the 2023-2027 session. All things being equal, results might even be largely in. A winner might even have emerged.

For reasons I cannot immediately place my finger on, there is something markedly different about the air in the build-up to this crucial election. Perhaps it is just me. Perhaps it has to do with the fact that for this election, one is more of an Observer than a Participant-Observer as one was in the last two elections. Perhaps it has to do with the fact that we could not have a ‘proper debate’ as we should have had, as part of the build-up. Even with some measured excitement out there, there was something just off, perhaps drab about it. Rather than a climax at the last leg of the campaign, it would appear that the level of enthusiasm actually waned.

There appeared to have been a dampening of spirit on the part of many of those who had been overly optimistic only a few months back.  Even the most vociferous ones who had magisterially declared who would be President months ago finally backed down a bit. The rollback in enthusiasm was more evident on the part of some of the supporters of the party in government. In place of enthusiasm, we began to see more of restiveness and combativeness towards the President, who they had always supported, and whoever they assume to not be on the same page with them, with the Governor of Central Bank, Godwin Emefiele being the major culprit.  Some could barely restrain themselves, with their frustration and pent-up anger nudging above boiling point.

It is what it is. That is to be expected.From all indications, we are getting to be firmly entrenched in the age of Political Tribalism. The ‘Us versus Them’ tree has matured over time that all it takes is to be right, is to simply be on the right side of the tribe. All it takes to be wrong is to be on the opposite side. Our man can do no wrong, their man can do no wrong. Political Tribalism, according to Shiao Chong, “is where loyalty to the political tribe is more important than loyalty to anything else. It means that tribe members will go to any length to defend their tribe’s leader…from any criticisms or wrongdoings, regardless of facts. Tribalism means the tribe never concedes an inch to other tribes. It is an “us versus them” mentality, where “them” are seen as morally suspect and morally dangerous while “us” are saints by comparison.”

With the Presidential election only a matter of hours away, the different sides doubled down on their expectations, seeing victory as the only possible outcome from the election.Some argued that the only possible outcome is a victory for their candidate. Yet, we have cautioned about moderating expectations, knowing that every election does come with the possibility of more than one outcome. It is good to be optimistic and affirmative. But if you look at it with a bit of caution, one might wonder if that is not a tricky position to take, given that speaking with such a finality is akin to playing God. Whereas some of these expectations might be founded on knowledge that is exclusive to them. However, there is nothing wrong with being a bit circumspect in making public proclamations that summarily rule out the possibility of any other outcome.

Perhaps it is because some of us are trained to also always keep an eye on the margin of error, no matter what the data is saying to us.As we have always cautioned, it is important to moderate expectations and avoid over-the-top proclamations. Afterall, it is politics, and it doesn’t take so much for things to turn on its head. It is understandable that with the high emotional investment in the election on the part of some, foreclosing any other outcome than that which they have projected or invested in, is an opium. Yet, as we have always counselled, in a contest of this nature, one must always prepare oneself for any possible outcome, while being mindful that there will always be a tomorrow, no matter what.

Where many (analysts and supporters) often miss is that they see elections as a single-factor affair.  They erroneously see the election as monochrome. Many cite the James Carville phrase ‘It’s the economy, stupid’ to explain the pervasive influence of the state of the economy on outcome of elections. However, they often miss the fact that neither the Clinton victory, nor the subsequent elections can be explained as exclusively determined by the state of the economy. Were that to be so, more red states would have gone blue. The margin of victory would have been higher. The switch from one end of the spectrum to the other would have even been more drastic were that to be the case. That other factors are always at play, even in America, explains the hold that a candidate like Trump had over his base, despite everything else. It was a case of other factors, especially that of political tribalism trumping the factor that was played up more by the media.

As it is in America, so is it in Nigeria. The state of the economy is even less of a factor in Nigeria.The electorate in Nigeria is not generally seen as sophisticated. It is said that people vote simply based on ethnicity, religious affiliationor financial inducement. While that might be the case for some, what I have found from years of study is that voting decisions are often more sophisticated than many assume and that the role of these factors are often overplayed.

Take the North, for instance. The first erroneous assumption often made about the North is that it is a monolith, a single voting bloc. Yet, the North has never voted as one. It always voted across many party lines. NPC might have been dominant in the First Republic, but there was NEPU and other parties in North-Central. In the second republic, GNPP, NPP and even UPN had presence in the North. The same Northern electorate massively voted for MKO Abiola in opposition to Bashir Tofa from Kano. They voted for Dr Goodluck Jonathan, a Christian from the South and kept faith with President Muhammadu Buhari over many elections, largely based on admiration for his spartan outlook to life, self-discipline and approximation of him as a friend of the Talakawa.

The point I restate here is that voting decisions are often more sophisticated than generally assumed. The people at the bottom might not consider what the elitewill rather have them consider or be motivated by what motivates the elite, but in their own way, they have a way of placing all the issues on the table and taking a decision based on what best resonates with them, AT THAT TIME, on that occasion. It is not a guarantee that they will vote the same way on another occasion, even if the circumstances were the same. That speaks to some level of sophistication.

One will have to wait for the result of this election to see the level of sophistication at play. The most troubling thing about this season is the high level of political tribalism. It is that spirit of political tribalism that has reduced everything about the current contest to an “us versus them” affair, with some unable to accommodate the thought that their candidate might not win, or rather that he has not already won. Each tribe is unwilling to concede any inch to the other, ruling out the possibility of any other outcome but the one that is desired and favourable to the tribe. The major downside of that tribalistic mindset, any outcome not in tandem with that expected is deemed to have been one obtained through fraud and must be rejected.

Everyonemust remember that no matter how sophisticated, patriotic or altruistic his choice might be to him, he only has one vote. Others have theirs too and they must be allowed to express themselves, based on how they see things, and how they see things might differ from yours. People vote based on different affinities. What will move the needle in one location will not do so in the other. What one finds repulsive is what resonates with the other. In politics, what might alienate non-supporters usually find resonance with the base on the other side. A message that might put you off might not have evenbeen targeted at you but deployed to mobilise and galvanise the base. Whoever you support, whatever permutations or projections you make, be mindful of the fact that electoral choices and outcomes are determined by a multiplicity of factors. You might be looking at the head and the other person is looking at the bottom. One choice is not superior to the other. For many, the decision on whom to vote is purely an emotional one, defiantly opposed to logic.

We must also be mindful of the fact that misinformation and disinformation have become tools in political campaigns. What forms the basis of assumption and decision on one side might even be false, which others on the other side are able to see through. What you are seeing might be different from what others are seeing. You need to understand that at the end of it all, it is simply a game and a winner, who might not be your preference, might just emerge.You will do well not building castles in the air, forging unrealistic expectations, lest they come crashing. People vote on the basis of a multiplicity of factorsand a variety of reasons. You must respect people’s right to see things differently and vote differently.

Moderate your emotions, assumptions and expectations so that you don’t get too disappointed at the outcome of the election. Consider the possibility that your candidate does not win the election. You say, ‘God forbid ‘. There is a chance that he might not win, and you must prepare your mind for that ahead of time. We don’t want a situation where people with exaggerated assumptions of their preferred candidate’s strengths come out after the election crying foul, alleging cheating or robbery, where there might have been none. Be careful with your level of emotional exposure, the outcome might not align with your expectation. To narrow the election to only one issue, especially one that you consider germane, can lead to error of assumption and conclusion. It is not enough to simply say ‘things have never been this bad’ or ‘we have never been this divided’ and simply assume everyone is or should be on the same page with you.There are some who might not agree with your conclusion. There are others who might agree with you but will dig deep to interrogate why that might be so, coming up with a conclusion different from yours. The bottom-line is that elections, anywhere in the world, are not determined by only one issue.

This is bound to be a tight election. This is why I urge for caution and moderation of expectations, knowing that every election does come with the possibility of more than one outcome. Beyond thatis the noticeable surge in political tribalism.  A tribalistic mindset, stuck in its narrow tunnel, feeding only on manna from its echo-chamber might find it difficult to properly process and unfavourable outcome. We must continue to appeal to our people to exercise caution and moderate expectations, while conceding the possibility of an outcome not necessarily in tandem with their expectation.Our appeal for moderation is with an eye on tomorrow. Some might think this is another Arsenal-Chelsea match, waiting for the outcome of the election to troll or drag those on the opposite side, but some of us see this beyond that.

We can only appeal that people vote according to their conscience and put the country first. We cannot do more than that. You will do well to be prepared for all possible outcomes. Be moderate with your expectation. Think about it – What if your candidate does not win?May we find the courage, as often as it is needed, to do that which is right for country and conscience. Find the strength to act in the national interest, as we see it, over and above shallow self-interest.

Simbo Olorunfemi works for Hoofbeatdotcom, a Nigerian Communications Consultancy and publisher of Africa Enterprise. Twitter: @simboolorunfemi