Participate or Perish : A Review of Ayisha Osori’s Love Does Not Win Elections By Nwachukwu Egbunike
Love Does Not Win Elections is an ironic title that screams with silent whispers. The irony of this book is that it demolished many oversimplifications that have for long dominated conversations about youth political participation in Nigeria. The lucid perspective that this work offers is unique and breaks every mold.
Three major topics deeply resonated with me while reading Love Does Not Win Elections viz: the absence of party politics in Nigeria, ethnicity in Nigerian politics and that youth should move from complaining to participating in politics.
Nigeria’s digital space is one of the most vibrant in the African continent; discussions about politics are not in short supply especially on Twitter. However, the dominant narrative is a bitter bifurcation of saints versus sinners – with raging anger and complaints unlimited. Between 2012 and 2015, there was a divisive storyline on Twitter Nigeria between the supporters of the major two parties – PDP and APC. One observed a naïve description of APC as the saint while the PDP was clothed as the sinner; anyone who dared to question this narrative was dubbed a ‘hater’ of Nigeria. This was despite the obvious reality that party politics in Nigeria was non-existent since both groups where merely aggregations of politicians whose only desire was to either retain power (PDP) or to grab power (APC). “Both parties are essentially vehicles to gain and keep power. Both were driven by factions and politicians who often wander freely from one party to another” (Osori, 2017:16). Hindsight and Osori’s narration has once more confirmed that political parties do not exist in Nigeria. Rather what we have are groups of politicians united by selfish greed. Thus I firmly agree with the author that Nigerian political parties are “not about ideology or ethos but cash, expediency, malleability and influence” (Osori, 2017: 19-20).
Secondly, this book has validated the assumption that ethnicity remains a critical factor in Nigeria’s politics. Young people many times oscillate between utopist ethnic idealism and obstinate ethnocentrism while discussing politics in Nigeria. In aftermath of the 2015 presidential elections, ethnocentric hate speech dominated conversations in Twitter Nigeria. Many of us warned that this was merely a reflection of offline ethnic hate which has never been addressed in the country and that the solution lies in a truthful and just interrogation of our national memory. Ethnicity (or race) is not exclusive to Nigeria’s politics: #BlackLivesMatter in the United States, #Brexit in the United Kingdom and even within the continent the Oromo riots in Ethiopia or the bitter battle between the Luo and Kikuyu’s in the 2017 elections in Kenya are just few examples.
The author experienced these grim realities during her campaign. It mattered nothing that she had lived most part of her adult life and paid her taxes in Abuja; yet she was considered a non-indigene during the FCT elections. “The issue of indigene statues – having parentage that rooted me in the FCT, which I did not – might be an issue, he said… Don’t waste your money” (Osiri, 2017:39). [Read more on this in Chapter 4: “I’m not an indigene, so what?]. Nigeria’s presidential elections in 2019, sadly, will be decided based on ethnicity. The earlier, moderate voices unify to solve this dominate but retrogressive aspect of our politics, the better.
Thirdly, Love Does Not Win Elections shows that political participation is not confined exclusively to voting during elections. As such one sees the evolution of the author, a young Nigerian through the various stages of participation to the very heart of being an actor on the political stage. During her campaign, Ms Osori was repeatedly asked if she was running for office to win or for the fame. It was obviously true for her to assert she was running to win because she already had a means of livelihood and was not hoping to gain a name – working in global advocacy sectors and being a columnist in two national newspapers had already granted her fame. She was able to ride the rough waves of campaigns despite not being a money bag or having a political god-parent. But most importantly, she broke out of the cynical cycle of complains without action which seem to characterize some youths in Nigeria. That in my opinion was her greatest ‘win’!
It is true that we all cannot be gladiators in the political process, yet it is equally true that there are many stages of political participation which young people should be involved in. What we cannot do is to become apolitical. Similarly, although online participation is important, youths should realize that social media alone does not win elections. They should learn from this courageous young woman, a professional who left her comfort zone to creatively disrupt the political process in FCT. This is what Nigeria needs. The future of our country depends on it: we either participate or we perish!
Nwachukwu is the Community Manager for Sub Saharan Africa, Global Voices and a Member of the ISGPP Book Readers Club