African Viewpoint: A carnival of votes

Delegates from Ondo State attend a ruling party primary in Abuja, Nigeria, Thursday 13 January 2011 Delegates are kings at party conventions in Nigeria

In our series of viewpoints from African journalists, Sola Odunfa enjoys some party politics - Nigerian style.

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This was not only the ruling party, it was the party of the outrageously rich and their scions”

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I like political party national conventions - at least the Nigerian ones, which I dare claim to know like the back of my right hand.

And when one is held to select a party's candidate for presidential elections, it stands out head and shoulders above many carnivals in this part of the world.

But, wait a minute, there are conventions and there are conventions.

Some may be held in the large living room of the residence of the party chairman, with no spill-over into the adjoining dining room.

Traditional dancers perform at a ruling party primary in Abuja, Nigeria, Thursday 13 January 2011 Traditional dancers are often a feature at even medium-sized affairs

The entire proceedings are like an informal board meeting, lasting three hours - time enough for the delegates to agree with the leader on every one of the resolutions he presents.

They are conventions!

Some still are held in a modest public hall built to seat not more than 300 wedding guests. The proceedings may be civil - there will be no dissent.

Lunch is served at designated points by appointed caterers, and itinerant drummers and praise-singers outside the hall give colour to the meeting.

Experienced news reporters know not to waste their time seeking information from those delegates not seated on the high table because they neither know nor understand what has transpired or why.

The party issues a press statement later about decisions taken at the "peaceful and historic gathering of several thousand patriotic members of our great party".

'Unlikely candidate'

Last week, there was a gathering in Abuja - I read about it in the papers on Friday, but none of them told me where in the capital it was held.

The reports, I believe, were written from press statements issued by the party.

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Each person makes enough money from their leaders to indulge themselves as never before”

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That was the "democratic" event that produced a presidential candidate for the Social Democratic Mega Party.

The candidate himself, Professor Pat Utomi, did not sound optimistic of his chances at the elections.

That was my conclusion from the reported acceptance speech in which he described himself as "an unlikely candidate" because, he said, Nigeria at this time was undergoing "politics of big men, politics of sharing money and a time when there is an anti-intellectual disposition in the polity and a war against Nigerians".

Even if not many people outside the party knew when or where it was held, it was also a party convention.

On the same day, however, and in the same Abuja came the convention of the ruling People's Democratic Party (PDP).

That was my idea of a true convention - widely publicised, members mobilised in their thousands across the country, agenda meticulously articulated and an appropriate atmosphere created.

I didn't expect anything less from PDP.

Cattle market

This was not only the ruling party, it was the party of the outrageously rich and their scions, the party of the ambitious, upwardly mobile youths, the party of big business, the party of army generals and the party of, oh - any Nigerian who desires to "make it quick".

As such conventions go in my experience, most of the delegates are already "settled", as Nigerians say.

Presidential Candidates

  • Goodluck Jonathan, president - PDP
  • Nuhu Ribadu, former anti-corruption fighter - AC
  • Muhammadu Buhari, former military ruler - CPC

They are quartered wherever their leader chooses and they move about only in groups.

None is allowed to stray from the herd.

For the unranked delegate their accommodation may be in the open near the convention grounds.

They have mats for beds. They feed from the daily allowances given by their leaders.

But make no mistake the delegate is king at the convention, they are not there to listen to speeches or read manifestos, they have come to vote and they place premium prices on their ballots.

State and regional leaders stay in hotels.

For 48 hours before the convention sleep would become an expensive luxury for them; they are holding meetings and negotiations all day and all night with other leaders and the candidates to either assure of their continued support or to seek better financial incentive to switch allegiance.

It is a cattle market - strictly cash.

The physical conditions may not be pleasant but who among the delegates complains?

Each person makes enough money from their leaders to indulge themselves as never before.

Music boxes boom 24 hours a day all over town, and everything money can buy is available at their fingertips.

They too monitor their leaders as closely as they can in order to ensure that they receive their share of whatever amount is negotiated to retain their support.

Some of them are handling large amounts of cash for the first time in their lives.

Coming to the present, this year's PDP Convention has now become history.

While President Goodluck Jonathan is preparing to recharge his arsenal for the election proper in April, former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar is probably calculating his loss and the Nigerian electorate is eagerly looking forward to the next market day.

If you would like to comments on Sola Odunfa's latest column, please use the form below. A selection of comments will be published.

I read Odunfa's piece on Nigerian political conventions. I think Odunfa is a good writer. His piece stands out as good literary excellence compared to the products of some other Nigerian writers. His descriptions are vivid if you understand the underlying fabrics of the Nigerian political psyche. You can read between the lines.

Paul Okunbor, Los Angeles

"It is a cattle market- strictly cash"! Hilarious but very true about present day Nigeria - home to corrupt-laden politicians and moral decadence of the highest order. Politics is without doubt the biggest driver of the Nigerian economy besides oil and banking. Everyone now wants to be a politician- folks know where the meat is!

Josiah Zubairu, Nigeria/USA

Shola Odunfa is right in every sense of this matter. The use of money in Nigeria to buy votes has diluted the true meaning of democracy. what we see today in Nigeria politics is moneycracy,oh God help us

Mr Ekuku, manzini, Swaziland

Odunfa's piece is quite good to Nigerians who have decided not to see anything good about their country. I ask our gentleman writer: Do you believe anything good can still come out of this 'Jerusalem'?This is a time that all Nigerians, young and old, are coming together to make the political machinery of the country work and not to subvert it. Please Mr. Odunfa, don't be like that son who stays outside and throw stones to his father's house. Posterity will never forgive you. Now is the time for all of us, home and abroad, to come together to make Nigeria work again.

Lekan Somorin, Lagos, Nigeria

I stand to say it is not a cattle market, because cattle have some dignities and Nigerians fear cattle for their unpredicted behavior and aggressive nature. I'd rather say its pig market-strictly cash because pigs have no shame. However, we need not to shame our country more than our thug/hooligan politicians are already shaming her. Our solution should be on how to make political conventions in Nigeria a legitimate way of electing our political party leaders. I am sick of hearing how backward we are. we all know that already. The question is what are you doing to change the system at grassroots.

wale adeniran, houston, Texas

Sola knows what he is writing about, and I concur with him. The fact that he is an "old school" journalist sets him above the breed we currently see deceiving the Nigerian people. Yes, most Nigerians today would kill to be a delegate to the convention. That is the true, but sad state of politics in modern Nigeria.

El Obianyi, Atlanta, USA

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