How to win an election in Southeast Nigeria: A handbook for newcomers

By Anayo M. Nwosu

There are many young people out there desirous of contesting for various elective positions in order to make the desired difference.

Unfortunately, many of them especially those from South Eastern Nigeria don’t know how to go about it. I have striven to assist by penning down the following :

Understanding the political structure of communities

 The Igbos live in families. A handful of related nuclear families make up the Umunna which is the primary government structure. Umunna is headed by a natural Obi who is usually the first son of the of the first sons whose ancestors was the first son. He is like the ceremonial head. There is also an elected chairman and other executives who together with the obi rule the ụmụnna.

A handful of related Umunna make a community. A community like an Umunna is governed by a ceremonial Obi with elected executives headed by a president fondly called President General or PG. The obi is the first son of the first Umunna regarded as the first son of their progenitor. 

One or few communities are grouped as a ward depending on the constituent population. Depending on population as delineated by electoral body, a ward or group of wards produces a councillor for a local government. 

Each ward could have one or more polling stations depending on the population of registered voters. 

Related communities make up a quarter or larger community. Some quarters, in some states like Imo and Abia, have been elevated to autonomous communities which is equivalent to a town. 

The quarters make up a town which has a natural or selected traditional ruler known as Igwe, Eze or Obi. Together with the traditional ruler, the town union executives led by a president governs the town. 

A town or a group of towns makes up a local government area (LGA). The local government is governed by a chairman working together with elected councillors. 

A local government chairmanship candidate must win with a majority of the votes cast in the LGA and 25% of votes cast in at least 2/3 of council wards. 

In Nigeria, a state is an agglomeration of local government areas. 

The population size of a local government area determines how many state legislators it would produce while a local government or more than one consists a federal constituency which produces a member of Federal House of Representative member. 

All the local governments in a state are grouped into three zones namely: north, central and south senatorial zones. Each zone produces a senator and no state produces more than three senators. 

A governorship candidate must win the majority votes of total votes cast in his state and 25% of votes cast in 2/3 of the local government areas of his state. Also the presidential candidate must not only win the majority votes cast in the whole country but also must win 25% of votes cast in 2/3 of the states of the federation. 

How to canvas for votes

A newcomer to politics must do some ground work. Depending on the his target political office, an aspirant must make a list of the names, phone numbers and addresses of the all the Obis and Chairmen of every Umunna in each community in every town. He should also have a database of all the Obis and political heads of each Community, Quarter, Autonomous Community or Town.

A smart aspirant should include in his database, the details of former elected presidents of Community, Quarter and Town unions. They may be out of office but could be very influential. 

The above mentioned are the building blocks of the electorates regarded as barracks who remain when “soldiers or politicians come and go”

A serious aspirant in a state like Anambra would have to start early to meet with all these strata of the electorates. Stating with the traditional ruler, town union executives, community executives and obi Umunna and their executives. 

The aspirant must approach each stratum as afore listed with minimum of two cartoons of beer, one cartoons of soft drinks and a bottle of good hot drink. He would intoduce himself/herself and talk about of his manifestoes which must include a solution to a nagging or general problem of the hosts. He would request to address the whole assembly of Umunna if the aspirant is running for House of Assembly or Local Government Chairman or seek to address the community of the aspiration is for House of Representative or Senate or even Governorship. 

Quarter or Community level general assembly address is very effective after all the traditional and political heads have been visited in their homes in what Igbos called “ịkpụpụlụ ha okpu” or “doffing the cap” or paying due respect to the deserving. 

The aspirant should have a representative or co-ordinator at the Ụmụnna or Community level. If he is lucky to pick a loyal, hard working and responsible rep at this level who energetically canvasses for him or her, the job is half done.

There are scattered in all towns, many voter influencers from various communities and a smart aspirant must have a list of them. One may not be able to convert them but they must be spoken to for support. 

A serious aspirant must have a list of all the owners of beer parlours in a town and devise means to reach out for their support. They are the surest sources of intelligence or critical political information. 

The Church factor

The biggest unregistered political parties in Igbo land are the religious bodies and should not be neglected. They are supposed to be neutral but they are not in reality.

For instance, anyone who makes an enemy of Catholic Church in Imo, Anambra and Enugu States can never win an election through free and fair means. The faithfuls rarely disobey their bishops and parish priests who communicate their preferences via innuendos and biased preaching. 

A detailed politician should have a list of all the parish priests of all the churches or at the archdeaconry or deanery levels. They must be met either privately or at their functions to plead for their understanding. The aspirant must appear godly and must provide financial support for the church no matter how small. 

Obama style

An aspirant could raise an army of youths mostly students to canvass support for him in their various villages. He or she shouldn’t rely on this but some votes could be garnered from such efforts.

Reliance on structure owners or political contractors 

There are everywhere in Igbo land, many political heavy weights who have over the years built influential election winning structures in their towns and some have influence over a whole senatorial zone or state. This guys have many heads of Ụmụnna, Community, Towns, widows and many opinion leaders in their payroll. They award scholarships and settle medical bills of their fellow citizens. Some of them are employers of labour and generally regarded as go-to chiefs. People normally would ask them who to vote for. 

It is difficult to win a constituency where this chieftains are holding sway. An aspirant who needs to win these areas must go beg or “pụa isi anị” to the votelords or would be disgraced. 

These votelords control machinery of terror and have a way of getting INEC to employ their stooges as adhoc staff during elections to help them achieve their objectives. 

When a man promises or collect funds to deliver his constituency, note that the man is a votelord. 

When young newcomers see enormous work or uphill task they need to climb to win an election, they either back out as “lazy youths” or kowtow to the votelords or godfathers who get them to swear to dangerous oaths and evil agreements. 

Those youth who are lucky to have been appointed to federal appointment positions could have it easier by either using the federal terror logistics to cow the votelords or get the president or the state governor to negotiate with the godfather in their favour. Some oil wells, juicy contracts or simple blackmail would do the trick. 

Given the state of our enlightenment and political awareness, it would be very difficult for a self promoted youth to immediately declare to contest for an elective position and win. The desiring aspirant needs to start early enough to build own structure. It requires work hard. 

The aspirant needs to identify all the religious, traditional, social and economic units in his electoral constituency and devise ways of conveying his or her message. Two to four years may be required except the aspirant is ready to be compromised or be helped by votelords and at a huge cost. 

The important thing is for an aspirant to come up with plans and a message. Who knows? people might be hooked up to the message earlier than envisaged. But the message must resonate and cut across all religious, ethnic and sectional divides. 

A more scientific method is to download the list of voters in your target constituency from INEC, trace the registered voters through trained volunteers or paid agents and engage them. Build a phone database of contacted voters and keep sending messages to them. Note that only those with PVC matter. 

To secure your votes, arm at least one loyal voter per polling booth with a camera phone to record untoward happenings at the polling booths. Such videos could be useful as evidence should there be any malpractice. Do not rely solely on your poll agents, many of them are usually compromised by the opponents on the Election Day. 

Having done your best, wish for the best. 

Let that articulate, charismatic, resourcesful and dogged youth stand up and he counted. That youth who is excellent in achieving great results through people.

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