AMIDST uncertainties, disputes and the new bugbear of inconclusive elections, it is a difficult task to make a final call on the efficacy of the advantage conferred on the incumbent seeking a second term. In the context of Nigeria, there is an additional factor. This is the spectre of the outgoing term – barred Governor seeking to impose a surrogate as successor. For analyses, the surrogate might as well be classified as the “incumbent seeking an additional term through the backdoor.
Does incumbency confer an advantage? The jury is still out. Many incumbents were returned such as the Governors of Lagos, Ogun, Oyo, Nassarawa, Borno. The Zamfara Governor was not so lucky and it’s all systems go in Adamawa where the fate of the incumbent hangs in the balance.
The surrogates did quite well too winning in Delta, Rivers, Kaduna but got trounced in Kano (spectacularly so) and Plateau.
Quite a mixed bag. Incumbency was at a time the decisive factor. In sub-nationals with hardly any legislative oversight, the sitting Governor led all ace. With poverty weaponised holding the purse string is key. Campaign finance laws are observed in the infringement, meaning that control of the state’s finances counts. Much more so when there is no oversight or independent monitoring institutions.
Controlling the purse string also makes a difference in the grim reality of the weaponisation of poverty. Lacking an ideological thrust money becomes the essential motivational tool in voter mobilisation and support.
For this reason, a comparison with contemporary experience in India might help. There are similarities of course such as landmass, differences in tribe and tongue, religion as a divisive issue and poverty rates. There are also resemblances based on political parties developing client, patronage relationships. A noticeable difference is that incontrovertibly India is doing so much better. Nigeria has replaced it as the poverty capital of the world and the projection is that India will become the largest economy in the world by output by 2050. The difference is huge!
How does this affect the incumbency issue? It will be of help to explore as to if there is any relevance. Unlike in Nigeria incumbency is an encumbrance in India. The voters are less patient with fumbling politicians and except much more in terms of delivery. For example, the government of Prime Minister Mordi was the first government at the center to be re-elected in thirty-two years. Much of the same is replicated at the lower rungs – in the regions and the local government levels. This must be beneficial. For a start, it keeps the politicians on their toes and shows very clearly that performance counts. This is in contradistinction to the distribution of largesse for immediate succour in the electoral cycle as indulged by the Nigerian political establishment. A more expectant electorate also dents corruption as the practice will have to be modulated in order to achieve more of benefits to the electors.
The so called advantage of the incumbent in Nigeria therefore actually acts as a brake on sustainable development. There appears now to be the early signs of a silver lining on the horizon. The electorate in Nigeria is now more discerning and increasingly inpatient. This is a welcome development. We must begin to be like India, the empirical evidence indicates that impatience with incumbents translates into better dividends of democracy. There were near misses in places like Ogun State and surrogates were defeated in many places like Abia, nevertheless the impatience of the electorate is becoming manifest and it is a welcome development. The benefits are positive for the development process and will help to break the perennial problem of underachieving and the development of underdevelopment. It is the Way to go.
The jury is out, there must be a revamp of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). It must begin with an evaluation of the method of selection and recruiting. The criteria are dodgy. It is now clear that being an academic does not necessarily translate into management capability. The performance of professors and the Vice-Chancellors on call in the present electoral cycle demonstrates this. It calls into question the managerial competence imputed into running the tertiary institutions which are not just centers of teaching, learning and research but are large and complex organisations requiring scenario planning as well as project management skills and strategic imperatives. These skills were lacking in the operations of INEC. To plead in mitigation, they are also lacking in the operations of the inept central bank of Nigeria.
It is really time to ditch the academics in INEC and bring in project management. Preparation for the next electoral cycle begins today.