The Psychology of Settling
When you study the history of electioneering in Nigeria since 2003, you will discover that there is a recurring trend. That trend is called “settling”.
In the Nigerian Presidential election of 2003, Gani Fawehinmi was one of the Presidential aspirants. He was a man who people loved and who had a great record when it came to standing for what’s right. Yet when the results were announced, he had just 0.41% of the total votes compared to PDP’s Olusegun Obasanjo who won 61.94% of the votes to win a reelection.
In the 2007 election, Pat Utomi looked like he had something upstairs. He contested at a point in our national history when Nigerians were saying they were tired of politicians and needed technocrats and people who had the know-how when it came to the workings of a democracy. Pat Utomi should have been a shoo in going by this national body language. But he was only able to get 0.14% of the votes compared to PDP’s Umar Musa Yar’Adua who won 69.82% of the total votes to emerge President.
In 2011, there was a nationwide delusion. Nuhu Ribadu, the face of anti-corruption then stood no chance against PDP’s Goodluck Jonathan.
In 2015, while some Nigerians were torn between choosing the PDP or APC, others agreed that Kowa Party’s Remi Sonaiya would represent a shift from the old order of recycling and mergers to a new order of competence and accountability. But again, Remi Sonaiya of Kowa was able to get 38, 076 votes compared to APC’s Buhari’s 15, 424, 921 votes.
What I am trying to show is that we have made settling an habit. We always know who can get the job done, who can be a new face compared to the old ones we have been seeing since 1960, but somehow we always manage to convince ourselves that those people won’t stand a chance. Before long it spreads, we start hearing: “Dat man for change dis kontri o, but he no fit win. If to say he dey APC.” Or “Dat woman sabi o, you no hear how she dey answer questions? But she no fit win. If to say she dey PDP now.” And like that, we convince ourselves and those around us that those better alternatives don’t stand a chance. And true to our predictions, those better alternatives go on to lose, resoundingly.
Now there is a psychological warfare at play here and it has been on for sometime now. It’s the same psychology that politicians used to win elections in time past. It’s the same psychology behind: “Whether we vote or not, dey don sabi who go win.” And so we sit at home and refuse to vote and with our refusal to vote elect men undeserving of that position.
But 2015 was an eye-opener. Misguided as the activities of the 2015 elections are shaping up to be, there are still lessons to be learnt from it. In 2015, the same politicians who had been waging this psychological war on us tried to awaken public consciousness by drawing attention to that war. There were jingles asking people to vote. There were adverts disabusing people’s minds of that notion of “whether we vote or not, dey don sabi who go win.”
The effect was startling. People voted and stood by their votes at a time when the nation was so on edge that some were running to neighboring African countries to escape the post electoral violence they were certain would occur. People slept at polling boots. People used torchlights to count votes. All over the country, voters defied the “normal”, defied the sun, went without food and helped usher in what they were certain was a new era.
Now, that psychological warfare is a two-faced war. We may have won one when we flung out the “Whether we vote or not, dey don know who go win” anthem, but the other side of that war is yet to be won. Until we fight and win that war, we will never truly have who we want in power. We will keep on settling.
Instead of giving up on who we think can get the job done because they are not running on the platform of a popular party, how about we support them because we know they are capable. How is it that we are trying to break free of the PDP and APC stranglehold and yet we still wish our preferred candidates ran on the platforms of those parties? How is it that we want to go to Canaan but we keep pining for the things of Egypt?
The reason why politicians who run on the platforms of these known parties win is because their political platforms manage to convince the people that the “battle” is between just two parties and that a vote for any other party asides those two is a vote wasted. From then on, the people begin to feel trapped between the devil and the deep blue sea. They begin to feel that they have to choose between two devils and must choose the lesser devil.
But that is psychological warfare at play. To fight and win this second phase of the war, electorates must vote who they think is best no matter the odds stacked against him/her. You will find out that millions of people feel the same way about the person. Politicians win because people vote for them. Without people, they are not better than the ordinary man on the street.
This second phase of psychological warfare will not be shouted from campaign podiums or ring from campaign jingles; it is the ruling class’ (regardless of party) weapon of mass disillusionment. The only way to win this war is to unlearn the lies we have been told about how “The woman no fit win. If to say she dey APC.” or “The man sabi o, but he no dey PDP.” We must stay true to ourselves. We must ditch the herd mentality of “Na PDP my grand papa and grand mama dey vote for tete.” Or “Na APC my fiance dey support o” and just be true to ourselves. The better alternatives can only become better choices when we give them a fighting chance in our heads. The moment we write them off as doomed-to-fail in our heads, we will only be playing into the hands of the psychological warlords bent on preying on our gullibility.
When those of us who know refuse to settle for lesser devils, our thoughts, our actions will spill over and affect the psyche of those on the streets. Did PDP not share money in 2015? Did that stop anything? Forget the “no power can stop an idea whose time has come” thing; the “idea” that won in 2015 has been around since 2003, why didn’t it fly before 2015? It’s because before 2015, the people were still held captive by the manipulations of the “whether we vote or not, dey don sabi who go win” psychological war. A victory over that psychological manipulation ushered in a totally radical way of viewing things and influenced the actions of the electorates in 2015.
That second phase must be won too to allow for the emergence of a new order separate from the familiar faces that have been around our political space since 1960. It is a victory that must be won in our minds first before spilling over to influence our actions and that of those around us.