Editor's note: The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) on February 27, declared the candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and incumbent president, Muhammadu Buhari, the winner of Saturday, February 23 presidential election after defeating his main challenger, Atiku Abubakar
In an article sent to Legit.ng, Anemuyem Akpan, a member of the association of political consultants-Africa, writes on how President Muhammadu Buhari and his main challenger and candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), played their strategy cards before 2019 elections.
"It is your own bad strategies, not the unfair opponent, that are to blame for your failures. You are responsible for the good and bad in your life” - Robert Greene, in his book, The 33 strategies of war.
1. Organisational strategy
As a veteran politician, many people expected Atiku to learn from the mistake of Jonathan who convened a political team rather than a campaign team. Campaigns world over are dominated by experts and pros.
For reasons yet to be brought to public notice, Atiku assembled a bogus 154-man political team which he named “campaign council.”
Faced with limited time and large constituency, Atiku should have placed his bets on a lean expert based team.
He should have followed the examples of Clinton and Trump who had dedicated teams of 30 and 37 members respectively.
Another flaw in Atiku’s organizational strategy was his choice of members. Most of the members of his council were facing herculean tasks of fighting to retain their seats as governors or lawmakers.
Political campaigns require full-time commitment. It was hard to see how such members (except Bukola Saraki) could commit 100% to Atiku’s cause.
President Buhari ran a tightly compartmentalized campaign team with identifiable units and leaders. With 61 members split into a campaign council and special advisory committee/council, his team were able to reach strategic decisions at great speed.
Furthermore, Buhari weaned his campaign organization of people with stakes in the 2019 elections, thereby eliminating distractions.
Buhari was vigilant to those that made up his central structure and how the voting public viewed them. For example, when a leaked tape of the DG of his campaign, Rotimi Amaechi, became embarrassing, the president was quick to strip him of powers.
This represented a clear departure from Atiku who courted divisive and controversial characters in his team i.e. Fani Kayode and Ayo Fayose.
Campaigns are given life and driven by their messages. How messages are couched and communicated determines how the electorate react to candidates.
They constitute response to prevailing issues (what those issues are, how they can be addressed and why the candidate is the right man for the job.
A good campaign should always embody the 8’Cs of a good campaign message i.e. compatible, concise, connected, contrast, compelling, credible, consistent and conformity.
Atiku’s central message was that of a titanic national rebirth which he captured in his not too persuading slogan “Make Nigeria great again''. His message conjured an image of national stagnation with him as the messiah destined to restore the lost golden era of Nigeria.
His messianic coming was targeted at voters who had grown weary of Buhari’s first term and longed for the good old days.
The creativity behind Atiku’s message remains in doubt. His slogan bore great resemblance to that “Make America great again”, a political slogan adopted by Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and popularized by Donald Trump.
Furthermore, Atiku’s campaign did not sit well with millennial who could hardly point to a time in their lives that Nigeria was working (these are generations born into a debt-ridden, violence dominated and infrastructure decaying Nigeria). For this category of voters, the often-cited glory days of Nigeria should remain in
Atiku should have appealed to a “new order”; built on a template far different from that of Buhari’s era. While voters may be attracted to the past, they are equally aware of societal dynamics that necessitates a breakaway from such past.
Having ridden to victory in 2015 with the message of national transformation (change), Buhari dug in by putting his “change” mantra to test. He invited voters to assess his four years in power while persuading them to help him consolidate on his gains.
His central message was progress which saw him adopt the slogan “Next Level”. Despite accusations of plagiarism, the Next Level cry succeeded in rallying voters who saw continuity as the best road to national development. His message was simple: ‘I need another four years to get Nigeria to the promised land.
Buhari strategically amplified his need for another term with a symbol that came to re-define his entire campaign.
While facing an unruly Senate during budget presentation, Buhari managed to steal the initiative by giving his now famous 4+4 fingers sign. Within hours, the 4+4 sign became viral with millions of supporters adopting it as the official campaign logo.
Election campaign anywhere is heavily monetized. Without adequate funding, even the candidate with the best credential will be relegated to the rear.
The larger the electoral district, the bigger the financial needs of the campaign. The ability of a campaign to raise and spend money is sometimes used to measure the progress of a campaign.
He started his campaign with a spending blitz. He and his allies bankrolled the initial stage of his pre-nomination campaign.
With stories of big money playing a role during the PDP primaries, it became obvious that Atiku dug deep into his finances. This left the campaign with depleted funding during actual campaign.
State governors and party stakeholders who were supposed to bailout Atiku’s campaign were neck-deep funding their re-election campaigns.
The cash-crunch did not go unnoticed by the All Progressive Congress who repeatedly taunted the Atiku campaign of being broke. the Atiku campaign failed to galvanize the electorate and supporters to make visible donations to the campaign.
Atiku further drove away big oil donors when he made public his plan to unbundle the NNPC which remains one of the biggest donor to presidential campaign in the country.
Buhari’s strongman policies frustrated stakeholders in the previous administration from openly funding Atiku for fear of corruption charges.
To turn the tide in his favour, Atiku should have implemented a roboust masses oriented fundraising programme.
As the incumbent, Buhari’s campaign was near unlimited in raising money, calling in favours or issuing political promissory notes. Individuals and corporate stakeholders who benefited from Buhari’s first term were always handy with suitcases full of cash.
Buhari also succeeded in raising big money from support groups and individual donors. The Rice Farmers Association of Nigeria (FIRAN) and Fertilizers Producers and Suppliers Association of Nigeria (FEPSAN) made a combined donation of N 1.77 billion to his campaign. The publicity given these donations was exploited to galvanize more voters to donate to the campaign.
Finally, ridding on back power of incumbency recruited Aliko Dangote and Femi Otedola with a combined worth of $14 billion. This incumbency apparently gave his ally, Bola Tinubu the freedom to ferry cash in bullion vans without interference.
4. Youth mobilisation
Nigerian youths constituted the bulk of registered voters during the 2019 elections. Roused from their indifference by the drop in age qualification for political officers, youths were naturally drawn to the presidential campaign.
With an overwhelming control of the internet, youths became influencers and shapers of the campaign narratives.
Atiku had great success in mobilizing youths to his cause despite his age. Youths who were exasperated with Buhari’s older hands at the helm of affairs rallied around the Atiku’s campaign.
Atiku further strengthen his youth base by promising 35% of cabinet positions to youths and women. Youth-based volunteer groups sprang up across the country, driven by both undergraduate and graduates.
However, Atiku failed to utilize the now infamous “lazy youths” comment by Buhari as an effective negative advert. In reaching out to youths, Atiku and his team should have contrasted with Buhari’s attitude towards Nigerian youths by holding them out as innovative, educated and hardworking.
Atiku should have increased his youth base by appointing youths to leadership positions in his central council, rather than resorting to old, tried and obviously tired hands.
After taking power with the help of young voters, Buhari broke faith with them. His numerous public slips scandalized his youth base particularly educated ones.
Many youths found it hard to expect any change of attitude from the president after he labelled them “lazy” at the international stage. Buhari further alienated youths by his attempt to censure social media which serves as a communication tool of choice for most youths.
Like his cabinet, Buhari’s campaign team was dominated by older hands that did all they could to keep the campaign on a conservative footing. The dull and often slow-pace of Buhari’s government operated to reduce his youth base.
That is not to say that Buhari was without youth support. He was still able to retain a reasonable youth support in several states in Northern Nigeria were he enjoys an infallible cult of personality.
Most of Buhari’s supporters in the North are either without education or from states where APC governors had a tight grip on the masses.
5. Information warfare
Voters make up their minds based on information at their disposal. The twin pillar of a successful information strategy is hinged on projecting your candidacy while discrediting the opponent before voters.
As a rule, the sky is never the limit when it comes to discrediting the opponent. Negative adverts must be relevant and capable of denting an opponent’s credentials or integrity.
It should be able to cast such opponent as a fraud, liar, and incompetent. Nigeria’s political space perhaps is an exception to that rule as everything goes when it comes to informational warfare.
Atiku as challenger took the initiative firing the first information shot. Citing his achievements as Vice-president between 1999 - 2007, he projected an image of experience and stability. He sought to convince the people that a new Nigeria built on its past greatness was possible with his presidency.
Carefully produced documentaries detailing his life flooded the public space with attention on his rise from poverty to greatness. It sought to tell low income and young voters that Atiku understood their plight as he was once one of them (and is ready to guide them to greatness if voted for)
With former Anambra State Governor, Peter Obi as vice-presidential candidate, Atiku’s narrative extended to fiscal responsibility and industrialization. With an accomplished record in financial management and governance, Obi became the transparency poster child for Atiku’s campaign.
Atiku launched a broad information attack against President Buhari which centred on Buhari’s first term performance. Allegations of corruption, nepotism, insecurity, economic stagnation, incompetence, dictatorship and massive unemployment were made to discredit Buhari.
One key problem with Atiku’s negative publicity was that it was neither forceful nor consistent enough to dent Buhari’s image.
Advert materials should have been liberally shared to support groups and influencers across the country with a clear mandate to saturate the political space.
Buhari constantly held out himself as the man that saved Nigeria from the abyss. His narrative attempted to convince voters that 16 years of PDP almost tore the country apart; a mistake that should be avoided by voting him. His anti-corruption credentials though punctured by Atiku were dusted and recreated with images of grand cash seizures.
His attempt to push his narrative beyond being a bulwark against corruption fell flat in the face of reality. With Universities on strike, recurrence of terrorist attacks, economic stagnation etc, Buhari’s could not effectively embellish his political credentials.
Having failed to fulfil his utopian campaign promises made in 2015, Buhari went on the offensive, accusing the PDP and Atiku of massive corruptions committed in the past. He made them his fall man for his four years of mismanagement.
He was careful enough to attribute any achievement no matter how irrelevant to his leadership. As far as he was concerned, PDP’s 16 years in power and Atiku’s return to the party were responsible for any failure associated with his administration.
Buhari and his media handlers were out for blood, daring a corrupt Atiku to visit the United States if indeed he was not corrupt as alleged.
It was a carefully orchestrated ploy and a foolish one at that. The foolishness of this strategy was revealed when Atiku’s handlers did not only arrange for him to visit the United States but also for him to have audience with top American policy makers.
Voters' contact (GOTV)
Getting out the vote (GOTV) is the last phase of every political campaign. This involves a last lap appeal to voters to turn out and vote. While GOTV remains the reserve of volunteers and paid political telemarketers, a personalised contact by a candidate is more effective in turning out votes.
There are many campaign tools which makes it easier for candidates to contact a large number of voters simultaneously. For example TALKTOO platform developed in Germany allows for two-way communication between a candidate and up to 3 million voters.
His contacts and mobilization committee was invisible and obviously ineffectual. Beyond the unfulfilled promise to organize door-to-door exercise, the Atiku team simply went into hibernation mode. They lost a good chance to deploy several GOTV tools to mop up voters who were yet to commit to a side.
Atiku’s best chance at voters’ contact was his fast-paced campaign tours and rallies. His team neglected to resort to other effective tools of getting out votes such as door-to-door, telephoning, Q & A sessions, created event, town hall meetings etc.
Buhari’s team integrated various GOTV tools to reach voters particularly in the swing states in the north. Aisha Buhari personally led a strong door-to-door exercise exclusively targeting female voters in Kano, Kaduna, Katsina and Lagos State.
Furthermore, Buhari exploited his position as incumbent to constantly interface with voters through his incessant national address in the build up to elections.
Atiku and Buhari ran a typical Nigerian political campaign, with each depending on the strength of established political heavyweights. Campaign experts were utilized by each team but their roles were limited to observing and offering advice.
As a challenger, we expected Atiku to be more forceful in discrediting Buhari’s disastrous four years as president. They were many points which could have been raised by his team against Buhari.
Given extensive media coverage, these points would have influenced voters to question the propaganda-driven achievements of President Buhari.
On the contrary, Atiku ran his campaign as if he was the incumbent, occasionally neglecting to take up initiatives when they presented themselves.
The views expressed in this interview/article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the editorial policy of Legit.ng.
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Anemuyem Akpan is founding partner, Anempire stratagems Konsult. He is also Partner and African representative of German based political consulting Firm, campaign and technology. 08063624048.
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