How to win elections in Africa – Chike Ukaegbu

Ismail Akwei

Presidential elections in Africa have gone through many cycles since the 1950s when Ghana became the first country south of the Sahara Desert to gain independence from the British colony.

It is rare to see anyone below the age of 40 contesting for president in Africa due to laws that bar younger people and the lack of resources that could aid such ambitions.

However, in 2018, Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari signed into law the “Not Too Young To Run” bill that reduced the age limit for presidential aspirants from 40 to 35. This quickly drew the interest of then 35-year-old Chike Ukaegbu who was based in the United States to apply for a slot on the ballot.

The ambitious young man went through the process, contested under the ticket of his newly formed Advanced Allied Party and secured a little over 8,900 votes out of the millions of votes in Nigeria’s 2019 presidential election. He shared his election experiences in an interview with Ismail Akwei.

“I think one of the lessons we learned as part of my 2019 experience, or at least one of the strategies we had going in, was let’s try to avoid the Godfathers, godfatherism. In fact, I remember my very first interview in Nigeria when I returned. I was on a show called Your View, and the ladies asked me, who’s your godfather? And, you know, coming with the American mentality, [I said] the Okada man on the street, with his hundred naira. And they laughed. They fell out and laughed and by the end of the election, we definitely understood the importance of godfatherism or sponsors.

“One of the things that came out of that understanding is making sure that you have people who are sold into your vision of moving the country forward, not people who loan you money such that when you get there, you become indebted to them. And that repeats the cycle of embezzlement, you know, that affects the welfare of the people,” he said.

He outlined five things that are needed before anyone could run an effective election campaign in Nigeria which include security, finance, media and “of course having this right sponsor or the Godfathers”.

“Now the fifth one is having your insiders in the Electoral Commission because we are still talking about Nigeria here right. Now of those five things, your responsibility as a candidate is media. You should be able to communicate your vision both locally and internationally to woo people to come along with you. You should be able to convince your sponsors, godfathers or whatever you call them to buy into your vision and give them a role in that administration, a role that enhances the welfare of the people, not the other way.

“…Now when it comes to security apparatus, when it comes to INEC, those are now where you need your godfathers who have better access into these institutions to take the lead in making sure that you have the right support system within those institutions for your candidacy,” he explained.

On the cost involved in preparation and contesting the elections in 2019, Chike painted a picture of his expenditure and how to raise funds.

“So the truth is, 2019 is not 2023, 2027 will not be 2023, and so on and so forth. So saying how much it costs me is not going to help anybody as opposed to saying what’s important in how to prepare for that. Organising is important. Having the right ideology that can pull people into your vision that are willing to support. So I probably spent the least amount of money of all the candidates in that election, partly because we had people who were spending their own money to do things right. We had young people who were organising, like in the north, for instance, we had a group of young people in Kano who put other young leaders from 11 northern states to come meet with me in Kano, and they spent their own money galvanising and campaigning in their states. There were people who printed books, who printed posters or printed banners of their own accord.

“So it’s not about how much it costs. It’s if you have the right vision. Do you have the right people? And how are you able to communicate that vision so that it brings other people on board? So getting the right people also means finding the right people who can help you fundraise and manage the financial expenses of running a credible campaign,” he said.

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