I learnt early that to be a leader, one must understand the system which is in operation where one wants to take power and learn to work that system to take power. If you are in a monarchy, there is a way to obtain power. If you live in a democracy, there are defined ways to get into power. You see, no matter how great the policies and plans one has are, the first step towards implementing them in a democratic system is winning elections. Hence, everyone who aspires to lead must learn to win elections. The operative word here is win. People do not owe you an obligation to vote for you, no matter how good your plans for them are. That is what we call the Saviour Complex. It is your responsibility to win their votes.
I’m not much of a politician, but I promised my friends Demola Rewaju and Ayokunle Odekunle that I would share my experience running for the presidency of the Editorial Community Development Service group during my NYSC in Yobe State. Whilst the scale and the stakes were significantly lower than running for public office in Nigeria (I for example couldn’t lose my life), the principles in my actions are relevant and so I thought I’d share the story. I’ll leave out pointing out the lessons and simply tell the story. The reader can draw the lessons as they read.
A background on the Editorial CDS. It was more or less the press and propaganda arm and as such was probably the most important CDS. It kept the corps members informed as to what was going on within Yobe and in the outside world. It was also closest to the political powers in the state as well as within the NYSC. At the end of service year, it also produced the Yobe Kopa, the NYSC magazine. But as it with politics in Nigeria today, most of the cool people didn’t want to be part of the Editorial CDS. They just wanted to enjoy service year and the CDS group wasn’t one of the “cool crowd” things to do. So the quite powerful Editorial CDS group was left to the uncool crowd and the CDS group wielded that power effectively. The only corps member who held more power than the president of the Editorial CDS in Yobe was the CLO in Damaturu, the state capital.
The Editorial CDS was under the state NYSC P.R.O’s sphere of influence. The then P.R.O, Mr. Malami, had a specific method for recruiting Editorial CDS members. First, you had to join the Orientation Broadcasting Service (OBS) whilst on camp. Then the current exco of the Editorial CDS would come to camp and mingle with the OBS members. They would then select their candidate and lobby the state P.R.O for his approval. Once this was secured, it was a done deal. After camp, all the OBS members who would be loyal to the cause would be deployed to Damaturu, where they would then become members of the Editorial CDS group and vote along the predetermined lines. Clean, neat, arrangement.
Now, I loved writing and the media and had asked around about where I could do this in Yobe. I planned to join the OBS, but when I saw the belly-turning deference the OBS members showed to the Editorial CDS members who came from Damaturu, I couldn’t stick it. So I began to devise a different strategy. It wasn’t like I set out to be president of Editorial CDS initially; I just wanted to write and take advantage of the fledging internet to get news faster to Damaturu (it took 48hours for newspapers to get to us at that time). But now, I decided to take it on.
First, I identified a guy who had the most promise for being the CLO in Damaturu, a guy named Sola, who was Yoruba but spoke Hausa fluently and was accepted by most people in camp. We ended up in the same platoon and by maneuvers that are out of the scope of this piece, I emerged platoon leader. This guaranteed I would be posted to Damaturu, without being part of the OBS.
Some of the things that happened in my favour, I didn’t plan. For example, I got posted to The Federal Polytechnic, Damaturu as a computer science lecturer, so I had access to the internet free. That gave me an edge on sourcing news. I ended up staying with the Sola I mentioned earlier for our first 5months, and we worked hard to ensure Sola emerged the CLO. Now, I had the most powerful corps member as an ally.
Next, I joined the Editorial CDS along with a core of allies without looking threatening. Normally, the group would have been left to OBS members. We just seemed like fun lovers who were looking for an extra CDS day we could go to apart from the general Friday CDS. So, we were accepted.
Then, I began a membership drive. I had befriended our Miss NYSC, a very pretty lady from Nassarawa named Grace Aya. She was very close to most of the big people in town since she schooled in University of Maiduguri. In fact, whenever the then governor’s daughter was in town, Grace was usually her companion. She joined. Along with her, a lot of ladies joined (I was told women were my constituency). The CLO joined. Then guys too began to join. Soon, all the cool people began joining the Editorial CDS and it became the new cool. Membership went through the roof and we had to get a bigger venue within the Local Government Office for our meetings. Of course, the CLO arranged that at no cost.
As the elections were approaching, the one anointed by the P.R.O and the Editorial CDS leadership was a guy called Hamzat Ahmed. A charismatic, brilliant but conservative guy, he was an avid and well versed Islamic scholar. In fact, it was Hamzat who succeeded in changing my then negative bias towards Muslims. He was adjudged to have been the correct choice for President of Muslim Corpers Association, Yobe Chapter. He was however passed over because he was a southerner and made the deputy whilst the post went to a gentleman from Kano. Hamzat looked set to win as was expected.
What the leadership didn’t realize was that I had more numbers in the Editorial CDS than the original OBS members now. Many of my allies were powerful outside the CDS on their own. Also, I heard all their strategies first hand as I had befriended Hamzat’s friend with whom he shared a room, Jide. Don’t get it wrong though. I wasn’t Jide’s friend simply because I wanted information from him. Jide is a great guy and is one of the best parts of my service year. He’s also one of the few friends I kept from NYSC post service year. However, I won him over to my cause and through Jide, I had access to most of their strategies and we were able to counter them. Hence, we ensured that in a free and fair election, I would beat Hamzat.
Then we set about making sure the elections were free and fair. The CLO who was my man and someone who everyone respected was given the task of organizing the elections. He ensured that the voting was free and fair, and the incumbents were astounded when I won.
But I recognized Hamzat’s value by then. I reached out to him and made him my deputy with Jide as the P.R.O and a brilliant lady Akudo (of the cool kid crowd) as the General Secretary and we formed one of the most remarkable and dynamic working relationships. Sadly, Hamzat is late, shot after our service year by robbers in the branch of the bank got a job in whilst at work. But in the period we ran the editorial CDS together, we did many amazing, first of its kinds things. We started a newspaper, funded by adverts from businesses people initially thought were non-existent in Yobe. We raised funds using the influence of the “cool kids” that were in our team and carried out plenty project. The crowning jewel was our NYSC Mag which was printed in Lagos (the adventure of how that made me miss my POP and nearly not get my NYSC certificate is for another day). Our valedictory dinner and award ceremony was the bomb (if I may say so myself J ).
None of these would have been possible if I didn’t first win the elections however. I had to forge alliances, employ trickery, got a “spy”, was populist yet intellectual, and a plethora of other things to win. But win, I did. You see, it is what it is.
Tunde Leye @tundeleye is a fiction writer. He believes that the stories written form a priceless resource that is the basis of society, all the other arts (film, music, theatre, visual arts) and hence he is committed to telling stories out of Africa that show it as it was, is, and is going to be.
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