A news magazine had captured the drama succinctly in 1992 when it reported an encounter between a supporter of former governor of Lagos State, Lateef Jakande and a supporter of former chief of staff, (Supreme Headquarters) to General Olusegun Obasanjo, Shehu Musa Yar’Adua.
Jakande and Yar’Adua were contesting for the presidential ticket of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) where voters were expected to queue behind aspirants of their choice.
It turned out that at this particular polling unit in Lagos, the queue for Yar’Adua was so short that a Jakande supporter, buoyed by the long line he was standing in, felt he could tease those on the other line with what appeared their looming defeat.
“Well,” replied one of the men on the Yar’Adua’s in defense, “this is Lagos and you don’t expect anybody to defeat Jakande in his base.”
When the results of the Lagos primary was collated however, to the shock of many, it turned out that Yar’Adua had given Jakande a serious spanking in what was considered his base winning not only in Lagos, but in some of other Southwest states.
Even Jakande was shocked to the extent that he invited Yar’Adua to do a populairty walk with him in Lagos.
It turned out that while Jakande’s supporters were relying on his popularity as the most performing governor of his era and his image as the Baba Kekere, meaning successor to Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Yar’Adua’s men had other strategies that went beyond mere popularity.
At strategic points, Yar’Adua got men who knew the terrain working for him.
Apart from the People’s front that he floated, by the time the SDP was formed, there were structures of the PDM in almost all parts of the country that had tested and political figures in its fold.
Knowing well that it would be nigh impossible as a relatively new entrant into partisan politics to contest against old war horses of the Second Republic who were interested in returning to politics, Yar’Adua opted to take over the men considered as having substantial following in states, senatorial zones and local governments.
Welcome to 2023.
Presidential candidate of the Labour Party, Mr. Peter Obi has become very popular in the current political dispensation. That the man has surpassed expectations and gone beyond what the average political analyst would have conceded to him has remained shocking.
This is evident in the marches organized for him where people turn out en mass and the euphoria the mere mention of his name generates in certain demographics.
His major setback however, as many have pointed out, is that he lacks ‘structure.’
As a former governor of Anambra state, his foray into national politics has not gone beyond being a running mate to Atiku Abubakar.
He is being touted on this count that he does not have a structure that goes beyond Anambra State and that might not take him far in becoming the president of a multi ethnic and large country like Nigeria.
Going by the growing popularity he enjoys, many have questioned what exactly it means when people say he has no structure.
Supporters of Peter Obi have however been inebriated with the kind of crowd that greet his outings and have questioned the relevance of structure when it seems that their preferred candidate is carrying the day.
The recent elections in Kenya where the underdog and the man who in Nigerian parlance had the least structure won has added to the belief that Peter Obi can pull it on his own.
It is therefore imperative to define structure in the sense it is being used in the Nigerian political stratosphere and its likely impact in the next presidential election.
Normally, when people talk about structures, they’re referring to groups or individuals in certain places that can be relied on to influence the decision of voters and safeguard the interests of candidates.
This can imply community leaders, respected clerics, former or serving political office holders, political figures as well as women and youth leaders.
Why the Obi phenomenon is being derided in some quarters is because it is yet to win these ‘structures’ who by their positions in their respective societies, determine the swing of votes at elections.
Let’s take a state that has 20 local governments, 200 wards, three senatorial district and nine house of representatives seats for instance.
A presidential candidate coming to the area must at least get the cooperation of the governor, who will in turn use his influence to reach his council chairmen, state assembly members, commissioners, and other aides to get to the grassroots especially if the presidential candidate is not from the state.
It is a top to bottom approach because it is to these ‘structures’ that the registered voters go to get their everyday problems solved and when election comes it is to these that they go for political direction.
Beyond that, there’s the need to safeguard the ballots and where the structure is not in place, the motivation to go the extra mile of safeguarding the votes may be lacking.
General Yar’Adua understood this very well as he accepted that where he could not reach the grassroots he could buy the structure to reach the grassroots.
And that was how he got key persons like the late Dapo Sarumi, Yomi Edu etc to work for him and he was able to defeat Jakande in his base in Lagos.
In the current race for the presidency, there are four major candidates, Bola Tinubu of the APC, Atiku Abubakar of PDP, Peter Obi of LP and Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso of NNPP.
Atiku seems to have learned from his mentor and usually enters into negotiations with those he considers as structures in geopolitical regions and states.
That was how he was able to enter into alliance with Tinubu in 2007. He is also known to take charge of the financial aspect of campaign for governors some of whom have admitted that he gives them up to N500 million in support.
Governors constitute a significant part of what is called structure as they to a large extent control have influence over many in their states.
By their positions, they install traditional rulers, speakers of the state’s assembly, nominate ministers and ambassadors, appoint their stooges as local government chairmen and councilors and give national assembly tickets to their cronies.
For the APC candidate, the fact that he has more governors than the other candidates in the current race is an advantage.
Like Atiku, he also has the financial muscle to buy structures where the party has not reached.
For Kwankwaso, his popularity in one of the states with the highest number of voters is an advantage. But the concentration of his supporters in only one geographical area minimises his chances in others.
Peter Obi appears ready to upset the apple cart because he has been able to sell his candidacy beyond the Southeast. But the lack of structure in other zones still haunt him.
It is one thing to have the popularity and the support but it is another to enlist the right people that will sustain the drive to the very end.
The IBB administration tried to help the new breed politicians by banning the old generation politicians from participating in politics so as to prevent them from usijg thier already established structures.
It however did not work.
Even when the people he had in mind were barred from participating, it did not stop them from influencing the voters as their hands were all over those that emerged successful.
Abacha too in the election of members of the Constitutional Conference knew he could not stop the likes of Yar’Adua hence tried to overtake him by having government nominated candidates at the conference.
At the end of the exercise, those that had the structure had their way and even gave his administration an ultimatum to hand over.
It is therefore not always easy to by pass structures in elections in Nigeria.
There are however exceptions to the rule.
On the whole, structures have mattered most where the voters are indifferent to the outcome of elections but where there’s a fanatical attachment to a candidate, the structures hardly play any significant role.
In such instances, manipulation and perceived interference is drastically reduced.
Another thing, structures seem more relevant in primary elections. Even the case mentioned above between Yar’Adua and Jakande was during the primary elections.
This is because party members are more likely to obey party decisions handed from the top.
We have seen from the experiences in many states where though the governors control the structures from councillors to LG chairmen to other appointees, as well as resources and security, how voters’ resolve to cast and guard their votes prevailed.
In fact where this is the resolve, the so called structures would even go into hiding for fear of being lynched.
This happened in Borno in 2003 when Ali Modu Sheriff, like a hurricane, swept away the administration of Mala Kachala and in Bauchi in 2007 when Isa Yuguda triumphed with the ‘a kasa, a raka, a tsare brand of elections.
We have also seen this happen in many other states in recent times where incumbents with all their claims to structures lose woefully.
As regards whether structure would matter in the 2023 elections however, one can only echo the lyrics of the song by Wycleff Jean to say ‘(say what, say what) anything can happen.’