Ayisha Osori is a lawyer, activist and politician.
She is the author of ‘Love Does Not Win Elections’.
In this interview with IBRAHIM RAMALAN, she speaks on her experience and the startling discoveries she made during her sojourn into politics in Nigeria, as reflected in her book.
Your book: Love Does Not Win Elections is basically about your experience when you sought elective position, could you through more light on it? There were a lot of discoveries and some of the most interesting ones are that politics is a closed industry.
There are generations of stakeholders and they do not welcome outsiders.
The process is set up to be manipulated and as such access to information and clarity around the process of being an aspirant and engaging with delegates is shrouded in mystery.
This brings me to the second lesson, which is that information (or more accurately disinformation) is used as a weapon to ensure that it is difficult for new entrants into politics and to continue to give the stakeholders leverage to control and manipulate.
For instance, in most places, outside the rural areas where buildings are few, it is near impossible to independently locate a party’s ward office for APC and PDP.
I use them as an example because they are the two major parties but I am ready to wager that it is the same for APP/ANPP AD/ACN).
In the 21st Century why is this information not available online? So, when s o m e o n e calls me from Games Village and s a y s : Please t e l l me w h e re I can r e g i s t e r with PDP, I have no answer.
When a friend was challenged by what I revealed in the book to register with APC in Kaduna state, she asked around and said each person she asked gave her a different answer regarding where the APC ward office is located.
It means the political parties do not want members, at least not members like me who can think for themselves.
Another realisation was that the process of political party’s primary is so flawed that by the time voters are lining up to vote on election day, 80 per cent of the battle for decent leadership has already been lost because of the type of candidates the parties prefer to present.
This ability to control the candidate selection process is tied to one of the two things I mentioned earlier, that politics is an industry that does not want people who will do things differently and that is why despite the fact that there are millions of accomplished Nigerians doing wonderful things around the world and here in Nigeria, we keep getting the same caricature of an elected official, who like many in the civil and public service, see Nigeria as little more than a pool of kunu/ogi to continue to drain.
What inspired you to document your experience in a book? I have written this book for multiple reasons.
The first is to deal with the second thing I found out, that is information is used as a barrier to keep new entrants.
With this book, at least some of what had been dismissed as ‘stories’ is now out in the open.
Yes, it is only one person’s story and experiences differ but many who have contested primaries across the country with different parties are validating my experience The second reason is to provide a guide to others who are thinking of contesting as well, everything from how dogmatic parties are about primary school leaving certificates to the hidden charges that parties ask of aspirants to practical tips about the political culture.
There is this issue of indigene-ship in Nigeria politics.
Do you see it posing threat to our democracy? I see the obsession with indigene-ship as a threat to national unity, not just to democracy.
I understand the tension between wanting inclusive and diverse representation which reflects the population but because the ethos for public service is to exploit, where a person is from as criteria for being appointed/ elected has heightened divisions and excused mediocrity and incompetence.
The good news is that (i) the eligibility criteria to run for office as provided in the 1999 Constitution does not require one to be an indigene of a place before the person can run and (ii) in a few places, where a person’s father is from is no longer a barrier to their being elected to serve the constituency they belong to.
For example, some Nigerians who can trace their lineage to the South-east are representing Lagos state in the National Assembly.
This is the way it should be, to give people not only a sense of belonging where they reside and have invested time and resources, but also a sense of responsibility.
If the question changes from where are you from? To where do you reside? Then this obsession with counting those who worship the same way we do and who speak the same language we do will, hopefully, reduce.
We’ve tried this ethnic based definition of federal character for close to 40 years and we are more divided than ever, maybe we should define federal character differently, that is to reflect that half the population are women and 70 per cent of the population are young.
You didn’t secure the ticket you sought, how did it make you feel? It was always a long shot but I felt disappointed.
Not because I spent the money I raised for the purpose of contesting the primaries and a little more but because from the short time I interacted with the delegates and ward chairmen and from what I knew about the incumbent, I would make a better representative and I felt that the delegates knew that too.
Yet the incumbent won the primaries, despite the loud claims to dislike him.
This is part of where the title of the book comes from, that it is not whether you are liked or wanted by the electorate that wins you votes.
It is who controls the party and other considerations that affect the choices of parties.
Now, with the benefit of reflection, I feel that this abuse of party processes and primaries to foist people on the electorate is part of the reason why we cannot hold public officials accountable for their blatant abuse of power and theft of collective resources.
What then is your message to aspiring politicians? To decide if they want to play the game the way it is currently played or if they want to understand the game the way it is currently played with the aim to replace it with another game which they can win.
So, are you aspiring to any position in the 2019 general elections? No but I am encouraging Nigerians to participate in politics, not only as people who vote on election day (choices are already slim) but as people who support candidates with funds and time; as citizens who actively join parties and force their parties to do things the right way.
I also support all efforts to turn the electorate away from the two major parties and even new parties created by the same crop of politicians, whose sticky fingerprints are all over the creation of the type of country we have today: broken, limping, leaking like a sieve, incapable of providing for and protecting its most vulnerable and unable to inspire its young people to love him.
You are a busy woman: lawyer, politician, activist and more.
How do you juggle these activities? By being organised and having a great support system in my family and friends.
Is this your first shot at writing and how long did it take you to write the book? It took almost two years.
I had not written a book before Love Does Not Win Elections but I had written articles, social studies textbooks used in primary schools and a reference book for children.
So, what was your experience and were there challenges? I try to write every day, I still do, and I wrote and re-wrote the manuscript for the book many times.
In fact, I originally wrote it in the style of a campaign diary and shared it with a few friends and the reaction was lukewarm.
One of them, Bolaji Oduwole, who specializes in strategic communications, told me it would be better to re-arrange the content in themes/ chapters.
It made sense to me but it basically entailed re-writing the entire book.
I also try to be strict when editing.
No matter how much I love a sentence or phrase, if I read it a few times and it is superfluous or adds nothing, I cut it out.
It was challenging to find a publisher and now that the book is published I see that book distribution networks across the country are weak.
But so far, the interest has been tremendous and family and friends across the country have helped in advertising and selling the book.
I could not ask for more but to wish the publishing industry would continue to improve and innovate.