4 lessons Nigeria can draw from the United States’ presidential race


The heat is on! Right now and every second the likes of especially Democrats’ Hilary Clinton and Bernie Sanders on the one hand, and Republicans’ Donald Trump, Marco Rubio, John Kasich and Ted Cruz on the other hand, are buying their way into the mind and heart of America’s electorate ahead of November presidential polls. Why is the planet agog with the nitty-gritty of the forthcoming US election? Understandably, the one who emerges US president, succeeding Obama as it were, will be as good as the globe’s president, given the enormous influence the US wields on the global scheme of things. However, I doubt that that singularly accounts for why it is commanding global followership.

Side by side the American experience is Nigeria. Electioneering in Nigeria, the much I know, and I can assure you I know enough (at least I played presiding officer for one of the polling units in the April 2015 polls), is a mess at best. Truth be told, a whole lot depends on the credibility of the electoral process: it instills faith in the government and reinforces patriotism. For me, it’s high time we learnt one or two things from those who are better at doing it, such as:

1. Money should go invisible

There is no gainsaying that the politics and the economy enjoy a husband and wife relationship. Yes, they do. And so, every election is run by so much money. Publicity alone on the various media runs into mega-millions. Of course, not to mention the crazy mega-millions that must be paid into the accounts of the various and varied gatekeepers and gods and goddesses of the land. In the US this money is invisible while in Nigeria it is shared on the streets in raw cash or its material equivalent. The invisibility of the US cash leans on the fact that campaigns are adequately, transparently and accountably funded, converting most of the cash for services procured in the furtherance of the bid for the White House. In Nigeria, our recent “Dasuki-gate” reveals it all; even our dear media appears to have been largely compromised.

This is the problem: the visibility of cash in the process compromises credulity; it makes it bribery and not the lobbying that it should be; it corrupts the minds of the electorate.

2. The candidates themselves must command followership

For months, all the candidates must build followership either from the scratch or consolidate on what they used to have. They must be charismatic enough to demonstrate their suitability for the White House and their particular ability to bear the larger-than-life image of the US among the comity of nations while stating and negotiating their interest without mincing words. In this regard, it is almost never clear that a particular candidate is being sponsored by this or that individual, since it has to be clear from Day 1 that the country is never to be held ransom by the whims and caprices of those sort of sponsors. We can do better than we’re already doing. Yes, the party is important, but it is always the individual that must bear the character of the party.

3. The media is a major and independent stakeholder

There is no doubt that Nigeria’s media is part and parcel of the electioneering here, but the challenge remains as to whether she is true to her calling as the fourth estate of the realm. Of course, running a media outfit is business, but devoting to driving positive social change at critical moments as poll time is a social responsibility. In Nigeria, while the media focuses on paid publicity and just gets by with debates and analyses, the American mainline media takes every inch of the steps towards the polls seriously. The debates are superhot and the analyses leave no one stone unturned. In America, the citizenry can confidently depend on CNN, for instance, on the in and out of the elections; and CNN always delivers.

4. Electioneering is everyone’s business

Knowing the implications of a free, fair and credible poll on the furtherance of the national course, the average American takes everything about her elections personal. They are there for the rallies, the primaries, the debates, and on poll day; they’re there for virtually everything! And almost all US elections are near-perfect. The reverse is the case in Nigeria, where the voting is not urgent, and optional at best. This has to change.


America is not perfect; the name calling characterizing the current American presidential race, especially as championed by Trump, is not virtuous. But her electioneering has got a lot of lessons for us. And we’ll be doing ourselves a whole lot of good learning from them. Thanks to Arinze Nwafor for his generous insights on the US elections.