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PoliThinks: Afinifere, Ọhaneze, Arẹwa, PANDEF, and the Endorsement Deals

The endorsement “deals” the country desires at the moment from these socio-cultural groups is not one based on money, ego, tribe, religion, but one based on national interest, values and progress.

Political trading is on in Nigeria. It is the season of endorsements and counter endorsements by groups and individuals. Candidates use such endorsements to legitimize their candidacy of the various elective positions they are contesting for. The number of contestants who are lining up behind several big-name individuals and socio-cultural groups are growing by the day. In September, 2022, Afinefere, the pan-Yoruba socio-cultural organization, under the leadership of Pa Ayo Adebanjo, endorsed the presidential ambition of Labour Party’s Peter Obi. A few weeks after that endorsement, the same Afenifere, under another leader – Chief Reuben Fasoranti prayed for the Presidential candidate of the APC, which people have interpreted as a declaration of support for the candidacy of Bola Ahmed Tinubu. These confusing takes on who to endorse in the run up to the elections, and the widespread attention it has gained shows how groups like Afenufere can shape opinions.

Other socio-cultural groups like Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) and the Pan Niger-Delta Forum (PANDEF) have in previous times endorsed candidates for various elective offices in the country. For example, in the run-up to the 2019 general elections, Ohanaeze Ndigbo endorsed the candidacy of Atiku Abubakar , and so did other groups endorse their preferred candidates.

How much are these endorsements by socio-cultural groups worth? Well, to understand that, let’s understand what these organizations were set up for. On the website of the Afenifere renewal group (a splinter organization from the main Afenifere), the stated goals of the group include restructuring of the country, regional integration, net migration into the South West and Awoism – the welfarist political philosophy of the former Premier of the old Western region – Chief Obafemi Awolowo. On the other hand, the Ohaneze Ndigbo describes itself on its website as a “non-partisan, non-sectarian pan-Igbo socio-cultural organisation designed to provide a platform where Ndigbo, within and outside Nigeria, may come together for the purpose of nurturing better understanding and harmonious relations amongst themselves, with other ethnic groups in Nigeria, and with all communities wherever they reside.” In the same vein, the ACF was set up “to establish unity of Northern leaders, working through elected officials to achieve progress in the Arewa area within the democratic framework.”

These three socio-cultural organizations (and others like them) aim at uniting their people towards some established common goals. Interestingly, one of the ways they want to attain such goals is through political participations and playing very active roles in the democratic process. This is the reason why almost all the socio-cultural groups are aligning behind the candidates they think will help them advance their cause.

It remains to be seen the extent to which the declaration of support by these groups for any presidential candidate will influence the votes for such candidate by the ethnic group such groups represent. Speculations abound about the buying of endorsements by candidates to boost their acceptance. They do this largely for acceptability and voter influence. Imagine a popular Igbo candidate being endorsed by some prominent northern groups, or a popular Hausa/Fulani presidential candidate being endorsed by Igbo and Yoruba groups. Such endorsements in a country where ethnic suspicion is rife may serve as a signaling effect to rivals, of a wide acceptance and serve to douse the feelings of any possible sinister plot against them by members of other groups.

These socio-cultural organizations can serve as a vehicle for unity in the country - given its complexity – and help to accommodate the differences that abound if they act as a balance to the extremities that some leaders may be prone to, especially if their interests are aligned to the national interests. Sadly, these groups seem not to get their acts right and fail to present a holistic front in many instances. For example, while the ACF is more aligned to the more conservative nature of northern Nigeria, the Northern Elders Forum (NEF) is more desirous of a more progressive north which can reap the fruit of its many years of leading Nigeria. On the other hand, while the South-West of Nigeria, an area covered by Afenifere may collectively espouse the philosophies of Awolowo as previously highlighted, some politically influential individuals in the zone may run on personal agendas. Ohanaeze Ndigbo has been trying hard to give a single voice to the Igbos who are largely republican in nature, and sometimes speak at variance with the political leaders of the South East region.

So, the endorsement “deals” the country desires at the moment from these socio-cultural groups is not one based on money, ego, tribe, religion, but one based on national interest, values and progress.

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