How to Win Election into Public Office in Nigeria

How to Win Election into Public Office in Nigeria

By Abdulkabir Olatunji

The next general elections in Nigeria will hold in 2019 and already politicians are kicking into gear their plans to capture, sorry, win elections.

A few newbies will also be trying their hands on serious politics for the first time. Many of these will not know what it takes to win elections in Nigeria. So, I have decided to help out with this guide to winning elections in Nigeria.

There are 10 steps any person wanting to win election into public office in Nigeria should either take or understand.

For those that are in a hurry, I will present the list first, but if you have the time, please read till the end, it is definitely worth it:

10 Steps to Winning Election in Nigeria

  1. Find out which positions you are qualified to run for.
  2. Decide which position you will be running for.
  3. Decide the party whose platform you want to run on.
  4. Get the dominant power bloc in the party to support your candidature.
  5. Build your own loyal campaign team within the party structure.
  6. Craft a superb campaign strategy.
  7. Run the campaign effectively.
  8. Dissecting your opponents’ strategy.
  9. Get a proficient and efficient legal team.
  10. Stay alive and healthy.

Now, let us look at these points in greater detail:

1. Find out which positions you are qualified to run for

Elections in Nigeria have minimum requirements an individual must have from councilor to president. You have to research if you are qualified by age and academic qualifications. Academic qualifications are relatively lax. All you need to be president in Nigeria is a secondary school certificate. I remember the things that I was taught and knew at this level and sincerely believe it suffices. Having greater academic and professional qualifications are good especially if you can demonstrate the requisite knowledge expected of someone with whatever additional education or training you have.

2. Decide which position you will be running for

Having found out the elective positions you qualify for, the next step is to determine which of the ones you qualify for you want to contest. You should consider the kind of finances and support you have before making a decision. It is not wise to run for a position that you are not equipped to run for in terms of finance, political support and following. For example, it is cheaper and easier to run for the position of member of a state House of Assembly than it is to run for the Federal House of Representatives or Senate. It is easier to contest for governor of a state than try to be president- just ask Governor Rochas Okorocha of Imo state. He became governor at first attempt after running for president at least twice.

3. Decide the party whose platform you want to run on

There is no provision for Independent candidature in Nigeria at the moment although there are efforts being made to amend the Electoral Act to allow for it. Consequently, you need a political party to pick you as its candidate if you are going to win an election. Just take a look at former Vice President Atiku who has quickly figured-out that he has almost zero-chance of becoming the presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and has quickly defected to his old party, People’s Democratic Party (PDP). He understands that only a candidate can win an election, any aspirant that cannot become a candidate of a political party has no chance of being elected.

4. Get the dominant power bloc in the party to support your candidature

You are now in a political party and your ambition is known. However, you are likely not going to be the only one in your party aspiring for that public office you are eyeing. Therefore, primaries are likely to be held with you and other aspirants within your party contesting. You are going to need power brokers in the party to get enough delegates to vote for you to win. It is this scenario that has led to the emergence of political godfathers in Nigeria.

You have to be diplomatic and strategic. The truth though is that most primaries are won by the aspirant with the backing of big people in the party who often buy delegate’s votes. As sad as this is, you are going to need to manage this effectively to win. In 2015, popular Nigerian actress Kate Henshaw learnt this the hard way when she lost her party primary for the House of Representatives in a very embarrassing manner.

President Buhari has also begun to get major stakeholders in the party to support a 2nd term bid. No matter how strong you are, you still need support from critical stakeholders in your party to make things easier for yourself.

5. Build your own loyal campaign team within the party structure

The governor of Lagos state, Akinwunmi Ambode used this strategy almost to the point of perfection for the 2015 election. It is well-known that he had the backing of APC leader and former governor of Lagos,  Asiwaju Bola Tinubu. However,  he did not rely solely on this and built his own team of loyal supporters within the party who worked very hard to help get him elected.

6. Craft a superb campaign strategy

If you are lucky to win your party’s primary and become its candidate,  you will need to craft a clear campaign strategy involving massive advertising across new and conventional media. The demographics of the voters you are seeking are important to crafting a strategy. For example if you are trying to become a Lagos state House of Assembly Member for Mushin constituency,  spending money on online adverts might be a waste of money. However,  if you build personal contact with the people provide some degree of empowerment for them,  you might have a good chance. There is no one-size-fits-all strategy and you might need to modify things as the campaign progresses. A team of professional consultants may be useful in this regard.

7. Run the campaign effectively

You have crafted the campaign strategy but you need to run it effectively and smoothly. Ensure that those helping with your campaign are not working as moles neither are they corrupt individuals embezzling campaign funds. Remove whoever is in a critical position and failing until you find the right ones. Your campaign organization if you are a newbie is likely to be one of the most complex establishments you will ever manage. Your skills as a leader, politician and manager will be tested; try to learn as quickly as possible and find trustworthy and reliable advisers whose interests align with yours.

8. Dissecting your opponents’ strategies

Your opponents are going to use every fair and unfair trick in the group to try to win. In the past,  ballot snatching and stuffing used to be common in Nigerian elections. However,  in recent times,  vote buying seems to be the new method politicians use to manipulate elections in their favour. This is against the law and makes you liable to get convicted if found guilty of it. However,  what you can do is work on the people to convince them that voting for your opponents because of a few hundred or thousand naira is against their long-term interests and you will use the platform of office if elected to alleviate their suffering. For example,  a guarantee of employment for educated people, free qualitative education,  affordable housing and healthcare,  security and promotion of enterprise,  good roads, electricity are things that many Nigerians want,  you have to be able to prove to people that you can and will deliver if voted into office. Former governor of Imo stare,  Peter Obi was really good at this in his campaign that saw him become the winner of the gubernatorial election in Anambra in 2006. He really tapped into the feelings of the people which gave him a surprising victory.

9. Get a proficient and efficient legal team

Elections often require that you have a strong legal team to avoid being defeated on legal technicalities. A large percentage of elections in Nigeria end up in court with pre-election and post-election legal battles common. Experience since 1999 has shown that the difference between winning and losing an election sometimes is the quality of lawyers that the contesting politicians have –get a good lawyer.

10. Stay alive and healthy

Many political aspirants have been killed or maimed. It is important that you are security conscious and take precautions  –the less of your personal details that are in the public domain, the better for you. Furthermore, you should strive to remain healthy throughout the process. Only the living can win elections and you have to factor this into how you run your campaign. There should be enough time for you to sleep and rest.

So, there you have it. Kindly drop your comments to let me know what you think.


Abdulkabir Olatunji is the Head of Strategy at Jarus & JAN Internet Group and an Associate Member of the Nigerian Institute of Management (AMNIM). His interests include writing, blogging, all-things-tech and analysis of current affairs and sports. You can follow him on LinkedIn and on Twitter @maclatunji


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There is 1 comment for this article
  1. Oluwasesan at 2:52 PM

    This teaches a lot of tactics for intending public office seekers..I picked up a lot of viable points..

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