By ‘Lai Olurode
‘Political promises are much like marriage vows. They are made at the beginning of relationship between candidate and voter, but are quickly forgotten’ – Dick Gregory.
‘If wishes were horses, beggars would ride’ – a common idiom.
‘Enu dun rofo ara mi o, agada owo se be gedu’ – saying and doing are poles apart. It is easier said than done.
The above quotes are meant to indicate that politicians do a lot of politics with campaign promises and they thereby often pull a fast one on electorates and go away with a lot of deception. Simply put, politics is an art that requires creativity. It is intended to influence and perhaps to deceive others in ways that their decisions can be swayed to one’s side in the decision making process. Indeed, politics can be referred to as primarily rhetoric. Dictionary definitions of rhetoric include the art or skill of speaking or writing as a way to persuade or influence people. Political campaign is all politics. On the other hand, governance involves more seriousness and it is more practical, more concrete and has physical manifestations. When we see governance, we feel it as our welfare improves. It is the art of doing and of fulfilling pledges made during politics. Good examples abound around us – regimes before Buhari had made campaign promises to fix Lagos- Ibadan expressway but this remains unfulfilled. It is an expression of good governance that this promise has now made become accomplished. The fixing of this road is impacting positively on people’s life. Travel time between the two locations had reduced and the cost of vehicle repair must have come down, so is the cost and risk of moving perishable items from villages to adjourning urban centres. The same can be said of the new rail line services in Nigeria. These were promises fulfilled and pledges honoured. public administration, the exercise of power is primarily based on Weberian notion of legitimacy which itself can flow from any of the following sources – tradition, religion or bureaucracy. With the disappearance of military dictatorship in most of Africa and the fading of power from the Barrel of the Gun, (Ruth First), there had been an unprecedented upsurge in the forces of democratization on the continent. By whatever name it is called, elections are now the only thoroughfare to making entry into the state realm and not through the use of force. If elections are inevitable as common indication of democratization, then politics and campaigning for elective offices cannot be dispensed with. Campaigns advertisements are an integral part of canvasing votes under electoral and competitive democracy. We might not be able to say categorically whether campaign language impact voting behaviour but, it is certain that both electors and candidates standing for elections subscribe to the notion that campaigning on key issues of human existence can influence voting behaviour. Candidates might be adjudged by what is said or unsaid. Long after campaign, the feasibility of delivering on what was promised might become subject of community discussions for days or even months. Though monitoring campaign promises has no constitutional backing but certainly it is an ethical issue which cannot be glossed over. Moreover, it would amount to supporting a rip off if elected officials are not held accountable for campaign promises freely made. Campaign promises throw up some research questions and methodological issues. Permit to mention that tracking campaign promises seems a relatively new phenomenon which was started by an organization known as POLITICFACT under the auspices of Poymter Institute. This group tracked President Barack Obama Campaign Promises known as Obameter; the same was true of President Donald Trump known as Trump-O’-meter and the coverage included that of tracking the campaign promises of President Joseph R. Biden which is looking at 100 most important promises of his. Efforts also commenced on tracking of campaign promises of President Muhammadu Buhari by the Centre for Democracy and Development – Buhari meter; Recently, Jide Ojo (2022) provided training under the auspices of National Women Trust Fund on how to track gender components of the recently elected governors of Ekiti and Osun. One can say that tracking campaign promises for good governance is one which idea has come. I congratulate NPO REPORTS and its chief executive Mr. Semiu Okanlawon for being a trailblazer in this regard.
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My presentation will be in six parts as follows 1. Introduction; 2. Key research questions and methodology; 3. Theoretical matters; 4. Issues in political campaigns; 5. Methodology of tracking campaign promises; and 6. Conclusion and some policy recommendations.
2. Key Research Questions and Methodology
One research question that comes to mind is why track campaign promises at all and why make campaign promises?
In section (14) of Nigeria’s 1999 constitutions as amended the promise made was that, the government of Nigeria shall be based on the principles of democracy and social justice. If campaign promises are indispensable to democratization and social justice, what should guide the focus of such campaigns? Should politicians deliver on their campaign promises? Ands where they fail to deliver, are electors helpless? What possible remedies to hold elected officials accountable to their campaign promises? What should be an appropriate methodology to track campaign promises? Can and should all campaign promises be tracked or should researchers discriminate among campaign promises and if so, what should be the benchmark or parameters? How do we handle campaign promises made on behalf of candidates standing for elections? This paper main objective shall be to provide some guide for tracking of political campaigns with a view to holding politicians accountable for their promises in their search for power in order to promote synergy and communication between politicians and community of voters. Tracking of campaign promises would be good on their own for heuristic purposes but the end product must be put into enhancing good governance. The paper should also provide political education for the undiscerning mind and dissuade them from believing that politicians can deliver moon and stars. Politicians who read the lecture should become circumspect in their campaign promises and apply self-caution by not promising the impossible. No political state can dispense with campaign promises. They form the basis on which social contract is consummated. In a free market of ideas, campaign become important in persuading potential voters to do one’s bidding and not that of other candidates. The assumption is that campaign promises influence voter’s behaviour. We now need to mention some theoretical issues as guide to our discussions.
3. Theoretical Matters
Broadly speaking, we can speak of two schools of thought on tracking of campaign promises, voting behaviour and good governance. One school subscribes to the view that when well-articulated and presented, campaign promises assist voters to make a rational choice in a market of competing ideas about development. This school, however, draws a line that this relationship works up to a point. According to Granato, political campaign advertisements matter up to a point, but once voters view crystallize, they do not matter again. At this point, campaign promises no longer hold sway. The other school of thought maintains that political advertisements do not count in deciding on which candidate to support among many candidates parading their campaign goods. An extreme view of this school might insist that political campaigns are deceitful and merely endorse the status quo and rarely designed to promote social justice. It is a propaganda tool of the rich who can afford elaborate and expensive campaign protocols and paraphernalia on electronic and non electronic media. Nothing really alter the power structure between the oppressed and oppressive forces except an overhaul.
To maintain that political advertisements do not matter in an age in this information and technological age is to live in a fool’s paradise, indeed wishful thinking of a sort. They help to promote legitimacy and helplessness. Poor candidates and financially weak political parties can hardly get their perspectives smuggled into the public arena or space. In developed countries where lines are rigidly drawn between conservatives and democrats, political advertisements may never be able to make individuals to change their political leanings. People are born and socialised into political families with strong ideological roots. Political membership of a particular political orientation do not change. It had been part of a family heritage that had been passed from generation to generation and people proudly associates with that history. It matters little if the political party had lost three or four consecutive elections. It is a question of family pride, early political socialization and history which cannot be traded off for a paltry sum or on the altar of political expediency or juicy position. In Africa with its weak ideological social formation, leading political elite jump from one political party to the other upon losing elections or being out of favour with electorates. Poverty is probably a major factor in the fluidity of membership of political parties. Excuses abound under which political affiliations change like wearing apparel. Of course, the absence of internal party democracy is a factor in internal party cohesion. Political barons and money bag influence often work to check internal freedom within political parties with entrenched notions of party founders and joiners. Not many can resist the disruptive role of rampant money culture in politics. Not many politicians and their followers can afford to operate out of the state realm for years without suffering social and economic deprivations. Certainly, without political campaigns or political consulting, decision-making becomes imperilled in a market where political ideas are competing for attention.
4. Issues in Political Campaigns
The market in political campaign is so wide and loaded. But certainly, they are filled with existential and materialistic issues which pertain to the good life. Access to social amenities such as energy, water, good roads, health, education, good roads, security of life and property, rural production, access to justice and employment. In essence, poverty issues and infrastructural challenges are conspicuous in political campaign messages. From the years of independence to date, political advertisements had not changed substantially in contents except that political campaigns now cover acts of terrorism. International, including African issues rarely feature in political advertisements and campaign marketing in Nigeria. Arts and culture also rarely feature as well as family issues. The same applies to immigration and migration issues within Nigeria and outside. Gender matters do feature but, not consistently. The dominance of existential issues in campaign promises indicate the failure of elected officials to fulfil yester year campaign promises. No to methodology of tracking campaign promises.
5. Methodology of Tracking Campaign Promises.
In a situation where you have a large number of candidates and a large number of media outlets, preliminary matters would have to be settled such as who of the candidates and political parties campaign promises will be tracked. Secondly, which of the media outlets will be used for tracking – electronic or newspaper or social media. What of national coverage of the chosen medium? How do we select which of the plethora of campaign promises will be tracked and by what means? Who determine which issues qualify for tracking. In tracking, it is important to come to terms with core campaign issues in any political society. For example, campaign issues can be grouped into the following headings: social and physical infrastructure; economy; agriculture and industry; health; law and order issue; education; social sector including sports; labour matters. What are the promises of candidates in respect of these major issues, venue of campaign promises, frequency of campaign promises, source of information and date of delivery – mid term or end of tenure. Was there any mention of funding or financial commitments in fulfilment of those campaign promises or budgetary allocation in fulfilment of campaign promises? If political campaigns are tracked and those seeking elective offices are aware that they may be confronted with hard data, they may have a second thought before they promise heaven on earth during next campaign session. Where they failed to deliver on those campaign promises which form the basis on which electorates had exchanged their votes in fulfilment of those promises, then, good governance becomes compromised and electorates must have learned some hard lessons. Next time, they are unlikely to fall for empty promises filled with unmet expectations.
6. Conclusion: Possible Policy Recommendations
In most electoral regimes including USA, Great Britain and Nigeria, campaign promises are not justiciable. They cannot form the basis of litigation, even though not keeping to them raise ethical concerns. But since the presidency of Barak Obama, tracking political campaign advertisements had become important. In Nigeria, across board, trust, as a concept has been flattened and its dependability severely eroded. When political promises as encapsulated in campaign advertisements are unmet by key actors, an average voter becomes disinterested in the electoral process, voter apathy set in, voter turnout may decline. When voting population becomes apathetic, participation, partnership and ownership of the electoral process become doomed. Good governance is at risk.
It is important that politicians do not stretch their fortunes through knowingly making promises that are never intended to be fulfilled. The voting community is not inelastic in its gullibility. A sustainable pact or social contract between elected officials and the voting population is at the root good governance. Broken promises are not only antithetical to oiling and watering social fabrics of politics but may endanger social and political mobilization which good governance require. It is a salutary development that one of the leading candidates, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, at a campaign rally in Lagos and in recognition of the sacred nature of campaign promises had pledged to honour all campaign promises – Leadership newspaper, Jan. 8, 2023. Other candidates need to make bold statements on this issue.
At this point, we need to highlight some matters which arise the foregoing for policy considerations. First, constitutional amendments are being proposed to make campaign promises justiciable and on which elected officials can be challenged for non-fulfilment. Once ths, is done, non-governmental organizations, opposition political parties and interested members of the public should collaborate to provide guidelines for political parties and candidates to frame their campaign in ways that are actionable.
Campaign documents and promises must be part of requirements to be submitted by candidates and political parties to INEC before being cleared to stand for elections. How those promises will be met and funding issues must be clearly addressed in such campaign advertisement. Public debates and discussions may be organized around such documents which should be affirmed at swearing in ceremonies.
Certainly when political campaigns are tracked, arbitrariness of elected officials might reduce as alarms might be raised when allocations are made to sectors that were not mentioned in campaign advertisements. In essence, political campaigns must be regulated.
*Olurode, a retired professor of Sociology, University of Lagos and former National Commissioner, Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) delivered this at the one-day dialogue of the NPO Reports in Abuja