It was early March back in 2015, and the Nigerian general election had just been postponed by the electoral commission [INEC] due to security concerns. There was palpable tension in the streets of Nigeria, although in most institutions of higher learning (especially the University of Ibadan), such tension was absent. Academics believed that it was going to be a historic election and that there was no need for worries. They busied themselves dissecting the perceived issues involved in the electioneering. It was all interesting, especially for me seing as I observed it all from within. I was a graduate student at the University at this point, studying my MSc. in Political Science. And as you can imagine, every lecture was characterised by much political discourse. Both the students and lecturers examined the manifestoes of each of the candidates and their political parties, as well as argued reasons why “our preferred candidate” stood a greater chance at winning. It was an absolutely interesting time as far as being a Political Scientist was concerned. I loved every moment of it!
At the University of Ibadan, there was this collective, overwhelming and absolutely infectious support for the APC Candidate [Muhammadu Buhari] during the 2015 general elections. It was obvious that virtually everyone in that academic environment had lost hope in the then incumbent president; no thanks to his controversial policies, as well as his long-standing rift with ASUU. Consequently, the academics wanted him out. Moreover, the idea of an incumbent losing such an important, highly contested election to the opposition sounded like a great idea to them.
It is important to mention at this point that one of the major differences between Muhammadu Buhari and Goodluck Jonathan (asides their age differences, religion and geo-political zones that is), is their academic pedigrees. Therefore, while Muhammadu Buhari was battling to prove to the general public that he actually did attend secondary school, Goodluck Jonathan was busy brandishing the (fact?) that he holds a doctorate degree in Zoology. Now here is the interesting thing- the fact that the academics at the University of Ibadan still preferred to support Buhari despite his controversial academic background or lack of it thereof. There were reasons why this was the case, including the fact that even the academics themselves knew that having all the certificates seldom wins one an election in Nigeria!
Indeed, there were quite a number of reasons why people at the University of Ibadan chose to support Buhari instead of Jonathan. One of these reasons is that his doctorate degree was suspect. Up until that election period, many were already doubting the authenticity of President Goodluck Jonathan’s academic qualifications. Allegedly, his general charisma and policies belied his academic background. People from the academic background were particularly very critical of him. And the criticisms no doubt contributed to his eventual loss at the polls.
Professors Do not Win Elections in Nigeria
Now to the main issue at hand… It was still prior to the 2015 general election, and the debates were still ongoing. And then one day in class, I raised some issues as to why the Nigerian public seem to deliberately elect people with less educational background into public offices. In the same vein, I decried the fact that even the constitutional provisions merely requires politicians to be school leavers as the academic requirement for them to contest elections and win some of the highest elective posts in the land. Why is this the case, I asked. Does it not encourage mediocrity, responsible as to why some [if not all] of our politicians are clueless as to what is expected of them. I mean, elsewhere in the world, you find politicians who strive to equip themselves with the best of academic qualifications just so they could be competent representatives for the people who elect them into public offices. Why then is the African situation different, I asked. And is there anything that could be done to change that?
My observations expectedly became the basis for an argument session that lasted throughout much of the lecture. Almost everyone had something to say. At the end of it all, the professor concluded by simply telling us that professors do not win elections in Nigeria. According to him, antecedents have shown it, and precedents will continue to show that the Nigerian political space is not a very academic one. This for him explains why election campaigns are hardly issue-based. Moreover, most of the electorates are uneducated grassroots who would rather vote for candidates like them, whom they believe better understand their plights. The professor noted that this trend is perhaps not just peculiar to Nigeria. Even South Africans replaced Thabo Mbeki (a first class graduate in Economics) with Jacob Zuma. Therefore, as unfortunate as it may be, the average African [Nigerian] voter does not care about the fact that you acquired fancy degrees from top universities from across the world. When it comes to selecting their preferred candidates, they tend to select those in whom they can see themselves. And this way, professors can simply not win elections; except on rare occasions that is…