In 2002 Jane Bodine was dispatched to go and assist a right-wing, pro-market, pro-globalization presidential candidate in Bolivia; Pedro Castillo, whose ratings at the polls were fast waning as he faced up to a more populist candidate; Rivera. Jane reluctantly accepted the assignment even though she had gone on a self-imposed early retirement. This time, she wanted to seize an opportunity to revenge against her archrival in the political strategy business, Pat Candy, who had been recruited by Castillo’s opponent. Jane was recruited by some people connected with the ‘American government’, who wanted Castillo to be the next president – by all means necessary.
There was much lessons to learn from Ms. Bodine as she eventually kicked in to do her duties. She reminds us that voting does not really matter, and that if voting could change anything, ‘they’ will make such a thing illegal and beyond the contemplation of the ordinary people. She didn’t say who the ‘they’ were. She reminds us that a lot – if not most – of the rhetoric we see and hear during election seasons, are planted by those who know, and they watch it germinate; the chief aim being to affect the minds of voters in a certain way. She said they (political strategists) were in the business of advertisement – creating demand for products that people don’t need, knowing fully well that such products may be useless- or harmful – to the people. But once they achieve their aims, they move on to the next customer. She offered invaluable advice on the thinking of the populace; For example “when people are scared, they vote for fighters, but when they have hope, they look for people with ideas”. She didn’t offer to tell us who people vote when they are both scared and hopeless.
Anyway, after the adoption of a lot of tricks, including digging up past deeds of opponents, smear campaigns, lies, causing insurrection and all sorts, she managed to reverse the polls for her principal and get him to win the elections by a thin margin. However, Castillo, who had promised Bolivians that there will be a referendum to determine whether or not to approach the IMF for loans, was promptly cornered by the IMF upon resumption, and signed a loan agreement without contacting the people. This led to mass disenchantment and widespread riots on the streets of La Paz, the Bolivian capital. One other remarkable event in the whole saga was an argument between Bodine and her principal, Castillo, who had wanted to assert his authority. Bodine reminded him that she had been in the business of planting leaders in developing countries for too long, and that people like him (Castillo) and herself were mere puppets and pawns in the hands of more powerful people.
Well, this is just the summary of a movie I watched on a plane recently, titled Our Brand is Crisis. It is a movie about political strategists, produced by George Clooney and Grant Heslov. The movie got me thinking about my present circumstances as someone contesting for Nigeria’s presidency, and who certainly may not feature in the firmament of interests of the people who install and uninstall leaders in these parts of the world. In fact, my politics is deliberately designed to put such interests off. But the first question to ask is; is this true? Or do these things exist only in the imaginations of some people?
I dug in further to see what I could come up with regarding the movie. The reviews were very critical. It turns out that the 2016 movie was actually a rehash of a failed American intervention in Bolivia in 2002. The real strategists used in Bolivia were from the firm of Greenberg Caville Shrum which has very close links with the Clintons. The president they installed was Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada (nicknamed Goni) a returnee former president of Bolivia who had by then lived for so long in the USA and become so disconnected his people called him ‘El Gringo’ (the American). The chief opponent was Evo Morales, who is president till today, and who rode in a few years after Goni had to escape the riots. Morales did not have American strategists working on his side, contrary to the depiction in the movie.
According to an acerbic review by salon.com, “Goni’s second term as president barely lasted a year, after his plans to allow an international consortium to build a pipeline and ship Bolivian natural gas to North America at dirt-cheap prices sparked a massive popular uprising. Facing a general strike and a series of confrontations between soldiers and protesters that left at least 67 civilians dead, Goni imposed martial law in October 2003, and the U.S. State Department issued a statement offering its full support… That was almost certainly the final straw. Goni fled the country five days later, and now lives in exile in the U.S., which has refused to extradite him to Bolivia to face trial for extrajudicial killings and other crimes against humanity…”
Back to the movie. It had to end well. Sandra Bullock’s character, Jane Bodine decided to join the protest that brought down the man she installed, while her opponents and colleagues went on to more lucrative appointments around the world – usually in developed countries. This brings up the fact that there is usually much interest in our elections by powers that be. Is it possible to win an election in Nigeria without having them on side? The USA moved against Goodluck Jonathan in 2015. The moment Barack Obama made an unprecedented two minutes video which urged Nigerians to choose carefully and not be intimidated as they opened ‘the next chapter’, I knew Goodluck was gone. Nothing gets more explicit than that in the world of Diplomatese. At a later date, I would fear that the Americans who ‘installed’ Buhari knew he would turn out this way. They always look far ahead and study people keenly before supporting them. There is nothing Buhari is doing today that they didn’t anticipate. There is an industrial complex behind ‘political strategy/lobbying’. They are organized, methodical, ruthless, many times heartless and they are not in the business of making mistakes. But it is not only Americans that are in the business. We hear that the Russians intervene in American elections too. So the Cold War era espionage we read through Mark Garland and Malik escapades in James Hadley Chase novels are still around but only more sophisticated, and countries like Nigeria are usually the willing guinea-pigs.
Question. If we cannot escape these interventions, how can we use them to achieve positive results? Can countries have input so that such interventions from ‘big brother’ countries are not used strictly to further impoverish developing countries by installing weak leaders, confused and ineffectual leaders or greedy ones? Can such interventions look far beyond resource grab? For now, the best we can do is write and ruminate about this reality. No more.
Anyway we hear of how the PDP candidate at least has hired a top of the range American strategist – Brian Ballard, for $90,000 a month. I saw another American strategist boasting about about being hired by the same PDP on Facebook. In 2015, the APC team hired Barack Obama’s team (AKPD Message and Media) headed by David Axelrod and paid top dollar to get themselves installed. News in town is that Axelrod, Plouffe and co have been rehired. What is the hope for younger candidates who cannot afford these luxuries? Will we ever see a situation where a young candidate will emerge? And if such a candidate will emerge, certainly they will have to be sponsored by the usual suspects. What will Nigeria pay, after the fact? I mean what will be their pound of flesh? Also, when will this usual attitude of emptying Nigeria’s little resources abroad end? Our local political strategists are already complaining. But whether local or foreign, is the entire business not built upon mass deceit? It will be great for some of them in the business to begin to point to good causes.
That said, my involvement in politics so far has shown me that there is a handful of candidates especially for the presidency who may even be young, but desperate enough to approach whoever can give that power – through connections, through finance etc. Some of them may make a mark now, while some may stick to the power game long enough to be forces to reckon with in the future. It looks like one has to be desperate for raw power in order to get near the ‘Villa’ or any state house. Still those who did so in the past have only screwed up the country. Someone once suggested to me that I should approach the CIA in order to win the election. Very interesting. Only that I don’t need power that desperately. And I also know that the terrain is very slippery. Many Nigerian politicians – young and old – are ready to approach all sorts of power brokers (especially foreign), but they usually like to observe and choose their quarry. So, many politicians in this country go around thinking they are the ‘chosen’ when they are only on a decoy, or at best, speaking with low-level operatives. Such dalliances never come for nothing anyway. There will be huge compromises which one may find impossible to accomplish or which puts one’s nation and people in a far worse situation than they presently are. For me, I am in this for impact. Nigeria must get better, whatever it takes. My strength is in my ideas, the passion with which I communicate them, my honesty and innocence.
The desperation that was obvious in the beginning is the real reason why the attempt of younger candidates to work together rapidly unraveled. After that event, all self-respecting aspirant simply put up their guards. No one wants to be the pawn, or worse still be traded off like some slave at the political stakes. We have also seen the activities of the desperate candidates who continue to wangle their ways into every photo op, and every opportunity for relevance and attention. If that is what it takes to win an election, then I could only wish them luck. If all one thinks about is the prestige of being a president, governor, senator or councilor, such a person is part of the problem of this country.
Let me close this by quoting Jane Bodine in Our Brand is Crisis. She said “No one watches a car race to see who wins, only who crashes and goes up in flames.” She explained that the same goes for politics. For me, he that is down needs fear no fall… and he whose expectations are honest and modest, and driven by altruism, plus positive impact for the masses, will never be disappointed.