When Nigerians cast their votes every four years in national elections, they do so without having necessary information about the candidates. In a democracy, it is essential that the people get properly informed regarding the candidates seeking to manage the affairs of the nation.
The eligibility of the candidates stems from the disclosure or scrutiny of the candidates based on; personal tax returns and financial information, health information, and criminal and intelligence background checks, the constitutional requirements of being a citizen by birth, attained the age of 40 years, educated up to school certificate and being a member of a political party and sponsored by same.
Aside from these fundamental requirements for scrutiny, the other most important aspects to scrutinise the candidates is based on character, mental balance, people management and antecedence on previous endeavours.
Most times, the Nigerian people often falling for the primordial sentiments of ethno-religious bias, fail to question the character, beliefs, antecedents and even some personal relationships with people – workers, family members, friends – administrative acumen, level of judgement on issues and importantly, policy proposals.
For this lack of scrutiny and critical analysis of the candidates policies and character, leadership of the country has been floundering and that has affected the growth and development of the country in its 62 years.
The people, having shown their lack of interest in the knowledge of who becomes their leaders, have fallen prey to manipulation.
Edward L. Bernays, known as the ‘father of modern American Public Relations’ argued, “The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society…We are governed, our minds are molded, our tastes formed, and our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of… It is they who pull the wires that control the public mind.”
In politics, control of the public mind is seen as part of political marketing to alter perceptions, frame debate and influence opinion. When the people have surrendered their minds, they will be filled with facts, half-truths, manufactured false reports and be directed to hate and love what they should ordinarily question which often leads to choosing their leaders with emotions rather than by informed conviction.
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In a letter to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Justice Felix Frankfurter described Bernays’ argument as that of a “professional poisoner of the public mind, exploiters of foolishness, fanaticism and self-interest.” E. T. Hiller stated that “such widespread efforts to manipulate public opinion constitute a financial burden, a perversion of intellectual candour and a menace to political sanity.”
Manipulation of public opinion has constituted Nigeria’s financial burden that led to depletion of wealth and increase in debts, underdevelopment that has driven the country to poverty and bad leadership that necessitated corruption, political instability and insecurity.
While politics requires the skill of a salesman to market the candidates and their policies, political marketing is treated in the same way as marketing products to consumers. Ellen McGirt said, “Politics, after all, is about marketing – about projecting and selling an image, stoking aspirations, moving people to identify, evangelize, and consume.”
In the midst of selling and packaging political candidates, the media as the watchdog takes up the mantle to scrutinise, beyond the manipulative skill of the salesman, to throw light on who the candidates are for the people to make informed choices.
In an address to The New York World’s Fair, Edward L. Bernays admonished, “The continued maintenance of our democracy depends upon the people understanding the meaning of the things and the happenings around them. The issues which the common man must decide in order to preserve democracy, are much more complicated. So much more necessary then, to have a sound basis of fact upon which to base his decisions.”
The impact of lack of scrutiny of the candidates is evident in the way Nigeria’s resources and politics are managed.
Nigeria’s media are not doing enough to scrutinise the candidates for the 2023 elections. Not only should there be scrutiny of the presidential candidates, local candidates should also be subjected to such scrutiny. From the ground up, the leadership and development of Nigeria have become lame. It is characterised by the individuals that are voted into power who often are megalomaniacs and do not possess the principles of civic duty, honesty, integrity and patriotism. They are often incompetent but given power to advance self-interest above public interest. They do not concentrate on the growth of the sectors of human development but on self-aggrandisement.
The media in Nigeria seem biassed. Not only are they the major medium for people to learn about the candidates, they are also lame in the scrutiny of the candidates. The near ‘cash and carry’ reporting and commentaries, with proprietors somewhat affiliated to the government operatives and reliance on government patronage, have affected the country negatively.
Nigerians are paying for the lack of scrutiny of the political candidates and there is no end in sight unless the attitude to political selection is changed. Otherwise, let the people buckle up for continued bad governance.