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Mr. Chairman, brand your party

INEC chairman Prof Mahmood Yakubu


Like most breaking news these days, I got it on Whatsapp. The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) had just registered 21 new political parties. By the time I saw the names of the parties, I concluded it was a joke and started laughing. All Blending Party. Justice Must Prevail Party, etc. It had to be a joke! When it was confirmed, I was shocked. We were further informed that there are now 67 registered political parties in this country. I assume that all of them will be taking part directly or indirectly in the 2019 General Elections. What are we doing with 67 political parties? The type of democracy we practice needs to be re-examined.

This proliferation of political parties is yet another symptom of our poverty mentality. It’s all about influence peddling. A perception has been established that these parties are simply trying to cash in on our infant political project. It is typical to throw up candidates, who have no hope of winning elections. They simply want to be ‘settled’ so that their supporters are ‘bought’ by other parties, who have brighter prospects of winning.

When you consider how much money goes into each local government area from the Federation Account every month, then it is actually viable to form a political party even if that party wins only one local government area out of the 774 in the country. The names of most of these parties are anything but reassuring. Abundant Nigeria Renewal Party, Alliance for New Nigeria, All Grassroots Alliance, Coalition for Change (Another change?), Freedom and Justice Party (Is this a political party or a civil rights movement?), Grassroots Development Party of Nigeria, Legacy Party of Nigeria, Mass Action Joint Alliance (MAJA), Modern Democratic Party, National Interest Party, National Rescue Mission, New Progressive Mission (Are these missionaries?), New Progressive Movement, Nigeria Democratic Congress Party, People’s Alliance for National Development and Liberty, People’s Trust, Providence People’s Congress, Re-build Nigeria Party, Restoration Party of Nigeria and Sustainable National Party.

Naming is one of the fundamental aspects of branding and when we look at these names, it is obvious that some of these parties are not asking to be taken seriously. I find this surprising, because we live in a society that places importance on names. Our names say a lot about, who we are, where we come from and sometimes even the circumstances surrounding our birth. While we must commend the creativity in these names, some border on the ridiculous.

Naming a political party ‘People’s Trust’ is interesting. People simply don’t trust politicians. Not even in America’s 200 plus year-old democracy. How this party hopes to win the people’s trust is of interest to me. I like their boldness. But it’s not just about the name. The question is, can they live up to this name? Will they keep their promises in the unlikely event they get the chance? Successful branding is predicated on keeping your promises. This is one of the problems with politicians. They just never seem to be able to keep promises. Worse still, we have a political culture in this country which dictates that politics is dirty business and you have to be unscrupulous to be a successful politician. Who would trust politicians when they switch parties as frequently as they eat? It is commonly said that if you cannot kill somebody and stand bravely beside the corpse, you cannot succeed in politics. It is that bad. But it doesn’t have to be. A political party should be able to make promises and keep those promises. Our polity needs a rebirth just as desperately as our nation needs renewal. When we look at our political parties and the way they go about their business, do we have the reassurance that they will take us to the Promised Land?

Sustainable National Party leaves me wondering what they’re trying to sustain. Is it the nation or the party? Re-build Nigeria Party creates the perception that Nigeria is in ruins and needs to be rebuilt. And unfortunately, there is some truth in this. But this is an agenda, not a name. Are you going to spend an eternity rebuilding? As a political party, your name should be timeless. Ask yourself; will this name be relevant 100 years from now? If the answer is not in the affirmative, then you need a rethink. The short sightedness reflected in some of these names is an indication of our short-termism, and fire brigade approach to nation building. Why would you name a political party National Rescue Mission? Who are you trying to rescue us from? We are actually crying to be rescued from politicians! This should be an agenda, not a name.

Beyond an appropriate name, a party should have a compelling brand value proposition or brand promise. This is the unique promise you make to all Nigerians. It is also what differentiates your party from the rest. You must create the perception that you are not just a ‘me too’ party, out to grab a share of the depleted national cake. You must position your party as a credible institution, which is out to make a positive difference in the lives of Nigerians. You must unveil a bold agenda that answers the yearnings of Nigerians. You must articulate a compelling vision, which connects with Nigerians. The problems and challenges we have are obvious. What we need are solutions. These solutions may be reflected in your value propositions. But our political parties have not done a good job of articulating compelling value propositions in recent times. APC successfully campaigned on the platform of Change. And it worked. I was impressed to note that APC has a page on their website which lays out the party’s Guiding Philosophy. It is important we know what you stand for. However, I didn’t see this on the PDP website.

One party slogan I find quite compelling and timeless is ‘One Nation One Destiny’, which was used by National Party of Nigeria, NPN during the 1979 campaigns. Today, PDP uses ‘Power to the People’. This sounds like a promise. But are our political parties interested in giving power to the people? History tells us that the people must assert themselves and the political power they have, rather than expect any political party to give it to us. Our political parties must be able to articulate slogans that are simple, credible and sensible. As we gradually get ready for 2019, our political space is in need of fresh ideas. We need new thinking that elevates our politics to more sublime levels, and makes our democracy function in the best interest of the people.
• Muyiwa Kayode is CEO at USP Brand Management and author, The Seven Dimensions of Branding. Brand Nation is a platform for promoting national development based on the universal principles of branding.

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