There may be a need to re-brand the group. The Restoration Group sounds a bit elitist and paternalistic and gives the impression that only a few all knowing egg-heads or black knights with all the answers make up the group. While the name may have been necessary to articulate initial thoughts of the conveners, it should now be changed to reflect its new status as a full fledged political party open to mass participation. The NPP/NPN effect still carries on in party politics in Nigeria today, especially in the rural areas where the concentric cultural diameter concept informs us that over 80% of the population live, these rural dwellers are better able to identify with political groups with the word ‘party’ affixed to their names, and recognisable symbols i.e. umbrella, house and corn stock (NPN), family unit (NPP) etc. It also helps them in composing themed songs. Current political parties have failed to realise and build on this simple strategy which worked during the Shagari, Awolowo and Azikiwe era.
The group’s campaign though may be christened ‘Restoration 2007’ so as to retain the original concept. Subsequent media campaigns would then revolve around this because restoration can be stretched in different directions, for example restoration of hope to the people, restoration of trust in governance, restoration of lost potentials, restoration of international prestige etc.
There is also a need for bridge building with other like-minded groups and individuals. People like Professor Soludo, Mrs Ngozi Okonji-Iweala, Nuhu Ribadu, Nasir El-Rufai, Governor Donald Duke and so on may need to be approached and drafted into the group. Being that their boss (OBJ) is leaving, it may not be so difficult to persuade them to endorse the group, as they may see it as the only credible alternative to the other political parties who are currently suffering from a crisis of credibility, and parading mainly politicians of the old order.
The group should also not rule out the possibilities of merging with some of the new emerging political associations. Although merging with an existing political party may have its merits, such as helping the RG to make use of its existing political structures, however the costs may be higher as that benefit of newness is lost, also there may be problems of ‘contamination’ if the existing political party in question is peopled by recycled politicians with no proven track record, this will create an ‘old wine in new wine skin’ knock-on negative effect.
In as much as the RG would have to spend money to actualise their goals, however they need not spend as much as the other parties. They may be able to tap into the goodwill of Nigerian professionals and source required services freely from them and other volunteers, just like in the developed countries. This should be easy if Prof. Utomi and RG run a people-led and people oriented campaign. They should utilise the internet and other emerging technologies in reaching these Nigerian professionals. Viral marketing using devices such as emails, word-of-mouth, text messages etc makes this possible; such campaign may contain elements of Everett Rogers’ diffusion of innovation. The professionals can then forward the messages (if they believe in them) to others. They may also independently campaign for Prof. Utomi and the RG using their own resources if doing so would help actualise their dreams for a better Nigeria.
The RG should also target youth, especially those in the universities and other institutions of higher learning in Nigeria who have long been neglected by past politicians. They may be key to success because of the generational affinity. It won’t hurt Prof. Utomi’s campaign if he adorns a pair of trainers, jeans, t-shirt and cap and tours their campuses. If he can win them over, then they would work freely for him and help in mobilising their friends and peers. They may also serve as watchdogs in nearby pooling booths, those who rig would surely not want to mess with irate student mobs.
As a matter of urgency, Professor Utomi and the Restoration Group should approach some of these IT professionals who will be glad to design campaign websites for them pro-bono. The websites are necessary as a vehicle for articulating their agenda for Nigerians all over the world to see, and also provide them a good opportunity to sign-up volunteers. In researching for this piece, I didn’t see any of such websites in the Professor’s or RG’s name else I would have referenced such.
The professor in running his campaign should be able to tap into the minds of young professionals, and enlist their support and cooperation. Against the option of a retired thieving army general and the professor, it won’t be difficult to see which way the young Nigerian professional desirous of change will cast his or her vote.
Though a shy person, Professor Utomi may need to come out of his shell, he should capitalise on his good looks and appeal to women, many of them will surely fight his battles for him. Bill Clinton used his boyish looks to his advantage in America; Jim Nwobodo also exploited this strategy in the politics of the old Anambra state. It is about using what one has to get what one wants. I’m sure Professor Utomi’s Fist lady, Dr (Mrs) Ifeoma Utomi wouldn’t mind, especially if she understands why her loving husband is targeting members of her immediate constituency.
The professor should work the media real hard; his years of media exposure should now come good for him. He should be pushing for a national televised debate amongst all the candidates, as that may give him an opportunity to score big, knowing that he can rely on his natural and acquired intelligence to beat hands-down the clowns that are currently parading themselves as presidential aspirants.
On the issue of election rigging, it will be in the best interest of the professor and his group to reach out to the international community and to work closely with them in monitoring hot spots.
History will not judge Professor Utomi if he loses, he would have fought Apostle Paul’s good fight. As a long time admirer and mentee, he already has my vote and my support.