The Swing States Phenomenon in the Nigerian Elections

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The 2019 elections are climaxing, but sadly not without their Nigerian trails; “sorrow, tears, and blood.” The tribunals will soon be activated; a beehive of activities; attorneys will dust their files, law books, and wigs. The game has left the scope of the electorates, it is time for
the attorneys and victorious politicians to start “balling.”

There are many flashpoints of every Nigerian election, but one that struck my curiosity was the new vocabulary
borrowed from the United states and introduced into the Nigerian political/election lexicon; “Swing States.” While many States have changed parties since 1999, Southwest states (except Lagos) hold the record. Political theorists should be interested in the context of Southwest politics that disposes them to“swinging.” While there have been many reasons adjudicated , some which feeds into tribal stereotype that draws on tribal slurs, the phenomenon has not enjoyed a robust investigation.

While I do not pretend to exhaust the intricacies of the phenomenon in this piece, I want to introduce a tool with which we can engage it. Carl Schmidt’s Political theology (1922/1985) seem to offer something to engage it. He had proposed that to understand the political structure of a people, study their religion.

Religion of the Yoruba people has been known to be one of the most plastic in African traditional religion. Its pantheon has the propensity for elasticity and tolerance. The Yoruba traditional worshipper is naturally disposed to the acquisition of a new god without necessarily dispensing the old one. D.Y Peel (1968) argues that the Yoruba religion is disposed to adopt extraneous deities. He gives as example, the appropriation of the Egungun (Masquerade) cult, which was originally from Nupe. It is presumable that the 401 gods of the Yoruba religion were collections made over the time and out of various contingencies.

This religious disposition of the Yoruba person enables him/her to hold in tension, loyalty to numerable gods without the consciousness of disloyalty to any. His/her religious frame operate circumstantially, that is, the circumstance determines the deity in focus.

Some have considered this disposition as a religious tolerance and the major factor to the survival of the Yoruba religion beyond the planes of Africa to the Caribbean and Latin America. The Cuban Santeria, Caribbean Candomle, and the Orisa religion in Bahia (Brazil) have the Yoruba traditional religion as their core.

This position may not account for all the factors that make the Yoruba States Swing states but it raises some points worth considering. Christianity and Islam in Yoruba land function within the frame of tolerance and comfortable swinging. There are more religious pluralism without religious conflict in Yoruba land than there are in other parts of Nigeria. It is usual for the Yoruba person to attend Juma’at with a friend on Friday morning, Vigil at a C.A.C Church on the same night, and join the queue for the Holy Eucharist on Sunday morning without a consciousness of conflicts of frames of reference.

While I know such disposition raises some questions, since religion has its understanding of loyalty, It in this piece helps to explain the swing nature of Yoruba states during election. Just like their religious disposition, circumstance determines which party (preferably person) gets the nod and the attention.

Just as the traditional worshipper has expectations from her gods, so does the Yoruba electorate of his/her politician. Accounting for those expectations determines allegiance or the swing, that is, “Orisa bo le gbemi fi mi le bo se bami” (If the god would not help my course, let it maintain my status quo). However, a swing does not translate to an abandonment, “Omo buruku lo jo ti e” (the terrible child can still be useful). So, whichever party wins in your (Yoruba) state in the last elections, kindly remind them, they are in a swing state, allegiance is ONLY guaranteed by meeting legitimate expectations.

Areopagus 2019.

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