How listening has become a core feature of Sanwo-Olu’s campaign


As far as political campaigns go in Nigeria, how the gubernatorial candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Lagos, Babajide Sanwo-Olu has gone about convincing Lagosians to give him their mandate has been pretty unusual.

He has been everywhere just as anyone will expect but at an unprecedented scale that has bordered on being a nuisance in an endearing sort of way. Sanwo-Olu’s campaign omniscience became the talk around town, giving rise to a wide range of conversations and good-natured jokes in both online and offline circles. He was everywhere and on everyone’s lips, even sprouting the internet with meme after meme.

However, while his campaign might bear the markings that can mislead casual observers into thinking that it is all noise without substance, there appears to be a strategy behind everything that is going on.

At this point, it should be noted that the incumbent governor of the state, Akinwunmi Ambode’s performance had given the party a mountain to climb at the upcoming 2019 elections. From policy fiascos like VisionScape to the myriad of issues that sprung up to make Lagos harder to live in during his tenure, observers wondered what was left for the party to offer to save it from being kicked out after being the ruling party in the state since the new democratic dispensation. Even the dramatic outburst of the governor on live TV didn’t do either him or Sanwo-Olu – his main opponent at the time – any favours.

But somehow, Sanwo-Olu (fondly referred to by well-wishers as BOS) appears to have convincingly swung the narrative in his favour and it has been a near-flawless campaign execution. As the elections draw nearer, Sanwo-Olu has successfully cemented an image that puts him across as a candidate that truly understands the plight of Lagosians and is, above all, willing to listen.

And this is unusual in itself because in no time before now as listening taken the centre stage as far as campaigns and elections go in this society. However, like John the Baptist, Ambode paved the way for this to happen and it shows in how Sanwo-Olu as methodically inserted himself in key conversations across multiple audiences and strata of the socio-economic milieu in Lagos. A key component of this is his engagement on social media where he has come across as being adept at connecting with the largely youth-based user demographic. His Q&A format of engagement and the occasional witty responses has earned him a level of variety not seen in any of his opponents. In addition, his campaign, barring the Ambode episode has been largely devoid of the kind of drama and mudslinging that voters have come to expect during periods such as this.


And this is where the Derin (from Isale Eko) episode comes in. As inconsequential as it could have been, it was a test of Sanwo-Olu’s purported proclivity to listen. There and then, his comments on citizen participation and inclusion in governance came under fire. This is someone who said:

“In providing leadership for Lagosians, I take as a cardinal rule that the true power of the voter lies in continuous engagement with the government beyond the ballot box. As governor, we will ensure an inclusive and consultative governance approach in my service to you …”

Going by the reactions to his exchange with Derin at the Social Media Week in Lagos, he appears to have emerged unscathed.

One would not expect politicians to take the Social Media Week Lagos event seriously. Why would they want to be among the geeks who are largely concerned about things like data, analytics, impressions and content? However, Sanwo-Olu was aware of the opportunities to connect with a key section of the tech-savvy youth demographic; and he did, eventually.

Sanwo-Olu was deeply involved in the BusinessDay panel discussion on financial inclusion and after the panel; he engaged with an attendee, Derin and struck up a conversation by asking if she attended his session. The lady didn’t and she made it known that it was because she wasn’t interested in what the aspirant had to say. It’s important to add here that Derin doesn’t fall into the category of social media influencers with hundreds of thousands of followers (she has just 1,396 as of the time of writing this) so she could have been ignored.


But in the end, she did listen to him but not before he let her share her thoughts on what she felt was wrong about how the state is being run. Derin might not have known it at the time but she embodied and represented the disenchanted community of Lagos residents who have grown tired of the rhetoric of a better-run city and have tuned out. Unlike many politicians, however, Sanwo-Olu didn’t dismiss Derin’s comments, he listened, responded and at the end, just might have succeeded in winning her and other people who followed the exchange – online and offline – over.

Sanwo-Olu’s campaign is unusual on both a thematic and strategic level and if he wins, his much-vaunted ability to listen will come under the microscope at a more intense level. One can only hope that he meets expectations although going by what has been seen so far, there appears to be a distinct possibility that he would.


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