In 2002, H’Angus the Monkey, the official Club Mascot of Hartlepool United Football Club, was elected Mayor of Hartlepool. It was a shocking electoral upset because it was inconceivable that any right-thinking person would vote for a monkey. They did, and he was re-elected twice after. But who was H’Angus the Monkey and how did he pull off an electoral upset?
Stuart Drummond was a young and unassuming fellow who played H’Angus the Monkey and entertained the Hartlepool United football fans at the stadium. Early in 2002, he approached the Chairman of the club, Ken Hodcroft, with an idea to run for office as a way of generating publicity for the club. For Stuart, it is was just a PR stunt. The Chairman liked the idea and H’Angus the Monkey launched his campaign. And his manifesto was simple: free bananas for all school children.
No politician took him seriously, but he was very entertaining. He got schoolchildren and football lovers excited about his campaign and got a huge amount of press. Shockingly, he won by a narrow margin and was elected Mayor.
Like H’Angus the monkey in Hartlepool, Susana Salter was elected the first female mayor in the United States in 1887, in similar circumstances. In a small town in Summer County, Kansas, where women had just been granted the right to vote, a group of men decided to put one woman on the ballot in a bid to mock her and discourage other women from running in the future. They were confident she would lose spectacularly, and her loss would be used to discourage and subjugate women further.
On the day of the election, she was at home doing chores when a delegation visited and told her, to her amazement, that she was on the ballot. They explained the intention of the men behind the agenda and asked her if she would accept the offer if she won the election. She agreed. “We will elect you and just show those fellows who framed up this deal a thing or two,” the leader of the delegation said to Susana.
When the votes were counted later that afternoon, she won with an overwhelming majority.
In election campaigns, entertainment always trumps policy. In 8 out of every 10 elections, the candidate that generates the most entertainment wins. That is why America elected Trump, why Ukraine elected Zelensky, why the UK elected Boris Johnson and why Osun state elected Adeleke. People hardly remember the policy positions you take but will remember how they connect to your campaign.
That is why I think Atiku Abubakar, for instance, will not be elected president. His campaign is strong on policy but struggles to connect with regular Nigerians. He is hardly loved and hardly hated, which is a terrible place for any politician to be.
And it is precisely for this reason that Senator Bola Tinubu is likely to win in February next year. He is loved fiercely by some and detested by others. This means that his candidacy can generate the much-needed energy required for campaigns to gain momentum. But more importantly, his campaign is generating enough entertainment that could work in his favour.
If you are a news or social media junkie, you’d most certainly have come across severally videos mocking Tinubu. Hundreds of video skits have been made to portray him as frail, sick, and grossly incompetent. What I find interesting though, is that although the intention is to de-market Bola Tinubu, the skis are created with so much humour and hilarity that it has become entertaining.
His “Hulabalu’ video, for instance, repurposed with danceable music tunes, has gained so much virality across various social media platforms. Popular comedians like Mr. Macaroni and successful rap artists, like Blaqbonez, have produced exciting skits about how Tinubu delegated the answering of questions at Chatham House to a few members of his delegation. I know it is hard to understand because human behaviour is complex, but what these entertainers don’t realize is that they are giving Tinubu their platform to reach an audience he probably would have struggled to reach.
And it shouldn’t be a surprise when people vote for “Hulabalu” in February like people did a ‘dancing Senator’ in Osun, a comedian in Ukraine, and a monkey in Hartlepool. Because although governance is a serious affair, political campaigns are popularity contests.