Find out how a team of young people won Lagos Governorship election for Sanwo-Olu

37-year-old Maximus recalls the moment Mr. Babajide Olusola Sanwo-Olu (BOS), Governor-elect of Lagos State, was asked to answer an embarrassing question from social media, on the campaign trail.

Sanwo-Olu takes a selfie with young Nigerians during the campaigns (Twitter: @JideSanwoolu)

Maximus was one of the young volunteers in the Sanwo-Olu governorship campaign.

“We were heading to Badagry in the campaign bus and the APC governorship candidate was taking live questions on his Twitter handle. And then someone asked him if it was true that he was really mad and had spent some time in a psychiatric hospital”, Maximus says, sending one green snooker ball spiraling into the pocket with venomous precision, a smirk playing on the corner of his lips. 

It’s 10pm in Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial capital and I’m having a chat with Maximus and a few members of the Sanwo-Olu campaign team at the African Bar in Oriental Hotel, overlooking the busy Ozumba Mbadiwe expressway in moneyed Victoria Island. 

Like most of the young volunteers who signed up for the Sanwo-Olu campaign, Maximus shuttled between his well-paid job as a Manager in one of Nigeria’s top beverage companies and the candidate’s campaign office on N0. 50 Awolowo way, Ikoyi; as Sanwo-Olu sought for the job to govern Nigeria’s most populous city. 

“Our job was to take the candidate’s name recognition from 0 to 100 in less than three months and one way we could do that was to make him answer the tough questions about who he really is. And that included questions that came across as direct attacks, insults or name calling. On that day, in that campaign bus, we made progress”, Maximus says with a thumbs up sign. 

“Our candidate had just been accused of spending time in a mental home and spraying fake dollars in a Nite club in the United States. We made it clear to him that with the kind of campaign we wanted to run, all questions were going to be answered. No dodging questions on this campaign”, Maximus says, while taking a generous sip from his glass of cold beer. "And mind you, almost all of us were working on a major political campaign for the first time."

Time stood still in that campaign bus in that moment, Maximus recalls. “It was a Live video Twitter chat session and the dude asking the question could probably have been some 14-year-old in some secondary school. But we knew the Twitterati were eagerly awaiting the answer to this question. We thought Sanwo-Olu was going to flinch or evade the question. He didn’t. He went ahead to answer that question in the most candid manner possible. He made it clear he’s never been mentally ill all his life…”

Sanwo-Olu defeated incumbent Governor Akinwunmi Ambode to nail the APC governorship ticket on October 2, 2018 and had only a couple of weeks to turn himself into a household name—one prospective voters could easily reel out.

“It didn’t help that his was a hyphenated name”, Maximus says, to general laughter. “But he believed in us, the young people he had entrusted his campaign to. Once, someone asked him how he was going to do it. He told the person that if the young people running his campaign can’t make him win the election, then so be it. He listened to us and took our advice on practically everything and what next steps to take. He had implicit faith in what we were doing and how we wanted to get the job done…”

At the core of Sanwo-Olu’s campaign was the deployment of internet technology to get out the message. 

28-year-old Esther, who also worked on the campaign, says even though Sanwo-Olu discovered the power of social media late in the day, he appreciated its immense impact as he came to terms with the fact that he was the candidate to beat. It was easy for her to work with the candidate because his ideas on how he wanted things done, aligned with hers, Esther says. 

“He was hands-on throughout the campaign”, says Esther. “A combination of new media strategy online with a focus on positioning BOS as a humble man of the people with a track record of working for the development of Lagos, combined with a maximum offline awareness strategy, grass roots team deployment and regular communication, helped us gain a lot of mileage online and offline”, she adds.

Esther reveals that “our campaign was heavily targeted, with each channel properly defined and messaging deployed accordingly. We also took advantage of trends to craft messaging. Beyond the efforts of the campaign organisation, we benefited from a crowd-sourced media strategy with a lot of other independent groups creating and deploying a lot of the assets we put out”.

On the first floor of Sanwo-Olu’s campaign office in Ikoyi, a group of social media and tech savvy Nigerians usually sipping on tea and coffee from paper cups, pored through hundreds of social media feeds daily, picked out trending topics of the day, analyzed a trove of data and decided how best to insert the APC Lagos governorship candidate into trends, GIFs and everything in between.

They also worked remotely, bouncing off ideas on WhatsApp groups and Direct Messages. They also decided on which slurs to respond to and which ones to ignore. 

On large screens, they used various analytical apps to monitor how well their candidate was doing when juxtaposed with the conversations around Jimi Agbaje of the PDP and Babatunde Gbadamosi of the ADP.  

“With the monitors on the walls, we were able to know how well we were doing and how many impressions we were racking up daily. If the views and interactions weren’t that good, we did re-strategize and drive the conversation another way. We experimented a lot. Oh yes we did!”, says Maximus, as he hits the last billiard ball into the pocket while holding up the white as a prize of some sort. 

Where the traditional political campaign in Nigeria would have settled for word of mouth, pamphlets and campaign rallies to get out the vote in tech savvy Lagos, Sanwo-Olu's young team opted for information technology and data to gauge voter behavior and predict shifting patterns.

Maximus also shares how, within the Sanwo-Olu campaign team, they resolved to give the candidate a complete makeover.

“Most of the campaign posters and billboards that flooded Lagos were not from us. There were donations from well-wishers who believed in the candidate. But we had the last say on the quality of the photographs and the messaging. Everything had to align with what we came up with”, says Maximus.

On the night of March 10, 2019, hours after Sanwo-Olu had been declared winner of the Lagos governorship election by the electoral commission, the Governor-elect and his running mate, Obafemi Hamzat, gathered the young campaign army on the first floor, looked every one of them in the eye and expressed just how grateful they were. 

Moments later, bottles of Taittinger Champagne were being popped open with reckless abandon and everyone, including the Governor-elect, was getting drenched in same, to raucous laughter.

“I’ll never forget working on this campaign for the rest of my life. It was the ultimate experience. I have never seen such camaraderie as a group, in my life.

“And to think that some of us got involved for free…”, Maximus says, as the street lights from Ozumba Mbadiwe ricocheted off the large football screens at the African Bar. “I’ll now return to my day job, full time. Sanwo-Olu will make a darn good governor, I’ve got no doubts in my mind about that”, he adds with doses of satisfaction. 

The rest of Lagos awaits, with bated breath. 

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