by Azeezat Fadekemi Sulaiman
After the Nigerian elections were postponed last month due to ‘security concerns’, many feared Africa’s most populous country would descend into chaos, but Nigerians got it together, and patiently waited for the newly appointed date. Tomorrow, Nigerians will head to polls to decide who will occupy the seat of power Aso Rock for the next 4 years.
It’s been a highly contentious battle between the incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan and the leader of the opposition General Muhammadu Buhari. As election campaigns go in Nigeria, this will go down in history as one of the most polarizing, with claims and counter claims and propaganda levied against each party.
The ruling People’s Democratic Party have run their campaign with a focus on discrediting the opposition. First on the basis that Buhari is a former dictator who will stifle freedom of speech and has nothing new to offer. Secondly, the PDP point out that many of the leadership in the opposition party APC are some of the most corrupt in the land. Recently, they ran a documentary allegedly ‘exposing’ the party leader Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu as a ‘corrupt’ politician who according to the programme aired on Nigeria’s AIT, stole money from the public purse to fuel his party’s propaganda.
Many observers of Nigerian politics, and Nigerians as it were, would probably wonder if this wasn’t a classic case of ‘pot calling the kettle black’ as many politicians in the PDP aren’t themselves innocent of being caught with their hands in the cookie jar.
The opposition’s spin doctors on the other hand have hinged their campaign on a message similar to that President Obama won his historic Presidency on. By painting the picture of a comatose incumbent President, dragging the fortunes of a country blessed with monumental resources and potential down. The opposition’s message is that their man, Muhammadu Buhari is the man who can bring ‘change’ to Nigeria’s fortunes.
Lately those fortunes have been tried to breaking point with a volatile North Eastern region in the grips of the terrorist group Boko Haram who have literally reigned free and grown in power and confidence during President Jonathan’s tenure. While the south has been relatively unscathed in the carnage Boko Haram has unleashed, the security situation in the north of the country has been the Achilles heel of the Jonathan administration.
As the Presidential elections drew closer, it hasn’t gone unnoticed by the ever watchful and now weary Nigerian public that the Jonathan administration have been gaining ground against the terrorist group, gaining back regions that had hitherto been declared Boko Haram strongholds. Some question why after 6 years of battling the group, with the later having the upper hand, the Nigerian military has only just started getting the security situation under some control in the last few weeks, prior to the election.
Defeating President Jonathan’s administration should ordinarily be an easy task for any opposition with a credible candidate. Youth employment is at an all time high, corruption is still rife and despite a growing middle class, three-quarters of the population still live under $1 a day.
The inability of the government to locate over 200 girls kidnapped from their dormitory in Chibok, Borno state by Boko Haram almost a year ago is perhaps seen globally as Jonathan’s biggest failure. The horrible act led to a global campaign on social media led by former education Minister Oby Ezekwesili. Within weeks, the campaign had been picked up by everyone from Michelle Obama to Alicia Keys forcing the Nigerian government to take the issue seriously.
The Jonathan administration also promised Nigerians that the power sector would be sorted out once and for all during their term, but despite deregulating the sector to bring in private investment, Nigerians still endure severe power outages with many families spending up to 12 hours without electricity.
The PDP spin doctors would argue that there has been more growth during President Jonathan’s administration than during any other civilian administration in the nation’s history.
It was during President Jonathan’s tenure that Nigeria’s economy was declared Africa’s biggest economy after a rebasing exercise that took into account the growth of the telecomms sector and the movie industry over the last few years.
There have also been some improvements in the area of infrastructure, with the revamping of the country’s rail network, although some question whether the trains are more befitting for the 19th century rather than the 21st century.
One has to wonder however if the opposition’s claim of ‘change’ is actually a credible, considering how bad the situation in Nigeria is now. What Buhari has going for him is his fearsome reputation as a no-nonsense leader who successfully wiped out corruption during his time as Nigeria’s military leader. It is this reputation along with his record of being probably the only leader not to have brazenly enriched his pockets during his tenure puts him in the mind of Nigerians as the man to wipe out the scourge and set the country straight once and for all.
Despite these commendable achievement, one must remember that Buhari came into power as a general, a military dictator during a very turbulent time in Nigeria’s history. Many question if his tough military stance would work well within a democratic setting or if Nigerians may have to give up their freedom of expression and movement in order to clean the system of corruption.
This is not the general’s attempt at returning to power. Buhari has contested and failed in the last two presidential elections under his former party the ANPP. The reason he has risen the third time to become a formidable opponent of the PDP is thanks to strategic alliances with the APC, many of whose leaders are disenfranchised PDP stalwarts. The difference between this campaign and his two previous ones is the backing of a more formidable party with more money and more political clout.
The APC has succeeded in selling a former military leader, whom many Nigerians refused to even consider as their President for over a decade as the only agent that can bring ‘change’ to Nigeria. But one wonders what exactly this change will mean for Nigeria under Buhari.
Neither party has a well-defined manifesto on what policies they will be putting in place when they’re in power. How will they sort out the mess of youth unemployment, revive the ailing educational system, improve women’s rights and living conditions, and what will they do to improve the economy?
Instead, both parties have used other ways to communicate their message. By distributing branded good and merchandise with the faces of their chosen ones. The typical election jingle for the PDP has people dancing as the roll call of the President’s achievement is listed against the soundtrack. Some even hinge on telling anyone who opposes the other to literally bugger off and their man should ‘ride on’, because the opinion of people who disagree with their man doesn’t really matter.
In all the hundreds of rallies that have preceded this election, on both sides of the coin, the message has been that of perpetuating division using the two main fault lines of the multicultural country- religion and ethnicity, and many of the Nigerian masses have fallen for it, because of various reasons. Self preservation, poverty and a lack of education.
But one has to give it to the opposition as they’ve even managed to convince the younger, highly educated and more cosmopolitan Nigerian youth that Buhari is the man who will bring change to country. If one looks closely, it’s not really hard to see why.
Nigerians are so disenfranchised with the current administration that anyone would do, as long as it’s not the incumbent. Buhari is the favourite amongst many young Nigerians because for starters, many aren’t old enough to remember his dictatorship. They also know where their country should stand in the world stage and they know for sure that President Jonathan is not the man with the visionary leadership to lead them there. They don’t believe Buhari is really their best shot either, but they’re prepared to take baby steps in that direction until a more suitable candidate emerges in future.
President Jonathan enjoys more support amongst middle-aged Nigerians because they’re old enough to remember general Buhari’s tough military rule and don’t ever want to experience it again in their lifetime. Jonathan is also popular in his native oil rich Niger Delta region because he is the first Nigerian president to come from that region and they believe their ‘son’ is the only one who can protect their interest.
As it stands, the PDP has never lost a Presidential election since Nigeria gained independence. Only time will tell whether Buhari and the APC have done enough to break that spell for the first time.