February 20, 2011

Elections in Nigeria: Go Big or Go home, Is that it?

The Nigeria’s ruling party the People’s Democratic Party remain a massively popular party, make no mistake about that. The origins of the party make it such. The PDP used to be the party of a popular extra-large Egypt-style pro-democracy movement against a brutal military junta. It was easy for the public to identify with it from that point of view until now. The presidential flag bearers for the party, the incumbent, President Jonathan and his Vice Sambo’s campaign organisation have invariably structured their campaign taking full advantage of the massive spread of the party. The strategy seems to rely on a national shock-and-awe rallies with millions in attendance at every state stop throughout the country. Is this strategy paying off?. What choices has the opposition got? What are they doing even? Let’s take a look.

The popular media is full of news of one rally after another rally after rally. The opposition has also toed the same line. Now the stadiums are fully booked. However, President Jonathan going from state to state and greeting the masses with two uplifted arms and a huge smile on his face. That image is hard to beat. The president is working hard to create an image of openness and mass appeal. Then he goes to the traditional leaders and woes them with a muted constitutional role. Everyone seems to have been sucked in. But not really. In Nasarawa state the presidential train hit a little snag. There were fewer turnout of the intended public at the rally. Then some “mob” pelted the presidents convoy with stones and displayed placards supporting CPC candidate Buhari. Nassarawa state is the PDP HQ for the North-Central zone. That was a setback, though not enough to cause a major course correction for the President Jonathan’s campaign. Then President Jonathan went to the West and made a political gaffe by making a statement that can reasonably be construed to mean that he was referring to other party leaders and candidates as “rascals”. His campaign team tried to spin that one, too late. In Rivers State his campaign rally caused a stampede that killed 11 people (according to the official count).

What is the point of all these? The PDP is big but with that comes a toothache. The incidents and setbacks that has trailed the PDP Presidential rallies has opened up a sore point on which the opposition can punch at, if they intend to oust the PDP at least in some states. But is the opposition really aware of this? Does the opposition have a strategy? What is the plan? Conventional wisdom dictates that if you have to take down a giant you do not do it by using his tools or taking him on in his own turf. Well what is the turf of the PDP. President Jonathan is a good face for PDP. He has done excellent job and broken the ground on some clear cut areas in the public mind. His social network face and his broad smile, his wide uplifted open arms, silence on crucial issues that do not demand immediate comment has all made him look less manipulative, open (may be honest in some people’s eyes) and almost approachable. Though I doubt this is not all a political image stunt cast by an advice by some American image consultant. Wikileaks may tell. Meanwhile, to his credit, it is working. The bad news is, the opposition is trying very hard to mimic the same qualities.That I am not sure if it is going to work. President Jonathan has got the social network all glued on him. If you want to fight him there you have to be very good. Everyone is now using the social networks but none is as good or has the spread and following that Jonathan has built. With an average of around 2-3,000 comments on each daily post signed by GEJ no opposition candidate can come close enough for a contest on that arena. There is one Goodluck Ebele Jonathan page on facebook (see ) but at the same time there are various other pages both in facebook and twitter in support of or in campaign for Goodluck Ebele Jonathan campaign with or without his consent but certainly not disowned by him. In addition the President has pioneered the idea of interaction with the governed in Nigerian politics. Usually Nigerian President’s do not care enough to listen and are very comfortable in the presidential bubble and remain isolated, powerful, manipulative, “maradonic” and scheming leaders with a large bag of tricks and double speak in their cupboards. Goodluck changed all that. He is not going to loose that turf lightly. So it goes without saying the opposition needs a better plan. A good opposition is vital for a proper and accountable government to operate. Sadly the best shots at the ruling PDP are all being fired from within the party. That invariably qualifies as James Bond firing blanks in the face of an approaching enemy shell. The one is from Ciroma and his hasty group and then lethally from Professor Soludo. I mean Soludo’s arguments could hold some water. (see ) But it is a friendly fire. He is shooting behind his back when the enemy line is in front. That is if he is not shooting at his own feet. These guys, especially Alhaji Ciroma needs to leave the PDP and move on to CPC or ACN and bolster the opposition. He could do the country service there. Why remain a reluctant PDP card carrying member if you cannot subscribe to the party decisions on candidates and cannot reconcile yourself to it?

Well what must the opposition do now? My opinion? The PDP and Jonathan have set the pace in this campaign by innovative ways and the opposition is glibly waiting to be wacked. Buhari and Bakare and everyone else is now also advertising hugely on Facebook and have created good websites but forget the cyberspace. That turf is taken over by Jonathan. You have to do better than that. Cyberspace is only a small portion of the population in Nigeria. The confirmed stats on Facebook users who are Nigerian is 1.78million according to ITU That could mean Jonathan has got a good grip on 2.6% of a probable 68million registered voters. And that is pushing it. Because I assume all the Facebook users are resident in Nigeria and are registered voters. But still the influence of this number of people could well deliver the mandate. The opposition must get innovative. My suggestion, Start at the micro-level. Something like a door to door campaign. Forget Jonathan’s Door-to-Door Project. Their phone numbers do not even work. They are not knocking on doors and even if they decide to do so President Jonathan and Sambo could not do it. So Buhari, Bakare, Ribadu what have you to loose get on the road and go talk to the people in their homes, at their community halls, at their places of work, in their beer parlours and leisure places. Pick up the phone and call everyone on the phone book and talk to the voters, listen to them become accountable to them and woe them and ask for their votes. Not with promises because they have heard it all before. But you know a promise heard on radio or TV or written on the newspaper is not delivered to anyone. Everyone soon forget immediately after elections. Or the press secretaries will spin the daylights out of them. But when you talk to me one-on-one I can hear you and I will not forget that a Presidential person spoke to me, face to face.

President Jonathan has done his job. He said no one must rig elections for him in the name of favours. He promises this election would be free and fair. In Nigerian politics many people build structure and organisations for an incumbent (or incumbent-backed candidate) and even rig elections in their constituencies as a bargaining chip for future appointments and recognitions.(See ) So with the President declaring against that, there is an open door for a fair election. And that starts with a fair and open campaign. Just like when Babangida told Nwosu to conduct an election fair and square and tell him who wins. We all know the story. Bakare is a preacher. Now use those door-to-door skills. Pick up your bible, sorry your manifesto, and hit the dirt road. Change the face of elections in Nigeria. Don’t forget take with you a door knocker cause you don’t want to crack those knuckles. Voters please listen to these guys and give then a grilling when they come. Make then work hard for your vote. That is my advice.


Anonymous said...

Is it right for an incumbent to use the tax-payers fund to run his/her campaign?
- The Official Aircrafts, the Official vehicles

Anonymous said...

That is a very important point. The president deserves protection definitely, but how much does that bias the election by giving him unrivaled leave to campaign freely in a way other candidates not not able to? It's actually an undue advantage. I agree 100% with you.

Anonymous said...

If there is anything to praise PDP for, I have one a united Nigeria!For the first time you see the name of the Vice president as Bold as that of the president; the reason is not far fetched, you need the northern presence to win an election!
OBJ spent 8 years making friends with all nations lost by IBB and Abacha, YarAdua focused on Niger militants, I am yet to see what the "down to Earth fisherman" has done or is doing - just Promises, promises and promises. My question is simple why not give these promises before you need their votes? Biodun

Emeka K Duru said...

All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing " -Edmund Burke (Irish Thinker and Statesman)
2011 is too important to ignore in global thought.
What Nigeria needs is a visionary leadership. We need a philosopher King. The truth is that we have these in short supply but the democracy grows on the back of peoples power and constant change.It will be inimical to our flegdeling democracy if after 8years of ineptitude,mounting corruption and total disenchantment of the populace,that the same party and leadership is kept in place. The choice we make will determine our future. It is not how many people grace a rally that matters.It is what they have gone for. Do we attend ralies because we expect to have money thrown at us or do we attend these rallies to seek answers to why Nigeria grovels with poverty when it is supposed to be aflush with riches.
I am on the opposition side to engender the spirit of democracy not to foster anybody's personal ambition.For the opposition to succeed,it must be discerning,creative and project an alternative view that people can buy into;we have to be in sync with theyearnings and aspirations of our people and must be sincere about it.
"Every generation,out of its relative obscurity,discovers its mission"and this is either betrayed or realised.We have seen the new crop of Igbo Leadership have "betrayed" it's mission, it is now left to the Nigerian polity to make its decision,come April 2011.THE DIE IS CAST.

Anonymous said...

The law allows for protection for candidates by the state police but as you can guess the police chiefs are more inclined to give more cover to the incumbents. most of them are actually appointed by him so they may feel an allegiance, but this must not be so.

Anonymous said...

Emeka,by all intent the opposition has not defined a solid agenda. Ribadu is going viral/militant like Atiku. Buhari is too docile. All the opposition parties have a coloring of regional/ethnic attachments. So that leaves PDP unopposed as a nationalist party. the only one for now. That is a big problem. A coalition of a few opposition parties would have come close. But they cannot cut a deal. If they cannot govern themselves how do they intend to govern the country? -steugene

wole said...

I think people look at the problems of Nigeria the wrong way. I think it's more the followership than leadership. I see a docile population. One that the leaders take for granted and do whatever they like because (and maybe rightly so) they would not react and if they do, certainly not to the degree one would see in countries where the populace understand their duties to motherland. The polity is so heavily politicised, that reactions from citizen groups are often tainted with political undertones. Those who should rally and galvanise citizen vigilance and action like the civil society organisations are themselves affiliated to certain political interests. Therefore any actions taken there-from is discredited and dead on arrival. The rot in the country is deep and gangrenous. There are too many power blocs, too many interests and allegiances. Even otherwise sacred institutions like the military are not left out of the rot. Indeed I am tired of complaining and writing articles. I'm thinking now of ways of grabbing this country by the scruff of the neck into the comity of responsible nations. By any means necessary. Wole Ameyan Jr

Anonymous said...

Election in nigeria should be an eyes opener to all nigerian.we should not live in assumption,as to what happen in the past.we can only say that ELECTION IS BIG OR GO HOME,WHEN WE ARE ALL INVOLVE.But all i can see Nigerian are scared and afriad to take responsibility.
We prefer to sell our future for one 'Derica' of Rice,it's so shameful.
"God Bless Nigeria"

Anonymous said...

My only problem is that PDP is "just" waking up after 12 years of sleep, if IBB tenure in office is added, then we have around figure of 20 years only; nearly half life expectancy of a Nigerian. Doing this and that to rationalize campaign,. for short PDP has failed badly.I read too rice importation is illegal - who is planting rice or even the useless Cassava , sorry it simply has no nutritional value or benefit.Building new Universities, to keep us all quiet on that in his village and the airport as well, these are Universities that are far below world standard, no head of dept can boast of an Educational Institution email address!. If INEC was given 80 Billion to register voters, another 80 billion should be shared among the registered parties to campaign, this is to be accounted for later, if not satisfactorily, the party and ALL its members are disqualified next election.biodun

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