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Wisdom for electing Mr. President

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By Erahodu Oseghale
As Nigerians troop out in their numbers this Saturday to elect a President to run the affairs of the nation for another four years, as intense and competitive as the pre-election campaigns may have appeared, the people of Africa's biggest economy have their choices clearly defined for them.

Two candidates, incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan and former head of state, retired General Muhammadu Buhari lead the pack thus making it appear as if there are only two major political parties contesting for the office of President in the 2015 elections – the People's Democratic Party and All Progressives Congress. There are 12 others in the race.

The towering image of these two leading candidates in a way makes the choice of who to vote for less cumbersome for the electorate. And just as was witnessed in the 2011 Presidential election, Saturday's election between these two prominent candidates would not be won on the strength of the popularity of their political parties alone rather, voting is most likely to be predicated on people's perception of both candidates.

And this is the point of departure in similarity between the two leading candidates. While in 2011, President Jonathan earned sympathy votes along ethnic lines and his shoddy treatment prior to the death of President Yar'Adua; in 2015 the President is contesting as a sitting President, an incumbent leader of the most widely spread political party in the country which has dominated Nigeria's political landscape for 16 years.

Like it or not, the advantages of an incumbent president over that of an 'untested opponent' is usually overwhelming especially in third world African politics. Six years of influence and accumulated goodwill cutting across the socio-cultural and political divides of a complex nation like Nigeria is not easily measured by opinion polls as has been witnessed in the past.

Try as much as the opposition APC could, the sitting president has physical structures, emotional bank accounts and sundry vicarious interests to draw from. An election year presents a payback time for these interests and for President Goodluck Jonathan, it is payback time for those his administration has affected, directly or indirectly. And this could be a huge number going by what this government has done across the Nigerian landscape in the last couple of years.

On the other hand, the APC candidate for a greater part of the campaigns has had to contend with an inglorious past which Nigerians, especially those who were old enough at the time he ruled for just 20 months as a military leader would rather put behind them. The burden of a maximum ruler is still heavy on Buhari and this is not made lighter by the continued demonisation of persons in the country who had any role to play in those infamous regimes in which category the APC candidate belongs.

Even the smart attempt made by the 'new' managers of Buhari to present him as a repentant, regenerated democrat has only fired the ruling party's zeal to make known his quite unpopular past to a segment of the electorate that may not know much of the unpopular regime he headed and how that military incursion into the nation's life stunted the growth of democracy in Nigeria.

Unfortunately, the two elements upon which the Buhari candidature has been anchored – fight against corruption and a military background ripe enough to deal with insurgency that became an issue in certain part of the country, appear to have collapsed on account of the unpleasant corruption rating of the dominant members of the APC and the sudden rise of the Nigerian military against the Boko Haram insurgency.

In the absence of the two subjects above, candidate Buhari is left bare as he was the three previous times he contested for the same office in 2003, 2007 and 2011. Aside a few marginal changes, the result this Saturday may not differ much for both candidates as it was in 2011.

Whatever may appear to be President Jonathan's losses in terms of the five PDP governors, certain senators and members of the House of Representatives who left the party and aligned with the APC, is more than compensated for by some dramatic popular programmes that he has initiated in the last six years, even though the opposition has laboured throughout the campaigns to downplay them as insignificant.

As difficult as it may be for those in the opposition camp to accept this unequal match of their candidate with an incumbent president, Saturday's election as close as many analysts had described it still present the electorate with the devil they know on one hand and an angel they are ignorant about on the other.

It is indeed a tall order for the retired army general to imagine a defeat of an incumbent President who have somewhat succeeded to own the entire country as his constituency in the last four years and who has emerged as the best face of democracy that most citizens have ever known. This certainly is the wisdom that will guarantee victory to one candidate and loss to the other at the polls this Saturday.

Erahodu Oseghale writes from Benin
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