THE JONATHAN-BUHARI ELECTORAL BATTLE
Nigeria's April 16, 2011 presidential election ended as a straight battle between President Goodluck Jonathan of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and Gen. Muhammadu Buhari of the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC). Two other candidates, Mallam Nuhu Ribadu of Action Congress of Nigeria(ACN) and Mallam Ibrahim Shekarau of the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) make up the 'Big Four' in a field where 20 parties featured on the ballot paper.
Recognising the others as just 'have runs' leaves us with the two juggernauts – President Jonathan and Gen. Buhari who was in his third presidential electoral battle - 2003, 2007 and 2011. The Jonathan-Buhari slugfest turned out a mismatch in some respects and produced a spectacular mismatch in its outcome - a sweeping victory for Jonathan when a run off was anticipated!
It was a case of a battle (military and electoral) tested Gen.Buhari, a former military Head of State, being dusted by a political 'greenhorn' who has never aspired to or contested any office before now and does not proclaim anything! But there is another enigmatic mismatch. While Buhari, a 69-year old warrior commands the allegiance of a barely literate youthful mass with cultish adoration of the lean frame old soldier, a youngish 53-year old Jonathan lacks animated youth appeal.
For discerning minds, therefore, it should not be that very surprising that with the victory of President Jonathan, Buhari's hardcore constituency - his young troopers in the North - reacted with the tempestuous impetuousness of youth in street riots. The riots have shown us how easily we can slip from Democracy to 'Mobocracy' (Rule of the Mob) when people reject verdict of votes they believe lack credibility. The riots also depict the emotional aspect of politics and when emotion overcomes reason, competition erupts into mindless violence.
However, the riotous reaction should have been anticipated, given the youth frenzy that attended Buhari's rallies in the North with proactive and pre-emptive steps taken to forestall it. That the riots snowballed into mayhem across several states in the North is a reflection of the poor security management that has been the bane of this country for a long time now. Before the riots put a black spot on what has been acclaimed, locally and internationally, a free, fair and credible election, the build up to voting on April 16 offers an insight into the imponderables of politics. There were efforts by candidates at selling what they consider positive images.
Ribadu, often sounding more of a chatter box, only had his youthful age to sell; Jonathan also sells youthfulness as well as poverty of his humble upbringing, his barefooted schoolboy story apparently aimed at eliciting empathy of a grass to grace, a you too can make it ('keep hope alive') plank. But cynics put a pun on that as having led to poverty of ideas. Shekarau is Mr. Correct, who seems to have appropriate answers to questions except that he is so wooden and robot-like in his recitations.
There is Gen. Buhari who projects Messianic Puritanism and is sold as the only solution to Nigeria's problems but lacking the communication skills to get his message across. Yes, he enjoys memories of integrity and anti-corruption in government from his days as military Head of State but seems caught up in a time warp about conducting election campaign in a digital age. He seems at a loss how people could vote for a party many see as their oppressor, the PDP.
There are those who perceive Jonathan as the artful dodger who evaded the NN24 Presidential Debate with the three other principal contestants for the safe monologue on NTA. Well, in war, you take evasive action, an option Jonathan took. He was in good company, though. In her book, 'MASS MEDIA AND AMERICAN POLITICS', Prof. Doris Graber told us : 'the risks of televised debates so awed presidential candidates after the 1960 encounter that a repeat performance did not occur for 16 years'.
The voting pattern in the presidential election where Jonathan earned 22.4 million votes to the 12.2 million votes of Buhari, his closest rival, was confounding to many given the hype about an impending Buhari Hurricane. But it only indicates the fickle-mindedness of electorate, when people say they voted for Jonathan and not the PDP! I believe what those diehard critics who had lampooned the PDP for failure to deliver good governance won't admit is that they voted Jonathan as a bandwagon reaction to his perception as the potential winner.
A scholar had noted 'The winner or loser image may become self-fulfilling prophecy because supporters and money flow to the front runner', pointing out that a candidate's image projection in the media can make the media 'kingmaker or killer of the dream of would-be kings'. In this presidential election, with the media persistently portraying an image of Buhari as a fanatical, rigid hardliner, many believe the media became a killer of the General's dream. However, others contend that Buhari's undoing was his inability to forge a political alliance with other opposition figures at least a year before the elections.
Yet, for some, Buhari's repeated shots at the presidency have reduced him to what Graber called 'a twentieth century Don Quixote, battling all sorts of evils in hopeless struggles'. As for Jonathan, many of those who see him as a political weakling, lacking any enduring vision, still voted for him because they say he comes across as an inoffensive, nice guy who can be talked to, while many express fear of Buhari! The election was not issue-based.
TIME magazine summed up its report at the end of a U.S. presidential campaign thus: 'For more than a year, two flawed candidates have been floundering toward the final showdown, each unable to give his unquestioning supporters much reason to vote for him except dislike of his opponent'. I will bring forth Prof. Graber, again. She had observed 'During the 1980 (U.S.) presidential campaign, Ronald Reagan was typecast as an amiable dunce stumbling into the presidency almost by mistake'.
Well, Reagan, perceived as a dunce, a know-nothing warmonger and an apostle of 'voodoo economics' (apology to President Bush Snr.) who supposedly 'stumbled' into the White House by mistake, ended up being a great American president who made U.S. world sole military power, after besting the Soviet Union, and enhancing America's status as engine-room of world economy in his 8-year presidency, Jan. 20, 1981 to Jan. 20, 1989. Can Nigeria be that lucky to have a perceived 'dunce' stumble into Aso Rock Villa by mistake and become a great Nigerian president who will surprise all by restoring security of lives and property, provide electricity to power industry and lift the pall of darkness over the nation?