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Published On: Mon, Sep 29th, 2014

Between Jonathan and Buhari : The big sell (I)

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Buhari and JonathanBy Bisi Olawunmi

With President Goodluck Jonathan’s endorsement for a second term by his party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), the 2015 presidential election in Nigeria is shaping up to be a marketing contest, the Big Sell, of the candidates. It promises to be a time when creative framing of the contest will be decisive.  And  with barely five months to the February 14, 2015 presidential election, it is apt to do a comparative analysis of how  sellable are the two front runners, in the race – incumbent President GoodluckEbele Jonathan of the PDP and Gen. Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress (APC).

President Jonathan has two major advantages over any other opponent – name recognition and the power of incumbency which affords him the leverage to create dramatic events and make policy decisions which can advance his chances at the polls. If, for instance, he musters the courage to further reduce fuel price, induce accelerated trial and eventual jailing of fuel subsidy scammers, sack police commissioners in states where kidnapping has become thriving business, and get the army to take the fight to the Boko Haram insurgents,  he can fairly blunt his perception as a fumbling,  ‘clueless’  anti-people leader who gives no damn about the suffering of the masses. It can also begin to indicate that he has not been in consort with, or a patron saint of, the corrupt oligarchy. The poser is : Can he ?  Of course, no leader at the level of the Presidency will not have ‘achievements’ to celebrate. The task for Jonathan’s marketing agents – and we have a plethora of them with the rambunctious  Transformation Ambassadors of Nigeria (TAN) taking the cake  –  is itemizing those populist programmes and projects which have TRANSFORMED the peoples’ lives. Statistics don’t sell with the masses ; what are those Jonathan policy measures which touch lives of citizens, directly. What are the tangibles ?

However, one achievement President Jonathan can rightly boast of is being a democrat, allowing the people’s will to prevail in elections, by citing the governorship elections  in Edo, Ondo, Anambra, Ekiti states  and most recently Osun, the so-called militarization of the process in the last two states notwithstanding. Also, there is, to some extent, the perception of President Jonathan as being tolerant of criticisms going by the stridency of some of his critics, which occasionally degenerate to name calling, with some Columnists tagging him as ‘clueless’ and a serpent. In fact, it would appear that some Columnists seem bent on provoking him to get them clamped in detention and flaunt that as a badge honour, a testimony of their courage! He has generally refused to oblige them. Critics, however, justify their attacks on the argument that not only the power and glamour of office but also the punches come with the territory. Maybe, they have a point. Sometimes, the Reuben Abatis of this world don’t help matters when they project  President Jonathan as Plato’s  infallible Philosopher King, or better still King Ebele 1 of Nigeria, before whom all must  prostrate in obeisance ! !  Kabiyesi o!  (Hail, the King!)

Our president says he is not a Pharaoh or a General and projects himself as your regular, unpretentious village boy. Let no one be deceived. It is becoming obvious that behind his manufactured humble mien, there lurks a strong willed streak and a cunning which neutralize opposition without being seen as a demolishing Leviathan, a bulldozer. You remember that General turned-farmer, who became a two-term president and brashly showed us he was a Power Hurricane?  The Otueke village boy has quietly humbled him.  Without any fuss.  Just as he has neutralized those vociferous Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) grandstanders most of whom are yesterday’s men seeking relevance in today’s politics. Now, folks, when last did you read or hear of AdamuCiroma, the former Arewa ‘Sheikh’, in the public sphere? The saturation campaign of Jonathan’s foot soldiers, nationwide, has had the effect of intimidating potential challengers in his party, the PDP, thus leading to his unanimous adoption as party presidential candidate. The continuing saturation awareness campaign strategy is also  intended to numb the people to feel there is no effective, alternative choice in the opposition to his candidacy. Those not sold on Candidate Jonathan may choose not to vote, but then even a 30 percent voter turnout does not invalidate the election.  It is a situation where voter apathy may work  to Jonathan’s advantage. After all, is democracy not turning into a rule of the minority?

Now to General Muhammadu Buhari. How do we place this General in terms of electoral permutation and marketing? Buhari, in terms of name recognition, personal integrity and consistency is the most sellable candidate for the APC.  But a Buhari presidential bid suffers two major setbacks – that of limited time to project himself as well as frame the campaign issues and an apparent funding limitation. The procrastination of his party, the APC, in projecting him as the putative candidate, has not helped matters, thus allowing all kinds of political opportunists to jostle for the party’s presidential ticket under a nebulous internal democracy mantra.  It is turning out a chaotic terrain, especially with some party leaders and APC sympathetic Columnists articulating weird presidential ticket permutations, including that of a Speaker Aminu Tambuwal, a PDP stalwart, as the party’s presidential candidate, if he defects. It does not get more desperate and befuddled!

Dr. Bisi Olawunmi is a lecturer, Department of Mass Communication, Bowen University, Iwo, Osun state.

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