There is also an unexplainable lethargy in APC awareness campaign nationwide. As noted by TataloAlamu in his Snooper column in The Nation on Sunday of August 31, 2014, “like an overweight sprinter, the APC has been slow to get off the starting block”. It is rather ludicrous seeing APC’s spokesmen whining that Jonathan’s foot soldiers shouldn’t be on the campaign trail. Who is stopping APC following suit? It would appear the Buhari strategists suffer the same lethargy, like the party, in getting a Buhari saturation awareness campaign off the block. It ignores two realities – a presidential election is a marathon, not a 100 meters dash and that at presidential election level, the candidate, not the party, is the focal point. That is why it is now more of selling the candidate, his persona, his credibility.
The main advantage and attraction of a Buhari candidacy, and putative Presidency, is his perception as an incorruptible person who can be trusted to confront the cancer of corruption that is ravaging the country, head on. It is the one issue which, properly articulated, and coupled with that of insecurity, can determine the presidential election outcome in Buhari’sfavour. This is where framing the election issue becomes crucial. Two American presidential elections were determined, basically, on just one issue each – weak leadership in the Carter- Reagan 1980 election and insecurity/crime in the Bush versus Dukakis election in 1988. I covered both election campaigns, live. The Chibok girls’ abduction by Boko Haram insurgents is a scene reminiscent of Iranian militants holding Americans hostage at the U.S Embassy in Teheran in 1979 for several months up to election day in November 1980 which projected President Jimmy Carter to the American people as a weak leader who cannot assert American power to free the hostages.
Then Governor Ronald Reagan, who had vowed to confront the Iranians with the American might, whatever it takes, won the election in a landslide, Carter winning only in two of the 50 states – his native Georgia and Minnesota, the state of his running mate, Walter Mondale. The Iranians released the hostages barely hours after President Reagan was sworn in on January 20, 1981. In the 1988 electoral battle between Vice President George H.W. Bush (Republican) and the Governor of Massachusetts, Michael Dukakis (Democrat), the Bush campaign turned the table on front runner Dukakis by projecting him as soft on crime and liberal with criminals, exemplifying this with Dukakis’ granting of parole to a jailed rapist, Willie Horton, in Massachusetts only for the convict to go to Maryland state to commit another rape. Although Gov. Dukakis engineered economic renewal of Massachusetts State, and promised similar economic miracle nationwide, but the Bush campaign framed the election as a security/crime issue and vigorously projected a crime-ridden America under a Dukakis Presidency which persuaded the American people to vote for security, thus ending the presidential hopes of Dukakis. It was a classic example of campaign issue framing.
Jonathan and Buhari, favoured to emerge as APC presidential candidate, both carry some baggage. Given Nigeria’s state of insecurity and rampant corruption, which are generally seen to have worsened under Jonathan’s watch, his re-election becomes a hard sell to the Nigerian electorate, while the perception of Buhari, in some quarters, wrongly as a religious fanatic and northern irredentist are burdens he would need to discharge. Buhari also suffers the additional disadvantage of limited campaign penetration, which can, however, be mitigated if creative campaigning is applied in the time available.
Ultimately, two factors will be decisive in the 2015 presidential election– voter turn-out and perception management. In the 2011 presidential election, 38.2 million people voted as against 66.8 million registered voters, representing about 55 percent voter turnout. The party that can mobilise more of its supporters to cast their ballots will be at an advantage. On perception management, a projection of President Jonathan as a seemingly ‘harmless’ person who flows with the tide may attract a ‘let him be’ vote for a second term from an indulgent electorate while a vigorous marketing of Buhari as a self-less patriot, the liberator from the bondage of corruption and insecurity could persuade the voters to cast their ballots for the ascetic General. It is a potential cliff hanger. However, given the imponderables of politics, anything can happen, between now and the February 14, 2015 vote, to change the calculations. Concluded
Dr. Bisi Olawunmi is a lecturer, Department of Mass Communication, Bowen University, Iwo, Osun state.