Someone, whose opinion I respect very much sent me the rejoinder below to my piece yesterday on why I now support Buhari. I don’t know if agree with the idea that this is a referendum on Buhari – he’s already been rejected three times (or maybe 2 times) by voters so if this is his best chance, perhaps it says more about the incumbent he is trying to unseat.
Nevertheless, winning the election is less than half the job. I want a President Buhari to govern well. And given how fractious our country is, the bigger and deeper the mandate he gets, the better for him and the country. The post makes some very useful points in that regard.
Given how badly the Goodluck presidency has turned out, the 2015 presidential election is really a referendum about the suitability of the APC candidate; Muhammadu Buhari. It is however not going to be a walk in the park. Not because Goodluck Jonathan hasn’t done enough to allow even an electric pole to win the vote, but because Muhammadu Buhari, his party and teaming supporters are ignoring critical realities that will influence how folks vote come February 14, 2015.
One fundamental error of General Buhari and his campaign is the seeming inability to grasp the various nuances that are shaping the views of voters on his candidacy. This has produced messaging that is half part strident denunciation of folks who think different or are undecided, and the other half; an unfortunate and often all-out threatening of bodily harm.
In a bid to help those who want to sell GMB more effectively, I will attempt to sketch out a few voter profiles to improve understanding and perhaps help re-shape the messaging of the campaign. I will also point out some of the problems with how these folks are currently being approached/engaged.
The Christian Northerner
Many latter-day supporters of General Buhari from southern Nigeria (especially the Twitterati) still live under the illusion of a monolithic north peopled by Hausa-Fulani Muslims all of which are going to troop out in February shouting Sai mai Gaskiya. A useful education offered by @amasonic on the diversity of northern Nigeria can be found here.
While the southerner may have the luxury of viewing this election in terms of corruption and the economy, the reality for the Christian northerner is that, this election is perceived in many quarters as a matter of survival. Real life issues like the historical and well documented persecution of northern Christians, the Sharia movement and more recently the murderous onslaught of Boko Haram which by this account of the UK Telegraph has seen more than 700 churches attacked; makes issues like Malabu pale into relative insignificance.
While the southerner may see the CAN president as some amusing character, the Christian northerner tends to view him as a heroic bulwark against a genocidal onslaught. Not only will disparaging those who hold this view not win GMB any converts, it will actually entrench the view and propel voters to go out and cast a vote for what has been effectively cast (thanks to forced conversions and mass slaughter by Boko Haram in cities like Mubi) as a battle for their survival.
Sadly, instead of trying to convince folks, GMB has been at best ambivalent and on worse days resigned to the fate that these folks will never believe his strenuous denials of bigotry. No doubt his now predictable selection of notable clergy as running mates is aimed at addressing this issue, it does always appear as too little too late.
GMB has had many years of opportunity to work in northern communities to demonstrate ‘his tolerance’ but has refused to use such opportunities. At this stage, what may be helpful for the campaign is for GMB to take very clear and unambiguous positions on issues like: implementation of Sharia; and the widespread policy of refusing approval for Christians to build places of worship in many parts of the north which is essentially a means to Boko Haram’s ends by government policy.
The Southern Reactionary
There are many from the south who still hold to the idea that the north has had more than its fair share of time at the industry of pulling Nigeria back. If Nigeria has not actually had a history in which northerners have held sway at the top for a greater part of the time, it would have been easy to simply describe this group as closet ethnic supremacists. However, history sometimes takes the side of foolish ideas, and so it isn’t always easy to convince the simple-minded majority who have bought into the different shades of the it-is-our-turn argument.
Now some may snort their noses at this obviously sentimental approach to selecting leadership, but often not without their hypocrisy showing through. The truth of the matter is that, a fundamental reason why Buhari is the candidate of the opposition party is to take advantage of the groundswell of agitation for “power to return to the north”. But for this and his ability to win massively in the north, he would hardly feature at all on a merit based list of persons capable of leading a developing nation with aspirations for becoming a modern economy.
The more virulent specie of this voter (and I believe the one least likely to be converted) is the reactionary who is pushing back against the perceived born-to-rule mentality of the northerner. Nevertheless, there are many in this group who just feel that handing power back to the north would slow whatever progress the country may have made. It is to this group that the campaign must look to win converts. To do this, it must pursue an issue based campaign that shows in relatively realistic roadmaps how it would move the economy and society at large into the future.
The idealist is the one who really gets under the skin of the new crop of ‘realists’ who have just seen the Buhari light. The ‘realists’; many of whom in recent times have argued about how unelectable the General was, now consider the idealist to be unnecessarily nit-picking and refusing to see the big picture (of a bill board with a Buhari sporting a 50,000 megawatt smile in a Tux and a Sanusian bow tie).
The idealist is often an intellectual himself; often a liberal left winger who considers things like human rights and democracy to be sacred. The idealist finds it excruciatingly difficult to imagine a former coup plotter as beneficiary of the democratic process. For those of extreme idealist persuasion, that is like appointing a ‘former’ paedophile as a primary school head teacher.
However, there are moderate idealists who just want General Buhari to acknowledge that what he did was wrong and that he sees things differently now. That executing people under retroactive laws was not the best thing to do; that having one set of rules for northern politicians and another for their southern counterparts doesn’t exactly cut the image of a red cap and akpochi wearing nationalist. Moderate idealists want the GMB campaign to realize that there is little to choose between the man who calls Abacha a saint and the one who wants to make Alams a Senator.
Sadly, the campaign and his supporters have largely refused to woo this group of voters by conceding even the obvious. It is as though they fear that once this garb of sacredness they have clothed the man in is removed, all that may remain is an impotent scarecrow.
Losing the Referendum
As far as I can see, this election is shaping out as a referendum on Buhari because I suspect most Nigerians realize that Jonathan has been largely a lame duck president taken hostage by insurgency and corruption.
However, due largely to the less than effective way in which the GMB campaign has been running, he seems to be doing too poorly for an election in which he is essentially the only candidate. There is a huge population of Nigerians who want anyone but Jonathan, but many of them would also rather just stay home than vote the current candidate that the GMB campaign has managed to present to the public.
The GMB campaign has presented a man who only manages to energize his core group of supporters. They in turn are too busy giving notice of the hell they will let loose if he loses in February as to have time to do any real canvassing.
It is barely 6 weeks to the elections that will usher in the change the APC/GMB promised Nigerians. I hope it is enough time for them to demonstrate the ability to deliver by first making the necessary change in direction that their own campaign sorely needs. The electorate needs to be sold a significantly improved version of the candidate.