Monday, 7 March 2011

The Governorship Debate: Enough Said?

For many Lagosians, last week’s governorship debate hosted on Channels TV would not have gone unnoticed. For those of us who are Lagosians in spirit, we had to wait till the videos had been uploaded unto the World Wide Web before we could dissect and discuss the performance of the five candidates.

There is little precedent for open forum debates for aspirants to high political office in Nigeria, so the organizers of the event must take credit. They established a reasonable format, chose a good venue and got the participation of the main contenders in the race. That said, they may have let themselves down with the choice or the size of the audience that was allowed into the Muson Centre. The audience was often disruptive and distracting and at one point the frustration in the very capable host’s eyes was obvious.

Right from the get-go, in their opening statements, the candidates occupied the archetypal roles of Nigerian Politics. There was the proverbial ‘old man’, JK Randle of the SDMP, who set out his stall as a man of great experience and of great political heritage. There was the self-professed 'revolutionary', Yomi Tokoyan of the ANPP, his opening statement was steeped in political theory and jargon and throughout the debate he continually made reference to political theory and the concept of revolution.  There was also the ‘everyman candidate’, Dr. Adedbola Dominic of APGA, who (with no offence intended) looked and sounded more like the average Lagosian than his counter-parts, he attempted to move away from the abstract and talk about the problems of Lagos in real terms. There was of course ‘the incumbent’,Governor Babatunde Fashola of the ACN and ‘the challenger’ from the PDP, Ade Dosunmu.

There has been much written about it in the last few days and so there is no need for your humble writer to dissect the entire debate, the general consensus is that Fashola kicked ass and one can be fairly certain that this will be confirmed by the poll currently being run on However, there are some things that caught my eye that most people have failed to acknowledge. Firstly, APGA’s flag has a cock (a chicken) on it and ANPP’s flag has something looks a lot like a cock on it (NOT a chicken).Secondly the host of the debate looks a lot like star of ‘The Wire’- Idris Elba. Lastly and slightly more importantly the debate was skewed in favour of Mr Fashola.

I can hear the glasses crashing as they slip from your grip and I understand I must move forward with caution and so first let me make it clear that I am neither alleging nor do I believe that either His Excellency or the good people of Channels Television were engaged in any sort of scheme or plot to affect the outcome of the debates. However, the way the debate was structured, the way it was carried out and crucially the conduct of the other candidates on stage turned the whole event into the Babatunde Fashola show.

Anybody who watched the event would have realised that there was a huge time pressure, which was to be expected as it was a live television event and the aforementioned audience was doing their best to make a nuisance of themselves. Despite this the Governor was always allowed to over run a little bit, he was always given the ‘discretionary’ right of rebuttal and somewhat oddly he was the only one given a chance to reply to a question on women’s inclusion put forward by Mrs Ransom-Kuti of the SDMP. Although I haven’t measured it, I can say with some confidence that he was on the screen more than any other person. I reiterate, I don’t think that this was done intentionally or maliciously. It was more akin to how a referee might give a soft penalty to a Manchester United player who goes down in the box at Old Trafford, there is no suggestion that the ref is cheating but he is perhaps intimidated not to give it in front of the roaring crowd at the theatre of dreams.  After all Mr. Fashola is the first citizen of Lagos State and Chamberlain Usoh (the host who looks like Idris Elba) is just another Lagosian, who on the whole did very well on the night. The one-sidedness of the debate was not purely due to the organizers though.

Normally being the incumbent in a political debate is a mixed blessing. On the one hand you have a bag of achievements and a wealth of information that you can draw on to back you up at any time. Conversely, you are responsible for every continuing problem, every missed target, every broken promise, every complaint made in or against the state – there should be an endless stream of missiles to launch at the candidate. However, it seems like the opposition candidates made no real attempt to go for the jugular, they failed to clearly identify any failings of the ACN government that Mr. Fashola could not brush aside with ease. When they were helped out by a question that directly asked about the governor reneging on a campaign promise from 2007 again the opposition candidates failed to take the bait.

When given the chance to question anybody on the stage they all chose to question the Governor, which all things considered was a poor choice. Tactically speaking, it is going to be harder than drawing milk from a bull to steal any votes away from the ACN in Lagos; the other candidates would have been better off trying to discredit the ‘weaker’ parties and their candidates. That said Fashola in his responses showed the guile of a court room veteran and the mercilessness of a battle rap MC. Most cutting of all was the put down of JK Randle in response to the latter’s question, which left the SDMP man so hurt that he refused to shake His Excellency’s hand at the end of the debate.

There is one thing that ought to be addressed, perhaps it was simply the YouTube link that I saw (although it was posted by the channels tv user) and it was not the same for people watching live in Lagos, but every time the debate went on an ad break the first advert that was shown was a political campaign advert for ACN and the incumbent governor. The point of the debate is to help undecided (and some fickle) voters decide based who they would vote for based on the issues put before the candidates, this as an exercise is rendered fruitless if one candidate is given the opportunity to showcase his achievements with visual aids and a catchy song and no one is given a right of rebuttal. I assume that the people in the Fashola camp thought it would be the most beneficial time to air an advert as they are guaranteed to hit their target audience. While perhaps the other parties were simply slacking by not buying the ad space, for the sake of fairness the Good people should not have run that advert during the debate – they certainly should not have run it more than once.

All said and done, one gets the feeling that Governor Fashola was always likely to win in a debate against his opponents. He won and he won pretty. He expertly dealt with the questions and his opponents and at the same time did a good job of painting the PDP as the enemy of Lagos and the enemy of Nigeria.  Not only has he put himself and his party in good stead for these gubernatorial elections, but he has also bolstered the stock of the ACN nationally. I think the time has probably come for people to stop seeing him as Tinubu’s apprentice and come 2015 I will be surprised if his name is not in the mix for the Presidency. He appears to be a new type of politician- well educated, well spoken, well presented and not old – and it appears that this is what Lagosians want.

On another note the popularity of these debates has overwhelmed this writer and I’m sure it has overwhelmed the candidates themselves. It is practices like this that will not only ensure the competency of our leaders but will create a real democracy - not just a country that celebrates ‘democracy day’ every four years. The Nigerian public is clamouring for real accountability at every stage of the democratic process and it is with that in mind that I urge people to get involved with the ‘What About Us?’ Youth presidential debates scheduled for the 25th of March. So please ‘donate’ your status/profile picture on any social network and/or messenger that you use to the ‘What about us?’ logo and let’s try and change Nigeria. Watch this space.

Enyinnaya Emmanuel Chukwueke

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

The GEJ Campaign: All that Shimmers....

The Facebook Page of President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan 

Just before Christmas, while I was meant to be studying for my exams, I came across the manifesto of the presidential hopeful Nuhu Ribadu, entitled Pathway to a New Nigeria, it was a 15 page document that outlined more or a less the policies on which he planned to run for the ACN presidential ticket. After wasting all the coloured ink in my printer (the last page is blue, yes blue! one superfluous blue page) I decided that it was not enough to just read it, I needed to put my undergraduate degree to some use and try and assess it objectively on its merit as a campaign manifesto and as such My 2 Kobo was born. The plan was (and still is) to look at the manifestos of the main contenders in the presidential elections and evaluate them in relation to the different issues facing Nigeria on three basic criteria: how aware of the problem(s) the candidate appeared to be, how ambitious their policies/plans for tackling the problem were and how detailed their policy plan was. In addition to this I would give my two cents or better still my two kobo – my subjective view on the candidates’ treatment of the problem. By assigning them numbers I would be able to compare the candidates on different issues and overall. So after starting with Ribadu’s plan, having been the one that aroused me, the logical step seemed to be to compare it to that of the Incumbent, President Goodluck Jonathon.
The first thing that hits you when you google our president is the sheer internet presence he has. He’s on everything - local and international press, youtube, online directories, encyclopaedias everything. The second thing you might notice is that there are a lot of websites set up specifically for Mr. Jonathon and for these 2011 elections. I counted at least six and that doesn’t include his presence on social media sites Facebook and twitter. It seems Goodluck Jonathon is a phenomenon; his name has even been adopted by a British rock group, and to be fair to the man it is not by accident that he is everywhere. He was one of the first of the Nigerian politicians to jump on the social networking bandwagon, and he has been very good at it indeed: his Facebook page has heading on half a million likes and daily ‘he’ is providing the online world with streams of updates on his achievement s and plans for Nigeria. To wit it is not just the quantity of this online presence but its quality as a whole, looking at the websites for his campaign, it is obvious that no expense has been spared. Of course to some extent it is true to say that all the other candidates are doing this and that the only difference is GEJ is doing it better and with more resources to spare.

This election may be marking a turning point in Nigeria, it shows that perhaps for the first time in many of our lives the politicians seem to care who we vote for. The GEJ/Sambo campaign is committed to getting every possible vote in every possible constituency that it can, the question has now become how can they do this? There are people who would immediately point to the recent PDP primaries and say that clearly the incumbent is preparing to steal or buy this election, but that is an issue separate from national polls and the real proof will come in the aftermath of April the 9th elections. I will however say this, never before in the history of Nigeria has it been harder to rig an election: the pervasiveness of technology and the level of national mobilisation for these elections taken in light of the political atmosphere on the rest of the continent (not just in North Africa, but also in the Ivory Coast) mean that electoral malpractice may no longer be the dominant strategy. Besides accusing the PDP before they have actually done anything does little to acknowledge the change that could be potentially happening in Nigeria. The GEJ/Sambo campaign is using some of the most modern marketing techniques to create the ‘Goodluck’ brand and is setting the bar for how efficiently future campaigns will be run. In addition to all the usual travelling from state to state, city to city, sponsoring this, promising that and the like, he has - as already mentioned - put in place a substantial internet presence, there is also an impressive volunteer structure. It is often suggested that the President has deployed ‘volunteers’ to specifically target and respond to anti-GEJ articles on the internet. Whilst web anonymity means that such claims are really unverifiable, it is true that there is a heavy pro-Jonathon contingent online. That said, the part that has most fascinated me has been the use of musicians, comedians, actors and other celebrity endorsements to supposedly get more votes. His website homepage features a picture of him and Obama, and like many post-2008 politicians around the world, he is trying to gain some cool-by-association points. The song which was produced as a campaign theme has one of the higher production value videos made in Nigeria and is littered with glitterati. While it is a little kitsch but undeniably catchy and it is accompanied by equally catchy songs in Igbo, Hausa, Yoruba and Ijaw.  The amount of money wasted- I mean spent- on all this fanfare, the question must be asked what does this say of us as Nigerians.
GEJ and US President Obama

In the cacophony of colours and sounds the head of the federation has on the internet, none of his personal sites carry a section labelled manifesto. On the PDP website however, there is a section called Manifesto, but much like what Jonathan calls the issues it is more akin to an elaborate mission statement. It is about three A4 pages of rhetoric, identifying an admirable belief system but failing in any way to outline a single concrete policy plan. For example look at the section on the War Against Corruption.
President Jonathan Goodluck will continue to renew confidence in the government to combat and reduce financial crimes and other corrupt practices; foreign investors have the guarantee of achieving their objectives in Nigeria.
We will develop an anti-corruption war that relies on forensic evidence, well-trained personnel and that is free of unnecessary controversies. We will ensure that the nation’s anti-graft legislations are designed to make corruption unattractive. There will be new legislations that would compel citizens to live within their verifiable means.
We will put in place lot of conventions, policies, strategies and institutional framework to fight corruption in our great nation. In order for us to win the war on corruption there is the need for: Re-orientation of the youth to fight for social justice, equity and societal transformation in our country.

 It sets a lot of broad-stroke goals of improving the situation and uses a lot of buzz-words but what does it actually say that they are going to go? NOTHING, absolutely nothing. The last line says they will put in place conventions, policies, strategies and institutional frameworks but which conventions which policies, which strategies, which frameworks. It is like asking a pilot where we are flying to and he tells me we will be taking off, flying and then landing in without actually telling me which airport we will be landing in. It is utterly frustrating and exemplifies the problem with the Nigerian Political Sphere. This lack of policy was even more painful in light of December’s revelations that SR dubbed Jonathan’s Rigging Manual. In it there were a number of potential policies relating to individual issues but it seems clearly in the run up to the elections, issues have given way to ‘bling’ factor and cults of personality. What does this say about how the GEJ campaign people view Nigeria and her people, because for them they have prioritised a country wide tour, media appearances, celebrity endorsements and let’s not forget discrediting Atiku over any mention of a plan for the future. Do they think that having a plan is simply not important or do they think that we as Nigerians simply don’t care what the plan is?
Before I am accused of being anti-this person or pro-that person, let me just make my position clear. I personally do not care who wins the election as long as it is free and fair and it is for precisely this reason why I don’t care. If you register for a module at university without reading the module description you cannot then turn around and complain when it is not what you wanted, and history has told us (at least told me) it is the modules for which you did not read the description that will turn out to be the hardest with both coursework and an exam and an incompetent teacher who has ridiculous office hours. That said it is still better as a point of principle that you choose the module yourself and not have it assigned from above. My hope is that these elections will convince the Nigerian people that their votes count and that democracy as a concept is valid for us too, after this the people will naturally take more interest in the plans of their leaders and how this relates to the issues they face in their lives.
My only axe to grind with our Honourable President is the effect his manifesto (or lack thereof) is having on my research project. If I were to score his plan on detail, it would have to get zero on almost every issue as there isn’t any detail and how can you determine how ambitious someone is if you have no idea what it is they want to do? And while many of the other candidates are also light on policy and heavy on rhetoric, at least between them and their parties one can salvage a few scraps of policy to assess. Though, entering zero as the data for the front runner in the presidential race, while not invalidating the exercise, would make it appear very biased; it is not my job to look through Mr. Presidents Facebook page and newspaper interviews to determine what exactly it is he wants to do.
 To end with I will like to offer my unsolicited advice to a number of people: firstly to the opposition - if you’re really going to compete with the PDP, you need to improve your party and campaigning machinery to the level they are on, this may in the long-term involve coalitions but for the time being somebody in the CPC should take down Buhari’s website or update it because it is embarrassing. To the PDP (and to an extent all other parties), don’t attempt to rig the elections; not only will this set Nigeria back but the backlash from the people will be so strong it could spell the end of the Party in Nigeria. To the people of Nigeria (well the people who registered anyway) vote with your heads and don’t sell yourselves short, ask yourself what is this person actually going to give me in exchange for my vote? Is it a music video, a gala event, a lot of empty talk, or genuine change?

Well that’s my two kobo anyway.

Enyinnaya Emmanuel Chukwueke
The Green Label Project, changing Nigeria Together