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

1 comment:

  1. Hmmmmmmmmmmm, thats my first comment and then then my most appropriate response would be my last essay. The many things Jonathan cannot do.
    Beyond the razzmatazz that the whole Jonathan episode has been.

    His case has been helped by the lack of direction that has plagued the other candidates.

    Your essay captures it all...a nation that is easily bamboozled into submission.

    However it is a good thing that many are beginning to ask question, how much of it that would be answered remains to be seen.

    The caveat is lets not stop talking, writing and making an effort the way we can.