Random thoughts on the campaign trains By Yomi Odunuga

buhari

One thing that sets this year’s electoral campaign miles apart from the previous ones is the overflowing stream of cheap talk – call it pedestrian propaganda. One is also astonished at the creative, even if warped imaginations of Nigerians in twisting real life history to malign or impugn the reputation of opponents. In fact, someone said a former Head of State had put a call to some of his colleagues, urging them to find a way of putting a halt to the gale of hate-filled messages that continue to resonate on the campaigns trains. It’s not just the election proper that is turning out to be a do-or-die venture, even the campaigns have been soaked in blood. Well, literarily. If cheap talks were a major prerequisite for electoral triumph, by now some persons wouldn’t have bothered waiting for the official announcement of the results by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) before rolling out the drums. Unfortunately, that would be carrying optimism to an absurd level.

The reality is that supporters of the two leading presidential candidates—President Goodluck Jonathan and General Muhammadu Buhari—have taken pettiness to a ridiculous level in their campaign strategies. They just don’t get it that the modern day Nigerian electorate needs to be persuaded rather being coerced in a participatory democratic system. No matter how we look at it, this election will not be won on a platter of the twisted logic and ad hominem arguments that is on display daily on social media platforms and even the traditional media. Too many lies are being peddled as truth and the Nigerian voters are becoming wary of the whole shenanigan.

From the little that one has been able to glean from the slime-laden campaigns, two things stand out; Buhari has been marked as an unbending dictator who is seeking office with the aim of inflicting more anguish on Nigerians regardless of the fact that, in a democracy, certain institutions are constitutionally empowered to check the excesses of the executive. It was as if Buhari would be the first former Head of State that would be seeking to be elected into the highest office in the land. On the other hand, Jonathan comes out as a woefully pathetic leader with an abysmal record that has gravely wrecked the ship of state especially in the last four years. These are the two extremes that confront Nigerians and they wait to exercise their rights to pick their next leader. Like highly respected The Economist puts it, the choice on February 14 is between a former dictator and failed President! Now, that says a lot about an entrapment between the devil and the deep blue sea.

Away from the intrigues of the possibility of shifting the dates for the elections, the uninspiring statements at the campaign podiums and the fixation on issues that have never defined the outcome of results, we need to understand that elections ought to be won and lost through reasoned logic and informed commentary and not by sentimental whinging of monumental incongruities. If only Jonathan and Buhari can help us in drumming this into the heads of their fanatical supporters, this journey would no doubt be less tedious. It is this failure to grasp this basic fact that has led to the worsening tension in the land. Some persons have simply become paranoid at the looming prospects of losing power while others seems too elated at the possibility of grabbing it without really giving a deep thought to what they want to do with it!

The question has been asked: why can’t the candidates campaign on their strengths rather than spending quality time gloating on the opponent’s weaknesses? The answer is simple. There is pretty nothing much to thump the chest over. So, the next option is the resort to silly taunts and dirty strategies that beggar belief. And so, the argument is no longer about Buhari’s capacity to set Nigeria on the right track of fiscal discipline, economic development and a secured environment. It is now about that part of his that needs to go through some sort of purgation. Suddenly, they woke up to realise that a man who had contested election and lost three times in the past is nursing a national aspiration from the blighted position of an ethnic or sectional jingoist. And I ask, what then is Jonathan if he has refused to publicly condemn the perfidious rant of his kinsmen who threaten war should the incumbent lose in a contest that demands the free will of the people to elect their leader? That, by the way, has been the greatest malaise against our national growth. It is quite apparent that Jonathan is not an exception and that is why his ‘people’ keep on appropriating the seat as their turn to exhale. No matter how we look at it, a clear and present danger lies in the fact that we have willy-nilly allow the discourse to veer from the real issues of development to dovetail into the politics of the North versus the South. This is quite unfortunate.

At this time in the nation’s history and with the threats posed by the Boko Haram menace, those playing the dangerous cards of the North-South dichotomy will only aggravate the chaos. For, in truth, Nigeria is in distress. No matter how colourful the campaigns, we cannot forget that lives are being lost daily to the insurgents. Those who aspire to lead us should appreciate the significance of this message. If they cannot rule over a united and indivisible Nigeria, then they should forget such aspirations. This is surely no time for political imputations and back-biting. The time requires leaders who would see a threat to one as a Nigerian problem that must be tackled headlong. This is no time for sitting on the fence and playing the ostrich.

For example, when Jonathan and Buhari tell potential voters on their campaign trains that they plan to end the Boko Haram insurgency in the next few years, we should take them to task on how they would achieve the plan. There is nothing wrong in asking Buhari if he has now realised that the Nigerian government has not been killing innocent Northerners in the guise of hunting down those blood-sucking insurgents. Just like I see no harm in taking Jonathan to task on when he realised that those killing, bombing, slaughtering and inflicting pains on innocent and law-abiding citizens do not fall into a presidential categorisation of ‘our brothers and relatives!” That is no-brainer. We can even ask him to be categorical of what has happened to the over 200 school girls kidnapped in Chibok for over 298 days now!

No, don’t get it twisted. While no one can accuse Jonathan of doing nothing in pushing back the insurgents, he stands condemned for a rather belated decision to confront the menace headlong. Mr. President should be man enough to take responsibility for sitting on his hands for so long while these agents of terror soiled our streets with the blood of innocent souls. But those who did not offer him any advice on how best to resolve the matter do not have any moral basis to blame him for wielding his power to put an end to what has become a national calamity.

We can save this country from the brink if the real issues are brought to the fore instead of the pettiness that has been flying over our campaign space. As I write this, I shiver to mention the benumbing things that have passed on as campaign messages. The two main candidates in the presidential race should be worried that millions of Nigerians have reportedly left their bases to relocate to places they consider safe during the election. This casts a serious doubt on what most people consider the peripheral gestures of signing a peace accord when the campaign, in words and spirit, have been anything but issue-based.

For now, I think the campaign teams have done a good job of painting the two major contestants as not only monsters in a deadly race to appropriate presidential power but also as potential bunglers in office. Having wasted valuable time and raking up dirt from the past to justify that line of thought without much success, can we please go back to the basics? The time to end the empty babbling is long overdue. But will they listen?

NATION