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GEJ’s to beat

By Ochereome Nnanna

WITH barely two weeks to go to the presidential election of April 9, 2011, it’s time to begin facing reality. This article is not meant to canvass votes for anybody. It is a candid attempt to convey what I think will happen given the trends observed from the campaigns.

Nigerians should feel free to go out and vote for candidates of their choice. Please do not vote for the so-called “winning” candidates. There is nothing like “wasting” your vote provided you cast it for a candidate of your choice, even if he does not win.

Having said that, from my own observations, President Goodluck Jonathan stands the best chance of emerging as the winner of the 2011 presidential poll. The ThisDay Newspaper/IPSOS poll of Monday, March 21, 2011 corresponded closely to the picture we are likely to see at the end of the exercise.

The poll had the following ratings for each of the four presidential hopefuls: Dr Goodluck Jonathan (PDP) 60.3 percent; General Muhammadu Buhari (CPC) 22.4 percemt; Malam Ibrahim Shekarau (ANPP); 5.9 percent and Malam Nuhu Ribadu, (ACN) 4.7 percent.

Quite apart from the factors of incumbency, Jonathan has done the most intensive and penetrative campaigning among the four major presidential candidates. He has visited some states more than once. He was the first to pick the ticket of his political party and the first to launch his presidential campaign, closely followed by Shekarau.

Since many PDP governors have sabotaged other parties by blocking their efforts to campaign in their states it can also be said that the president has had the smoothest ride of the four. Furthermore, GEJ has enjoyed the highest media visibility, having spent so much more, especially in television buying.

In terms of messages, the campaigns as a whole seem short on memorable punch-lines by which we will remember this season. At least in 2007 former President Olusegun Obasanjo left us with the everlasting message that for him and the PDP the election was a “do-or-die affair”.

The Judiciary, in an apparent angry reprisal, snatched Anambra, Ondo, Edo, Osun and Ekiti from them and gave to opposition parties. However, it cannot be denied that even in this drought of arresting campaign sound-bites, GEJ has managed to drop a few clangers that many Nigerians found of interest. These include: “Do not rig the election for me”.

The more impressive one was: “Avoid bloodshed. No politician is worth the blood of any Nigerian”. GEJ also impressed many by personally walking Mike Omeri, the Director of Research and Strategy of his Campaign Council out of Legacy House for issuing a tendentious statement imputing corruption against Buhari. Just as well. The fact is that any accusation of corruption against the former head of state will fall flat, and Jonathan showed leadership by reacting as he did.

However, GEJ’s inability or unwillingness to attend the NN24 debate in which the other three participated did not put him out in the best light. Malam Shekarau seized the opportunity to show himself as the most articulate of the trio and for the first time entered many people’s book of reckoning.

Buhari, on the other hand, seemed out of tune and lacking in fresh ideas. It was the running mate of Ribadu that I found more refreshing as he displayed sound knowledge of issues in his area of core competence, the economy. We look forward to the Nigerian Election Debates Group-organised debate and hope all the candidates will appear on one forum. We will then know how GEJ measures up.

Another area of consideration for the four presidential athletes is support base. In other words, where does each of them hope to get his votes to win the election? Buhari clearly hopes to win with the fabled high volume of registered votes in the North West, North East and South West which, on paper, come to a total of over forty million votes, a comfortable majority.

That is probably why he has not done much work outside the Muslim North, while he hopes the Yorubas will vote for him because of his running mate, Pastor Tunde Bakare. I doubt this calculation will succeed because there are other variables against it. Even though Buhari has continued to shun the regional gang-up being sold to him by some Northern leaders, his dependence on this other regional gang-up against the rest of the country seems an irony that may not materialise.

The Nuhu Ribadu/Tajudeen Adeola ticket is another combination that, to me, is a hard-sell. It is actually a Muslim/Muslim ticket! Because of the electorate’s tolerance of the Abiola/Kingibe Muslim/Muslim ticket in the 1993 presidential election, some people have now become brazen about not bothering to “balance” their presidential tickets.

This assumes that it no longer matters what the voters in the South East and South/South, which is the heart of Nigeria’s Christendom, think when it comes to the idea of balancing a presidential ticket anymore! Well, let’s watch and see.

Jonathan has the most balanced ticket. He has the full support of the voters of the South East and South/South as well as very large following in all the six zones of the country. Even though he defeated a Northerner to pick the ticket he has wisely refrained from grandstanding himself a “conqueror” of the North.

He attended their economic summit along with Vice President Namadi Sambo, even when many Northern governors stayed away. His support for the resumption of oil exploration in the North and opening of the Anambra/Enugu oil, gas and coalfields was a clincher. He is now well accepted among the emirs, particularly the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Sa’ad Abubakar III.

I do not foresee the need for a run-off, even if the other three join up against Jonathan. Gang-ups have never worked in Nigerian politics, and there is little reason to believe it will work now.


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