President Goodluck Jonathan’s denial of having prior information on the shift of the election date would be hard to believe among many stakeholders who believe that his party and his government worked to ensure the new election dates for their benefit. What does the shift mean for the president and his team?
By Emmanuel Aziken, Political Editor
Nigeria’s pollsters may not have developed the culture of psephology, to have near accurately predicted how voters may have inclined themselves if the presidential election had not been shifted from tomorrow.
However, there was almost a general belief among followers of the opposition candidate, Muhammadu Buhari that victory was headed their way. Simultaneously, there was also a sense of panic among supporters of the president that the incumbent head of the Federal Government was about to make the record of being the first to be thrown out in an election.
In the days, just before the decision was taken to shift the poll, the tension in the polity reflected that kind of fear and mutual distrust as supporters of the president and Buhari seemingly went for broke.
Given that the extension was within the band provided for by the law, neither Buhari nor critical stakeholders were able to fault it especially against the background of the fact that the election management body was itself not totally prepared for the polls.
For the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, the shift is an opportunity to plug every loophole that had not been plugged. For the president and his salesmen, the opportunity is being considered as a welcomed breather to enable the ruling party fix itself and avoid a possible disgrace in the forthcoming polls.
Unfortunately for the president, the six week difference (five weeks as at date) is not enough to rejig his campaign structure, especially as he has been faulted for his inability to communicate his message to the electorate.
That fact resonated especially when the president met with the business community in Lagos last month and presented his achievements to a select audience of stakeholders.
At the end of the presentation one of the prominent businessmen remarked that he and a large section of the audience were quite ignorant of the achievements the president claimed adding that the president must have a problem with his communication machinery.
A shocked president was said to have turned around to two of his communication aides and openly rebuked them.
But shuffling aides would be a poisoned chalice for the president as there is obviously no time for the president to recruit and fit in new personnel to sell his message.
One impressionable milestone that could come in handy is the commissioning of the Abuja – Kaduna railway line which before the election was scheduled for commissioning in March.
Speaking at the PDP presidential rally in Lokoja penultimate Monday, Vice-President Namadi Sambo had given a good picture of the revival of the railway under the Jonathan administration.
“I want to also give the good news that the Warri-Ajaokuta rail line has been 100 percent completed and very soon Mr President will commission that project.
“Also another good news is that the Kaduna-Abuja rail line has been completed. It will also be commissioned anytime now.
“But, the most important one is that Mr. President has approved the design of the rail lines from Abuja to Lokoja to Ajaokuta so that we have a fast train line. Thank you very much Mr. President for that and very soon Mr. President will commission that project.
Trains to work
If the administration succeeds in commissioning trains to work between Abuja and Kaduna it would be a landmark that would put the candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP in good light in the eyes of the public.
The Abuja-Kaduna train service is besides other strides by the administration in other sectors that have been largely swallowed up in the muddle that have shadowed the administration’s efforts.
The Managing Director of the Nigerian Railway Corporation, Prince Adeseyi Sijuwade, had sometime last year claimed that the railways were moving a monthly average of 3,570 tonnes of cement from Ewekoro; 3,170 tonnes of wheat from the Apapa flour mills and 120 bonded containers from the Apapa Port to Kano and Kano.
Given the good impression a revived railway could have on the populace, it is not surprising that the Buhari campaign has recently sought to puncture the claimed gains of the administration in the sector.
The APC Presidential Campaign Organisation in a statement issued penultimate Thursday said that President Jonathan’s claims to have resuscitated the country’s railways after 20 years of being moribund as a hoax.
“The Director General of his campaign, Senator Ahmadu Ali, even stretches this moribund hyperbole to 35 years,” said Malam Garba Shehu, Director of the APCPCO’s Media and Publicity. “On the campaign trail, the railway lies just seem to keep tumbling out.”
Among the claims which Malam Garba described as lies are the President’s statement during his campaign rallies that his government has rehabilitated and built about 3,500 km of railways.
They have done no such thing as only about 2,000km have so far been rehabilitated and less than 250km of new track has been built,” Shehu said.
He added that the quality of work done on these rehabilitations left a lot to be desired, because the government had shown a preference towards issuing contracts to their cronies, regardless of whether they had the essential skills or experience.
Other notable achievements the administration would seek to showcase within the six week window now offered is the eradication of corruption in the agriculture sector which has reportedly led to unfettered distribution of fertiliser to Nigerian farmers.
Administration officials have repeatedly echoed the gains in agriculture which they claim has led to the stability in food prices despite the steep depreciation in the value of the naira.
The Jonathan administration would also be eager to showcase the country’s position as one of the leading destinations for international investments and that despite the security challenges that have bedevilled some sections of the country.
Another positive the Jonathan canvassers would trumpet is the relative liberty with which Jonathan has handled his rivals. However, that assertion would be challenged by in some places.
The six week window would also be an opportunity for the administration to address two of the serious challenges that have negatively impacted on its image – insecurity and corruption.
Window for progress
President Jonathan during his live media chat on Wednesday claimed that a window for progress in the fight to weed out the Boko Haram insurgency has been offered with the involvement of the multilateral force and the inflow of new equipment to decisively deal with the rebels. There would be much expectation of success on the part of Jonathan’s supporters to show that he has regained the whole country from the hold of insurgents.
On the issue of corruption, the president has apparently begun to retune his message. The president had after a media chat in the past been quoted as saying that stealing is not corruption, a quote that went a long way to project the president and his party as being tolerant of corruption.
That image was not helped by the parade of persons who have either been suspected or are undergoing trial as key associates of the president.
On Wednesday night when he met another set of media men for a chat, the president again sought to clarify the statement saying that he was not the one that originally said that stealing is not corruption.
According to him, he was only quoting a former Chief Justice of the Federation:
“People who told you I said stealing is not corruption did not tell you I said stealing is good. That is why philosophers say that the primary reason people disagree is because people use one statement to explain two typical things or vice versa. I made that statement because I quoted the former Chief Justice of Nigeria, Mustapha, (when) I called a meeting then, with the Anti-crime organizations and the judiciary.”
Whatever the assertions, the president’s rivals would be looking to him to make a clean break with those around the administration whose image have impacted negatively in the public space.
He has five more weeks.