Between “Saintifying” Buhari and “Demonizing” Jonathan, By Victoria Ibezim-Ohaeri
The PDP is desperate. Political power is gradually slipping away from its firm grip. With its woeful underperformance in the last 16 years, PDP callously frittered away a lot of chances to salvage Nigeria from the continuing descent into anarchy and retrogression. APC, on the other hand, is equally desperate, deploying varying forms of awkward campaign methods, particularly over-amplified messages containing very distressing falsehood and propaganda to “saintify” its candidate, General Mohammed Buhari. What is certain is that Nigeria is faced with two miserable choices right now; but trying to demonise one, and saintify the other, with the aim of conferring one with an unfair advantage, is not only undemocratic, but also repugnant to natural justice, equity and good conscience.
I have devoted sufficient time chronicling Goodluck Jonathan’s leadership failings in the last 6 years. The greatest of them all is his growing incapacity to tame corruption. Within the context of the campaign for the 2015 elections, Goodluck Jonathan’s PDP has the most indiscreet media team in the world. Nowhere in the world does a president surround himself with discourteous handlers whose major preoccupation is to hurl insults and tirades at fellow citizens in the name of “defending the president.”
Presently, Jonathan’s media handlers manage the most –embarrassing web portals on the social media, often providing public information in very poorly written English, laden with unintelligible abbreviations and unrestrained expletives. The irresponsible behavior of his combined media team has yielded very painful results: They take delight in distorting information and misinforming Nigerians on the happenings within the government, resulting in the rapid erosion of public trust and confidence in the government of the day. They lack public decorum and lie with profound ease and intensity that would make devil green with envy. The retinue of media handlers routinely use unprofessional language in their public communication, and often contradict themselves, making it difficult for citizens to get accurate information regarding the state of the nation. The list is endless! In sum, they have earned the President more enemies than allies. All of these painful outcomes have emboldened the international community to make a caricature of the Office of the President of Nigeria. This is very sad!
Is APC any better? First, they operate heavily inter-linked communication machinery that effectively connects the traditional mainstream media with the social media with the active connivance of international collaborators. So, campaign information, especially when grossly falsified, is dispatched and disseminated with unprecedented speed and scale reaching extended networks and audiences within the shortest possible time. It is usually too late in the day when discoveries are made: hearts have already been won; cheap political points scored and one political candidate surreptitiously demonized with the aim of vesting his rival with an unfair advantage.
Whether it is the mischievous adoption of Reinhard Bonhnke’s crusade ground photos to evidence Buhari’s crowd/street credibility; or the spurious claim that Buhari visited Chibok or the muted purpose of his latest London trip or the parading of old photos of a previous London visit as evidence of a recent trip, the ultimate goal of these shenanigans is to deceive the public, with intent to manipulate public opinion and saintify a candidate that is very far from being a saint. Whether it is the conspiratorial reportage and analysis that frantically aim to demonize Jonathan as a Nebuchadnezzer or Laurent Gbagbo or a conscienceless benefactor of the Boko Haram terrorism, the ultimate goal is to allow his political rivals gain an unfair advantage. We can indeed, have these conversations about the very glaring government inefficiencies and profligacy without employing hateful methods.
I recall the outrage that greeted my initial observation that the two leading presidential candidates are awful choices in a 21st century election. Shortly afterwards, international media outlets joined in chorusing that verdict. In a dramatic twist of reactionary campaign strategy, fanatical supporters on both sides automatically changed their narratives, painting their candidates as the “lesser of the two evils.” How can a country determined to change its political, social and economic fortunes ecstatically embrace the worst of yesterday’s and today’s men as the potent solutions to its multifarious contemporary challenges. The more I try to get my head around this absurdity, the more repulsive it gets.
It must be emphasized that we cannot use undemocratic means to build and sustain our democracy. If these trends remain unchecked, Nigeria’s 2015 election will turn out to be the worst in Nigeria’s electoral history. Further aggravating the situation is the glaring departure from the previous electoral traditions where the tenets of impartiality, neutrality and objectivity guided the civil society’s civic education, election monitoring and observation responsibilities. That role has been reversed, and sides publicly taken, totally blurring expectations of fairness and integrity in election assessments. From whatever angle you chose to look at it from, the signs are indeed ominous. The rot has festered and eaten deep into the fabric of governance and the democratic followership.
There are three aspects of the saintification and demonization saga that I find very upsetting and amusing at the same time. Firstly, it is a shame that the elite are involved. Credibility of information is no longer determined by the pedigree of the source disseminating the information. Discernment, moral rectitude and quality assurance have taken flight, at least, throughout this election season.
Gone are the days when news published in the national dailies automatically activated the presumption of validity. More worrisomely, anybody, especially members of the elite class, can disseminate news links without reading through the contents, let alone bother to verify glaringly preposterous headlines. With both the educated and the uneducated, robustly supporting and collaborating in efforts to propagandize and falsify electoral messages, there is hardly anyone to shepherd the grossly-misled voting flock, and grease the wheels of rational political engagement.
Secondly, supporting the saintified candidate is now incredulously synonymous with “patriotism.” Chanting meaningless campaign slogans, bereft of ideological propositions from morning till dusk, including tweeting selfies of oneself, clad in mass-produced political party vests have been elevated as the new evidence of political vibrancy and activism. It doesn’t matter that rendering such monotonous incantation on a daily basis and the nomadic wandering that follows it are stronger indications of joblessness, especially when the itinerant campaigners’ age mates in advanced countries are busy releasing technological innovations with stunning regularity and sitting atop multi-million dollar conglomerates in Wall Street and Silicon Valley. How much lower can we get?
The third and gloomiest aspect is what I call the kettle-calling-pot-black syndrome. When it comes to elections, the direction of the votes is still largely determined by tribal, religious and ethnic sentiments. It is commonplace to see groups of voters that come from the same locality uniformly and brazenly supporting a presidential candidate solely on grounds of ethnicity and religion.
Nothing is more ridiculous than seeing the same people surreptitiously turn around to rebrand themselves as patriots, while accusing others that have done exactly the same thing as tribalists and ethnic bigots. The self-acclaimed patriots are still the ones that will refuse to acknowledge even the smallest examples of progress happening within the country because they fear it might confer some electoral advantages on an unpreferred candidate. They moan in silence whenever flickers of improvement are noticed in the camp of an unpreferred candidate. Yet, they are patriots that love Nigeria more than everyone else. The level of hypocrisy in Nigeria today is so frighteningly alarming that even God himself would sit atop His heavenly throne and marvel at the depth of artless folly in our land.
Now listen to the fourth part that employs repression and blackmail to bully opposing views. Rich Okorie aptly captured it when he stated that “the easiest way, near effortless I must say, for followers and fans of Buhari to respond to genuine observations, polemics constructed for the benefit of every player of Nigeria’s political space, is to accuse the critique of being a ‘Jonathanian’. The response comes on, as quick as the flick of light from a switch, and the fixation continues, drawing most observers from the actual points inherent in the criticism.Infantile, I must say. Worse still, it exposes the very unsophisticated leanings of the agitated interlocutor.”
This blackmail approach is consistent with the demonization campaign strategy of labeling anyone, real or imagined, presumed to be associated with Goodluck Jonathan as a co-demon. Any independent intervenor that ever interrogates APC’s ideological premise is automatically baptized as “a sell-out like Reuben Abati, FFK and the like.” The overarching objective of demonizing the intervenor is to make the person feel guilty, or force him into silence as a way of purging himself of his demonic status. Discrediting and blackmailing the interrogator is nothing, but a baleful way of warding off criticism. Nothing could be more harmful to democratic engagement than this sort of bullying.
As painful as they are, the current sad developments in Nigeria are self-inflicted, though avoidable. That is what usually happens when issues are relegated to the background, and supplanted with emotive considerations. It adds zero value to the democratic process. It is easy to sustain the momentum of a bare campaign full of meaningless slogans of “change” and “transformation” because it removes the pressure necessary needed to remind aspirants of the lofty assignments that belie the tough leadership journey ahead. Funny enough, despite the absence of citizen pressure, we expect change to happen as though it’s a miracle.
Goodluck Jonathan certainly has many failings, but there are still a few things he did right, like the power sector reforms and the revitalization of railway transportation. Rather than dissipating energy hurling rude words at every opposing view, a responsible media team ought to beam their focus excessively on the achievements of the government of the day, no matter how few.
Buhari too, may have a sordid past, but it is possible to vigorously promote his campaign without clothing him in saintly robes decorated with treacherous falsehood. Campaigners on both sides should realize that Nigeria is bigger than their respective candidates, and our nationhood is more important than everything else. Like someone posted on Facebook yesterday, “the problem with Nigeria is that we have all become PDPs and APCs instead of Nigerians. And everything is aimed at enhancing one’s political association rather that strengthening the country. Unless we able to get beyond our political affiliation and start thinking about what’s good for us as a people, we’re doomed.” And Barack Obama reechoed this when he said that: A better politics is one where we debate without demonizing each other; where we talk issues, and values, and principles, and facts. And I so concur!