“We never do evil so effectually as when we are led to do it by a false principle of conscience.” – Blaise Pascal
Normally, one would take a political campaign as some series of planned activities executed to sell a particular candidate to the electorates without violating any law or trespassing any moral boundary. It is also part of a campaign to politely identify the relevant weaknesses of an opponent concerning the contest for the job at hand and expose to the public in order to reduce whatever chances he might have in the elections. However, some activities in the ongoing campaigns for the 2015 presidential elections are in serious contradictions to all of the above.
One fundamental thing that any public office contender and his campaigners must understand is that, elections should be won primarily base on your strengths, achievements and potentials, not based on the weakness or underachievement of your opponents – that should be secondary or even tertiary in your plans. In a reasonable democracy, the moment your campaign is largely dwelt upon attacking your co-contender, rather than selling yourself, then you are half or even totally lost. It is just like a football match, you can win a match by playing to score, not by playing to avoid conceding.
Some few weeks ago, the two leading presidential candidates in the 2015 General Elections, President Goodluck Jonathan of the PDP and General Muhammadu Buhari of the APC inaugurated their campaigns. Since then many supporters of the two candidates have been promoting hate, division, mischief and calumny all in the name of garnering support. The campaigns, particularly in the social media at some point were completely turned into an exercise of insults exchange as well as abuses and counter-abuses by supporters. Although, the bulk of social media campaigners are made of young people and are not officially recognized as part of the campaign team of the candidates, but that does not in any way underestimate their relevance or that of their activities. While inaugurating his campaign in Lagos, Jonathan angrily lamented the way he is being abused in the social media, but he didn’t made any attempt to distance himself from the loads of social media abuses meted on others in the name of campaigning for him. In a related development Buhari and his campaign had strongly condemned Ayo Fayose’s recent death wish advertorial in some National Dailies, but evidence suggests that they have practically not done much to checkmate their supporters’ excesses. This is despite the accord signed by the two candidates – an accord that promises issue-based campaigns.
Some few weeks to the presidential elections, the campaign so far has been dominated by academic certificates, good first lady versus bad first lady, youth versus old age, medical fitness and death predictions. Buhari and Jonathan supporters have spent the best of the last two weeks arguing about secondary school certificates and PhD thesis. If such time and energy were put into vigorous and issue-based campaigns, some impact must have been made. The problem of this kind of campaigns is that, you don’t only waste your time; you waste the time of your victim who tries to defend himself from your attacks as well as the public who are anticipating issue-based criticisms. I am not saying that issues that relate to a candidate’s eligibility or verifiability of his submissions should not be of any concern, but if our target is to mischievously use these issues to gain or repel votes for or against any candidate; then, I can say it’s as good as an exercise in futility, especially in this part of the world. In Nigeria, you can never get any meaningful votes, worth the energy spent on such campaigns, if at all you can get any. We all know the procedures of seeking redress, if we are accusing anyone of forgery or if our genuine concerns are about one’s eligibility. Some people who are of the opinion that Jonathan is running for a third term are still in court, they may win or lose, but how much does that affects his chances in the polls?
The question now is, of what significant electoral value are these campaigns of calumny? I thought every exercise in any campaign is to get votes? Last time, when it was reported that MEND has endorsed Buhari, the first thought that came to my mind was, how many votes would such an endorsement fetch? I doubt if MEND can mobilize electorates to vote for anybody, I don’t even think anyone should be happy to have a group of current and ex-militants in his campaign team. MEND may only be relevant if one wants to cause trouble during the elections or he needs some campaign funding from oil bunkering money. With the endorsement of Jonathan by Asari Dokubo as far back as 2013, how much boost has the overall Jonathan support received since then?
The way things presently appear, more than 90% of Nigerians are already long-term, decided voters. Many have decided on whom to vote for as far back as 2012 and there seems to be nothing that could change their decision, not even these silly calumny campaigns. The concept of undecided voters-who are the major reasons campaigns exist in the first place, is not relevant in Nigeria. While in advance democracies, an undecided voter may be someone who is willing to vote but has not settled for a party or candidate; in Nigeria, he is someone who has resolved not to vote at all or who doesn’t even have a voters’ card. Rigging and money influence aside, Nigerians usually vote along religious, ethnic, sectional and political party lines, with few voting for competence. With the South West as an exception, not a very significant change to this scenario is expected in 2015. If someone who has planned to vote for Buhari changes his mind and decides to vote for Jonathan or vice-versa, it is slightly likely that his decision was influenced by any of the character assassination campaigns. Unless, if he was never a serious voter in the first place.
Part of the reasons why some people were against the emergence of both Buhari and Jonathan as candidates were that Nigeria may never emerge the winner before, during and after the elections, only fresh candidates from both parties would inject something new into the system which is different from the largely inconsequential issues being currently propagated. If Buhari and Jonathan had decided to stay at home and not campaign at all, little will change. If Buhari’s unending presidential contention has not made his current supporters to be tired of him, what else could? The certificate saga, prostate cancer fabrications, attacks on his accent and grammar, old age criticisms and death wishes has apparently not taken anything away from his support. It has only succeeded in consolidating the position of those who were never going to vote for him in the first place. If Jonathan’s abysmal performance in the last six years and the general insecurity in the nation don’t mean anything negative to his supporters, what else would? Tenure controversy, No PhD thesis and no students allegation, poor English speaking First Lady mockery, drinking allegations and other calumny campaigns would not influence his supporters to vote against him, it only succeeds in consolidating the position of his opposers.
Campaigns of calumny exist even in advanced democracies, but they seldom decide an election. Contrary to belief in some quarters that Senator John McCain lost the 2008 presidential elections to Barack Obama due to attacks on his poor health, he actually lost due to the country’s quest for short and long-term changes. Americans hardly vote for any party for more than two terms in the presidency, just as they rarely allow any party to control both chambers of the National Assembly- this is to checkmate power dominance and monopoly. On the long-term, Americans were tired of George Bush’s foreign wars and with McCain willing to continue along that line, they brought in Obama, an African American not only to have a change but to take their democracy to new levels and continue to be a role model for the world.
Nigeria is not a society where scandals and skeletons in peoples’ cupboards really decide politics and leadership. After all, you can do what you like and get a Presidential Pardon later. If scandals matter, Obasanjo would not have any mouth to be talking about Nigerian politics for the rest of his life, many elected and appointed public officers would have since resigned into oblivion. While genuine scandals with facts and proofs have not brought anyone down permanently, how far can campaigns of calumnies go? Politicians indicted for certificate forgery, stealing of public funds and many other scandals from 1999 to date are now in active politics with some of them getting juicy appointments and others contesting for various elective positions. The problem is with our system and we don’t wish to correct it because of our selfish interests and blind support for we want. What is the essence of the political parties’ screening exercise before the primary elections? Why would a political party field an unpopular and unsellable candidate against the people wishes and democratic principles and then resort to campaigns of calumny in order to sell him? What about the media; are they playing their roles or have they taken sides?
In 2003, Buhari lost to Obasanjo because of massive rigging and not because he was accused of being a religious fundamentalist, that was never significant enough to make him lose in the polls; Obasanjo was very unpopular, Buhari was very popular then and his party ANPP was strong enough to see him through if the elections were free and fair. Similarly in 2011, he lost because the PDP was strong, united and intact everywhere and Jonathan had enormous good will across all divides. Moreover, Buhari’s rag-tag CPC was never organized as the party did not even have agents in about 50% of polling units across the country. This has nothing do with the campaigns of calumny against him.
As we waste our precious time shouting No PhD! No WASC! No Cancer! No Thesis! No Good English! No Good First Lady! No………. So will the winner of the 2015 Presidential Election emerge without us critically scrutinizing his policy document, without asking him direct and specific questions and demanding clear cut and convincing answers, without analyzing his promises and see how realistic they are, without asking him about the composition of his future cabinet, without compelling him to have interactive sessions with groups of serious people and not noisy rented crowds who doesn’t even understand what he is saying.
We are not even pre-occupied with INEC’s preparedness, what are the security measures in place? How prepared are the police, what are their plans? How free and fair would the polls be? What happens after the elections and how do we move forward irrespective of the outcome?
This goes a long way to show that we haven’t learnt much from 1999-2015 and unfortunately; we are not ready to learn.
Malam Amir is the President of Foundation for Better Initiatives (FBI), Kano.