Nigeria, a tale of two cities

THE tide is beginning toturn: the whole world could not be going one way while Nigeria persists in going the other. Corruption has become the byword for this election as Nigerians begin to realise its very real cost and implication on their everyday lives.

Indeed, Nigerians cannot continue to accept a system of wastefulness and reckless spending in lean times.

So it seems that even the embattled PDP is forced to agree as the party spokesman, Olisa Metuh, recently called on party officials and public office holders to “be ready to make sacrifices” as the party vows to work harder at ensuring prudent management of resources and “less leakages”.

This statement in itself is an indictment of the sorry state of affairs in Nigeria today. By and large, PDP currently suffers from a serious image problem which the APC as the opposition, has been smart to capitalise on, doubled by its choice of a presidential candidate who appears to the electorate as one of the few morally upright and incorruptible politicians left standing.

Proof of this is that the campaigns which attempted to negatively paint General Buhari’s time in office as dubious or corrupt did not trend or hold any real traction with the electorate, if comments on social media are anything to go by.

Which would perhaps explain the efforts to draw negative attention to the General’s person, which in many ways, reminds one of Republican fielded attacks against Obama, a democrat, who was criticised for being born in Hawaii (which, mind you, is still an American state), then for being a Muslim (which as it turns out he isn’t but the idea is still irrelevant as it doesn’t make him any more or less capable), controversies many found either senseless or laughable. So, what is it with Conservatives and “smear tactics”?

Conservatives and image problems

Conservatives around the world generally suffer from image problems; they are seen as being pro-rich, pro-big business rather than pro-people. This was a huge issue after the Thatcher era in Britain where economic crisis bolstered support for Labour which cruised to power on a “proletariat loving” wave.

Even today, David Cameron’s government is seen as “selling out to the super-rich” and aiding corporate criminals and tax-dodgers (it would be interesting to find out how many party donors in Nigeria actually pay taxes).

Despite it all, they, like any other political party (except perhaps in Nigeria) are accountable to their electorate who can vote them in or out (which has been done over the years without politicians threatening war, thunder and brimstone should any one person loose).

Smear tactics in a two party democracy often appear in times of desperation. But even at that, in modern societies, there are government agencies that supervise communications and advertorials, who can sanction brands or individuals who make offensive statements (such as wishing death on a person or candidate). So what makes the Nigerian situation so different you might ask?

Difference between the Conservatives & Progressives

Let us begin with the fact that despite all protests to the contrary, our party system is still not built on much ideology. What are the fundamental ideological differences between PDP and APC? The PDP identifies itself as a conservative party while the APC calls itself progressive.

I would like to briefly discuss what these words mean in the international context before coming to what they mean closer to home. Economic liberalism, a free market approach to public services,are some of the words used to describe conservatives while social democrats favour the welfare state, government intervention and poverty reduction programmes.

You can guess which model historically works best for a fledgling economy and a budding democracy.

However, due to our indebtedness to the IMF and obsession with mindlessly copying Westerners (whose economies and societies mind you, all started out with interventionist and protectionist policies to help them grow to where they are today) we refuse to tailor our initiatives and actions to the realities on ground.

The APC in its manifesto mentions a lot of human capital development initiatives while the “Goodluck Nigeria” campaign focuses mostly on public infrastructure achievements (trains, schools etc.), agricultural reforms and the like.

However, even our policy and communications strategists might just be missing the point entirely. You see, investing in human beings does not make one a progressive: ALL governments (even autocracies) invest in their citizens to survive and building infrastructure is commonplace, that it is touted as an achievement by anyone points to the mediocrity of our system rather than its progress.

Despite all this, APC’s public persona, whether true or false, is one of humanist tendencies and social succour, the missing link today between the PDP and electoral victory. Indeed, the measure of good governance is in the quality of life: how do students fare in public education?

As I often say, it is not about the hospitals, stadiums or classrooms one builds, it is about the individuals who are meant to use them. How difficult is it for them to get a good job? What are a child’s prospects for social mobility? Can citizens easily transport themselves from one region to another? How accessible and affordable is public healthcare to the average man or woman?

These are the questions that can either save or indict the PDP or any incoming administration. In truth, this election is not about policy, which the average voter, unfortunately, has little knowledge of as both parties have failed over the years to prepare them for such lofty but crucial conversations.

It is a referendum on candidates’ public personas and perceptions, which most Nigerians take as a symbol of the battle for this country’s soul and values.
Nigeria today truly is a tale of two cities, of two competing narratives. The Spartan, disciplined soldier vs. what some would call a “shoeless prodigy” who became president against all odds.

“The best government houses and presidential lodges are in PDP states”, said the President at a youth event in Lagos on Sunday. The war is indeed one of perception and many wish the President’s aides would inform him of this.

Former French President Sarkozy was nicknamed the “bling bling president” and lost his re-election bid due to public perception, not just the economic downturn. It is ironic that the President’s humble background has not helped the perception of him, due in part to the people around him and Nigerians feel cheated, taken for granted, especially when so many supported him when the “cabal” as he called it, refused to let him take over from Yar’Adua. In life, it seems, nothing is certain except death and corruption.

Governor Fayose

THE  name makes some cringe in anticipation, others wonder aloud: when will PDP stop waging a war against itself and rectify the mess it has made in the court of public opinion? First, Buhari was the enemy.

When Nigerians didn’t bite—listen to your staff, e.g. cook, driver etc. talk about him and you will understand my point about perception and first impressions, “the man too honest” is a common phrase one hears—the enemy became Bola Tinubu.

So, Fayose asks Nigerians to save Buhari from Tinubu. As I heard someone say, but who needs saving from who?

Uncle Jimi, ‘omoluabi eko’

I ADMIRE him a lot. He’s not a core politician yet he’s slugging it out with the best and worst of them.

But the JK I know and trust is somewhat at odds with the comments making the rounds about his asking who is more handsome between Buhari and Jonathan.

Being a conservative is tricky enough: one must remain current, something the PDP has struggled to do, and so, without embracing social media and best practices in political communications, the PDP is losing the public perception war to the ironically “youth friendly” APC and its 72 year old candidate. Food for thought.

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