by Emmanuel Akinwotu
It is inherently speculative, but also entirely true, to say that there are few places in the world where people’s expectations of their politicians are as utterly diminished as in Nigeria.
Outrage in relatively prosperous countries can ensue from frivolous things. In Britain, the Labour party has recently been criticised for the colour of a campaign bus. The Conservatives are proposing to stop benefits to obese claimants who can not work but refuse free government help to reduce their weight.
The subsequent accusations of crassness reflect not just on the party’s image but on the country’s prosperity and the expectations that it elicits; they reflect that Britain may not be perfect, but it functions.
In Nigeria, the election postponement has provoked frustration and anxiety but not hysteria.
For the first time since the last end of military rule in 1999, an election, a fairly basic premise of a functioning democratic state, has been shrouded in uncertainty.
The electoral commission INEC unexpectedly announced, a week before the elections were due to take place, that they in fact would not.
Attahiru Jega, the Chairman of the INEC, a man as measured and abiding as his black and grey goatee, had stressed that the commission was ready and willing but that the military and security services were not.
Jega’s statements squared the blame at the military, but the prevalent suspicion is that President Jonathan may have had something to do with it.
Nonetheless, it must be said that Jega’s assertion was also itself suspicious.
His claim that over 90% of PVCs (permanent voter cards needed to submit votes) had been distributed was challenged by the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) who insisted that only 66% of PVCs had been collected by voters, leaving 23 million uncollected. Seems Jega’s goatee is undisputedly flawless but the commission’s preparations may have been less so.
On Friday the PDP passed a vote of no confidence in Jega after mounting calls within the party to remove him. Should a figure as reputedly bi-partisan as Jega be removed, suspicions of possible corruption in the vote count will likely grow.
Meanwhile on Wednesday President Jonathan held a “presidential media-chat”, the same night that the largely media averse opposition leader General Buhari gave an interview to CNN.
With no chance of Buhari agreeing to presidential debates, it was a rare moment where both nominees were, in a sense, on stage.
The value of the Naira had fallen by 17% over the last 6 months prior to the election postponement. The market reaction to the decision plummeted it even further to 208 Naira to a dollar (a record low) before the Central Bank’s mass dollar sale could intervene. (The average Nigerian may not be familiar with market lingo, but on the rate of the Naira to the dollar, they are formidable experts.) Another indication of the sense of instability in the air.
Jonathan’s choreographed media chat was days late in attempting to reassure Nigerians as well as the markets that things
are not as unstable as they seem.
He described the new election dates as “sacrosanct”, yet nothing in the country is.
The President looked almost bemused when responding to fears that the elections would not take place in March; in reality though it is as plausible to imagine a second delay as it was the first.
He also addressed the “six week offensive on Boko Haram” explanation given by the military as to why it could not secure the initially scheduled elections, stating that this did not mean the group would be eliminated entirely – however, the aim was to peg them back.
Depressingly, if Jonathan failed at providing any form of reassurance, so did Buhari in his interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour, who quite amusingly is adept at nodding in the period just after asking her question and before Buhari, via Skype, could plausibly have heard it or answered it.
Buhari’s answers were distinctly unimpressive; when asked whether his autocratic and in part brutal past record as a military ruler made him a concern for voting Nigerians, he smirked and blandly replied that he would not be able to rule in the same fashion in a democratic framework.
His response, his loose articulation, were far from inspiring, but to his fortune, inspiration is not as pressing a concern as other things.
The election season, a trope of bafflingly grandiose promises is now needlessly longer than planned.
This dance, as it is for politicians (sometimes literally), leaves more time to foster the triumphalism that politicians flame to their supporters.
They misleadingly purport to be convinced that it is impossible that they should not win. Over 800 people died in the customary post-election violence in 2011.
It is hard to see that in an election this close, with now yet more money spent and higher stakes, that there will not be more this time.
On Saturday, a female suicide bomber detonated a bomb killing at least 10 people at a bus station in Yobe.
In a single week there have been multiple attacks in 4 different states.
When this all ends, whoever wins will have to contend to materialise two fairly standard ideals, peace and stability, which with every passing week feel more and more of an enigma.
All work published on Media Diversified is the intellectual property of its writers. Please do not reproduce, republish or repost any content from this site without express written permission from Media Diversified. For further information, please see our reposting guidelines.
Emmanuel Akinwotu is a History and History of Ideas student at Goldsmiths, University of London, with a special focus on the Arab Uprisings of 2011. He has written for the Guardian in Lagos, covering Politics and Education. He has been a commentator on Nigerian politics on Ben TV and has also written for student publications and online news forums. He tweets at @ea_akin
and blogs at http://britiko.wordpress.com/