Many observers believe that next month’s election is critical to the political career of Dr Goodluck Jonathan, former university teacher and President facing an unusual test of survival.
Others contend that it is also crucial to his party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), which has wielded power for an uninterrupted 12 years.
However, the April poll is more important to the opposition parties itching to cut to sizes the influence of the acclaimed largest party, which has not impressed Nigerians by its poor record, but relies on its power of incumbency and time-tested bullying tactics to retain power.
There are four main parties locked in the contest for political control at the centre and non of them lack traditional strongholds. For example, Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) is waxing stronger in the Southwest, apart from making in-roads into some Northern and Southeast and Southsouth States.
The Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) led by Gen. Muhammadu Buhari (rtd) is the toast of certain Northern States, which are not likely to yield to any emergency carrots dangled by the federal power house.
The All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) is not likely to yield grounds in its ‘domains’, especially Kano, although the votes cast for its presidential candidate, Mallam Ibrahim Shekarau, may be wasted because they would not be enough to take him to the highest office.
This season, as crisis continues to rock the ruling party, opposition parties, which PDP leaders have written off, are enlarging their coasts to accommodate aggrieved defectors from the fold. The campaign is a burden because the President has not been able to tender proofs of performance by the PDP ederal government to Nigerians.
In many states, analysts have contended that President Jonathan may fail to get the required percentage of votes to re-affirm him in office. But at the same time, they argue that he may likely scale through, owing to the gross failurel of opposition parties to discover the strength in unity.
Apart from reaching out to millions of Nigerians through his face book, the President has been traversing the length and breath of the country to solicit for votes ahead of the elections.
It is a rare experience for the Ijaw-born politician, who has had a meteoric rise to stardom, climbing in quick successions the ladders of deputy governor, governor, Vice President, Acting President and President, in the spate of 12 years.
The presidential campaign has afforded him an opportunity to know more about the diverse geo-political zones, local party leaders, and groaning interiors that have continued to endured the inept PDP federal government. In 1999, 2003, and 2007, his party made unfulfilled promises to the people. In 2011, the President has come with more branded promises. Irked by these past empty promises, a leader of ACN, Senator Bola Tinubu, described the PDP federal government as a “ promise and fail government”, warning Nigerians to beware of its antics.
“They promised many things and delivered non. Not even electricity, not even roads that are death traps across the country, despite the huge billions of naira wasted on them. Their budgets also failed”, he fumed.
Indisputably, presidential campaigns across board has failed to borrow a leaf from the past. They are not rigorous, reminiscent of the earlier era. They pale into a convenient tour of capital cities, unlike the campaign intinery of men of the old order-the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Dr Nnamidi Azikiwe, Alhaji Ahmadu Bello and even, Alhaji Shehu Shagari, who travelled long distances on roads to meet distressed people.
“The PDP campaign is not based on issues and ideas. The President has not said anything that is new. Since 1999, PDP has been promissing the same thing-road, refinery and electricity. They promise them in 2003 and 2007, but could not redeem the promises. What is the assurance that they will not fail again in 2011?”, asked Comrade Joe Igbikwe, Lagos State ACN Publicity Secretary, who added: “They take generators to their campaigns in anticipation of power failure”.
President Jonathan is usually accompanied by big men-ministers, special advisers, governors and other government functionaries who have not particularly impressed Nigerians with their performance in office..
Since the President has not been perceived as a key leader of the ruling party, until fate catapulted him to the Presidency, he has been spared of cumulative blames by angry Nigerians, who nevertheless lambasted his party for taking the country to doom.
Like some of his rivals, Dr Jonathan is not campaigning based on ideology because his party swims in ideological vacuum. But he seems to have been tutored about problems that are peculiar to the different locations he has visited. the campaign would have been easier if PDP governors have performed excellently.
In Lagos, where six million people registered to vote, President Jonathan, owned up to the neglect of the former Federal Capital Territory by the Obasanjo and Yar’Adua Administrations. There have been a protracted dispute between the federal and Lagos leaders over the non-release of withheld landed property and council funds.
In a remorseful tone, he offered to make amends on campaign ground at Tafawa Balewa Squares, saying that, if he wins in April, the federal government will sell federal government assts in Lagos”. The impact of his assurance to Lagosians was watered down barely a week later when Governor Babatunde Fashola cried out that “they have sold Tafawa Balewa Square to their friends”, vowing to fight the controversial sale to a standstill.
Jonathan’s campaign in Lagos, was in fact, offensive to the populace, in another respect. Sitting not far from the President was Chief Olabode George, who was released from jail two days earlier and has not been pardoned by him. Many thought that the rally was meant to showcase evil.
In Ibadan, the capital of the Southwest, Jonathan committed a blunder. He branded the entrenched progressive civilian Generals of the race as rascals at a time their popularity was soaring. The President observed his mandatory National Youth Service at Iresi, Osun State. A brief stint in that rural enclave was inadequate to expose him fully to the treasured culture and values of the geo-political zone.
In other places-Asaba, Maiduguri, Yola, Kwara, Uyo, Umuahia, Gombe, and Ennugu, the President appeared in dress codes that reflected the culture of the environment. He spoke with vigour, but there was no presidential achievement on ground to wipe effective emotions.
Amid the campaigns, his attention was diverted by the prolonged row over the presidential primaries as the Ciroma-led group still had an axe to grind with him. To douse the brewing tension, he moved swiftly, conveying the impression that to the North that he is interested in one term.
In the Northwest, where the fear of Buhari is the beginning of wisdom, Dr Jonathan has also intensified his efforts. During the primaries, he lost in Kano, Zamfara, Kebbi and Sokoto States. In Kaduna, he however, got the greatest shocker. The President suffered the indignity of addressing a ghost rally, despite the fact that his deputy and running mate, Namadi Sambo, who was governor of the state, was beside him.
Whatever loss he is likely to incur there would be made up in the Southsouth. The euphoria was high in Port-Harcourt, but the campaign left people with sad memories. From that zone, he sent a message to Nigerians that he would have a national outlook. he said: ‘We will do our best. We will run a government that will not discriminate against any Nigerian, irrespective of the language you speak, irrespective of ethnic nationality you belong, irrespective of your religion”.
But, there was stampede and the President had to temporarily halt further campaigns as a mark of respect to the dead.
Throughout, the President, naturally, has not exuded charisma. But he has not also faked his behaviour. There is no worthy quotable quote yet. The President spoke cautiously and moderately according to his limited experience as a politician still leaning the presidential ropes.