Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Monday, November 17, 2014

Campaign disconnect

It's almost as though Goodluck Jonathan's campaign for reelection has nothing to do with current events or the state of the nation. How can that be possible?

The Goodluck Jonathan show goes on, a day after Nigerian suicide bomb
Most politicians, in most countries, would have cancelled campaigning after the devastating suicide bombing at a school in north-eastern Nigeria on Monday. Not Goodluck Jonathan. With barely a mention of his country’s deteriorating security situation, the president launched his re-election campaign…

[A]t a huge rally in Abuja, Jonathan formally declared his intention to run in next year’s elections…

Just the day before, Nigerians were shocked – and, these days, they are not a population that shocks easily – when a suicide bomber blew himself up in a school in the northern Yobe State, killing at least 46 schoolchildren. The scale and sheer brazenness of the attack, the gratuitous violence, and the youth of his victims made this attack particularly difficult to come to terms with…

In most countries, this would prompt a time of national mourning. Leaders would cancel frivolous public appearances and political campaigning would be put on hold at least until the bodies were buried.

But this is Nigeria, and the Goodluck Jonathan Show must go on. After all, if the president were to cancel campaign stops after every gruesome incident he wouldn’t be able to campaign at all…

In fairness, Jonathan did not completely ignore the school bombing. “Clearly, this has cast a dark cloud on our nation but we will surely win the war against terror,” he said at the beginning of his speech, just before calling for a minute of silence to commemorate them…

But nor did he give the Nigeria’s ever-worsening security situation nearly enough attention. In a speech that ran to 112 paragraphs, the quote above is just about the only allusion he makes to Boko Haram.

Listening to the president, one would never guess that his country is in the midst of perhaps the greatest national crisis since the doomed secession of Biafra…

Instead, Jonathan focused on what he considers to be more important issues, such improvements to Nigeria’s highway system, a resuscitated railway line and increased access to water and electricity.

His relentlessly positive spin may have energised his supporters, but statistics aren’t necessarily on his side.

Take the economy, for instance. Yes, it has ballooned to become the largest in Africa, but that’s only thanks to a long-delayed reworking of how GDP is calculated… And when it comes to other development indicators such as health, education and welfare, the Ibrahim Index of African Governance shows that Nigeria has made negligible progress in the last four years.

Still, Jonathan remains the clear favourite heading into the February 2015 poll. A new opposition coalition, which sounded so promising when it was formed in 2013, has struggled to sustain momentum, and is hamstrung by infighting over who will be the coalition’s presidential candidate. In the absence of an effective challenger, the PDP’s national base and slick electoral machinery should easily compensate for Jonathan’s weaknesses…

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