My technical report for the Brookings Institution’s Africa Foresight publication on the 2015 presidential election entitled ‘The 2015 Elections in Nigeria: Issues and Challenges’, has become an issue between the PDP and the APC. As should be expected in an election year, one side wants to make a political capital out of the report, the other will not allow it to enjoy any political mileage from it. Supporters of President Jonathan had this screaming headline go viral on the internet: “US top think-tank, Brookings, projects Jonathan win; say APC is a fragile anti-Jonathan setup”. For supporters of President Jonathan, Brookings Institution, regarded as the number one think-tank in the world, has predicted victory for Jonathan in the forthcoming presidential election.
APC supporters on the other hand derided the report as a mere “op-ed written by one Jideofor Adibe, who is a Senior Lecturer in Nasarawa State University”. They also concocted a headline, meant to be a counter narrative to the one abstracted out of context by supporters of PDP and also went viral with it on the internet. The APC’s own was: “US Top Think-tank, Brookings, disclaims controversial report predicting victory for Jonathan”. Like the headline which purported that Brookings Institution predicted victory for Jonathan, the concocted headline by APC’s supporters was falsehood in its entirety. Brookings did not disclaim the report and could not have done so. What were presented under the misleading headline were series of tweets on the report published in Brookings’ Africa Foresight magazine.
Let me quote the portion of the report which has been doctored to suggest that Brookings predicted a Jonathan win:
“The APC gets much of its strength from tapping into anti-Jonathan sentiments in the Muslim north and grievances among the Yoruba who feel that the Jonathan administration has ignored them in key political appointments.
“Allegations of corruption against top PDP officials will be powerful ammunition in the hands of the APC, especially with the choice of Buhari, widely seen as not corrupt, as the party’s presidential candidate.
“The party is, however, a fragile one that seems united only in its quest to wrest the presidency from Jonathan or to have power ‘returned’ to the north. Though the election is expected to be very competitive, the odds still favour President Jonathan.”
It may be germane to make a few clarifications about the report by Brookings’ Africa Foresight.
Between 2013 and 2014 I was involved in a year-long research project by Brookings’ Africa Growth Initiative (AGI) on the impact of conflict on agriculture in Nigeria and Mali. For the Nigerian arm of the project, I provided the research on the conflicts in Nigeria, focusing on the conflicts purveyed by Boko Haram and Ansaru. My three-part articles on the emergence, trajectories and the way forward for the Boko Haram conflict which were excerpted from the research and published on Brookings’ blog (website), were exceedingly well received. In fact the first of the three instalments – ‘The Emergence of Boko Haram’ – holds the record of the highest read of all times on the AGI’s blog (website).
In September 2014 I was invited by Brookings’ AGI to do a brief technical report for its Africa Foresight publication on the 2015 presidential election in Nigeria. Since 2011 AGI has used its Africa Foresight publication to examine the trends, events, and other important factors that it believes will shape affairs in Sub-Saharan Africa throughout the year. For Nigeria, it felt the presidential election would be that decisive event.
The report was approved after several peer reviews on November 17 – before Buhari emerged as APC’s presidential candidate – and updated to take cognizance of this fact before it was published online on 29 January 2014 (the print version was published a few days later). Essentially the piece was concluded before the re-invention of Buhari and the APC’s post-convention bounce which the party currently enjoys. The thrust of the report was not to predict who would win the 2015 presidential election but to analyse the dynamics that would shape the elections, the challenges that would likely be encountered and how these could be surmounted.
I have had to update the information in that report in recent interviews with the French news agency AFP and the American channels Bloomberg and CNBC Africa – among others. One of the issues that were not foreseen in the Africa Foresight report is the convergence of the normal post-convention bounce a party enjoys after its convention and the re-invention of Buhari – in the manner he speaks, his dress codes and even his general demeanour. These twin events are working to change the perceptions of Buhari among many Christians and people in the south as a northern irredentist or Muslim fanatic, making him look really electable.
As of today, I believe that Buhari will do better in both the north and south than he did in 2011 while Jonathan will do worse in both the north and south than he did in 2011. The decisive issue however will be the level of Buhari’s over-performance and Jonathan’s underperformance. Here money, the way the PDP uses the power of incumbency and APC’s counter strategies, including its mobilisation and media strategies, will play key roles. My personal opinion is that in areas where the voters are sufficiently animated by a cause they believe in (such as among Buhari’s supporters in the Muslim north), the role of money or the power of incumbency in influencing the outcome, will be mute. However in areas where the elections are expected to be very tightly fought (such as in the battleground south west) or where the fear factor can be very easily played up (such as in the southeast, south- south and among Christians), the role of money (‘stomach infrastructure’), will be crucial. Here I believe the PDP enjoys a slight advantage and it is for this reason that I believe that if the elections were held today, the odds would still marginally favour the PDP despite the fact that the momentum is clearly with the APC.
There are other issues that seem to be playing important roles in the campaigns which were not reflected in the Africa Foresight report. Two of these are Buhari’s certificate controversy and rumours about his health on account of his age.
Let me say that both are legitimate issues for aggressive interrogation in campaigns. In campaigns, candidates for election compete to define each other by trying to put each on the defensive on any issue at all – from their campaign promises to the issue of their character. Most campaigns devise strategies for quick recovery when boxed into a corner and for putting their opponents on the defensive.
On the certificate issue, I believe that the Buhari team could probably have managed the situation better. Since the requirement is for a candidate to have school certificate “or its equivalent” why did the retired General’s handlers not simply include the copy of his certificate from military training – if the school certificate was nowhere to be found? To write an affidavit that the General’s WASC certificate was with the army is not good enough. Also to argue that Buhari ran for the presidency three times without his certificate being an issue is to miss the point. The innuendo that the PDP is pushing is that Buhari entered the army without the requisite qualification – an indirect attack on Buhari’s integrity widely seen as his greatest marketing point. With the Army now debunking the claim that a copy of Buhari’s certificate is with them, you could expect the PDP to open another front of attack in which Buhari would now be painted as a liar. And this too, is legitimate in campaigns.
What has been surprising to me is that Buhari’s handlers have not equally scrutinized Jonathan’s qualifications as well. In climes like the USA, Jonathan’s B.SC, M.Sc and PhD theses would by now have been carefully scrutinized for any issue that could be used against him such as any hint of plagiarism or an opinion given there. That too would have been legitimate.
Another issue that has been very prominent in the political space, which was not reflected in the Africa Foresight report, is the issue of Buhari’s age. I believe it is legitimate to aggressively interrogate the health status of all who aspire to govern the country, especially given the kind of political turmoil the country experienced following the illness and subsequent death of Umaru Yaradua. Given Buhari’s age, I believe APC is already aware that it will be a campaign issue – as it was in the USA when John McCain contested against Barrack Obama in 2008. I am again surprised that the APC is not demanding for Jonathan’s medical record because it cannot be assumed that Jonathan is healthier than Buhari simply because he is younger than him.
Will Buhari’s certificate and health issues affect the outcome of the presidential election? I do not think so. My impression is that over 70 per cent of the voters have already made up their minds on whom to vote for and that among the undecided voters, age and certificate will be non-issues. I also believe it will be a grave mistake to disqualify Buhari – even if it is proven that he does not have any WASC certificate after all.