Campaign gremlins, goofs, and gaffes
I enjoy modern electoral campaigns. Between candidates, their spokespersons and those positioning themselves for a juicy appointment down the road, some curious things get said.
Last weekend, Bola Tinubu, the APC presidential candidate, begged Kaduna State Governor Nasir El-Rufai not to flee abroad when his governorship ends, as his skills “in turning a rotten situation into a bad one is necessary at this critical time.”
He was speaking at an Arewa Joint Committee event for the 2023 presidential candidates. The former Lagos State governor also described climate change as: “a question of how do you prevent a church rat from eating a poisoned holy communion.”
Since 1979 when I began to cover politics, I have heard Nigerian politicians say outrageous things. That was by far the most ridiculous.
Some have described Tinubu’s language as a metaphor. But not only did his so-called metaphor not clarify he truly understands climate change, it was also insulting to those who understand the sanctity of the institution called the Holy Communion.
“We need to tell the West; if you don’t guarantee our finances and work with us to stop this, we are not going to comply with your climate change.”
Climate change is not a Western problem, despite the West clearly being principally responsible for the menace of global warming. The annual flooding in many Nigerian states illustrates the problem adequately.
Speaking of metaphors–were we honestly looking for one–it would be that of a people raped and pillaged for two generations believing that the same rapists and pillagers would deliver justice to them.
My advice is that Tinubu conduct his campaign in Yoruba. He can afford top-of-the-line interpreters. But should he insist on trying to communicate in speaking English, I recommend simplicity.
For her part, First Lady Aisha Buhari distanced herself from the failures of her husband’s government. Speaking to the BBC, she offered a half-hearted and annoying apology.
“The expectations on us were so high and maybe after seven years, we haven’t met their expectations. Only God knows what is in somebody’s mind.
“As a human being, you can’t say you are right or you have done what you should, so the government has really tried, the administration did its best but may not be the best for others.”
No, Madam. Beginning in May 2015, your government at no time sought to do its best. You love power but resent responsibility. You perennially blame your predecessors. You revel in favoritism, mediocrity and nepotism. You borrow recklessly. You encourage corruption and nurture Nigeria’s nation’s most corrupt. You turned Jonathanistan into Buharistan.
Asked whether APC will win the election despite being such a colossal failure, Mrs. Buhari arrogantly responded as though it has directed INEC on what the results should be or as if it is merely one regime handing over to another: “We will continue. APC will win the election. By God’s grace.
“We faced a big challenge because when my husband came to power there was (sic) no resources, but I insisted that we are the ones who said we will do it and we have to do it.”
No. Your government did not lack resources. You lacked the spirit and the focus and the will, preferring rhetoric and propaganda. It is why even the president’s wife lives in Dubai, which is inconceivable in every other country. Because she can.
Adapting the same approach, Atiku Abubakar, the PDP presidential candidate, explained why Northern Nigerians should vote for him and nobody else. He declared that there is only one North, while the rest of Nigeria are Igbo or Yoruba.
“What the average Northerner needs is somebody who’s from the North and also understands that part of the country and has been able to build bridges across the country,” he said. “This is what the Northerner needs. It doesn’t need a Yoruba or Igbo candidate. I stand before you as a pan-Nigerian of northern origin.”
Atiku did not explain why under Northerner Buhari, Nigeria—particularly Northern Nigeria—has grown spectacularly poorer and more dangerous in the last eight years.
Yes, Atiku has confessed to how his government bungled governance for eight years, including squandering about $16bn meant for electricity as the North, like everywhere else, plunged into deeper darkness.
But he is not telling Northerners that as Vice-President he engaged in fraudulent conversion of funds, corrupt practices, and money laundering. Or that as a result in February 2007, a Senate Committee concluded that he, Atiku Abubakar, did divert $145 million in public funds. At that time, I wrote of the embarrassing public shootout between President Obasanjo and himself as the “Theory of Relativity.”
Atiku is not telling Northerners of the 2010 US Senate sub-committee report, “Keeping Foreign Corruption Out of The United States: Four Case Histories,” which exposed how as Vice-President he transferred over $40 million in suspect funds into US bank accounts of his then-fourth wife, Jennifer Douglas-Atiku Abubakar.
Northerners are not gullible. They deserve to hear not empty promises, but to know the character of persons who want their votes.
Also appearing to be campaigning for Northern votes, Governor El-Rufai said that Labour Party presidential candidate Peter Obi ordered his arrest in 2013 and detained him for 48 hours when he visited Anambra State as an election observer.
“Now, I am the governor of Kaduna state,” he bragged. “And he is coming to Kaduna. In addition to the police and the SSS, I have 1 Mechanised Division Nigerian Army here, if I need to arrest and detain anyone.”
But Governor El-Rufai was lying, as demonstrated by his first account, in which he attributed the incident to the State Security Service (SSS).
He then sued the SSS and the Attorney General of the Federation, and in September 2014 in Awka, the Federal High Court agreed with him that the SSS had violated the law, ordering an apology in two newspapers, and N2 million in restitution. The charges filed by el-Rufai referred specifically and exclusively to “agents of the 1st Respondent, (SSS) or officers, servants, privies of the Respondents and/or of the Federal Government of Nigeria,” and not once to Governor Obi.
And now in 2022, el-Rufai postures about his unconstitutional power to command the police, the SSS and the Nigerian Army. But there was something worse last week than his lies about the 2013 incident: the political mileage he appeared to seek.
“But we are northerners,” he concluded of his false arrest-by-Peter-Obi tale, sounding far more Atiku than Tinubu. “We are civilised. We don’t do things like that.”
Except that to be civilized is not to lie. For a husband of three and father of many who for a long time posed as a patriotic intellectual and a node of light, that is clearly a cheap tactic aimed at dividing Nigerians along ethnic lines.
I am sure there is a lot to examine of Peter Obi and other office-seekers, and Nigerians ought to do so. But is Tinubu’s warning of el-Rufai’s expertise for “turning a rotten situation into a bad one” more than a simple gaffe?
I recommend that the governor write his handover notes clearly, and declare his assets diligently.
[I welcome public response, in 100 words or fewer, to this column.]
This column welcomes rebuttals from interested government officials.