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Nigeria: Four candidates for one seat 0

Today, Nigeria will find out whether the incumbent president, Goodluck Jonathan, will be a given another chance to prove his mettle as the nation’s leader, or whether that huge responsibility will be handed over to former military ruler, Muhammadu Buhari; former anti-corruption czar, Nuhu Ribadu; or sitting Kano State governor, Ibrahim Shekararu.

The four leading candidates couldn’t be more strikingly different. The duo of Jonathan and Sambo seem to represent the status quo; an unhurried establishment candidacy that emphasizes the strength of its network, its brand of unity, a string of self-professed achievement in less than a year of government, and a calm strategic approach both to governance and campaign strategy.

Mr Buhari and his vice, Tunde Bakare, strike the very opposite pose. Seeking to position themselves as insurgent change makers, the duo have emphasized their independence from the establishment, a visceral anger about the state of the nation, a pungent distaste for the ruling party and all it represents, and a refusal to continue business as usual.

Mr Ribadu and his deputy Fola Adeola have sought to appeal to the new generation of voters, branding themselves as the youthful, engaged and connected ticket that’s in line with a changing global economy. Touting their achievements as builders of institutions – be it the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission or Guaranty Trust Bank – they emphasise that they can be trusted to ‘sweep’ away the old and usher in the new.

Finally, Mr Shekarau, and with him the mostly silent John Oyegun, have sought to parley the success of their respective national debates into a case for competent, knowledge-based leadership.

Of course, there are other candidates on the field – variously described as fringe – but if the several polls by media and civil society are to be believed (and there is no reason why they should not be) the battle is between the four candidates profiled above.

It was just about to get more interesting. However, Nigerians, excited by the possibility of an epic battle following rumours of a coalition between the candidates of the Congress for Progressive Change and the Action Congress of Nigeria were disappointed when, with remarkably virulent counter-accusations between the two camps, it appeared that, not only had discussions broken down irretrievably, but none of the parties left the discussions with respect for the other side.

There are those who immediately point to the personal and political weaknesses of the candidates involved and conclude that this gives an advantage to the incumbent president – who has maintained a calm and presidential mien throughout the campaign season.

However, while this paper shares in the disappointment that comes from the inability of the so-called presidential candidates to firm up strategies that can give Nigerians even stronger choices, it would be unwise to immediately make any conclusions from this series of perhaps unfortunate events.

As Nigerians showed last weekend, there is a new sense of empowerment and realisation that the people actually own the process and are able to influence its outcome. There is no doubt that tomorrow will see even greater numbers coming out to exercise their civic responsibility, and reclaim their country – and they will do this with zero patience for any manipulation of the process. The truth is – at least, based on the sheer volume of political advertising by the prohibitive frontrunner – no one, politician or public, is taking this election for granted.

This is just as it should be. The Nigerian voter is now the beautiful bride, which is its proper place. If there are free and fair elections tomorrow, in spite of whoever emerges victor, that singular fact will immediately tilt the balance of power from president to the people. And the next few years will truly then present a government for and by the people. That, beyond the shenanigans of individual candidates or their campaigns, is the real bottom line for tomorrow’s duel.

By Next (Nigeria)

Also Read Sokari Ekine‘s analysis on Pambazuka

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Direttore Responsabile Giuseppe Frangi