There are eight days until the elections in Nigeria, a country where politics in all its incessant vices, however deficient, and meagre, is a grand comedy of sorts. It has everything. Feverish intensity, endless drama, public insults, profanities, counter-insults and counter-profanities, each more flagrantly outrageous than the last. If you look to politics for entertainment, there are few places of greater potential for satisfaction.

Of the fourteen presidential candidates, only two are significant. The current embattled President, Goodluck Jonathan of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and previous military head of state, 72 years young General Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress (APC), who has taken to belying his age by releasing flamboyant pictures of himself posing in tuxedos, attending musicals at the theatre, and campaigning often in impressively tailored traditional attire. His substance is up for debate but his style is not.

Buhari’s social media plugged charm offensive to Nigeria’s young majority is canny but relatively easy, at least in contrast to the President’s media team, one of whom, Doyin Okupe, (attack dog-in-chief) recently opted to compare the president to Jesus Christ.

‘People do not understand the burden this President is bearing. He’s like Jesus Christ. He’s bearing the burden of everybody’. Bafflingly, it didn’t go down too well.

Jonathan’s problems, his personnel and the people’s perception of him, have partly reversed the fortunes of the APC, a previously wobbly coalition of small and belligerent parties, into a non-trivial electoral threat in a country where  the governing PDP party have comfortably held power since the end of military rule in 1999.

Establishing a statistical measure of the APC’s popularity is difficult in Nigeria where the ‘non-partisan’ are mostly all, by generally accepted definitions of the word, extremely partisan. Polling conducted by NOI Polls, founded by and named after ‘Minister of Finance’ and simultaneously, ‘Coordinating minister for the Economy’, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, have suspiciously given the President leads as high as 40 per cent over General Buhari. Their credibility suffered further when it emerged through press investigations last week that their stated active polling partner, US agency Gallup USA, was no longer affiliated with the organisation and had not sponsored or conducted joint polls with NOI as they had stated at every opportunity.

Okonjo-Iweala’s week got even better when ex-Central Bank Governor, Charles Chukwuma Soludo came out of nowhere writing an article in the Vanguard newspaper which was to his credit impersonal but highly critical of her main ministerial priority, the economy. For Nigerians starved of statistical debate his article was a Michelin-stared buffet, but the minister had no appetite for his contribution.

She responded, calling him an ’embittered loser’, guilty of committing ‘intellectual hara-kiri’, (basically nonsense), and accusing him of causing the ‘worst crisis in Nigeria’s history’.

Soludo then responded to her response countering that his record was more or less flawless and providing an extensive list of his references and awards whilst in office. Chapter closed? Obviously not. Ex-Gov Fayemi gave a response. Ex-president Obasanjo’s wife gave a response. Oby Ezekwesili also gave a response. And then, ofcourse, Femi Fani-Kayode, the president’s utterly un-strategic Media and Publicity Strategist couldn’t resist calling Soludo, ‘confused and conflicted’, and praying for him to ,’come to his senses’ and ‘see the light’.

The backdrop to these thoroughly entertaining exchanges is a desperately grim, ceaselessly brutal insurgency. According to Human Rights Watch, over 3,000 people have died this year alone from attacks suspected to have been carried out by Boko Haram. The 219 girls abducted in April last year remain missing. Many more unreported abductions have taken place with barely registrable reactions from politicians of all parties. But on Sunday a female suicide bomber blew herself up in Gombe City, only minutes after the President’s election rally had ended. One person died and eighteen others were injured. Quite plausibly, he would had heard the explosion detonate as his car left the Northern State for his next rally.  The insurgency, even for politicians, is no longer a thorn in the eye but a plank, inescapable and unavoidable.

The presidential elections, on Valentine’s Day, will likely produce closer results than those of the previous four elections. Close vote counts in Nigeria almost inevitably end up being contested in court, the definitive result may not be known for weeks after election day. Beyond February, Nigerians may well look back on our preoccupation with blockbuster politics, at our fix on the theatre of a historically close and fascinating election, and sense in ourselves a prickly shame.

By Emmanuel Akinwotu

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