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Stanley Azuakola: The 2015 Jonathan landslide

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Stanley Azuakola: The 2015 Jonathan landslide

by Stanley Azuakola

Every time the opposition cherry-picks the data to believe instead of asking itself (and Nigerians) the right and hard questions, it robs itself.

Of all the many things which make American politics far more exciting than the Nigerian brand, one of the most intriguing is opinion polling.

They survey and analyse anything and everything, those Americans: who is likely to vote, what is important to the person, does the person attend church on Sunday, is the person black or brown, how much does the person earn, and so on.

Pollsters are stars in campaign teams. Their work throughout the election cycle help the candidates to measure campaign message effectiveness – whether they are hitting the right notes or need retooling.

Nigeria lies on the other extreme – operating the politics of the blind with a near absence of usable data.

Every once in a while though, some foreign firm remembers Nigeria and does a survey which we talk about for a few days. It is usually a confusing time for us when this happens because of how alien the culture of polling is to us. What consequently follows is a shotgun, scatterbrained and skin-deep kind of analysis which celebrates sensation over substance.

Take the most recent example – last November’s Global States of Mind Polls of 160 nations,released by a leading polling firm, Gallup. The response of Nigeria’s online tweeting and blogging communities to the part of the polls which concerned us is a case study on how not to interpret an opinion poll. It was as if there was a competition for the most witty or damning post/tweet. From the excitement, you would think an impossible event had just occurred (like Diezani Allison-Madueke getting sacked.)

The reason for all the buzz was that Gallup had confirmed something we all knew anyway: 94% of Nigerians, according to the poll, perceived the Jonathan government to be corrupt, the second highest in the world. That isn’t news. The only surprising thing there is that a whole 6% consider the government to be anything but corrupt.

If you only listened to the online chatter you probably wouldn’t know that there was a far more relevant and crucial revelation from the poll. The part which said: 64% of Nigerians believe that the Jonathan leadership was moving Nigeria in the right direction. 64%.

To put it in context: Barack Obama who won a second term as America’s president in November, never managed more than 50% job approval ratings right from his second year in the White House. And here is Goodluck Jonathan, our faltering commander-in-chief commanding a resounding 64% approval rating.

The translation is that if a snap election were called today, President Goodluck Jonathan, warts and all, would hand the opposition a handsome beating. Of course they would scream blue murder and rush to the elections tribunal as usual but that would be futile because these days, the greatest robbery against the opposition is self-inflicted.

Can a man rob himself, you ask? Yes, he can.

Every time the opposition cherry-picks the data to believe instead of asking itself (and Nigerians) the right and hard questions, it robs itself.

It cannot choose to accept and reject the same thing at the same time. It cannot celebrate the poll’s finding that 94% of Nigerians think the government is corrupt and then raise doubts at the same time about the accuracy of the part which says 64% approve of Jonathan’s leadership. That is escapism of ostrich-like proportions, it is self-robbery.

The opposition cannot even choose to ignore the poll results altogether. That is denial.

Most importantly, the opposition cannot wait till a few months before 2015 before it starts to design a narrative in response to these issues. That is suicide.

If there is one lesson to be learnt from the last US presidential election cycle, it is this: the earlier, the better. President Obama won largely because of how effective his team was in painting a scary picture of his challenger, Mitt Romney, which became the definition of Romney long before the man became stable enough to respond.

“How can they say 64% approve of President Jonathan?” is the wrong question. The right one is: “Why?” Why do 9 in 10 Nigerians say the government is corrupt yet 6 in 10 believe that the leadership is getting it right? To research this, the opposition needs to get neutral pollsters, not party hacks who would be too willing to say what they think party chiefs want to hear.

Could it be that the stickiness factor Jonathan is enjoying is because as much as Nigerians know that his government is corrupt, they do not see the opposition as being better especially as some of the opposition’s leading lights aren’t exactly clothed in white?

Could it be that he is getting his politics (economics?) right by planning to give free phones to 10 million farmers (voters) who are not online, for instance?

Could it be that Nigerians know this government to be corrupt yet tolerate it because we expect it to be corrupt, to ‘chop’ while offer last because one day it will be our own turn to ‘chop’?

What’s the way forward for the opposition?

I have a few ideas but none cocksure. I know however that yelling and pointing with glee at the first part of a two part report is not it. A press-release-only brand of laziness has never and would not cut it this time. Only after objective surveys, research and analysis, can anyone say with sureness how best to proceed. But the time to start is now.

That Gallup poll was the best piece of news for the president in a season where hardly a day passes by without some report slamming Nigeria’s immobility/retrogression. If things continue this way and the opposition doesn’t seize the initiative, we might be looking at an inevitable Jonathan landslide in 2015.

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