The Experiment: Like Jonathan, like Buhari, and now like Atiku

This past week was a very interesting one in the most recent history of the Nigerian state. Politically, it was Atiku and all the news around his much-anticipated “move” to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). On the flipside, we were treated to a luxurious wedding in faraway South Africa — Banky W and Adesua.

As it is with the politics of everything, everyone or every player involved in stories that broke the internet in the past seven days, had a reason for making the moves which got everyone talking. Today my focus will be on the former — Atiku Abubakar, and a public experiment, I would like to undertake.

By March 28, 2015, Muhammadu Buhari was the sweetheart of virtually every aggrieved Nigeria. It felt at the time that if you were not for Buhari, something was wrong with the state of your mental faculties. The media drive was impeccable. Buhari’s handlers played every card in the old and new book to get Nigerians to love him, and many sure did.

Let’s take a step backward to 2011.

April 2011, Goodluck Jonathan was the man of the people — apologies to Chinua Achebe. Many parents across the country named their children after him. Goodluck was the charm that many Nigerians wanted to associate with. Even the comedians made many hilarious jokes about Jonathan’s good luck.

Jonathan won the 2011 elections with over 10 million votes according to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), leaving Muhammadu Buhari and his running mate, Tunde Bakare with only 12 million votes or 32 percent of votes cast.

By 2015, this same Jonathan had less than 13 million votes to his name, and a huge hatred from the voting public. What happened? Why did the people who loved Jonathan so much come to hate him so much? And why did the same people who hated Buhari so much, come to love him so much?

I have my answers, but they are very subjective and personal. However, time and chance has permitted me to have a second look at my answers via a public experiment on Atiku and Buhari.

BUHARI IN 2011 VERSUS BUHARI 2015

In 2011, Muhammadu Buhari was perceived as a bigot, a religious extremist, a power hungry desperado, a believer in the dog-and-baboon parable. He was the seemingly unsellable candidate.

By 2015, Buhari had not changed — at least not fundamentally — but had become a liberal mind, who was no longer a religious extremist, he was no longer a violent man who believed in the dog-and-baboon parable, he was now the sellable candidate. The general who was seen as desperate for power due to his incessant trial at the highest seat in the corridor of power, was now being sold as a man who was resolute to change Nigeria. And millions of eligible voters bought into that narrative.

You know why? The media!

JONATHAN IN 2011 AND JONATHAN IN 2015

Jonathan in 2011 was seen as a messiah, who rose to the presidency by a very strong streak of good fortune. To add work to luck, he also just increased the minimum wage, and somewhat bought a lot of civil servants to his side.

By 2014, he had become clueless! Why and how? His undoings and the narrative the media chose to tell about him. From 2013 to 2015, one word was predominant in the media — “clueless”. After the abduction of the Chibok girls in 2014, the word was reinforced in the hearts of Nigerians, who would eventually kick Jonathan out.

LIKE BUHARI, LIKE ATIKU, LIKE THE REST OF US

CNN’s Fareed Zakaria, one of the most brilliant TV anchors in the world, believes that Donald Trump won the US elections due to four major reasons; capitalism, culture, class, and communication.

While the same parallels may not play out in Nigeria, the role of media and communications cannot be overemphasised  in Nigeria’s king-making process. Atiku is desperate, desperation is bad. Buhari was desperate, desperation was also bad, until the media began his image laundry.

Buhari jumped from party to party, desperate for power. But when the media was telling that story in 2015, thanks to APC bigwigs who run many media houses, the story was told as Buhari is not desperate, he is only resolute and determined to help change Nigeria.

When the media tell it, the media say Atiku is a party prostitute, prostitution is bad. Buhari was a party prostitute, but prostitution is not bad — he just had to do what he must do to change Nigeria. Atiku jumped from PDP to ACN to APC and “now PDP”. Buhari went from ANPP to CPC to APC. The story changes depending on who is telling it, and how they are telling it.

The rest of us are responsible for the communication processes that make kings.

THE EXPERIMENT

This time around, I want to seat and watch how the media changes your mind about Atiku or Buhari. The media can choose to make Buhari better or worse, and vice-versa for Atiku. But whatever the case is, I’d like to see how potent this image laundry machine can be.

Google trends have shown that the interest of the Nigerian people in Atiku Abubakar has soared by 200 percent within the last month, following increased interest in the subject, and that is the alert I get that the laundry has started.

So let us run the experiment together; take time out this week to write down all the things you love and hate about both Buhari and Atiku. Keep it safe, and lets review it late in 2018 or early 2019, and let us see how much of that the media succeeds in changing us in less than 16 months.

 The Cable

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