It’s impossible for anyone who wanted an election campaign based on issues not to come away from President Jonathan’s 25 minute chat with D’Banj with a sour taste in the mouth. The President has (so far) not participated or confirmed participation in any debate, giving a string of excuses why not. Instead, he agreed to an ‘interview’ with the maker of one of his campaign jingles, who dutifully nodded throughout and asked 3 obviously scripted questions.
Not like D’Banj actually has any real blame. This is just the latest in a series of high profile PR stunts that the artiste has put together to boost his profile and that of his label. Any truly honest observer wouldn’t have expected anything else. He is just trying to move up in the world after all. Sitting down with the President in between music collaborations with Snoop Dogg and Kanye West will take his celebrity to new levels and his net worth too. Even four years ago, D’Banj did a jingle for the PDP so no surprises there.
President Jonathan also got what he wanted. He is leveraging the popularity of D’Banj among young voters to connect with them, if only in a superficial way. He offered little in the way of solutions. Once again he repeated his pledge to build a federal university in every state, tax breaks for businesses who employ graduates, strengthening of anti-piracy laws to protect intellectual property and announced a $500m fund for SMEs. Such hard hitting topics like corruption, power and security were avoided altogether, questions that would definitely have to be answered in a rigorous, unscripted, competitive debate.
Nigerian youths might still get to see the incumbent step up to defend his record. A Presidential debate hosted by NN24 is to hold on Friday the 18th, with a final debate tagged ‘What About Us?’ to hold on the 25th. There are burning questions though: Even though the reaction to the interview with D’Banj on facebook and twitter was almost entirely negative, will it hurt Goodluck in the polls? Or will it actually help him connect with the grassroots? Will all the outrage among Nigeria’s digital youth make a difference? Even IF he doesn’t attend any debates, will it change the course of the elections? The answers to these questions will be unknowable until a day or two after April 9th. There are some views that the movement among youths for change in Nigeria is too ‘elitist’, that it doesn’t connect with the majority who don’t have internet access, facebook, twitter and blackberries, that the numbers are too small to effect change.
What is for sure is that a President who doesn’t stand before the people he leads to give an account of his stewardship should lose his mandate to lead at the ballot box. Whether or not this will happen remains to be seen.