The joker in the presidential race, By Obed Awowede

At the last count some 28 persons have either declared their intentions to contest for the presidential ticket of the ruling All Progressives Congress or have been mentioned as contesting. In some cases, forms have been paid for, reportedly, on behalf of persons who have publicly distanced themselves from the buyers. In all, the race to succeed President Buhari in his All Progressives Congress has been described as a joke, given the large number of persons that turned up for the forms at a hefty N100 million each.

I have heard some of those who have labelled it a joke speaking against the background of a nation on the precipice, which calls for some seriousness and serious candidates, not a carnival of clowns. Yet, who is to tell what a comedian can turn into, after all it is just another job and there is Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky, the comedian-turned wartime president, to consider. Personally, I believe that comedy has a place even in serious situations.  And in President Buhari Nigeria has just that man who can weave you a good laugh, if you can, out of the misery that is living in Nigeria.

Now, my concern here is not with some ribald jokes told by the president, certainly not. And I’m quite amused that he tells straightforward jokes, as his media adviser Femi Adesina told us a while back. Buhari doesn’t cut that image. But what do we know? After all, we saw him, toothpick in hand in a lazing picture issued from the government publicity machine and published in the press a few years back, thrown in at a time when the national crisis of herdsmen violence, kidnapping and poverty was tipping over. What joke could be more dark and dank than that?

Now, all these crises – violence, crime, kidnapping, assassinations, poverty – have become principalities of the Nigerian experience under Mr Buhari’s watch. It is not surprising, as good comedians would tell you about sourcing materials for your jokes, that when the president told a joke early this year, he weaponed one of these principalities. It was in one of those rare interviews, the one he had with Channels Television in January this year. The soundbite in that interview is why we have this joke of a presidential race, my premise.

In response to a question on who his favourite candidate was, the president said: “I won’t tell you my favourite for 2023, he may be eliminated if I mention. I better keep it a secret.” He said that with a smirk on his face, a rare smirk, and we are meant to take that comment as a joke. A presidential joke, which can pass anyway. And of course, while some have wondered why the head of state whose office demands that he provides security and freedoms, speaks so carelessly of someone being eliminated because he has been anointed by him, any presidential support being an anointment of a sort. That joke may well be why many of the people who took the forms consider themselves likely successors.

After all, what you need to do is look at your kill-o-meter, weigh the results against your estimation of other potential aspirants and a good score that you have a high chance of being eliminated with the president’s anointing may well determine if you should join the race. And so, some 20-odd fellows may have sized up themselves before their mirrors and once you come out with a reading that shows a fair chance you could be killed, then you do have a fair chance to be the chosen one. Dark uhn? Then, add the spice of the president’s rubber-stamp that everyone gets when they inform him they want to succeed him.

The kinetic governor, Professor Ben Ayade of Cross River State, generously let us into this after he visited the president to consult him on his ambition. Governor Ayade claimed that the President told him, “You are governor from the south-south, go out there too and consult. I am happy that you didn’t come here to tell me you want to run, you came here to say you want to support me. Let me watch you as you go out there.” And no one has come out of that inner sanctum that is the seat of power to say Mr Buhari told them to not run. Go, consult, and let me watch you. A race to show how serious each one is and then he will make his pick. But like he told us in January, he already knows who he’ll pick.