You would not have missed it even if you tried. Such is the massive effort on social media that went into remaking the man that if you were born after August 1985, you would be forgiven to think that Muhammadu Buhari, retired General and candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC) is cool. Far from it. As military Head of State from December 31, 1984 to August 27, 1985, he was rather too uptight and dour, a perfect match for his second-in-command, the late Tunde Idiagbon. He is also rightly or wrongly perceived as pushing Nigeria, a secular state, into the Organisation of Islamic States (OIC).
That perception and the belief that his regime is arguably the most repressive Nigeria has ever known makes the Katsina man a very hard sell. That stinking image would require more than the ceremonial change of clothes and picture-perfect poses that we have been bombarded with on social media in the last few weeks.
That image, of a brutal, unforgiving religious fanatic has dogged his three earlier attempts to rule Nigerian again. In 2003, 2007 and 2007, Buhari failed to win the hearts of Nigerians who are reluctant to trust him with power again, even when he attempted to sell himself as an anti-corruption warlord.
In his fourth and possibly final attempt though, he is getting all the help from the ACN noise machine, I suspect to tackle the perception deficit. To address two of the most damaging issues, his minders have taken to social media with stories aimed at creating a new persona. All over the social media, Buhari is suddenly this accommodating man, rather that the fanatic we all thought he is. He suddenly has a daughter married to an Igbo man from Anambra even though questions have been raised regarding the authenticity of the information in the story. They have also published images I particularly like the one showing Buhari with a young boy in what looks like a Presidential office to clean up his dour image and probably connect to a younger generation that is increasingly impatient with an ageing ruling class. Regardless of whether they stole that concept from America President Barack Obama, the old man sure looked different and anything but dour. In other words, he looks cool
The latest effort at repackaging Buhari must be seen as continuing the journey to redemption. That journey has taken him through three presidential elections and in fact saw the Katsina man pick Pastor Tunde Bakare, the serving overseer of Latter Rain Assembly, as running mate when he ran under the banner of the CPC in the 2011 Presidential Election. The choice of Professor Yemi Osinbajo, Attorney-General when Asiwaju Bola Tinubu governed Lagos State and a pastor in the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG), makes good sense if you understand that Buhari needs to win Christian votes to have any chance of taking over in Aso Rock next year.
So credit to his communication team, which has made a bold attempt at giving Buhari a make-over but as some have noted, elections are not won on social media. So it remains to be seen whether the tactic to dress him up, get him to pose with young and sponsor stories to suggest he has in-laws in Anambra would work. The democratic credentials of social media are largely overstated. In spite of the potential to turn everyone into a publisher, there is strong evidence to show that democracies gain more only when the real work is done on the streets, mobilising. In other words, the images of Buhari wearing a clean suit doing a high five with a young boy would be useless unless he and his campaign team reach out to the people.
Which is why I think Buhari and his people missed a trick in the days after the APC’s primaries where he picked the party presidential nomination. For a man who is perceived as a religious fanatic, the primary objective ought to be to reach out to the Christian community and the recently concluded Annual Congress of the RCCG and the Winner Chapel Shiloh would have been wonderful opportunities to disabuse the minds of those who don’t trust him to run a tolerant government if elected.
A Buhari appearing at the Redemption Camp or Cannaanland would possibly have convinced more people about his religious tolerance than a questionable story about his daughter being married to an Anambra man. Meetings with other Christian leaders and especially the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) would have the same effect. That unless he failed to secure appointments to make those appearances. But in the meantime, the noise machine behind him rules on social media. We’ll know in less that sixty days how successful in this desperate makeover they have been.