Say what you may about the “Come Back Baba Jonathan” banner and the crowd that welcomed former President Jonathan to Sokoto today.
You may say it was a sponsored crowd. You may say the banner was part of an elaborately choreographed political theater. You may say it was all staged to boost some local oppositional political forces. You may say it was more about local politics than about national affairs, since the crowd also held up banners proclaiming support for a local, presumably opposition, politician. You may say the lonely, diminishing PDP tribe in Sokoto (and the northwest) had to come out en mass to demonstrate that they still exist and that Jonathan’s visit emboldened them to do so. You may be right–or wrong.
It just doesn’t matter because you’d be missing the big takeaway from this poignant image. The instructive points of this event are:
1) just a year and half after taking over, Buhari has proved such a spectacular failure that the PDP, a party in national disarray, has found its oppositional voice;
2) there is now an undeniable nostalgia for the economic conditions of the Jonathan era, which says a lot about how much further the country has deteriorated since May 2015;
3) the fact that this nostalgic sentiment is being expressed at the seat of the caliphate, the symbolic religious headquarters of a North supposedly enamored with Buhari and disdainful of Jonathan, speaks to the depth of suffering, disillusionment, and anger in Buhari’s Nigeria.
Several months ago, it would have been unthinkable for this to occur in Sokoto. Indeed, when Jonathan went to the Sokoto-Kebbi-Zamfara axis to campaign in 2015, he could not even find a crowd to rent for his rallies, and pictures of embarrassingly empty venues told the story of his utter rejection in that zone.
Fast forward to these images from today. Even if the crowd was rented, the audacity of their message in Sokoto of all places and the fact that no one challenged them or defended Buhari point to a massive reversal of opinion on the incumbent president.
The images are thus a damning indictment of Buhari’s directionless stewardship than they are a vote of approval for Jonathan’s profligate era. These folks are simply saying that, as things stand, a return to Jonathan’s Nigeria, with all its problems, would be a preferable option. That is a powerful, insightful commentary on the state of the country.
The banner holders are making a bold rhetorical gesture analogous to the “bring back corruption” meme.