As political campaign commences for 2019 elections….

Atiku country
Buhari and Atiku

With electioneering for the forthcoming elections taking off from November 18, based on the provisions of the Electoral Act, Nigerians expect a more robust discourse of real issues that should shape the race for the presidency and other top elective public offices, writes KUNLE ODEREMI.

LEGAL luminary, Olisa agbakoba, is seriously incensed with Nigeria. Like the iconoclastic late Chief Gani Fawehinmi, Agbakoba has, for more than four decades, committed his energy and other God-given resources to the cause of Nigeria taking its rightful place in the comity of nations. But he has one major regret: Nigeria’s seeming descent to the category of a failed state. In an interaction with the media lately, Agbakoba was more poignant in expressing his frustration with the Nigerian state.

“I am so unfortunate to be a product of a country of grossly incompetent leaders. Leadership is easy. We can resolve our issues if we have good leaders. It worries me that we have natural, human and financial talents but no one is interested. Unfortunately the wrong people keep going in (as leaders),” he said.

But as the whistle is blown for the official take-off of campaigns for the 2019 elections, Agbakoba doubts any light being at the end of the tunnel: “Let’s be honest, I am not the kind of person to be engaged in argument on patriotism. On the current form, all the systems have broken down and I am unable to see a future.”

Nonetheless, with precisely 90 days to the first election, electioneering for the 2019 polls go beyond the suffocating disguised campaigns majority of the political gladiators and parties had embarked upon. They had flagrantly breached Section 99(1) of the Electoral Act that prohibits campaigns by political parties earlier than 90 days before Election Day. Hitherto, prime time on the radio and television stations, as well as pages of newspapers have been ‘abuzz’ and dominated by obvious electioneering characterized by foul language, inanities and mudslinging. Is the takeoff of campaign likely to usher in a paradigm shift in strategy and tactics, where critical issues of national importance hitherto relegated to the background in political discourse by parties, their candidates and others leaders will set the right agenda and template for the real contest for political power? The issues are  in the areas of infrastructural development, education policy, diversification plans, job creation, agriculture, security, fight against corruption, as well as poverty, unemployment, rural development integration and restructuring.

While a number of the issues have become a recurring decimal in the life of the country, others assumed a larger than life status under the current federal administration. It was in this light that some senior citizens in the country came up with what they consider as the criteria that ought to determine who Nigeria’s next president becomes.

For example, former President Olusegun Obasanjo said Nigeria must have a political leader with “good grounding in economy.” At the threshold of the PDP convention, he expatiated on his theorem thus: “Before I act, I pray to God to guide me, and I think of Nigeria first, particularly majority of Nigerians who are underprivileged, whose situation we need to improve upon. But leadership is not easy; if we do not act in unity, Nigeria will not be what it should be come 2019. For 200 million people to continue to complain that things are not right, we are doing the same thing like we have done before. And if we keep doing the same thing, the result will not be different. If we want a different result, we must do things differently. And I believe we can do things differently.”

The views of a major player in the industrial sector of the nation’s life, Mr Muda Yusuf, are also instructive on the direction Nigerians must go in the next election. Yusuf, who is the Director-General of the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said if the country must rediscover itself, there has to be pragmatic efforts to re-energise the real sector of the economy which was currently suffocating. Therefore, the individual candidates must table their blueprints to achieve the feat and convince Nigerians on their capacity and ability to actualise such vision.

“The issues they (candidates) should be talking about are the specific strategies they would put in place to address this big problem. Also, the power sector reform has been a failure for all practical purposes, yet power is very critical to the progress of the economy. The candidates should be able to tell us what they would do differently on the power situation. The economy and businesses are reeling under the weight of poor power supply,” he said.

The demands of Yusuf cut across other critical sectors, especially on the issue of monetary policy, including exchange rate, taxation, debt burden, industrialisation and enhancement of productivity in the agricultural sector of the economy. “Businesses need a tax regime that is investment-friendly; what specific reviews will the candidates propose to reform the tax regime? Trade policy is a vital organ of policy that shapes the import and export regimes. It would be nice to have an insight into the trade policy direction of the parties. Will it be like a tight protectionist policy or a more liberal one? The automobile policy has been a big subject of debate among stakeholders in that industry. We have high cost of vehicles resulting from the high tariff on imported vehicles. Will the candidates consider a review in the policy in the interest of the logistics sector and the country? Tariff policy is also a major element and it has to do with policy on imports and exports.  What will be the approach of their governments to import tariff?”

He added: “The candidates should tell the people the kind of monetary policy they would introduce as this should impact exchange rate and interest rate. They should make known their position on debt profile and what they will do differently. What are the strategies for industrialisation of the country and how will they transform the agricultural sector from its present state of low productivity?”

A rights activist, Chief Mike Ozekhome (SAN), expects the parties and their gladiators to rivet their energies on issues during the campaigns for the 2019 polls. He cautioned the PDP against engaging in mudslinging with the APC because there are more fundamental issues of governance Nigerians want discussed.

“If the APC throws mud at them, they (PDP) should fix their eyes on issues, just as they asked the president about 14 questions a few days ago. Let the PDP continue to draw them to the economic, security and anti-corruption issues; the issues of standard and cost of living rather than engaging in personal attacks,” Ozekhome said.


What are the issues?

Insecurity was a dominant issue that preceded the 2015 general election. Then, the election had to be postponed for two weeks following the activities of rampaging members of Boko Haram in the Northeastern part of the country. The then opposition APC had promised to root the insurgents as quickly as possible if its candidate, General Muhammadu Buhari, got elected.

Today, though the government said it had degraded Boko Haram, activities of the insurgents still posed a threat to the stability of the country. The crisis has been exacerbated by diabolical activities of herdsmen in parts of the country, which has claimed hundreds of lives and created serious humanitarian crisis, as well as disrupted food chain across the country. Similarly, the challenge of banditry is pervasive, with the major flashpoints being Benue, Nasarawa, Kaduna, Plateau and Zamfara states.

More importantly is the parlous state of the economy, which went into recession with its concomitant devastating effects on the citizens. Months after the government said it had succeeded in taking the country out of recession; the scars remained pronounced in most facet of the nation’s life. The industrial sector is still gasping for breath; citizens remain serious incapacitated financially; there is free reign of prices of essential items owing to uncontrollable inflation with uncoordinated monetary and financial policies and unpredictable political direction becoming the order of the day.  Both Brookings Institution and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) have expressed serious embarrassment about the worsening poverty index in Nigeria. A report by Brookings had stated: “According to our projections, Nigeria has already overtaken India as the country with the largest number of extremely poor in early 2018, and the Democratic Republic of Congo could soon take over the number 2 spot.

“At the end of May 2018, our trajectories suggest that Nigeria had about 87 million people in extreme poverty, compared with India’s 73 million. What is more, extreme poverty in Nigeria is growing by six people every minute, while poverty in India continues to fall.”

Coupled with the troubled economy is the crisis in the depressing state of the power/energy sector, which unarguably should be the engine room of the economy. The epileptic state of the sector has done more devastating blow to other economic policies and programmes of the government. While a number of firms in the manufacturing sector have closed shops or relocated to neighbouring countries with more friendly environments, others operate at an abysmal low capacity production-wise with skeletal staff strength. But more tragic is the emasculation of majority of small scale enterprises because of the protracted crisis in the power sector, which had also been a source of abnormal blood pressure to most Nigerians who are constantly harassed and compelled to pay for poor quality of services by operators in the power sector.

Successive administrations since Nigeria returned to civil rule in May 1999 claim to have channelled huge public funds into revamping infrastructure. Nonetheless, most of the federal roads, for instance, have remained work-in-progress if not left in a precarious condition. Such sectors like maritime, transportation, including rail system and aviation are begging for fresh air in terms of infrastructural development.

Unemployment, which has been on a frightening upward swing, stares the nation in the face. World leaders have warned that it is a time bomb if the menace was not properly handled by Nigerian political leadership. The rising unemployment index has thrown up more issues relating to security challenges especially because of cases of more youths getting involved in violent crises and restiveness. According to reports, unemployment rate in the country increased to 18.80 per cent in the third quarter of 2017 from 16.20 per cent in the second quarter of 2017. Unemployment Rate in Nigeria averaged 10.63 per cent from 2006 until 2017, reaching an all-time high of 19.70 per cent in the fourth quarter of 2009 and a record low of 5.10 percent in the fourth quarter of 2010.

The unity of the country also seems to be on trial because of the volatility of ethnic issues. There are complaints about lopsided federal appointments which are believed to be skewed in favour of a section of the country, specifically a part of the North. The issue has sustained raging bitterness and near ethnic bigotry across the country. Calls for a review of the trend have not fizzled out even at the threshold of the general election. The mutual suspicion across ethno-religious lines have also taken a worrisome dimension, with the rivalry culminating in occasional upheavals. The scale of religious intolerance and lack of political accommodation have been a source of grave concern to the citizenry.

Part of the three-pronged items in the pre-election promise of the incumbent president was to tame the menace of corruption, a vice that had tarred the image of the country from the era of military rule. With the hindsight of his first coming as a military head of state in 1983 when he introduced the War Against Indiscipline (WAI), it was assumed in certain quarters that the president was out to right those wrongs that indexed Nigeria as among the most corrupt countries in the world. Despite the move to step up efforts against the ‘scourge,’ the country is still mired in corrupt practices, with some top government functionaries at the centre of the storm. The general insinuation is that the war against corruption by the government has been selective, with mostly opposition politicians as targets.

From time to time, some of the political parties fielding candidates for the coming elections have equally raised issues concerning the neutrality or otherwise of the Independent National electoral Commission (INEC). Their position is that the commission needs to do more in order to convince the electorate and indeed the populace about its professed neutrality and integrity. However, INEC is often at the receiving end of either the APC or the PDP at different times on variegated issues, particularly on the outcome of elections. Related institution that remains a subject of debate are security agencies, including the Nigeria Police during elections. Some have asked curious questions on the perceived overbearing influence and awesome powers of the Establishment on the commission because of the factor of incumbency.

In major political debate and discourse, the most topical issue today is the raging fire over restructuring. Various groups and individuals in the forefront for restructuring are insisting that it should a key determinant in the 2019 general election, with vanguards of clamour making sure that it dominates electioneering culminating in the elections proper. For President Buhari, the call for restructuring so far is vague; hence the protagonists need to put it in a proper perspective. Conversely, the PDP standard-bearer, Atiku Abubakar, has committed himself to restructuring if elected.

But beyond the candidature of the parties is the place of individual manifestoes of the standard-bearers of the parties.  The blueprints of each candidate should ideally complement the manifesto of their parties. From 1999 till date, what percentage of the contents of those documents is ever implemented by the party in power, despite promises by presidential candidate?

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