In Nigeria, the period running up to general elections are usually euphoric, exciting and full of hope for a better future. Because most administrations do not do particularly well, people are tired of them before the end of their tenure, and are idealistically looking forward to a Messiah who will take over at the end of that cycle and turn things around for the country. Unfortunately, these hopes are usually dashed by the performance of the new governments, be it Federal or State Governments. Those who can boast of doing well in this Fourth Republic, are few and far between. This time around is no different. I hate to be a bearer of bad news, but, something tells me that our hopes may once again be dashed, if what we are seeing in the political arena is indicative of what is to come. The two major political parties, APC and PDP (and even some of the smaller ones like ADC), seem to be more interested in in-fighting and aspirants taking each other to court to secure party tickets than publishing their manifestos, especially now that campaign season opened last Wednesday.
Sloganeering fatigue: Discharging the burden of proof
Sections 4, 5, & 6 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) set out the role of the three arms of government, the Legislature, Executive and Judiciary, respectively; while Chapter II of the Constitution, Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy, sets out the aims and essence of government and governance. We are tired of sloganeering – ‘Change’; Next Level’; ‘Fight Against Corruption’; ‘From Consumption to Production’ etc. What Nigerians are expecting from all candidates, whether Presidential, Gubernatorial or otherwise, are robust manifestos which not only describe how they intend to achieve the Chapter II constitutional goals, but also give us a road map on how they intend to bring solutions to the myriad of challenges which Nigeria is facing. Nigerians are now becoming like the great Philosopher, Socrates, who liked to ask why and how! It is also trite law that, he who alleges must prove. See the case of Lead Merchant Bank Ltd v Salami & Ors (2007) LPELR-8600 (CA) per Monica Dongban-Mensem JCA (now PCA). In the case of political candidates, while their campaign promises can be likened to allegations, how they intend to make good on these promises can also be likened to the discharging the burden of proof.
Enquiring minds want to know!
I think the three most important issues that Nigerians want to know about presently are security, fuel subsidy (economy) and education. I use the word ‘presently’, because some priorities could change. For instance, in 2020, handling the Covid-19 pandemic effectively became an unplanned priority, over and above many other issues.
The security and welfare of the people are primary purpose of government – see Section 14 (2)(b) of the Constitution. Security is also closely tied to the economy, in that where there’s insecurity, it is unlikely that an economy can thrive. I often find it amusing when the first thing politicians say when they are asked how they will create employment and increase exports, is that they will boost farming/the agricultural sector. Pray tell, who will venture out to the farm, mines etc, while facing the risk of being murdered or assaulted therein by herdsmen, kidnappers and terrorists? After all, self-preservation is the first law of nature. The environment must be secure.
While we do not expect the candidates to reveal the nitty gritty of their security plan, we want to know some of the basics. Are they going to recruit more people into the Police and Army? Presently, the Police to Citizens ratio in Nigeria is grossly inadequate, at about 1:648 or so in 2018 (according to RipplesMetrics). Do candidates support State Police? How do they plan to secure our porous land borders, which non-Nigerian criminals are said to use to gain access into the country illegally? What are they going to do about the forests where the terrorists and kidnappers reside? Are they going to seek foreign assistance in fighting insecurity? Are they going to continue with open grazing which has been part of the reason for the incessant violence, especially against farmers and farming communities, or encourage ranching by actually creating a favourable environment for it? For instance, even though some States have recently enacted anti-open grazing laws due to the alarming increase in herdsmen attacks, the Federal Highways (Prohibition of Livestock and Handcarts) Regulations of 15/7/1972 under Section 27 of the Federal Highways Act, in Section 1(1)(a) & (c) has long since prohibited and criminalised movement of livestock other than in a motor vehicle and open grazing on Federal highways and immediately adjacent land, prescribing a fine or sentence of up to three months imprisonment or both upon conviction (see Section 1(4)).
What are the candidates’ realistic plan to reduce unemployment, which is another cause of insecurity? Nigerians know the questions; we want the answers, so that we can make informed choices on who to vote for, based on their responses at least. And, we are not accepting any motivational speeches that are just that, motivational speeches with no concrete action plan. What is the road map to development?
Fuel subsidy & economy
The day after President William Ruto of Kenya resumed office, he removed the fuel subsidy, citing subsidies as costly and prone to abuse. We now know that even if, initially, fuel subsidy was introduced in the 1970s to make petrol more affordable for Nigerians, with the government paying the difference between the international market rate and the Government fixed price of fuel, fuel subsidy has since metamorphosed into a scam of phenomenal proportions where the quantity of Nigeria’s true fuel needs are shrouded in secrecy, so that ‘some’ are making a fortune by presenting inflated falsified figures of imported fuel, even presenting fake documentation without importing anything at all, and collecting from government on same. The funds that should be expended on infrastructure, healthcare, education and development generally, are being wasted on enriching those who are involved in this fraudulent enterprise. It may be time to bring an end to the subsidy regime. We want definite answers from the candidates on this issue; no more skirting around it. It will also be of no use, if the savings made from ending fuel subsidy, end up in individuals’ pockets, instead of being made good use of.
How do the candidates intend to revamp the economy? We need to attract FDI; what plans do they have to boost our manufacturing industry and exports (trade credit) in order to get a favourable balance of trade where our exports exceed our imports, and help to strengthen our seriously weakened currency? I remember a time when if I ran out of money, I would just enter a particular Bureau de Change located at Marble Arch in London, and exchange my Naira for Pounds Sterling; will those days ever come back again? Or do they just intend to continue borrowing, without creating an atmosphere that will put Nigeria in a position to repay her debts and develop? How do they plan to harness our untapped resources like gas and other precious minerals deposited all over this richly endowed country? Are they just going to leave them to lie fallow as they have been doing? How do they intend to reduce the cost of governance, and make the Civil Service more efficient?
Education & healthcare
When it comes to education, the number of out-of-school children in Nigeria has hit an all time high – 10 million or so, while it has become a yearly ritual for ASUU to go on strike and keep public University students out of school for months on end, annually. How will States and the Federal Government get children back to school? What is the proposal for a lasting solution to the ASUU crisis? For example, if the fuel subsidy is removed, instead of lining the pockets of a few conscienceless corrupt people, part of the funds saved can be channelled to education, healthcare and other important infrastructure. What plans do the candidates have for providing security in schools, because of the regular kidnapping of students from their schools en masse?
Many of our medical personnel are ‘checking out’ to greener pastures because of poor working conditions and inadequate facilities in our hospitals. Infant and maternal mortality rate is higher than it should be. What are the candidates going to do about revamping our healthcare sector, in terms of physical facilities and Human Resources?
Administration of justice sector
What are the candidates going to do about the administration of justice sector? It is only in the twilight of this administration, that President Buhari seems to be showing some concern about the poor conditions of service of judicial officers. He mentioned in his remarks at the Commissioning of the Body of Benchers Complex last week, that these conditions are being reviewed. What are their plans for Judiciary funding, for prison conditions and decongestion?
Youths & women
How do the candidates intend to give the much needed relevance to youths and women, who constitute over 50% of the voting population in Nigeria? The Youths also make up about 60% of our population. It is bizarre that those who form the majority of our population, have little say in the affairs of our country. Men, especially the older ones, who are responsible for reducing Nigeria to the terrible state she is in today, are the same ones who rotate government amongst themselves. We cannot do things the same way, and expect different results.
Fighting corruption & workers’ remuneration
Just as insecurity kills development, so also is corruption a destroyer. Is it going to be business as usual? For one, inadequate remuneration for workers is synonymous with corruption and crime. How do the candidates plan to attack corruption from all angles? What are they going to do to improve the plight of the Nigerian worker, and make society more equitable?
Do the candidates have a restructuring agenda, or do they intend to continue with this unitary system that is not ideal for a heterogeneous country like ours? How do candidates hope to foster unity amongst Nigerians, who have never been so divided as they are today, in terms of tribe and religion? These questions are just a tip of the iceberg, regarding what the candidates should be showing and telling Nigerians as we get closer to the next general elections in 2023, instead of trying to distract us from asking these crucial questions with their pointless bickering. How do people who cannot even keep their parties intact, think they can keep Nigeria whole and strong? Charity, they say, begins at home.