Time To Vote, By Dele Agekameh
These elections should not be decided on the basis of the usual criteria – wealth, existence of ‘political guarantors’ and dare-devilry. We must make informed choices. Also, all agencies involved must serve the greater interest of the country.
It has been a roller coaster ride in public affairs in Nigeria, since President Muhammadu Buhari won a landmark victory at the polls in 2015, through the political vehicle of the All Progressives Congress (APC). His victory was historic because it marked the first time, since the return to civilian rule in 1999, that an incumbent president was unseated by a rival candidate and party. For his part, former President Goodluck Jonathan of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) accepted defeat very early on, thereby fortifying the victory with peaceful legitimacy. Thus, the events of the last election have set a standard for elections in Nigeria and the time has now come to test the system, along with the candidates, in this coming election.
From seemingly bewildering inaction on pressing issues, to brazen and calculated official manoeuvres, especially on the anti-corruption front, the present administration has certainly made an impression on Nigerians. As in all things, there are mixed feelings, and these feelings will be unearthed, one way or the other, this weekend. The opposition, consisting of a mammoth PDP and several other minor parties, has been posturing for months, ahead of the showdown. Although parties like Kingsley Moghalu’s Young People’s Party (YPP) threaten to be a dark horse in the race, Nigerians do not need any divination to know that this is a two horse race.
Promises are being made on both sides of the divide. The APC and its candidate, President Buhari, promise to take the country to the next level (of ‘change’, one presumes). Running in 2015 on the promise of change, President Buhari’s government has put a new shade to governance, one that has produced many positives like the payment of pension arrears owed for many years, and some negatives, like the multiple cases of human rights violations by government agents.
Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, now of the PDP, is, interestingly, the ‘Buhari’ of 2015. He has laboured hard to realise his presidential ambition for years, but he now has the biggest opportunity to do so, having finally gotten on a ticket. Sounding, rather uncomfortably, like Donald Trump of the United States of America, he says he wants to “get Nigeria working again”. Shaking off the aspersions to his character and moral uprightness that linger on from his days as vice president, he is packaging himself as the new messiah.
Despite the promises, Nigerians are all too aware that the two leading candidates were, just months ago, comrades in the same APC that defeated the Goliath PDP in 2015. Having joined APC to defeat a Goliath he helped create, Atiku’s ambition has now taken him back, to repair the broken limbs and ego of the PDP. Atiku’s political elasticity is unfortunately widely replicated, especially between the APC and PDP, such that one of the major concerns of the election is that the two front running parties are cut from the same cloth, even though they appear to be saying different things.
For the first time in presidential election campaigning in Nigeria, the voice of the candidates for vice president seem to have gained more importance, almost at the level of the presidential candidates. The APC has unwittingly created a stronger, or in the least, more vocal, office of the vice president and this is reflected in the choice of deputies for the leading candidates.
The state of play right now in Nigeria is also deeply concerning. Without doubt, the matter of the terrorists in the North-East is at the forefront of concerns. During the early part of Buhari’s administration, there was significant improvement in military operations that saw people return to communities they had fled in fear of the terrorists in that region. Lately, however, with a change in strategy by the terrorists, the military is struggling and the sense of insecurity has risen sharply, perhaps to new heights, with the rumoured involvement of organised and experienced Islamic State fighters in the theatre of war.
The rising insecurity has dented confidence in the military, and within the military itself, due to issues related to funding and complications in logistics. The candidates of the coming election and their associates have had a lot to say about this, but frankly, Nigerians have heard it all before. Without doubt, the insecurity in the North-East and other regions will weigh on minds, especially in the North, during the election.
Following the issue of insecurity is unemployment, and presidential candidates have made it clear that it is the offshoot of economic problems. For this reason, debates and conferences focusing on the economy have taken place. The present administration relies on the patience of Nigerians for the groundwork that has been laid in the past three-and-a-half years to bear fruit in the possible next term of the administration.
Atiku and his chosen deputy, Peter Obi, have however launched a campaign, pressing on the patience of Nigerians and presenting themselves as the complete economic package, being two successful businessmen outside of government. Although other parties have interesting things to say about the economy, insecurity and other issues, Nigerians seem to show more interest in what the APC and PDP candidates have to say. This negates the issue created by concern for the transmigration of politicians between the PDP and APC in recent years. Therefore, by gravitating towards these parties, we are signaling tolerance or acceptance for this practice as a fact of our political life.
For the first time in presidential election campaigning in Nigeria, the voice of the candidates for vice president seem to have gained more importance, almost at the level of the presidential candidates. The APC has unwittingly created a stronger, or in the least, more vocal, office of the vice president and this is reflected in the choice of deputies for the leading candidates. There is a sense that many presidential votes may be swayed by the choice of vice president on the ballot, and the two frontrunners have very strong deputies indeed.
The season for decision making is upon us again in Nigeria, where we are all expected to utilise our intellect and sense of discernment to make leadership decisions for the next four years. The outcome of our decisions will speak directly to our collective intellect as a nation, as it always has.
In the present administration, only the rumoured “cabal”, who allegedly call the shots in Aso Rock, threaten the importance of the office of the vice president, and the inability of the Buhari administration to clearly put that rumour to rest may weigh in on voting decisions this weekend. Curiously, on the campaign trail, the president has been missing some of the heavy weights of his administration, like Babagana Kingibe, Attorney General Abubakar Malami, Chief of Staff Abba Kyari, Mamman Daura and some others who came to prominence in his administration after his victory at the last outing.
Beyond the presidential elections, the race for legislative positions may be more important in the long run, due to the system of politics in Nigeria. Although the style of the present government threatens to curb the influence of the lawmakers, their constitutional importance cannot be erased. That is why we need to get the best hands on deck at that level, so we can build from the grassroots. Most of the seasoned legislators, who unsurprisingly are seeking yet another return to the legislative houses, are spent forces and tired government functionaries who seek lucrative ‘retirement’ into the back bench of the National Assembly.
There are, however, some shining stars on the legislative ballot in this election. One esteemed example from Bayelsa State is a candidate for the seat in the House of Representatives for the Yenagoa/Kolokuma/Opokuma federal constituency, Professor Steve Azaiki (OON). The immediate past pro-chancellor of the Niger Delta University is a well-travelled man of letters, who combines a successful track record in public service with a thorough academic aptitude that is missing in 90 per cent of the so-called lawmakers that presently occupy or have occupied seats in the National Assembly. It was a pleasure to see him take the step that many versed and capable Nigerians avoid because of the nature of our politics. He is definitely one to watch in the National Assembly elections and in the nation’s political scene for many years to come.
These elections should not be decided on the basis of the usual criteria – wealth, existence of ‘political guarantors’ and dare-devilry. We must make informed choices. Also, all agencies involved must serve the greater interest of the country. From the Holy Bible, Ecclesiastes chapter 3 verse 1 says, “to everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven…”. The season for decision making is upon us again in Nigeria, where we are all expected to utilise our intellect and sense of discernment to make leadership decisions for the next four years. The outcome of our decisions will speak directly to our collective intellect as a nation, as it always has.
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