Redirecting Presidential Campaigns To Issues
POLITICS is the perpetual struggle for the control of common resources (both human and material) that can be found in all spheres of human existence – from the family stage to the world stage. It is supposed to be directed at the greater justice, peace and prosperity of all the stakeholders; with tangible evidence of the Rule of Law and equality of all citizens before it, inclusive economic growth and development and security of life and property, among other dividends. The objective is comprehensive advancement of the society. But it is not always so in the Third World, which is the main reason for underdevelopment.
Nigeria is a typical host of debilitating politics. The large majority of our politicians and their parties struggle for the control of common resources for parochial objectives, without any intention — not to talk of plan – for universal public good. Here we are, again. Presidential election is less than one month away but none of the dominant political parties is telling us anything constructive and tangible about how they would generate democracy dividends better than their competitors, given the same circumstances. Instead, promises lacking in depth, scholarship and contexualisation of issues (not thought through) and that cannot be implemented, are being made. Aggressive mudslinging has taken the place of blueprints.
Yes, President Jonathan has significantly kept faith on Rule of Law and on fundamental freedom and liberty for all citizens, but the odds are stacked too much against him on security of life and property and inclusive economic growth and development. Given the resources at his disposal for six years, the Return on Investment of his government would be damn too low. It is annoying that he is being promoted as having excelled on the economy, when everything is still at the foundation stage. His handlers should rather be assisting him to articulate what that foundation amounts to and how he would make economic gains more manifest, next, given the advantage of continuity, if re-elected.
Why, for example, would Dr. Jonathan promise that the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) government would create two million jobs every year if re-elected, instead of dwelling on improvement of the enabling environment? The Federal Government cannot employ people at will in the bureaucracy. It can only operate at the macro level to create the enabling environment for the private sector to fill the gaps in production. Unemployment is rising and we are massively poor simply because we are not diversifying the economy and producing most of the goods and services we need. Rather, we are import-dependent.
In any case, how many jobs has the PDP government truly generated in his six years in power? If 1.3 million jobs were generated in 2013 as they claim, how would the government now generate 2.0 million jobs in 2015, given the continuous shrinkage in the capital expenditure budget, to be worsened by the cascading price of crude oil, which is the primary source of public revenue? The economy would contract and it would even have problems meeting the entitlements of political office holders and other public servants unless there would be a drastic cut in these entitlements and a dramatic reconfiguration of the budgets and revenue sources. In any case, it is estimated that, at least, six million new jobs need to be generated yearly for the next 10 years, if started today, or about eight million new jobs per year for the next 10 years, if delayed for two more years, to curb unemployment in Nigeria. Two million will not do!
If the PDP (which controls both the executive and the legislative arms of government) were sincerely sensitive to unemployment and to the resentment to the opulence of its leaders and government, there are four ordinary tasks it should have accomplished under President Jonathan before commencing the campaign for his re-election: (1) substantial cut in the remuneration and entitlements of senior public officers, particularly, the President, the legislators and other political office holders (2) maximum local crude oil refining capacity (3) elimination of illegal bunkering and piracy within our maritime boundaries and (4) diversification of public revenue sources. Let’s not talk about power supply and critical highways.
These measures would have been the better evidence of determination to plug glaring leakages in the cycle of national income, curtail recurrent expenditure and increase public revenue and capital expenditure, in order to galvanize production and generate employment, price stability and social stability, than another set of promises. They would have also evinced empathy and elicited bonding with the deprived and suffering masses as a matter of emotional intelligence. The devaluation and depreciation of the Naira and the tight-money regime of high interest rate, which constitute a recipe for inflation and which are inimical to long-term investment and domestic production of goods and services, could also have been minimized – if not averted – by these measures.
The most tangible achievement of the PDP government, under Dr. Jonathan, is in Rule of Law and fundamental freedom and liberty to all citizens, which, truly, constitute the primary foundation of democracy upon which all other dividends would germinate, if well cultivated. Although this foundation has been scathed here and there and speedy dispensation of justice is still an issue with the judiciary, most Nigerians can identify with the claim. His campaign can leverage on it effectively. But it also needs to articulate how it would rework the federal budget and turn the table on unemployment, the large deficit in public infrastructure and utilities as well as insecurity and despondency among the masses. It is when PDP acknowledges its glaring failures and puts a repentant plan forward that the achievement of Rule of Law as well as the fragile claims on the economy can raise hope. Sophistry will not do nor will harping on General Buhari’s perceived dictatorship do. Sacrificial leadership needs to be demonstrated.
However, it is the All Progressives Congress (APC) and its Presidential candidate, General Muhammadu Buhari, who have the worse perception problem. I am not reckoning with the allegation that he did not attain Secondary School Certificate (SSC)-level education. Surely, the cumulative education and training he had undergone in his ascendancy in the Nigerian Army must be somewhat greater than the SSC level. He was the Senior Prefect of his set and that secondary school still exists and would have archives. However, the SSC-level requirement is clearly an understatement of the intellectual demands of the job of President. A university degree would be more like it. Whatever may be, the first significant shortcoming of General Muhammadu Buhari, as a Presidential candidate, is that he cannot compete with Dr Jonathan – or any modern African President for that matter – at the intellectual level. Even his competitor who earned a doctorate degree, at times, makes one blush. How is APC addressing this?
General Buhari is well-known to be passionate about salvaging Nigeria. He is well-known to stand against all types of corruption and other forms of indiscipline, no matter what his detractors would say. His personal needs are as lean as his frame. But he had taken power by force and ruled by decrees. He is perceived to favour the translation of Nigeria into an Islamic state and to be dictatorial and fixed in his ways – going by previous actions and utterances. The later attributes are antithetical to both secularism and the practice of democracy. The process for arriving at an action, no matter how well-intentioned, is actually more important to democracy than the dividends. It dictates that you first get the process right and over time things would fall in place. Is General Buhari genuinely repented of dictatorship? Could he be trusted with the Presidency, which requires a lot of dialogue, cross-cultural and cross-functional abilities to figure things out, in a democratic – in contrast to a military – dispensation? Does he realize the difference in the Nigeria of 2015 from that of 1983, when he ruled with military advantage? General Obasanjo’s greater scholarship and global exposure, notwithstanding, we still tasted the typical soldier’s dictatorship under his elected Presidency of 1999 to 2007, particularly, between 2003 and 2007.
The APC is seen as a product of desperation and a marriage of convenience in which too many of the personalities are irreconcilable in terms of political ambition and ideology but have only collaborated to grab power first; not that they mean to offer anything different from what PDP has been seen to offer. And, in fact, the behaviours of APC and that of PDP in internal distribution of power, management and even campaign strategy are identical. For example, in their recent primaries, nomination fees were equally outrageous and candidates mostly emerged by manipulation and god-fatherism, in both parties.
Nigeria’s problem is essentially structural, systemic and institutionalized (in the most part, by successive military leaders who over-centralized political and economic control on the Federal Government) We can never realise our potential until the union is repositioned from the patronage and predatory system to a merit-driven and productive one; characterized, among others, by considerable fiscal autonomy of the constituent parts, as was the case in the First Republic. Many Nigerians detest this stranglehold while others would continue to support President Jonathan, whether good or bad, simply for the fact that his ascension to power is constitutional and, particularly, for the need to dismantle the hegemony of any section of the country.
The APC should know that it is not easy to dislodge an incumbent. It ought to be addressing these issues more seriously and constructively. Most of them could have been dismissed or, at least, dented, in one fell swoop, by choosing Governor Rotimi Amaechi or Adams Oshiomhole as the Vice-Presidential candidate. They have been in government. They are Christian (of the large Catholic denomination) young and articulate and they are confirmed great fighters. With all due respect, in contrast, Professor Yemi Osinbajo is a complete outsider that could be easily sidelined at any time — even by his benefactor!
In short, none of the parties is addressing its weaknesses and promoting its strengths adequately. The PDP is not repositioning Dr Jonathan on democratic credentials as the foundation of all other dividends, including economic dividends, but rather is harping on economic achievements that are yet in the gestation stage, rather than manifest, in the face of overwhelming insecurity and fiscal challenges worsened by rascality. On the other hand, the APC has failed to mount any credible proposition on the economy as well as security. It is not refuting liabilities hanging on its identity and candidate effectively.
Both parties must refrain from chasing shadow over substance, to avoid overheating the polity. The government should be mindful of the fact that most Nigerians are dissatisfied with previous elections since 1999 and would be waiting for the ruling party in 2015. They would expect more transparent elections, going forward and not the reverse. If the parties do not wish the country to conflagrate, the PDP government had better taken all steps to ensure transparent elections while the APC must become gracious and civil. Nigerians expect that the two-party system shall come to stay. The battle should be for the mind of the people who, hopefully, would be pitching with the more plausible party in the end.
Nwosu, a Finance and Economy Consultant, wrote from Lagos.