The people’s agenda – Part 1

PHOTO: PIUS UTOMI EKPEI / AFP

In the next few days or so, INEC will formally flag off the campaigns for the 2019 general elections. The masquerades will be out. Expect our towns and cities to be festooned with beautiful posters and bill boards marketing the elective office seekers.

Electioneering campaigns are great and fun times. They bring out the best and the worst in men and women who seek public offices. We should be prepared to take the best and the worst from the candidates and their political parties. They will play dirty, impugning one another’s integrity and reputation. No shaking. All is air in war as it is in politics. It is the way the game is played here and elsewhere. Welcome to elections, 2019.

World and local attention will focus essentially on those who seek to occupy Aso Rock. One wants to remain; the others want to end his tenancy. You do not need me to remind you that this is the biggest of the elective offices up for grabs next year. The man who wins the coveted office fair and square, all things being equal, on the consent of the electorate as president will be the most powerful public office holder in the country and one of the most powerful men in the world too. The power to make or destroy individual fortunes is entirely in his hands. He is, to put it in simple terms, the decider-in-chief of the fate of our country and of all of us. Awesome.

Everyone wants it. Thirty men and women are in the race for the office next year. Great. All things being equal, we, the people, will make our rational choice from among them. In the next few days or weeks, we should expect each one of them to unveil his plans for the Nigeria of his dreams. We will be offered great, lofty and thoughtful ideas calculated to make the candidates look presidential. The great and the lowly have a mutual attraction. So, we should expect an indigestible diet of stupidities and inanities from them too; half-baked ideas pushed by those who are in the race as jokers and who have not really given some serious thoughts to the office, its demands and the level of responsibilities thrust upon the Aso Rock tenant. We have been through all that five times already from 1999.

So, what do we expect this time? More of the same or something vastly different? Will the candidates change the narrative from bread and butter politics and offer us something refreshingly different as we struggle mightily to rise from the murk of broken promises and shattered dreams? What, indeed, should drive the national narratives in the 2019 presidential election?

To do it differently, this should not be about what our politicians have to offer us but rather what they intend to make of the people’s agenda – a plethora of problems solidified from a web of lies and deceit, missed and cynically scuttled opportunities, despairs and frustrations, most of which have been with us since that great sailor. Noah, was doing still his thing in the ark.

I believe we can do things differently this time around by centring our national narrative in election 2019 around what we, the people, worry about, not what would make great sound bites for the politicians. I believe the people’s agenda would help us rescue our country from the characteristic low level of thinking and politicking that has, to paraphrase former President Ibrahim Babangida, seen the country rise to greatness only to fall back to the dark depths of despair.

As someone has rightly said, politics is too serious to be left to the politicians. We have left politics to the politicians for far too long for our own good and the good of our country by limiting the right of the people to participate in our democracy to casting their votes on election day. A national narrative driven from the point of view of the people’s agenda would help the politicians to have a focus. And through this we would know the candidates who are in the race for Nigeria.

I have looked into the people’s agenda. I offer you here what I distilled from it.

Security. This is the number one item on the people’s agenda because everything else hangs on it. The people need to be safe and secure wherever they are in the country. The wise men who framed our constitution had the presence of mind to impose security as the number one duty on the Nigerian government. Section 14 subsection 2 (b) of the constitution says “the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government.”

Nigeria has not been this insecure in its 58 years of independence. Killings of Nigerians by Nigerians has become the new face of political, religious and ethnic intolerance. It makes the building of one nation, one destiny a pipe dream. If we are not secure, we cannot feel free to pursue our legitimate means of livelihood. No modern nation can afford to be turned into a jungle by its own people with the government as a confused witness. What say the candidates?

Education. We have the largest number of universities on the continent but none is rated as a world class institution. It is not difficult to see why. We have replaced mere literacy with education. The emphasis is on certificates, not on learning. Education is rated as number two on the people’s agenda because if we fail to get it right, we will never get our development as a nation right. We will, if you would excuse the hackneyed phrase, continue to beat about the bush and regard the licence to open a new university in a primary school classroom as a giant stride in our educational development. What say the candidates?

Ethnic and religious polarisation. This has increasingly become a major national problem. Each constitutes a dangerous fault line in the country. It ranks as number three on the people’s agenda because ethnicity and religion mean much more to us than our tribal origin and our personal faith. They are also tools for economic, political and social denial, suppression, oppression and marginalisation. Because of tribe and religion some of us are fenced out of our legitimate rights and opportunities as citizens. What say the candidates?

Justice. Every community strives or professes to be just. But we know what the emperor is wearing – a bathe day suit, not a silk gown. This is number four on the people’s agenda because our nation appears to have accepted birth, religion and wealth as the means to dispense justice, thus making the country just for some and unjust for others. But where there is no justice, the people suffer in silence – the poor in the hands of the rich and the weak in the hands of the powerful. What say the candidates?

Power. It is no news that Nigeria is the biggest market for generators of all sizes from India, South Korea, Japan and Europe. Just think of how long this country has been battling with this basic necessity of modern life. The more money spent on it, the less power we enjoy. Another funny paradox. We are regularly promised more light through something called megawatts. But I can only see Mega Chicken, not megawatts.

This rates as number five on the people’s agenda because I do not think anyone needed to be persuaded that epileptic power supply had held the very enterprising Nigerians down and prevented them from moving the mountain. Countries do not develop with the aid of candle light. Uninterrupted power supply is at the heart of industrial and economic development. Our industrialists are frustrated by lack of power. Ghana, South Africa and other African countries with enough and steady power supply did not do this by magic. They planned and executed policies that made this possible. I can find no reasons why this country should still be struggling with a problem every African country has put behind it years ago. What say the candidates?
(To be concluded)

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