The long awaited 2019 general elections are just around the corner; and the Presidential and National Assembly elections are just barely six weeks ahead.
As the dates for the elections rapidly approach, election campaigning by the candidates and their parties, will expectedly become intensified and ramped up – at least by the more serious contending parties and candidates.
In this context and given that general elections are intrinsically potentially very impactful on the life and trajectory of the nation and her citizens; it is incumbent that we are in a position to make informed and enlightened choice.
This is because Choices Have Consequences, and the decision that we make as citizens in voting, will determine the choices that we make during the elections, the consequences of which we would have to live with for the next four years.
The National Assembly: Let us begin with the Federal Legislative – that is the National Assembly (NASS) elections. The Legislature as an arm of government is a critical component of the government mechanism and plays quite a decisive role in the processes, dimension and structure of governance.
Yet it does not seem that we as citizens, or the would-be legislators are taking this very seriously. We are presently confronted with several critical problems of nation building that confront us as a nation, and which require legislative intervention.
The most critical of these include around the reform of the Oil and Gas sector, with legislative reforms that have been pending over the last 17 years, in the form of the Petroleum Industry Bill(s), the latest version of which failed to become law during 2018 because of the refusal of presidential assent.
There is of course also the failed Electoral Act Amendment Bill, which failed twice in the last one year alone to become law again due to refusal of presidential assent on two consecutive occasions.
And then there is the intensifying internal security challenges, ranging in scope from Boko Haram insurgency, through herdsmen-farmers conflicts to kidnapping, which has now become a national franchise, as well as the growing scale, scope and intensity of other violent crimes including rural banditry, armed robbery etc, among others.
There is also the ever-recurrent issue of restructuring, including establishment of state police, as well as resource control; all of which gained in stridency in the course of politicking as the elections approach.
And of course, we also have the vexatious issue of constituency projects and the appropriation of funds for such by the legislature. What is the position of the candidates and their parties on the issue of constituency projects? Should the practice be scrapped? Or should the process be sanitised within a clear cut legislative framework? What is their position on the bills before the two chambers of the NASS regarding provision of legislative framework for the constituency project management?
Yet, despite all of these, I have yet to find any of the NASS candidates, including those seeking re-election, from the serving Senate president and the serving Speaker of the House of Representatives (HoR), through the current principals officers of the NASS down to every other candidate; I have yet to see any instance where any of these issues have been or are being canvassed by any of these candidates. Nor does the manifesto and or the general election platforms of any of these candidates and their parties speak any clear detail to any of these issues.
Thus, neither the legislative candidates, nor their parties have developed and presented any clear legislative agenda for the country; nor are they canvassing for any such agenda.
Yet as citizens, we are supposed to vote in the general elections to choose our representatives to the NASS! On what basis are we supposed to make such a choice.
Not a single one of the NASS candidates is talking about and canvassing positions about their oversight functions, and how they might utilise this to address some of the major challenges we are facing as a country, in their role as members of the NASS in their relationship with the executive and oversight of government activities.
The Presidency: Let us now turn our attention to the Presidency and to the programmes and campaign promises being made by the presidential candidates, ranging from the incumbent President, who is seeking re-election, to all the other candidates who are seeking to replace the incumbent.
The first issue to raise is what are the programmes and policy proposals of the presidential candidates? What are they saying and promising citizens and electorate? What are their parties saying? What is the level of congruence or divergence between the campaign platforms of the candidates and those of their respective parties?
This is very important. The programmes and policy proposals of the candidates will enable us to know the extent to which the candidates understand our challenges, and the extent to which the solutions they are proposing can potentially help to fix the problems.
Second, the degree of convergence or divergence between the candidates and their parties will also help us to gauge whether the programmes being proposed by the candidates are understood and endorsed by their parties or not.
Given the experience of the lack of synergy, and the level of dysfunctionality between the legislature and the executive, both of which arms of government are controlled by the same “governing” party in the current dispensation; this measure of the level of convergence or divergence between the party, its presidential candidate, and its legislative candidates, in indeed very important and significant as a factor to consider.
If we begin with the incumbent, we must ask for clear cut evidence of the ability to move the nation to the Next Level. We must first ask where are we at the moment? What is the foundation for moving to the next level?
The ruling party and the current regime came into office on the basis of a three-pronged campaign platform around which over 200 individual promises were made. These three prongs are Improving the economy, tackling insecurity and fighting corruption.
On the economic front it took over 18 months to develop their Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP), which was to be the framework for their response to the economic recession and crisis that they met in office.
Even though the plan took long in coming, yet when it eventually came, it came incomplete, given that the plan suggested that implementation plans will still require to be developed for each priority area and pillar of the plan. As we write, these implementation plans are still in the process of being developed, yet three budget cycles aimed at realising the ERGP have already been concluded!
And what has been the result? Unemployment has grown from around 15% in 2015 to 23% in 2018, with composite, that is general unemployment including underemployment rate rising from around 30% to about 40% over the same period; while youth unemployment also grew over the same period to 55% in 2018.
Poverty rate has also increased, with Nigeria rising to become the country with the largest number of people living in poverty in the world, that is living on less than $1.5 a day, at 87 million people, by July 2018. Relative poverty on the other hand has also grown with more than 80% living on less than $2 a day. We are also home to the largest number of out of school children in Africa, and the third largest in the world, at 13.6 million children.
Add to this, the fact that the most recent figures from the NBS also indicate that about 14 sectors of the economy recorded a decline of about $3.45bn (that is N1.05tn) in investment inflow between the first and third quarters of 2018. Investment in shares were the most affected, followed by Banking and Finance sector. Other sectors that witnessed declines in investment inflow include in this order; agriculture, brewing, electrical, marketing, oil and gas, servicing, telecoms, trading, among others.
With respect to insecurity, it is sufficient to state that the level of insecurity has grown exponentially since 2015, with herdsmen and farmers’ clashes, kidnapping for ransom, rural banditry, violent and rampant armed robbery, rising in intensity to join the Boko Haram insurgency as severe and critical nationwide internal security threats.
And as for the anti-corruption fight, the jury is still out!
Nothing in the ruling party’s and its presidential candidate’s programme and policy proposals give any indication of a clear understanding of why these problems are intensifying rather than abating regardless of government’s intervention programmes; nor is there a clear proposal on how we might address these problems, and how the next four years will produce a different outcome from the current four-year tenure.
But what about the challengers? Atiku’s and the PDP’s main selling point is supposedly the so-called wonder years of 1999 to 2007 when the PDP was in power, and when Atiku was the Vice President and head of the Economic Team.
Yet the period was also one that laid the foundation for non-inclusive growth, that saw the economy growing at an average of 5% per annum, but that also saw very steep rises in unemployment and poverty. The gap between the rich and the poor began to widen dangerously, all of which processes were continued and consolidated under subsequent PDP governments between 2007 and 2015. Under the PDP regime unemployment grew from less than 8% to about 30%, with poverty rising from 54% to 69% by 2012, and to over 72% by 2015.
Atiku, along with Oby of ACPN, Kingsley a success, of YPP among others also seem to have resolved that the panacea to our economic problems is wholesale privatisation.
Yet, even though they mention the privatisation of telecoms sector as success, we have seen with the gigantuan failure of the privatisation of the power sector that this is neither the only, nor most failsafe option available to grow the economy.
Both Atiku and Oby have stated clearly that they will privatise the refineries for instance, which they have labelled moribund failures. The question to ask is why any investor will be interested in buying a moribund enterprise in the first place? Is this not another attempt to open up the economy to robbery by a few? And by the way, the privatisation of NITEL failed. What happened was that the private sector was allowed to operate and invest in the sector, with some of NITEL’s core assets given away to two private sector operators who were given licenses as two national carrier operators.
Oby has also said that she will lift 80 million Nigerians out of poverty, that is 80 out of the current 87 million living in abject poverty; while also stating that she will reduce the number of out of school children by 20% annually (that is by more than 2.5 million children annually) if voted into office.
How might these two promises be achieved? We do not know, since the first promise was made in the course of speech while launching her campaign, and the second was made in a series of tweets recently – in Trump version.
So, although Oby has challenged candidates to make the election issue-based and release their policy proposals, what we have from her so far are policy directions, not policy frameworks.
Why do we have such a huge amount of out of school children for instance? Insecurity, would be a major factor. Poverty will be another major factor. How might the school environment be made safe and secure for children? And on the other hand, how might the general environment be made safe and secure for schools to operate? For teachers to teach? What about the quantity and quality of teachers and teaching? And hence the need to reform and revamp teacher education?
And to this we might add the fact that given the high levels of unemployment among the educated and graduates, there is very little incentive to seek education as a path towards self-actualisation. So how will her government tackle insecurity in schools, ensure that the UBEC law which makes basic education, not only a right, but mandatory and free up to JSS 3, is implemented and enforced?
What about the education curriculum? A number of candidates seem to believe that the problem is that our education is not entrepreneurial in orientation. Yet an economy as this regime and the ruling elite were recently reminded by Bill Gates, require not only entrepreneurs, but also educated, skilled and competent workers to work in the businesses established by these entrepreneurs.
Investment in social capital development therefore requires investment in a functional, problem solving, education system that integrates training to the needs of society and the economy and polity, with a view to producing products that are integrated into the economy, and can function effectively and efficiently within the economy, driving the realisation of the priorities set by the society.
Many of the candidates have also talked about addressing insecurity (within the context of restructuring) and restructuring of Nigeria (among these are Atiku – PDP, Oby – ACPN, Kingsley – YPP, Sina Fagbenro – KOWA, Soyode – YES). And what has been their proposals? Again, without any clarity about how they might be achieved. Many of them seem to uniformly agree that they will reform the security architecture and establish state police while promoting community policing. Additionally, some, in particular Gbenga Hashim of Peoples’ Trust (PT) have also said they will establish a National Guard as a buffer between the Police and the Military, in order to relieve the military of routine internal security duties.
To be sure, this is the most innovative internal security policy proposal yet on offer, given that Gbenga Hashim of PT has also proposed to vest the mandate for protection of individual rights of citizens in the federal police; nevertheless, none of the candidates promoting devolution of policing powers and establishment of state police have made any pronouncements about how to address the core problem of indigenship versus citizenship with respect to recruitment of personnel for the state police, and the role of the state police vis-à-vis so-called non indigenes resident in the respective states; just as non has also addressed the question of synergy and coordination across different jurisdictions. For instance, between the state police of different states, and between the state police of one or more than one state and the federal police where jurisdictions overlap. None seem to have also taken into account the need for state custodial and prison systems, as well as for state judiciaries that are autonomous of the federal judiciary while also being independent of the executive arms of government.
And just as with the state police, none of the candidates have addressed recruitment into the state prisons system, and the state judiciary. Whether these will be on the basis of state of origin or on the basis of state of residence; in other words, whether this will be on the basis of indigenship or on the basis of residency.
Some candidates, of KOWA and YES parties in particular have also talked in favour of states controlling their resources. Yet as in other cases, they have not made any clear proposals about what this means, and how it might be implemented? What would this mean with respect to how revenue is generated and allocated between the federal and state governments? And more importantly, when a state is controlling its resources, what is the implication of this with respect to ability to benefit from this control, by so-called none indigenes, who nevertheless are resident in such a state?
It seems to me that the major challenge with respect to any major radical reform of the structures of the economy and polity is the ability to first and foremost address the question of citizenship and resolve the contestation and tension between settlers and indigenes, in favour of universal citizenship (of all Nigerians) based on residency (anywhere in the country). Yet none of the candidates, including the incumbent, seem to have this basic and central understanding, nor do they consequently have any proposals to address this, or any notion of what needs to be done in this regard.
But even more importantly, among the challengers with the possible exception of Atiku of the PDP, (because the PDP already has effective national electoral presence and potential); none of the challengers seem to understand the necessity for a legislative agenda, and thus for an effective legislative presence if they win the presidential elections, and if they were to be in a position to implement their programmes subsequently after victory.
And yet, this is the most significant test of their leadership capacity. Because if they are not just running for the sake of running, this is the time to build a national movement with a nationwide momentum, that can not only propel them into office, but also deliver for their programmes, legislative chamber that is willing and able to work with them to realise their programmes.
Virtually all of them are going around as if it is self-sufficient to win the Presidency in order to make the changes they seek to make happen.
They are all behaving as if once the presidency is won, the legislature will automatically follow its leadership.
If you are not building alliances and networks now, and you are not building a nationwide popular political movement behind your programmes, then even if you somehow win the Presidential election, you will be incapable of functioning at all, let alone effectively.
And yes Emmanuel Macron, was relatively a political novice and outsider; yes, he was anti-establishment; but he not only won the Presidency, the momentum of his movement also won him the legislature.
Same for Donald Trump, whose effectiveness as president is even now less likely with the Democratic Party takeover of the House of Representatives.
So, both for the candidates and their parties; as well as for citizens as electorate, the choices we are making now and that we shall make in the coming general elections will have consequences for us.
-Jaye Gaskia is National Convener of Take Back Nigeria Movement (TBN)