With unemployment at about 33%, inflation at 22%, over a 130million Nigerians living below the poverty line, over 20 million Nigeria kids out of school; over 600 pre-election matters before the courts and a Federal High Court Practice Direction that is being flouted; and a total public debt stock of State Governments and the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, at N44.06 trillion and a total public debt figure as of June 30, 2022, put at N42. 84 trillion, this election year is one where anything can happen.
The specter of gloom couldn’t have been any stacker.
The candidates have been making promises about solving all of Nigeria’s problems, with some pointing at track records while others present tantalizing promises. What are the issues and what are the likely consequences of the choices Nigerians make at the polls?
By Jide Ajani
It has become a matter of organic necessity for Nigerians to get it right this year. The phrase, organic necessity, was used by J. Robert Oppenheimer.
In 1942, as part of the Manhattan Project’s research and development work, “Oppenheimer was asked to coordinate work on the atomic bomb”, according to the story.
President Harry Truman had given orders for a bomb to be used against Japan as soon as possible to bring a swift end to the Second World War. The first atomic bomb was exploded at Alamogordo in New Mexico on July 16, 1945. The first bomb was dropped on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945 and a second on Nagasaki three days later (August 9). The devastation was far more horrifying than had been anticipated. Japan surrendered on August 14, 1945. Oppenheimer said “the reason that we did this job is because it was an organic necessity”. At least, the war came to an end, justifying the horrors inflicted by the atomic bomb.
This year, Nigerians will be going to the polls to elect another set of government officials. Making the right choice is a matter of organic necessity.
The presidential and federal parliamentary elections are to hold on Saturday, February 25 while the governorship and state legislative elections will hold on Saturday, March 11. The Electoral Act, 2022 is expected to help create a better ecosystem for the 2023 elections because of the innovations and timeous nature of its provisions which reflect, largely, the will of Nigerians.
However, the actors, who are expected to give effect to the provisions, are crucial in the chain. From the leading candidates, to the electorate as well as the judiciary and security agencies, it is time for Nigerians to embrace the KIDS principle of deciding what to “Keep”, what to “Improve”, what needs to be “Discarded” and what needs to be “Saved”.
Unemployment is about 33%, inflation at 22%, over 130million Nigerians living below poverty line and over 20million Nigeria kids out of school. Add to this is the fact that there are over 600 pre-election matters before the courts and a Federal High Court Practice Direction that is being flouted.
According to the Debt Management Office, DMO, “Total public debt stock, which comprises the total domestic and external debt stock of the Federal Government of Nigeria (FGN), all State Governments and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), stood at N44. 06 trillion. In comparison, the total public debt figure as of June 30, 2022, was N42. 84 trillion”. These, in an election year where anything can happen.
There is a general consensus among Nigerians that things cannot continue like this. Yet, consciously or sub-consciously, successive administrations continue to do the same thing while expecting different output and outcomes. Interestingly, some of those who occupy offices at the federal level do not see any need to devolve powers to states. Being beneficiaries of the skewed structure, some elected public office holders pay lip service to the need to change course. Calls to members of the National Assembly to legislate, either through enactment or amendment, on some economic and political issues that require restructuring or realignment for effective governance and progressive outcomes have almost always fallen on deaf ears. The popular saying about doing the same thing and expecting different outcomes relates to mental health issues, and may, after all, be right about Nigeria.
Over the years, the nation’s template for backwardness only gets refined but, structurally, it remains the same, and has been delivering the same output while playing out the same set of outcomes. Decades ago, Chinua Achebe wrote that there is nothing wrong with the Nigerian soil, weather or water, but said the missing link is leadership. That is why it has become a matter of organic necessity for Nigerians to get it right this year (2023). Who are the key players to watch out for? What are the issues around security? How prepared is the electoral commission? What is the outlook for Election Day activities? What are the outcomes expected? What consequences lay in wait?
There are politicians and key actors in the political sphere expected to play major roles in this year’s elections.
Already, the candidates and their coterie of campaign council appointees have been doing their things in ways they know best but which sometimes do not best serve the interest of peace, decorum and decency. Apart from President Muhammadu Buhari who has urged Nigerians to vote for the candidate of their choice, no other outgoing elected public office holder has demonstrated that sense of equanimity.
Key players to watch out for are the presidential candidates of the major political parties, as well as state governors seeking re-election or outgoing governors who have vested interest in securing victory for their associates. The contestation for power has never been fiercer than it is preparatory to the 2023 general elections.
Campaigns have also been heated as some leading candidates and their spokespersons have been dancing naked in the public as well as regaling members of the public with wild promises and outright lies about what they will deliver.
The following persons or categories of persons are of interest in this regard:
• Atiku Abubakar, a former vice president and presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP
• Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso, presidential candidate of the New Nigeria Peoples Party, NNPP – he was a former governor, senator and minister.
• Peter Obi, a former state governor and Labour Party, LP, presidential candidate
• Bola Tinubu, All Progressives Congress, APC, presidential candidate, a former governor and senator.
Then, there is the Governor Nyesom Wike group, comprising Governors Seyi Makinde of Oyo State; Samuel Ortom of Benue State; Okezie Ikpeazu of Abia State; and Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi of Enugu State. They have vowed not to support the presidential candidate of their party, the PDP, unless their National Chairman, Dr Iyorchia Ayu, makes good his commitment to resign if a northerner emerges as presidential candidate. There are those who have blamed Atiku for not prodding Ayu to step down; but there are those who insist that Ayu’s statement was contingent on “…if the party says I should step down…” These five governors are set to endorse the presidential candidate of another party. This is what political party constitutions describe as anti-party activity. But what will become of PDP in the event that it loses the presidential election? What also becomes of these aggrieved governors within the context of trust and integrity?
The contents of the manifestos of the leading candidates make promises that raise questions of practicability and sustainability.
Then there is the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, its National Commissioners and Resident Electoral Commissioners, RECs. Will they be fair to all concerned or will they cherry pick?
Other key players are heads of security agencies and what they choose to make of their roles during and after elections. Mind you, the Chief of Defence Staff, General Lucky Irabor, recently, disclosed that the military is always exposed to being compromised by corrupt politicians but said the will to resist is resolute. Can Nigerians take his commitment to the bank?
Security remains a major challenge in Nigeria. Apart from the issue of insecurity occasioned by activities of terrorists and bandits and separatists, not forgetting armed robbery, kidnapping and ritual killings, securing the environment for elections have always been a major issue. Whereas the INEC has consistently maintained that security is not one of its core mandates, its Security Committee works with security agencies to ensure that security is guaranteed on Election Day.
However, the activities of politicians who recruit thugs to disrupt elections by chasing away voters, kidnapping election officials and snatching election materials will continue to be a source of concern. Worse still, the manifest compromise of security personnel continues to pose threat to peaceful elections. Whatever measures are put in place by security agencies for Election Day security, the role of security personnel is key in ensuring that the security ecosystem on Election Day is not toxic.
Yet, beyond the issue of security is the conduct of election itself.
How prepared is INEC?
Professor Mahmood Yakubu, the National Chairman of INEC, continues to imbue some Nigerians with his aura of preparedness and calmness that the election management body is very prepared to deliver free, fair and credible election this year. With approximately 97 million voters, who will vote at 176,846 locations scattered around 8800 wards in 774 local government areas in the country, and a deployment of 1.4 million (one million, four hundred thousand) staff for a six-hour election to be held twice (national and state elections), and with a N305 billion budget, INEC’s work is cut out. In fact, the Commission says it is preparing for the possibility of a run-off between the first two leading candidates in the presidential election in the event that there is no clear winner at first ballot.
Yakubu’s words, “Our vision for the 2023 election is actually to conduct one of the best general elections conducted in Nigeria which is going to be free, fair, credible, transparent, inclusive, and verifiable.
“People can sit down to see the result of their polling units online from the comfort of their home.
“The most important place during an election is the polling unit.
“Once you protect the integrity of the process at the polling unit, what we need to do is to protect the collation.
“Once the people see the result online, we would have taken a very giant step”.
However, there are still issues around the practicability of Nigerians viewing election results online, real time from polling units.
Unfortunately, there have been eight attacks on INEC facilities across the country in 2022 alone, with more than half of the attacks occurring in the South-East.
There are also legitimacy issues that INEC must work on so that Nigerians will build confidence. In the event that elections do not hold in some areas, especially as a result of insecurity and INEC is not able to deploy materials and men and, therefore, cannot make a return, particularly where the number of registered voters/those who have collected their Permanent Voter Cards, PVCs, exceeds the margin of lead between the front runners, there would be issues. Nigerians are not new to election results being declared from areas where elections did not even hold. But INEC is insisting that the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System, BVAS, will checkmate issues around rigging and legitimacy issues. Then there is the INEC Result Viewing, IREV, portal, which is meant to be open to members of the public so that they can view results on INEC portal – from polling units.
Activities on Election Day, if properly guided by the provisions of the Electoral Act, 2022, are expected to be seamless. For instance, one of the major disinformation is that people can vote without PVC. This is wrong. Nobody can vote on Election Day without PVC. Using the BVAS, voters will be accredited and, in the event that BVAS malfunctions, INEC says there is provision for replacement BVAS to be re-issued for such polling unit.
Possible outcomes and consequences
How will the outcome of next year’s election, based on the choice Nigerians make, change Nigeria’s direction and give better hope? As things are, it is not going to be a choice that would be easy and clear cut. And whereas Nigerians would be putting their trust and hopes in the hands of these candidates, the fundamental, underlying raison d’etre for choosing one above the others is as foggy and unpredictable as the British weather. For the ruling APC, perhaps, it is about opportunities wasted! For challengers, it could very well be hopes misplaced. Without prejudice to the successes we have recorded in the electoral process, there are reasons some people would feel disappointed at the turn of events regarding the Buhari presidency; just as those seeking change by rooting to oust APC may be heading into the sphere of the unknown with their eyes closed or opened.
Would it be APC, PDP, LP or NNPP that will carry the day?
Whichever way things turn out to be, some consequences lay in wait for Nigerians.
We resort to history: On Friday, February 28, 1986, Professor Samuel Cookey, Chairman, Political Bureau, set up by then-General Ibrahim Babangida, and saddled with the responsibility of fashioning out, after due consultations with Nigerians via memoranda and public presentations, a new political order, wrote to Pa Obafemi Awolowo, seeking his participation.
To that request, Awolowo wrote the following:
“I received your letter of February 28, 1986, and sincerely thank you for doing me the honour of inviting me to contribute to the National Political Debate.
“The purpose of the debate is to clarify our thoughts in our search for a new social order.
“It is therefore meet and proper that all those who have something to contribute should do so.
“I do fervently and will continue fervently to pray that I may be proved wrong.
“For something within me tells me, loud and clear, that we have embarked on a fruitless search.
“At the end of the day, when we imagine that the new order is here, we would be terribly disappointed.
“In other words, at the threshold of our New Social Order, we would see for ourselves that, as long as Nigerians remain what they are, nothing clean, principled, ethical, and idealistic can work with them.
“And Nigerians will remain what they are, unless the evils which now dominate their hearts, at all levels and in all sectors of our political, business and governmental activities, are exorcised.
“But I venture to assert that they will not be exorcised, and, indeed, they will be firmly entrenched, unless God Himself imbues a vast majority of us with a revolutionary change of attitude to life and politics or, unless the dialetic processes which have been at work for some twenty years now, perforce, make us perceive the abominable filth that abounds in our society, to the end that an inexorable abhorrence of it will be quickened in our hearts and impel us to make drastic changes for the better.
“There is, of course, an alternative option open to us.
“To succumb to permanent social instability and chaos.
“In the premises, I beg to decline your invitation.
“I am yours truly, Obafemi Awolowo”.
Sunday Vanguard reviewed this letter in the light of Nigeria’s contemporary developments. Though written in 1986, the letter remains very profound in its postulations that “as long as Nigerians remain what they are, nothing clean, principled, ethical and idealistic can work with them. And Nigerians will remain what they are, unless the evils which now dominate their hearts, at all levels…are exorcised. But I venture to assert that they will not be exorcised, and, indeed, they will be firmly entrenched, unless God Himself imbues a vast majority of us with a revolutionary change of attitude”.
But why would Awolowo be so condemnatory in tone and pessimistic in appreciation? From 1986 till date, Nigeria has moved from the ridiculous to the absurd. Even the process of emergence of the leading presidential candidates as, indeed, most of the candidates seeking election in February and March, was not different from the same money-influenced process that Nigerians have known. Awolowo said “at the end of the day, when we imagine that the new order is here, we would be terribly disappointed”.
The grim prediction of Awolowo is the specter of gloom that confronts Nigerians in the event that wrong choices are made.
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