By Sampson Ikemitang
In a matter of days to the 2019 general elections, electioneering in the country is already in top gear across party lines. Political gladiators tossing up their respective party manifestoes and agenda before the electorate, promise them heaven on earth, all in a bid to wining their votes. In fact, politicians on a whistle-stop election campaign have been desperately devising ingenious political gimmicks and machinations. Like a suitor woos a beautiful bride, politicians make irresistible offers to the electorate as they square up to wrestle power from the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and coast home for victory in the forthcoming elections.
It is pertinent to refresh the mind here that presently, there are 91 registered political parties by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in the country. Expectedly, all the political parties will be participating in the forthcoming elections as confirmed by INEC. Clearly, 72 presidential candidates are jostling for the Aso Rock, except for Dr Oby Ezekwesili of the Allied Congress Party of Nigeria (ACPN), who has withdrawn from the race. It should be stated however, that the withdrawal of the ACPN’s candidate, Dr Oby Ezekwesili has been rejected by INEC, noting that such a decision has not complied with the election guidelines. Consequently, INEC is insisting that she remains in the race.
In spite of the unparalleled number of candidates vying for the nation’s top job, the electorate have simply narrowed down the contest for the two duos – the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC)’s candidate, President Muhammadu Buhari and Alhaji Atiku Abubakar of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP). Similarly, an amalgam of 46 political parties under the Coalition of the United Political Party (CUPP) has adopted Atiku Abubakar of the PDP as its sole presidential candidate for the election.
As Ola Rotimi said in “the gods are not to blame”, “All is well that ends well.’’ Nigerians are getting ready for the polls, but the question agitating the minds of many is what should influence the preference for a candidate over the other? In other words, what should determine the voting of a particular candidate in the two-equally loved political parties? Should it be based on the APC’s scorecard or the mouth-watering promises of the PDP?
It will be recalled that the PDP in 2015, after 16 years of holding on to the reins of power, suffered a humiliating defeat at the polls by the opposition APC. This, observers have said was largely due to perverse corruption, cluelessness in governance and unprecedented insecurity challenges that characterised the Goodluck Jonathan administration at the time, with the potency of driving the country to precipicea. As a result, the Jonathan’s presidency was roundly criticised by the citizenry of ineptitude and cluelessness even as they yearned for a change.
Like the Biblical children of Issachar who had understanding of the time, President Muhammadu Buhari in the build-up to the 2015 general elections anchored his campaign promises on the tripod of economy, security and anti-corruption. Being that the nation was plagued with serious security challenges occasioned by the Boko Haram insurgents, coupled with the ailing economy and monumental corruption, the people swiftly keyed-in to the change mantra of President Buhari. They mobilised support and voted him en masse, asserting that a Daniel has come to the judgement seat.
A little above three and the half years after, President Buhari is now seeking re-election for another four years, saying this will enable him to consolidate on his achievements and cure the country of its ailments. Again, Mr. President is hinging his campaign promises on the three cardinal principles of economy, security and anti-corruption. He is arguing that considering the enormity of the nation’s challenges, a four-year single term is insufficient to deal decisively with all the issues.
A cursory look at President Buhari’s performance on the issue of security, for example, has shown that soon after he assumed office, all the 17 local governments in the North-East which were under the firm grip of insurgents were immediately liberated. This, political watchers have ascribed to the high morale, discipline and psychological boost he brought to bear on the military, being a former Army General.
However, observers have claimed that a comparative analysis of his administration and the previous ones showed that the rate of kidnappings, armed banditry and Boko Haram insurgents had heightened in the recent times; adding that he has not achieved much in this respect. Corroborating this position, a former president, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo had recently in his letter castigated President Buhari on what he described as the poor handling of the security situation, particularly the Boko Haram insurgency.
In the area of economy, pundits have equally scored President Buhari low. They say, under his watch, the economy had performed abysmally and ultimately slipped into a quarterly recession in 2016 that lasted for six consecutive times in the nation’s history. This has been attributed to Mr. President’s inability to constitute his cabinet six months into his administration. Also, 10m jobs are said to have been lost in the process, according to the National Bureau of Statistics Report. This has further swelled the unemployment debacle which currently stands at 23.3m and little wonder Nigeria is now the capital of the poorest people in the world, they argued.
Another area in which the president has been appraised and evaluated low is his anti-corruption war. Critics of the Buhari administration have accused him of a selective corruption fight. Note that Senator Shehu Sani once said, the president uses insecticides to fight his perceived political enemies, while using deodorants for others. Notwithstanding this criticism, some progress has been made in this respect. Recall that time was when the country swam in the ocean of corruption. This invariably earned her a poor image and was often described in international circles as being “fantastically corrupt.” This ignoble status came as a result of the way the nation was perceived in the comity of nations. Today, same cannot be said of it. The world now sees the country as one with a zero tolerance for corruption. Though we may not be completely out of the wood yet.
Conversely, the PDP’s presidential candidate, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar seems to be enjoying some level of acceptability and support because of his avowed claim to among others, restructure the country if elected president. Albeit, the electorate appears to be more inclined to the restructuring mantra more than anything else. This is because many believe that the current structure of the country will make it difficult if not impossible to achieve economic prosperity and catch up with the rest of the world in terms of development. They are optimistic that a restructured Nigeria will take us to the Eldorado earlier than we can imagine. But one thing is certain, a restructured Nigeria cannot be achieved by an Executive fiat. No! It cannot be decreed either. Those who have been hoodwinked in the debate, must bear in mind that the highest thing Atiku Abubakar can do if elected is to send an Executive Bill to the National Assembly seeking to amend the 1999 Constitution with a view to devolving power to the States. What this means is that the power to restructure Nigeria is not in his hands, but that of the National Assembly.
Considering the politics of attrition in practice and the complete lack of National Consensus, perhaps, these questions are germane in the circumstance. What will happen then, if his party, the PDP is unable to form majority in the National Assembly so as to easily secure the stipulated two-thirds Constitutional requirement needed to effect any amendment? Secondly, how does he intend to secure the two-thirds support of the State Governments in the event that his party is unable to win in at least 24 States of the federation? These and many more posers are begging for answers.
From the above posers, one can safely conclude that it is easier for the head of a Carmel to pass through an eye of a needle than for Atiku Abubakar to achieve his restructuring ambition with a wave of the hand as being canvassed. Could this restructuring mantra be a vote bait? The grass is always greener on the other side. Electorate shine your eyes!
Sampson Ikemitang writes from the Federal Ministry of Information and Culture Abuja via email: [email protected]