By Tonnie Anele
Exactly 30 years ago, former President Ibrahim Babangida (IBB) declined to recognise any of the funny 13 political associations which at that time sought to be registered as political parties. The then President saw clearly the ominous signs that Nigerian politicians were not ready for the game of politics. Their membership registers were fraught with fake names just as their manifestos showed no differences between them.
Besides, none of them was interested in running any political party; rather they all wanted to run government. Indeed, their campaigns were not issue-based as they dissipated their energies denigrating each other’s party logo/emblem. With the benefit of hindsight it is now clear that IBB was on point as nothing has changed. With a little over a month to the 2019 elections, the political parties and their candidates are not too keen on spending ample energy convincing people to vote for them. Rather, the political strategies which are clearly discernible in today’s political arena are those of noise-making and heating up of the polity after two decades of democratic experimentation since 1999.
What the chieftains of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and their counterparts in the All Progressive Congress APC told the nation last week had nothing to do with their plans for the people, instead they trumpeted personal and moral issues about each other. As far as the PDP was concerned, the absence of President Buhari at the burial of the late former President Shehu Shagari was condemnable. While many of us would have loved to see the President at the burial, we would no doubt have been comforted if the period was saturated with plans by our politicians to reverse our current economic downturn.
On its part the APC blames all its woes on the PDP arguing that the PDP and its Presidential candidate Atiku Abubakar are sponsoring smear campaigns against President Buhari – a plot reportedly hatched in Dubai with some foreigners to dish out fake news about Buhari, his family and government officials. How come the ruling party cannot use its official media to overwhelm such fake news? The point to be made is that this line of accusations and counter accusations is what interests our big parties and not how to improve the welfare of the citizenry.
Such interest in cosmetic matters also explains why our politicians are more involved in publicising persons and groups who have endorsed them even though the real reasons for the endorsements are never clear. As a matter of fact, there is an increase in prophecies not withstanding that our prophets have become notorious for speaking from two sides of the mouth.
Although it is getting clearer that the prophecies are purchased, they seem to warm up the psyche of our politicians. For this reason, they donot care whether our people believe them or not. The same is true of the talk about corruption. Whereas the APC insists that Atiku’s PDP wasted our resources in 16 years, the PDP wants us to believe that Buhari is no saint hence they are calling for investigation into the recent sale of Keystone Bank and 9mobile which they think were cheaply purchased by persons close to Buhari’s APC. How we wish both parties can get to know that in matters of corruption, the people are not sure of the difference between them. This is more so when it is realized that some of those who played roles in the 16 wasted years of the PDP are now chieftains of the APC.
In the circumstance, we need to tell both parties that corruption stories will this time around not make good campaign issues. For now, they should tell us what they want to do about substantive matters that have never been addressed; a good example being education. Our budget on education is a paltry 7 percent of our national budget which is too low and which explains why our educational system is in crisis. Nigerians should therefore support only a political party that is willing to lift the figure to no less than 20 percent of the national budget as recommended by the United Nations.
If a political party is compelled to so act we shall say good bye to poor education, dilapidated structures and yearly strikes by the Academic Staff Union of Universities ASUU. Again, the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) says Nigeria’s unemployment rate worsened in the 3rd quarter of 2018 rising with more than 5 percent above the situation the year before. Why would our politicians not tell us how they intend to redress the dangerous situation? These and other major problems such as poor health care delivery system and perennial strikes by health workers are the substantive campaign issues that are missing during this electioneering period.
It is not only that we are not hearing substantive matters; thematic issues that our people are unhappy about are not discussed. No one is talking about security votes that have increased over the years amidst increase in insecurity. Yet, we all know that security votes are a veritable source of corruption. No one is talking about the stupendous salaries that law makers are expropriating. Yet we all know it is true as only a few weeks back there were stories of paying huge salaries to legislators in jail! We want to hear about the position of our parties on the annual ritual that we call budget in Nigeria. Which party will present it promptly, who will ensure speedy passage and who will guarantee steady release of funds for project implementation? Which candidate is ready to stop constituency projects?
Unfortunately, the smaller parties with vibrant and fresh candidates do not harp on these issues. Only last Wednesday, the presidential candidate of the Accord Party, Isaac Ositelu, said he would create jobs, ‘battle hunger’ and tackle the rot in the power sector if elected into office. He then urged Nigerians to join his party to fight for peace, prosperity, accountability and an improved standard of living. But the modalities for the fight were not disclosed. Similarly, the Presidential candidate of the Action Democratic Party, Engr. Yabagi Sani reportedly disclosed in Abeokuta that the nation’s economy was at its lowest ebb. He lamented the gradual fall of Nigeria’s Gross Domestic Product which he put at 1.5 percent as against $570 billion recorded at 5 percent some years back. How we wish these diagnosis could be followed by prescriptions to enlighten our people to make rational decisions during elections.
We want to hear these substantive matters tackled during campaigns. Indeed, we want to hear them from the horse’s mouth not from eloquent officials, noisy supporters and political jobbers. If the candidates say nothing now, they will later deny what their supporters tell us daily. It is time to take our candidates to task.