By Obadiah Mailafia
AS we march towards the presidential elections on Saturday February 16 , there seems to be palpable tension everywhere. This has not been helped by incendiary comments from some high quarters, to the effect that international observers will return home in “body bags” if they continue to “interfere” in our domestic affairs. The EU has reacted, while I believe the rest of the international community have taken judicial notice of those interahamwe who are trying to upturn our fledgling democracy with their dangerous hate speech. I appeal to all Nigerians to remain calm. Ensure that you exercise your full electoral franchise on Saturday. But remain peaceful and calm.
Rarely do elections settle the fate of nations. But I’m persuaded that this coming Saturday will mark a destiny-changing event. It will decide which way our country will go: whether we shall pursue the path of self-destruction or will choose the high road of civility and hope.
Four issues, in my opinion, are at stake in the coming elections.
First, is the question of who is best placed to secure our future and that of our children from the reign of violence, death and fear. For a decade now, our country has been engulfed in an internationally orchestrated bloody civil war that we innocuously describe as an “insurgency”. It is, in reality, one of the most brutal civil wars currently raging in our continent. The Boko Haram war has led to the death of thousands of our people. Whilst the Biafra war lasted a mere 32 months, the Boko Haram war has lasted a whole decade, with a humanitarian consequence that exceeds the order of magnitude of 3 million internally displaced persons. On top of it, we have a low-intensity violence perpetrated by well-armed foreign militia herdsmen who have killed and maimed and raped; with their scorched-earth policy of wiping out everything that breathes on the land and re-populating the conquered areas with their own people. The Western media is part of the conspiracy, as it promotes a deliberated press blackout under the iniquitous heresy that the murderous herdsmen are endangered and marginalised group who have been denied land for grazing. The two wars have turned our country into a Hobbesian nightmare in which life is “solitary, nasty, brutish and short”.
Secondly, these elections will centre on who is best placed to turn around the economy. The Nigerian economy enjoyed a period of unprecedented growth between the years 2004 and 2014, with output averaging 7 percent during that decade. The second generation of economic reforms were beginning to bear fruit. The creative energies of our people were being unleashed. But there were challenges. It was growth largely spurred within the framework of a political economy anchored on monocultural rentier oil-extracting state. The World Bank characterised it as “jobless growth”, because it was not based on inclusive transformational development. It also left out millions of our teeming youths who were leaving the school system into an ever-shrinking job market. There was also, if truth be told, grand corruption. The future of our people was being mortgaged by avaricious elite whose appetite for grand larceny made us a by-word among the nations.
Today, alas, we have a regime that ostensibly committed itself to cleaning the Aegean Stables of corruption. Unfortunately, they have behaved in the manner of the foolish Aba trader who is said to have closed down his shop for months in order to chase after the thief who had allegedly stolen from him. Admittedly, the government came to power at a time when global oil prices were collapsing. Whilst they did not create the economic recession, there is no doubting that their incompetence and intellectual laziness contributed to worsening its effects. It took them a whole six months to form a government. This is because they actually came to make war, not to govern. They were said to have amassed a frightening arsenal of weapons to begin a civil war if they had lost the elections. They were taken aback when Goodluck Jonathan made that fateful call to congratulate Muhammadu Buhari.
The administration did not have the wisdom to build on what they found on ground. Instead, they behaved like locusts who were only interested in devouring what they could find. They have gone on a rampage taking loans from the Chinese, the World Bank and the Eurodollar capital markets. They inherited a debt outlay of N11 trillion which they ballooned into N23 trillion in the extraordinary space of three years. They have driven away local and international investors. They have dried up the banking system, as traders and market women now prefer to keep their money under their beds. Our overall growth over the past three years has been negative in net terms. The budgetary system has become a circus while our public finances are completely chaotic.
The question facing the electorate today is about who is competent enough to salvage the economy and to bring it back to the path of growth and sustainable development. It is estimated that, today, some 13 million of our children are not in school, on top of 22 million youths who are without jobs. There is unprecedented hunger and despair in the land. Nigerians should be asking who among the presidential candidates has the Joseph anointing to save our people from hunger, malnutrition, disease, illiteracy, poverty and harrowing tragedy.
The third issue centres on nation building and political reforms. I know that the word “restructuring” frightens some people. Some politicians have used it as a stick with which to bludgeon the North and their perceived historic privileges. I do not believe in that kind of politics. A statesman or woman should think of the common good of all the people. However we approach the matter, it seems we cannot escape the question. I believe that voters should be asking who among the candidates is best placed to pursue the task of nation building in a way that will make ours a stronger and more prosperous union. I am persuaded that the vast majority of Nigerians wish to remain together as one political community. But they need power to be devolved to the regions and they want greater say in how they are governed. Whoever wins the elections will have to be a statesman or woman of courage who is ready to take the bull by the horns and to effect the necessary political reforms that will save or federation from irredentism and centrifugal collapse.
The fourth question relates to physical, mental and intellectual preparedness of our future leader. It was the former American Secretary of State Henry Alfred Kissinger who once famously noted that “political office taxes intellectual capital”. It is only in Nigeria that anybody can wake up any day and claim they can president of the country. Of course, in a democracy, anyone in theory, can aspire to become the occupant of the high magistracy of the state. But we have to be realistic. Statesmanship requires skills of the highest order. A great leader must not only understand the arcane arts of statecraft; they must be at once historian, economist, scientist, manager, and a person of practical affairs. He or she must be blessed with deep intuition — able to read people and situations. They must also be a man or woman of action. They must have mastered Machiavelli, Hobbes, Kautilya and the great military commanders; ready to go to war to fight against evil even as they cherish peace and pursue it.
Above all, they must be healthy physically, mentally and psychologically. They cannot be people that have terminal dementia or who will spend half of their mandate in an overseas hospital while leaving the serious business of governance in the hands of an unelected and avaricious cabal.