When will Nigerians be rid of politicians without ideology, who simply go from appointment to appointment, or from party to party, producing nothing, leaving no impact yet expecting to survive at all cost? Beyond our obsession over the “low voter turnout,” these are the questions we should be asking ourselves.
Many have claimed the 2019 elections were plagued by low voter turnout. Have we stopped to think that maybe the figures recorded before the use of card readers were simply manipulated? It wasn’t so long ago in Nigeria that politicians would claim to win with outrageous, statistically impossible numbers, sometimes up to 70 to 80 per cent of the vote (if not more in rural areas).
I recently fell on a New York Times article about the 2003 Presidential election in Nigeria which already reported “inflated voter turnout figures” and where Abel Guobadia, then chairman of the electoral commission said, “there’s nothing we can do as a commission” in response to allegations of pre-marked ballots found in different centres.
It’s easy to ignore progress in our natural quest for further development: Nigerian elections are far from perfect, but we’ve come a long way from witnessing elections which international observers either outrightly condemned or assessed as “fraught with massive irregularities”. Former President Umar Yar’Adua himself admitted the election that brought him to power wasn’t “free and fair”.
The European Union often seriously doubted the credibility of our elections since 1999 with a shift in 2015, which isn’t to say, yet again, that things are suddenly perfect, but if Nigerians are willing to keep showing up, to keep getting involved at more fundamental levels, to increase the quality of candidates and choices available, we will see the desired change.
The 2019 election witnessed some stunning losses: from senators to former governors, many high-profile individuals lost their bids to maintain political relevance. No other “business” provides the sycophantic respect or access to power and resources which politics does, hence the violence and high stakes witnessed every election.
In Nigeria, politicians hope to be compensated when they lose, by getting another “slot” somewhere else: governors, senators etc., despite their accumulating years in the office feel they must be a part of each and every single government in one position or the other.
When officials lose elections in other parts of the world, only those whose performance was satisfactory are “accommodated” and given another political role or appointment. In Nigeria, no matter how badly a politician performs in office, he or she expects and demands to be “carried along” by the government in power. Why does the Nigerian political system keep rewarding mediocrity? Why do our leaders never retire? How can we expect real change and development if people who do not have the capacity to effect change are constantly recycled as public administrators?
Due to zoning arrangements and configurations, we keep pushing some bad eggs to the top and sidelining creative individuals who could devise novel, inventive solutions to Nigeria’s problems. How can we expect real progress when state houses and cabinets all over Nigeria keep recycling the same set of individuals who have had limited (if any) impact on the lives of the common man? President Buhari’s legacy is at stake: besides safeguarding the interests of some politicians who lost their elections or who simply wish to maintain relevance, his next cabinet should feature individuals who aren’t afraid of tackling the status quo and most of all who don’t benefit from its maintenance.
Nigerian voting patterns must be taken into account: those who were refused at the local level, and whose claims of being “rigged out” can’t be substantiated with proof, should not be rewarded with any further opportunity to disappoint Nigerians. In Nigeria people at the local level complain about politicians only to find the same set of individuals appear at the federal level under a different job description.
As for the younger set of aspiring politicians and technocrats: it isn’t enough, as one hears on social media, to claim you were “rigged out” or that voters, your would-be constituents were “swayed” by vote buying. The past two election cycles have shown that Nigerians are perfectly capable of receiving or accepting inducements (rice, cash gifts etc.) and voting for whom they please. The question those attempting to challenge the system must ask themselves is: what did you have to offer that was worth the risk? What narrative did you propose which was worth voters’ investment in you?
Fela Durotoye, Yele Sowore and others didn’t only lose because their parties were unknown, or because more established parties had more “financial muscle”. They lost because quite frankly, they were not as impressive as what was touted on social media. There was nothing revolutionary about their rhetoric or their proposals; their main selling point seemed to be their “youth” or the fact that they didn’t belong to the major parties, which isn’t enough to shift the political equation.
None of the challengers has so far invested in building a loyal grassroots movement, a long-standing group of people whom their interactions have trained to view the issues under a new light.
Many politicians cling to power because of the immunity it procures them, which is another reason why governors insist on hand-picking their successors: without a “godson” in office who is safe from a probe? President Buhari, in his second term in office, has the opportunity to reshape our political culture by allowing politicians to retire: it isn’t necessary to constantly re-appoint or keep the same people, particularly if there are well-founded, recurring complaints about their performance.
We need more professionals with ideas and integrity in government, at all levels, otherwise, we’ll continue to speak of development in the future tense, as something desirable but elusive due to the ever-present “Nigerian factor”.
The President said that unlike past leaders who interfered in elections to ensure the success of particular candidates, he wouldn’t do so, which is probably “why party members appear to be upset that the same thing is not happening now.” Garba Shehu, SSA to the President on media said “members of the ruling APC were criticising the President for not interfering on their behalf, members of the opposition were condemning the president based on their assumptions that he would definitely interfere, as many in the opposition, did while in power.
Under President Buhari, INEC has been and will be completely independent throughout the elections, free from any interference. Our understanding of what it means to be a President in Nigeria has often been defined by unfortunate incidents relating to what obtained in the past, whereby electoral results were often allegedly written and determined through the sole will of certain highly placed individuals.
The idea that ruling parties must control all states of the federation is a concept carried over from the military, which interestingly, this retired army general doesn’t seem to subscribe to. The President might be the only leader in the history of modern campaigns who told voters outright to vote their conscience.
YEMI Osinbajo, Nigeria’s Vice President, has again refuted claims that the Trader Moni scheme was used for vote buying. It always baffles me that nobody talks about AMCON debts and the curious circumstances that allow already indebted or insolvent business men to keep borrowing to fund their lifestyles, or endanger publicly listed businesses; and very few people seem to complain about this, yet we have an issue with empowering close to 30 million Micro Small and Medium Entreprises, MSMEs, with interest and collateral free loans.
Economists agree small businesses are the backbone of national growth and prosperity. Yet, Nigerian banks refuse to lend to them. They would rather lend money to politicians for campaigns.
We keep choosing to empower the most unproductive sectors of our society, and the outcome surprises us. Why do we frown on any direct effort to improve the life of the common man yet applaud financial crimes committed by powerful people?