It is only a matter of time before we decide if we would stick with veterans in the game or the new entrants who have not hidden their resolve to disrupt.
“Your vote is your right, and you should exercise your right to vote the people you want to vote.” – Ex-Head of State, Abdulsalami Abubakar on 2019, Peace Accord and Nigeria’s Democracy
Power and change are powerful words. They lay claim to significant consideration in tracing and discussing actors, issues and developments on Nigeria’s political scene since 1999. Perhaps the country would set eyes on ‘commemorating’ 20 years of uninterrupted democratic rule next year. What are the parameters that would shape the feat? Have we outperformed what we had in 1999? What should we be doing differently as a sovereign entity?
Can we overemphasize the place of issues in politicking? Kai! Never.When politicking veers off the path of issues and switches to the lane of mudslinging and propaganda, we all pay for it, dearly. The Nigeria Elections Debate Group (NEDG), Broadcasting Organisations of Nigeria and the Nigeria Civil Society Situation Room, a platform of civic groups offered an apt reminder on Friday. The event was the Vice Presidential Debate held strategically in the nation’s capital, Abuja. Notably, all of the 5 selected vice presidential candidates were in attendance. I watched keenly as the moderator, Imoni Amarere, an experienced political analyst and broadcaster, put the candidates on the edge.
Issues! This is what we should demand from political aspirants and their political parties. Unfounded facts and figures diminish the beauty of our democracy. Sadly, these buddies were shoved down our throats on Friday. Some gulped hook, line and sinker. Only alert and inquisitive fellows rejected the meal.
Issues! Those who should know better have since deviated from what should be discussed to embracing character assassination. Twitter is a good reference point. That space will welcome more of the good, the bad and the ugly as the countdown to February 16, 2019 thickens. In terms of engagement, the actors and their handlers are heavier on social media than traditional media. Next to social media at this point is out- of-home outdoor advertising.
While this represents an apparent shift in the choice of media for political engagements, Friday’s debate succeeded in maintaining the influence of broadcast media as a powerful vehicle for robust political conversations.
Laid down rules were flouted often by the audience. They were blown away by the sweet words of the participants. They cheered. Amarere had to keep his cool. Candidates of the Peoples Democratic Party and All Progressives Congress, Peter Obi and Yemi Osinbajo took swipes at each other. The other candidates – Umma Getso (Young Progressive Party), Khadijah AbdullahiIya (Alliance for New Nigeria and Ganiyu Galadima (Allied Congress Party of Nigeria) watched and tried to catch up. Osinbajo apportioned blame. Obi sold some unfounded ‘facts and figures.’ The Cable newspaper was alert like some of us. The medium stepped in to fact check the claims uttered at the debate.
Although citizens kicked at the pruning of the participants to five, the decision one premised on “an independently administered multi-stage process” gave us a compact debate.The debate ignited arguments on economy, infrastructure, corruption, security, diplomacy and social inclusion.
With the debate, citizens got a first-hand feel of the candidates, their competence and understanding of the demands of the exalted position. They argued. They justified. They tried to convince us.
Considering the performances of the candidates, you might have a preferred candidate already. Khadijah AbdullahiIya (ANN) came to the debate unprepared for the heat. The best part of her outing was the reappraisal of local government administration and allocation of its resources for meaningful development.She failed to convince on other fronts. She should take lessons from the Boy Scout Movement motto: Be Prepared.
And then China was introduced to the debate. Peter Obi (PDP) made several references to China – the world’s second largest economy – and her development template. He identified the private sector as a principal actor to take charge and redefine Nigeria’s “shallow economy.” He raised valid points on catering for every Nigerian but for some of his claims. Like the number of vehicles plying our roads. He fixed the figure at 2 million. The National Bureau of Statistics says we have about 11 million registered vehicles. His stance on corruption suggests that the PDP may not tackle corruption effectively. This is one area where the ruling APC has performed abysmally.
Ganiyu Galadima (ACPN) highlighted some pertinent issues but failed to provide convincing solutions. He said: “The subsidy regime only favours the rich.” Beautiful! But his grasp of persuasion was below par on parting ways with subsidy and deregulating the economy. He fumbled and wobbled. He had a bad night.
Blame game shaped the arguments of incumbent Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo (APC). He settled for a couple of rounds with the game, apportioning blames for the sorry state of the country’s affairs at the doorstep of the PDP. On fighting corruption, Osinbajo offered: “If you allow criminals to stealall the inventories in the shop, there will be no more shop. Of a truth, people with questionable characters wine and dine with the party. The stance of the APC on fighting corruption leaves much to be desired. Mindless looting of our resources limits what we can do to address infrastructure deficit. However, Osinbajo argued better.
Umma Getso (YPP) talked about sincerity. She hinged her arguments on the place of insincerity in governance and democracy as well as the need for fiscal restructuring. She could have argued bet- ter with the exception of her excessive glorification of the economic credentials of YPP’s Presidential candidate, Kingsley Moghalu.
Selecting and electing the right mix of representatives is up to us. It is a task that must be handled with a serious mindset. We need leaders who can step up to address our infrastructure deficit. We need leaders who will be bold enough to challenge what is fundamentally wrong with the country. We would have to re-examine all of the candidates aspiring to be Nigeria’s next president. We would have to look beyond the debate.
Beyond the protests on pruning the participating parties to five, it is imperative to seek and find solutions to the loopholes in governance that swelled the number of political parties in the country, from the 14 political parties that took part in the 2015 presidential elections to the over 70 parties that are in the race at the moment.
As campaigns thicken offline and online, from the street to the stadium and markets, it is imperative to consider carefully the candidates and parties gunning for power and authority at next February’s poll. Policy documents and manifestoes, credibility and competence of the candidates should be subjected to scrutiny.
The media has a huge duty on its hands – to educate and advise citizens. Only the competent deserves to be Nigeria’s next president. National Peace Committee Chairman, Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar underscored this recently. He says we should stop complaining about elected representatives and do the needful with the ballot. It is only a matter of time before we decide if we would stick with veterans in the game or the new entrants who have not hidden their resolve to disrupt. Rationality should guide this thought process.
Odunoye writes from Lagos