After months of vigorous and sometimes hilarious election campaign propaganda in which we were all entertained amid a mix of blatant lies and truth-telling, we are now counting down to this year’s presidential election on Saturday, February 25. We have barely about eight weeks to an election that will define Nigeria’s present condition and an outlook for the future.
Everyone is anxious but also hopeful this year’s elections would be free, fair, peaceful, credible and would yield the results that would guarantee the entrenchment of good governance and greater accountability. These are expectations emanating from the platform of hope. In practice, things might be hugely different after the presidential election, the outcomes of which might shock many people.
The presidential election will be bitterly contested, much more than the 2015 presidential election. Between 2015 and 2023, the economy has regressed, prices of basic food items have risen sharply beyond the affordability of ordinary people many of them unemployed, unsupported by the government and helpless. So many Nigerians have gone to hell and back under the same government. They have lived on hope for the eight years of President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration that lacked clear vision, direction, and policy. For many Nigerians, this year’s presidential election offers what looks like the last hope to revive men and women who have despaired for so long.
It is either that voters get right their choice of presidential candidate or they would be sentenced to four or eight years of unparalleled hardships. The choice, therefore, lies with voters. They would choose between two sad alternatives, the choice of a paltry sum of N5,000, a loaf of bread and cups of rice, garri, and a bottle of vegetable oil, all of which would be offered to them at the voting centres by corrupt politicians. Or the voters would be compelled to choose the most incompetent, unqualified and ageing candidate who is grappling with health challenges.
The most attractive option is to choose the most dynamic, healthy, young and clear-headed candidate with an admirable manifesto and clear plans to move the nation forward. No matter how they consider the options, the key to the future of Nigeria rests in the hands of voters, young and old, male and female, educated and uneducated.
If voters get their preferences wrong in this year’s presidential election, they must be prepared to weep alone. Or perhaps they will find company in Julie Covington who sang in 1976 that epic song “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina” that was created, written and compiled by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice when they investigated the years and times of Argentine leader Eva Perón.
Voters who allow the needs of their stomach to influence their choice of presidential candidate must take responsibility for what they would experience in the coming years. In this year’s election, there are no second chances. Voters must empower the most qualified candidate who will set in place the potential for the development of a bright, economically advanced, healthy and technologically endowed country. Or they would make a mistake that would endure for many years. If voters make this awful choice, they must be prepared to rest in hell or experience worse conditions for the next eight years.
So, whatever voters do between now and February 25, they must reflect on the hard choices ahead, the compelling decisions they must make on that fateful Saturday in February.
There are so many things at stake in this election. There are presidential candidates of differing qualities, character, qualifications and abilities. There is an ageing candidate known as Bola Ahmed Tinubu, who is representing the All Progressives Congress (APC). He believes it is his turn to become President, whether Nigerians like him or not. He is so confident he would win the election that he has no time to answer questions from the same people he wants to vote for him. He prefers that his assistants should answer questions for him.
There is another candidate known as Atiku Abubakar. He is the presidential candidate of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP). His track record includes contesting in presidential elections no fewer than five times. On each occasion, he emerged the loser. And then there is a candidate who is seen as the frontrunner in the race. He is known as Peter Obi, the presidential candidate of the Labour Party. He is young, charming, unpretentious, reserved, prudent, quiet and humble but knowledgeable and discerning. He is articulate. He is logical. His arguments are sound. He is slow to anger even when he is provoked deliberately by cantankerous men and women.
Despite all the posturing by the presidential candidates, every eligible voter will get a chance to cast their vote for their preferred candidate on February 25. This will happen against the background of election campaigns that were less than warm, less than inspiring and less than helpful to voters. Speeches that were made during the campaigns were hardly coherent and hardly articulated clearly, no thanks especially to the APC candidate.
The poor quality of election campaigns by some of the candidates symbolises the poverty of ideas the candidates showcased throughout their crusade to win voters’ hearts. Addresses presented by some of the presidential candidates exposed their different temperament and personal attributes, as well as their different character flaws. Thanks to the campaign speeches, voters are now in a strong position to finalise their preferred choice of presidential candidate. They can now justify confidently why they prefer one candidate over the other, or why a specific policy distinguishes one candidate from the other.
Whichever presidential candidate receives the highest number of votes on the election day, that candidate must be prepared to face and tackle huge problems such as a weak economy that has worsened people’s living standards, troubling national security challenges and the breakdown of law and order, youth unemployment, an army of retrenched workers who have no source of livelihood in a society with no social welfare system and the persistent and intractable electricity problem that has defied and defeated all the Presidents who have ruled since the return of democracy in 1999.
There is also the decrepit infrastructure problem. There is the knotty challenge of resuscitating a healthcare system that has been in coma for decades. And then of course there is the difficulty of finding innovative ways of funding university education, not forgetting secondary and primary school education. In essence, winning the election is only a tiny part of a complex set of problems that will confront the victorious candidate.
What happens during the presidential election will signal how the rest of the elections will be conducted. Above all, the presidential election will redefine the concept of One Nigeria, the national unity mantra, how to correct injustices suffered by members of various ethnic groups over the past eight years, and issues around marginalisation.
If everything goes well, we might well be confident that the rest of the elections could hold without rancour and extraordinary violence. However, if the presidential election is mismanaged or marred by violence, abuses, rigging and other malpractices, we might as well prepare for anarchy in the coming weeks and years. Nigerians and Nigeria have a date with history on Saturday, February 25.