Last week, on this space, we drew attention to the commencement of campaigns for the 2023 presidential and National Assembly elections. We listed areas the presidential candidates of the 18 political parties cleared for the race needed to tell Nigerians how they intended to address issues.
We argued that they should tell us how they intended to rescue the country from its sorry state. We said they should let Nigerians know their agenda to resuscitate the dilapidated social infrastructure, refloat the economy, halt the rising tide of insecurity, insurgency and terrorism in the land. Nigerians, we said, should demand from them their strategies to address the incessant strikes in the education sector, the collapsed energy sector, frustrating climate for business, the sagging confidence of the citizens in the country and the monster of restiveness in some component units.
We also sought to know from them how they would handle the important issues of fiscal and physical restructuring. The list is indeed long, including such topics as state police, local government autonomy and gender equality or what, in some instances, is referred to as affirmative action.
With the lid on campaigns officially lifted two days ago, the battle line is drawn. It is now a two-way traffic between the candidates and the electorate. The voters are to make presentations on their expectations from the standard-bearers, who in turn are required to present clear-cut answers on how to go about them, in a relaxed atmosphere of give-and-take.
This approximates to the social contract as espoused by the 18th century French philosopher, Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Social contract arises when individuals with their consent, either explicitly or tacitly, surrender some of their freedoms and submit to the authority (of the ruler, or to the decision of a majority) in exchange for protection of their remaining rights or maintenance of the social order.
Agreed, the candidates are yet to assume the authority of the sovereign or the President, as in this case. But because each sees himself as being some steps to the office, it is better for the electorate not to take any chance. The idea is to make hay while the sun shines. This is the time to get the standard-bearers committed to precise agenda and issues. It is for the voters to realise that, whatever inducements in cash or bags of edibles thrown at them to trade off their rights of conscious choice for a President with capacity and carriage, will haunt them for the next four years or even beyond.
What Nigerians are currently passing through is not a situation that can be remedied by electing a President on the mundane considerations of region of birth or religious affiliation. That was the major mistake of 2015 and 2019, for which the country is bleeding. Part of the error was not getting the candidates committed to particular programmes. Everything was wrapped in a package of so-called ‘change’ by the then opposition, delivered in unusual burst of propaganda and hysteria. Consequently, it was easy for the emerging President Muhammadu Buhari administration to disown virtually all the promises made on its behalf by his All Progressives Congress (APC) and totter for six months without a cabinet. When, eventually, the executive council was constituted, it was a mere assemblage of politicians of the old order, many of whom did not show notable sparks in their previous positions at the local level. We are yet to recover from that error of judgment.
Nigerians cannot afford to go through that awful route again. The country does not even have the luxury of time for that. What we urgently need this time round are conscious rescue efforts to lift the country from its near comatose state. All are agreed that the country is in a mess, so to speak. Every index of development has gone the axiomatic south. Recent reports from the Nigerian Bureau of Statistics (NBS) indicated that the annual inflation rate in Nigeria accelerated to 20.52 per cent in August, from 19.64 per cent the previous month, above market expectations of 20.25 per cent. That was the highest since September 2005. Food inflation rose to 23.12 per cent from 22.02 per cent in July amid higher prices for staples, including rice and bread. Also, a weakening naira continued to pressure cost of imports up. On a monthly basis, consumer prices rose 1.77 per cent, following a 1.82 per cent increase in July. The figure must have gone up further.
As of June, the total public debt stock, representing the domestic and external debt stocks of the Federal Government, the 36 State Governments and the Federal Capital Territory, was N42.84 trillion ($103.31 billion). Within the same period, unemployment hit 23 million, representing 33 per cent. The citizens are poorer than ever, in apparent confirmation of the country bearing the odious tag of the poverty capital of the world.
Insecurity has remained high, with terrorists, bandits, kidnappers and other shades of criminals making life more difficult for the people. On the international level, Nigeria continues to rank among the world’s most terrorised nations.
Finding solutions to these are issues that should headline the campaigns, not the absurd mentality of ‘it is my turn’. Perhaps, more than any other time, the statement by Buhari as military head of state in 1984 that “this generation of Nigerians and indeed, future generations have no other country except Nigeria; we should remain here to salvage it,” makes more meaning now. A lot is expected from the presidential candidates. A lot is equally expected from Nigerians.
It is not for nothing that many argue that the 2023 general election is a watershed for Nigeria. It is indeed a defining moment on where Nigeria is headed. There is always a point at which every nation reflects on its existence and makes a decision to move ahead or change course. The dividends of democracy accruing to Nigerians since 1999 have not been exciting, considering their sacrifices in bringing the current civilian dispensation into being. The 16 years of the PDP, from 1999 to 2015, left the country in ruins. The last seven years of Buhari and APC have not made significant changes. The future rather looks gloomier.
Therefore, 2023 presents an opportunity for Nigerians to make a radical departure from their stagnant state, a time to keep aside all the trivialities of religion and ethnicity and with collective resolve affirm, ‘thus far, no further’. That is when, we, as a people will begin to take our rightful place among other forward-looking nations.