The Salient Issues in the 2019 General Election By Gozie Irogboli
Nigeria is in an electoral season and once again the atmosphere is fired up with uncertainties. In contrast with what is obtainable in advanced democracies, the usual things prevalent in Nigeria during this period are the senseless jostling to recruit thugs that will intimidate voters and snatch ballot boxes. Mudslinging, character assassination, rumor peddling, inane propaganda, political grandstanding, trite rhetoric, empty promises, and more recently vote-buying which have taken an egregious dimension are commonplace during our electoral period. Campaigns are scarcely based on issues as politicians play the ethnic and religious trump cards.
Recently, a serving minister in the present regime was quoted to have asked the people in his region to vote for the continuity of the present government so that by the year 2023 power will shift to their region. His appeal was not predicated on performance of the present regime, the party ideology or programmes but on primordial consideration. That is the nature of Nigeria politics—politics without principles.
Clearly, as the 2019 general election draw nigh, there are many questions nudging for answers and many issues requiring urgent consideration. The issues that should be on the front burner are voters’ apathy, the ailing Nigerian economy and how to revamp it, national security, fragile national unity, fight against corruption, survival of democracy, performance of the current regime, the capabilities of the candidates standing for elections, INEC neutrality and capacity to conduct free, fair and credible election among others.
Indeed, one glaring issue which should bother every genuine candidate but which has always been glossed over is that of voters’ apathy. This has been the case, more so, as the contestants are apparently more concerned with rigging than actual voting. Voters’ apathy can be reduced when thuggery and violence at the polling booths are reduced and voters feel that their votes can count. Again, it can be reduced when the electoral commission and the candidates standing for election engage the electorates closely and properly educate them on electioneering issues. But strangely, the Nigerian politicians seem to have accepted rigging as the norm as their main pre-occupation during electioneering period is the strategy to outrig one another for rather than engage the electorates and sell their manifestoes, they prefer to hire thugs and arm them for violence and the electoral body is more interested in doing the biddings of the government rather playing the role of an unbiased umpire.
The neutrality and capacity of the current INEC to conduct a credible election are serious cause for concern this time round. It is the main cause of voters’ apathy as many people believed that their votes may not count. Moreover, all the elections conducted by the current regime are either flagrantly rigged or declared inconclusive where the ruling party could not rig overwhelmingly. It is clearly a dangerous signal. It is more worrisome to note that the insinuation that the current INEC chairman is a relation of the president has not been debunked by the presidency. It is believed rightly or wrongly that what happened in Ekiti and Osun states are a foretaste of what Nigerians should expect in 2019 General election. Another worrisome issue is the vote buying syndrome which has become dangerously entrenched in this era. Just three months to the election the government has suddenly come up with what they tagged, Social Intervention Funds which is interpreted by the opposition to be a ruse to buy vote from the unsuspecting and deliberately impoverished masses.
Another critical factor illegible voters are expected to consider in their voting decisions is the economy. The economy at present is in a comatose state as no visible investment on critical infrastructure that will stimulate the economy has been made in the past three years. Technically, it is said that the economy is out of recession but in reality, the country is neck deep in economic depression. In just 3 years the gains of the past years have been reversed; over 11 million jobs have been lost, thriving businesses have closed down; external debt profile is growing at an alarming rate. Nigeria has fallen from the height of the biggest economy in Africa and one of the fastest growing in the world to the poverty headquarters of the world where the citizens swoon in abject poverty. All the indicators are pointing in the negative direction and there is a warning that the economy may relapse into recession if precautionary measures are not taken. The critical questions now are: how did we get there? Does this regime have the programmes or policy framework to resuscitate the economy? Does the current regime have the capacity to initiate, formulate and implement workable policies to revamp the economy? And who among the candidates has the wherewithal to work for the growth of the economy? Nigeria should choose between economic progress and retrogression to the next level of poverty and hardship.
Without doubt, another issue that is expected to shape the voters’ decision in the forth coming general election is that of national security. In the last three years, the level of insecurity in the land is unprecedented. The war against insurgency is far from being over as claimed, the menace of herdsmen is felt everywhere as over twenty thousand Nigerians have died within this period and people sleep with both eyes open and IDP camps are springing up everywhere. In the South the alarming spate of unemployment is fueling criminal activities. Gambling, cult activities, kidnapping and others social vices are rife and the current regime seems helpless about it all. It is disheartening that Nigeria is now ranked among the terrorist nations.
Furthermore, Nigerians are expected to put national unity into consideration in choosing who will pilot the affairs of the nation. Clearly, Nigeria has never been factionalized or divided as it is now. Separatist agitations have been fueled by the divisive tendencies of the current regime. So, the people should make a choice between national unity or continue with government of exclusion.
The background of the election candidates is also expected to influence the decision of the electorates. The identity as well as the health status of the incumbent president is an issue. I do not believe in the cynical claim in some quarters that all the candidates are the same. It is a careless generalization and a mischievous attempt to discredit genuine candidates—one that may lead to voters’ apathy. I must state unequivocally that the candidates are not the same and can never be. Nigerians should make a choice between mediocrity and merit, nepotism and fairness, competence and incompetence…
War against corruption is another factor that may affect voters’ decision. Despite the din about fighting corruption by the present government, Nigerians position on the corruption index has not improved because of the oddity and lopsidedness in the so-called battle to end corruption. Nigeria should choose between arrest and harassment of political opponents in the name of corruption and building institutions and developing systems and procedures that will curb corruption.
Other issues that are expected to shape voters’ decision are the performance of the current government and the need to save democracy in Nigeria. The performances of the current regime have been everything but palatable. In particular, its tendencies are antithetical to the ideals of democracy. Its antagonism to the National Assembly, flagrant disobedience to court orders and its poor human rights record are things that electorates are supposed to consider when casting their votes.
Obviously, it is a very dangerous thing to have an incompetent person in a position of authority. More dangerous also is having a parochial and a depraved mind in power. Nigerians should open their eyes and disregard the footless claim to integrity and unsubstantiated performance claims. Yes, Nigerians should ignore the antics of the politicians and those of their hirelings and spin doctors in the media and vote accordingly.
But the pertinent questions are: are they going to vote according to their consciences or vote where their political demigods ask them to and afterwards sit back to whine about hardship and bad governance? Are they going to vote according to capacity or competence of the candidates or sentiment? Are they going to be swayed by rumours, fake news about unsubstantiated allegations of corruption or spurious claims to integrity, empty rhetoric, political grandstanding and insincere promises as heretofore?
Do we continue to show blind solidarity and allow primordial and parochial considerations to blight our views and decisions? Can Nigerians eschew ethnic and religious sentiments and vote for competence and national unity especially now that the candidates of the two major political parties are from the same political bloc and of the same ethnic group—Fulani—as in 1999 presidential election where the two presidential candidates, OBJ and Olu Falae were both Yoruba?
Finally, as the 2019 general election beckons, Nigerians are expected to be vigilant and avoid the mistakes of the past by electing credible and competent leaders. Nigerians must disregard rumours, empty promises, propaganda, ethnic bigotry and vote for their future and the survival of the nation. I urge Nigerians to brace up, slough off the cloak of lethargy and apathy, watch critically, exercise their civic duty conscientiously, take the candidates to task or forever keep quiet and bear the burden of their decisions or indecision.
Gozie Irogboli is an economist, consultant and public policy analyst.