Campaigns for Nigeria’s 2023 general elections have officially begun. From now until the elections, politicians and their supporters will seek to sway prospective voters. Depending on which side of the fence the voters are, they will either buy or reject the products being advertised, what will be constant on both sides, however, is the attention prospective voters will pay to the campaigns. Campaigns are adverts and serve the interests of both the politicians and the electorates. Companies and salesmen do not joke with adverts, as this is how many prospective buyers are attracted to their products. Campaigns are no different, at least in societies where the people recognize the direct link between governance and the general well-being of society.
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of Nigeria and Nigerians. Our election campaigns have always been mere comic shows, through which politicians and their supporters trade jest with opponents. The 2023 election campaigns are not likely to be different, especially given how the political discourse has been on various platforms since at least the primaries of various political parties earlier in the year. Nigerian electorates are also willing audiences for these comic shows, and politicians will strive to outdo each other in satiating these immaterial desires. This is not to suggest that “all” Nigerians are comedy-seeking spectators where serious issues should be the primary concern. Of course, there will be those who recognize the importance of politics, elections, campaigns, and governance.
These serious ones are already attempting to reroute the conversation by calling for “issue-based” campaigns. Instead of the usual jest, dance, pettiness, and insults, the campaigns should be focused on the obviously more important concerns of the economy, infrastructure, political reforms, healthcare, education, electricity, and security, among others. Nigerian politicians, however, have a different idea of what campaign issues should be. To them, religion, ethnicity, and other irrelevant but emotion-triggering issues are of more importance. After all, these are the major things most of their spectators preoccupy themselves with. So, any politician who wants to draw the right attention from prospective voters would simply supply them with as much of this opium as possible.
You may want to pardon the regular Nigerian electorate for not bothering too much about the real issues of governance. It is challenging to judge Nigerian politicians on their socio-political ideology, as they have none. It is why they crisscross political parties from time to time without any restraint, and it is why public decisions are rarely made based on well-reasoned arguments. The All Progressives Congress (APC), for example, with its records at both federal and state levels, is an antithesis of the word progressive. The party’s members hardly even know what the term “progressive” means, whether it is used to refer to social progression through socio-political changes or a governance system that leans toward social-political liberalism.
So even though they currently have a moniker that suggests progress, they nevertheless see themselves as staunch upholders of the status quo. Everywhere any attempt to change the status quo is usually resisted, and even violently, by those whose interest is served by the retention of the existing system. Nigeria’s supposed progressives have not acted differently. October 20, 2020, is a date that will linger in the consciousness of Nigerian youths. It should linger in the consciousness of the rulers too, was Nigeria a society that cares about history? That day, the beneficiaries of the existing system violently resisted the youths’ attempt at changing the status quo, cutting down innocent lives of peaceful protesters waving the flag of their country while demanding to be treated – by the state and its rogue agencies – as the citizens they are.
Today one of those who justified that savagery by asking what the protesters were doing at the location is seeking to be elected president in 2023. He is not even seeking, he is telling Nigerians that it is his turn to be the tenant in Aso Rock. He has, by his actions and words, made it clear that his run for the presidency is not an effort to salvage the country’s sinking ship, but simply a personal ambition to crown his life accomplishments. And many who have been victims of these politicians’ actions/inactions are already canvassing for votes for the man. That is why politicians do not bother about issues during election campaigns. The ruling APC is, however, not alone. The Nigerian political class generally lacks a clear set of values or even an overall political ideology that directs their behavior.
When one compares the states where the main (and useless) opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP) or the APC is in power, one can observe that the distinctions between them are based on the persons in charge. Neither side draws from a cohesive body of deliberately crafted concepts to direct Nigeria toward a goal that ought to progressively materialize over time. We are always at sea because we lack any moral principles and have no ideas that could form a defined agenda that tends toward advancement. In this respect, the APC and PDP are only the main captains of Nigeria’s sinking ship, other political parties are no different, including the now popular Labour Party, which was formed with a relatively socialist orientation but now goes to the polls with a capitalist presidential candidate.
Some observers have asked how the Labour Party would balance its original socialist orientation with the capitalist leanings of its presidential candidate. Those observers stress themselves unnecessarily because Nigeria’s political parties always adopt whatever ideas their leader floats. So the Labour Party can be expected to dance to Peter Obi’s tune if the party emerges winner in 2023. After more than six decades of independent existence, Nigeria has still not been fortunate to produce leaders who understand nation-building. And because it is ruled by a group of individuals who only consider what is politically advantageous at every given time, the country continuously lacks direction, as its ship is consistently tossed about by the waves.
Nigerian politicians only care about winning the next election and, perhaps, increasing their portion of the national cake. Note that it is their portion they always seek to increase, not the national cake itself, as they are not as smart or hardworking to contemplate increasing the size of the cake. There isn’t much more to Nigerian politics than that. Though we lament when politicians get to power and do as they please, we are aware that we cannot hold them accountable for their actions based on any ideological standards. Religion is supposed to help us become better humans, especially in moral terms. Our politicians are all religious, but we are also aware that, despite their professed religious beliefs, they lack the integrity necessary to pursue reformative policies.
Still, we must critically examine and analyze their campaign promises and ideas. This analysis should help us determine what part of these people’s history most strongly suggests that we should take them seriously for what they are promising now. For those who have been in public service, we should examine their records on policies that enhance the quality of life of the people who lived in their areas of jurisdiction while they were in public service. Healthcare, education, infrastructure, security, economy, and other issues are all measurements of the quality of life in a society at any given time. These candidates’ records in these areas should be an objective basis for judging them and determining whether they can be entrusted with more in 2023.
The issue is life, and issue-based politics are acts that help to make it better. If the objective indicators used to gauge the quality of life are not moving steadily in the right direction, nothing a candidate has done or will do will suffice. It is not sufficient to say that there are now dozens of ambulances where there was only one before a candidate became governor of his state. We must look beyond the numbers – which some of the party members have even dismissed as false – and check if there was any real improvement in quality healthcare access and delivery for the citizens. It is not sufficient to boast about saving significant sums while you were governor, funds that may be misappropriated by your successor. Were there motorable roads throughout the state? Was there access to and delivery of quality healthcare? Were all school-age children in quality schools? If there weren’t all these basic necessities when you were saving, what is the justification for your savings?
In the 2023 election campaigns, politicians – and their uncritical supporters – should not be permitted to get away with merely disseminating pictures of little structures or showing renderings of a futuristic city being constructed for the ultra-rich. How policies have touched lives and each candidate’s shown capacity to do much more should be the ultimate litmus test for those running for office. The candidates who will speak with us in the upcoming weeks must show how much importance they place on Nigerian lives and how dedicated they are to enhancing them. And this must go beyond mere words, they must show records of how they’ve done so in the past, especially those who have been in public office. Politicians should not be allowed to make these campaigns dry and devoid of issues, as is their norm.
We must put an end to politicians’ diversionary tactics of overselling real/fictitious tales of their humble upbringing and/or flaunting ingrained frugalness. The country needs more than just a frugal resources manager at this critical point. These stories seldom convey any insightful observations regarding the candidates’ managerial or administrative acumen. We don’t need to be told that a candidate has a knack for developing future leaders. The idea has become stale. It is much more beneficial to learn the names of the people that a candidate has previously chosen, a list of the ways in which their administrative skills improved governance, and specific examples of how these mentees improved the quality of life of citizens. But even that cannot be sufficient, as the supposed mentees are not the ones on the ballot at this point.
Seun Lonimi (firstname.lastname@example.org)Writes on Politics Today
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