Monday, May 29

As Nigerians Decide…

The people of my dearest country, Nigeria, will be going to the polls to elect their representatives for another four years in a couple of days. There is every cause to cheer the very fact of a seamless transition since 1999. There has been a semblance of representation, which suggests that legitimacy emanates from the people, even if the reality contradicts.

The observance of basic tenets of democratic principle, which finds expression in the exercise of the right to choose elected representatives, periodically by the people, however curtailed or manipulated, is sufficient tonic for the sustenance of interest in the process as practised in Nigeria. Of more compelling significance are the historical interventions of the conscious layer of the society at very crucial moments in recent times. For this reason, and more importantly, for posterity, it becomes imperative that all patriots must take a stand as our country approaches the threshold of history.

It is pointless regaling readers with the historical events which culminated in the exit of the military in 1999. It serves no useful purpose to remind Nigerians of the trajectory of the socio-economic itinerary since the amalgamation of the country in 1914. There will even be no need to recount how we came to this sorry pass since independence 1960. Our recent history must guide in our quest for a better society. We must cast aside the distractions often foisted on us by ethnicity and religion if we truly crave development.

The increasing interest displayed in the politics of the country by the elites should be considered as positive, on one hand. On the other, Nigerians must take more than a passing interest in the quality of political leadership with which the country is saddled. Nigeria has been most unlucky to be encumbered with avaricious and visionless elites. This category of persons possesses a warped sense of entitlement which predisposes it to believe that the rest of the society exists to serve its parochialism.

The need to broaden the scope of participation becomes more exigent at this crucial moment. It is mollifying to note that, beyond charlatanry, more Nigerians are beginning to take active part in politics. The significant influx of quality participants gives cause for hope. However, the political reality in the country does not seem to support too much optimism. The same rapacious players are still very much around. The same political cleavages are in control of the levers of power. There has been no remarkable shift in class representation since independence. The same set of politicians has held Nigeria down for so long.

The commencement of civil rule in 1999 appeared to have sealed the fate of the downtrodden masses in the country. The departing military leadership not only decreed on the pattern of succession. Retired officers left no one in doubt as regards their preference, General Olusegun Obasanjo. Nigerians were simply asked to choose between him and another lackey, Chief Olu Falae. The result was predictable. The oligarchy had spoken loud and clear. One of them, General T.Y Danjuma, Rtd, even threatened to go into exile if the other candidate won. That was twenty years ago.

Nigeria has been organising periodic elections since that time. These elections have been most controversial but largely successful, with the exception of the 2015 general elections which brought in President Muhammadu Buhari. The 2019 elections will be held in a couple of days. The choice before Nigerians is not as wide as the specious liberal participation suggests. It is true that there are more political parties than it used to be the case in 1999. There are more contestants on the ballot, serious and otherwise, canvassing for votes from the people under various platforms.

The political space is open for all manner of hustlers and jesters. All politicians claim to be campaigning for votes to serve the people. Even those with questionable pedigree confront the people with dubious credentials which embolden them to offer themselves for service. They do this in the belief that our people suffer from amnesia; they forget easily. Consequently, it has become incumbent on genuine patriots, both at home and abroad, to enlighten the populace on the dire consequences of not choosing rightly. We have a historical duty to alert the country of the inherent danger in having certain characters with undisguised predilections for self-aggrandisement as leaders at this juncture.

Of all the political platforms presenting candidates for elective posts in Nigeria at the next elections, only two, All Progressives Congress, APC, and People’s Democratic Party, PDP, and perhaps some fringe individuals who have made impressionable marks in the country, appear prominent. This intervention will limit its scope of coverage to the first two candidates of APC and PDP, Muhammadu Buhari and Abubakar Atiku, respectively.

There have been attempts to divide Nigerians along ethno-religious lines by some unscrupulous politicians. These elements feel threatened by the possibility of a programme of progressive denudation, pursued relentlessly by the current FG. Those who harboured some strange sense of entitlement are being weaned off this grand illusion. Many Nigerians are beginning to see the need for the country to become self-reliant. This momentum must be sustained if development is truly our goal.

I am not oblivious of the numerous charges against the incumbent President, Muhammadu Buhari. The accusations range from the sublime to the most ludicrous. The old soldier has been accused of rigidity, bigotry and incompetence. Powerful enemies have ganged up against his re-election bid. The fact of his health challenge has been a major campaign strategy. His military background and exploits as an officer are held against him by a section of the country. Many indeed have been his afflictions but he has surmounted all. The happy tinge in this whole scenario concerns the inability of his traducers to accuse him of corruption.

His main opponent, Alhaji Abubakar Atiku, is the opposite of every virtue with which Buhari is reputed. He is hedonistic, flippant, materialistic and corrupt. These charges are established in virtually all aspects of his life, both private and public. It is important to note that all those who support his aspiration seem to agree that he is morally challenged. They, nevertheless, need him for those very reasons. Nigeria can hardly afford the luxury of having a hedonist at the helm of affairs at this period.

Very few Nigerians appreciate the enormity of the destruction brought upon our dear country by the mindless looting perpetrated by the former ruling party, PDP, for sixteen unbroken years. The squandering of our commonwealth was massive and extensive. There was no serious plan to lift the hapless citizenry out of penury. The usual lip service was paid, liberally, to development. The country’s unenviable status as a consumptive and unproductive enclave was established. The appalling state of our infrastructure, despite huge resources derived from oil sales, exposed the lie in the claim of public service by the political elites. Politicians, contractors and public servants gobbled the commonwealth. An artificial climate of buoyancy was sustained with importation of virtually every means of sustenance, from the complex to the most basic. The PDP Administration borrowed money to pay the salaries and allowances of an almost redundant public service. Politics became the most lucrative profession which accommodated all manner of persons. The erstwhile scum of the society joined the new elites. Production of goods and services was not considered as important. Pastors got import duty waivers. Prostitutes and cronies of men of power got oil blocs. Street urchins, disoriented youths and unproductive academics got sucked into the grandiose bazaar. Our problem was not money but how to spend it.

It is against this backdrop that the performance of the current Administration, which took over power from the prodigal in 2015, must be assessed.

The sharp drop in the price of crude oil at the international market so soon after the current regime took over, ensured that the promises made to alleviate the suffering of the people became almost unattainable. Thus the determination of President Buhari to steer the economy away from redundancy occasioned by its monolithic character. Agriculture was chosen as the major plank for diversification. All good people, including cynics, cannot deny the remarkable success already recorded. The country entered recession, unexpectedly, but the good news is that this Government brought us out of the economic doldrums. It is to its credit that the country was not only able to recover; it also recorded a growth of 0.8 after a historic collapse in oil prices. This shows what a purposeful leadership can achieve.

During the recession, the PMB Government initiated what is known as Economic Recovery and Growth Plan. This enabled it to tackle some of the major problems and inadequacies of the past. They include the beginning of convergence in foreign exchange windows by reducing the number of existing exchange rates in the economy, a narrowing of the parallel market premium, some improvement in tax administration, anti-corruption efforts, and significant strides in improving the business environment. Most of the stalled projects that were budgeted for in the last administration such as road, rail and power generation are now in positive position for completion. The Buhari Administration successfully completed the reconstruction of the Abuja airport runway within the scheduled six-week period (March – April 2017). Abuja’s Light Rail system has been completed and will connect the city centre with the airport, with a link to the Abuja-Kaduna Railway Line. The Niger Bridge, which connects the heartland of Ibo land from Asaba, shamelessly used by politicians to garner votes, is now completed. It has taken off from the drawing board which gulped a humongous amount without any significant input. This project, and others, is being undertaken simultaneously in all parts of the country. This is a more than sufficient record for any leader to seek another four years of service.

The issue here again is to educate those who use illogical arguments to confuse the people. Infrastructural development is the realistic linkage to any county’s economic growth. It will not only assist mobility, both social and economic within a society. It will also able to attract investors. Nigeria, like many other Sub-Saharan African countries, has been plagued with the lack of functional infrastructure which militates against the growth of the economy. In the oil boom of PDP years, billions was allocated in the budget for infrastructural development and the monies were simply stolen. No single one was implemented as conceived. Therefore, it is inconceivable that any expectation of development would be justified. There could not have been any progress without any remarkable improvement in infrastructure. The leverage here is that public infrastructure makes significant contributions to the growth of the private sector. There was no conscious effort made to arrest the pervasive decadence. This happened at a time when oil price was $114 per barrel; all the gains were squandered. How will anyone who understands the issues leave President Buhari for any other candidate, let alone Atiku, with a proven record of malfeasance? It is sickening to imagine that our country is permissive of all aberrant acts to the point that known felons become so brazen. They want to continue from where they stopped. All those not used to financial discipline find the implementation of the TSA stultifying. It is strange to them that a Government is able to return the sum of N118 billion to the national treasury as unused capital budget for the 2017 fiscal year. This was never the case in Nigerian history, especially in recent times, for a government to display fiscal responsibility to the extent of returning unspent money. Politicians and civil servants would rather find justification to share the money among themselves.

When it comes to the power sector which is a nexus for economic development, power generation has reached 7000 mega watts with a target of 10,000 mega watts, compared to 2, 690 mega watts of the 16 years of misrule of PDP after spending N2.74 trillion in the sector. When President Obasanjo was boasting about of his achievements on this, PMB, in a respectable and rhetorical manner asked, “Where is the power you generated after spending such unimaginable amount?” He once reminded his audience that he would have sent most of those suspected of wrongdoing to jail when he was a rather ruthless military officer. Why are most members of the dubious ruling class scared of PMB? Why are they opposed to his second term of four more years? He has made it emphatically clear that those who were granted oil block due to patronage of the last administration would have their licenses withdrawn. The declaration that oil licenses will not be renewed is at the root of their open antagonism of the Government and their fanatical support for Atiku.

When it comes to the agriculture sector, no government has placed emphasis on local reliance in order to save the country unnecessary importation, especially when there is the capacity to able to produce it locally, than this Government. The ban on rice importation is a case study. The previous government spent $2.41 billion on rice importation between January 2012 and May 2015. Looking inward and putting a ban on importation of rice has saved Nigeria billions of dollars and Thailand government is lamenting. This has resulted in the collapse of rice mills and increased the unemployment rate from 1.2 per cent to 4 per cent.

It is important for the locusts who are trying to converge again hear this, especially those who cannot explain Atiku’s source of wealth, bearing in mind his status as a retired Customs officer. For the first time in the political history of country, a total amount of N653.47bn was remitted into the Federation Account by the Nigeria Customs Service between January and November. Let the PDP tell Nigerians how much they were able to generate in their years of ruinous rule. A corollary to this fact is the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB). The last remittances to this body were slightly above N50m between 2010 and 2016.It remitted just N50.752, 544 million despite making N30.726 billion. However, Professor Ishaq Oloyede, the current Registrar and former Vice Chancellor of University of Ilorin, was able to remit the sum of N7.8 billion and N9 billion into the federation account in 2017 and 2018 respectively. No doubt, human beings are no longer turning to snakes and eating the money at the national examination body.

Yes money was made but went to private hands and special interests. This was an era when every nonentity and dubious character sent their kids to school abroad and they imagined that their despicable act would be forever. The assumption of office by PMB proved that all wrong. During the dark age of corruption, the international student intake in Canada from Nigeria was second after China. However, as at 2018, enrollment has dropped drastically to 2%. It is pertinent to inquire for the factors responsible for the significant dip. What fundamental changes occurred during this period which warranted this noticeable accretion? The answer is not far-fetched; free stealing was the policy. A responsive leadership is key to any realistic quest toward re-orientation. Four more years of consolidation is the important and necessary choice which confronts our nation.

As a stakeholder and a political historian, facts are sacred. They are the tools employed in political discourses. At this moment of our critical history; I am impervious, like many others, to the dubious divine predictions which jesters bring into the political process. Ours is a coherent analysis predicated on logic. We will not indulge in the pastime of predicting who will be the next winner as some deluded, mercantilist pastors who believe Atiku can win the next election.

The minimalist perspective as drawn from political historian is that democracy is seen as a system for arriving at political decisions in which individuals acquire the power to decide by means of a competitive struggle for the people’s vote. It has been argued that democracy also involves equality before the law, due process and political pluralism as well as strong institutions and most importantly accountability. Back then; this was a party that touted itself as the biggest party in Africa and was rendered ineffective and retarded after the defeat of 2015. A party without doubt known for patronage and clientele predilections.

The February 16 election will send a signal to Atiku and his likes that this is moment of comeuppance or punishment for their misrule. This is because PMB will win big again. It is simple mathematics based on 84, 004, 084 electoral votes as indicated by INEC. Take for instance Lagos with 6.6 million and Kano 5.5 million voters and landslide for Buhari. Take a look at the geographical zones, South West has (16,292,212); North-West (20,158,100); North Central (13, 366,070) and North East (11,289,293). These Zones are bloc votes for Buhari based on political alliance and alignment between the two major political ethnic groups-Yoruba and Hausa-Fulani that have come to see elections as beneficial to them. How will Atiku and his PDP make any appreciable impact considering paltry votes of South-South that has 12,841,279 and South East (10,052,236)?

We approach this election with equanimity. Our optimisms’ anchored on empiricism. We are confident that Nigerians will do the needful for the final onslaught on overweening arrogance fuelled by corruption. The country needs four more years for this cerebral man who is plainspoken, excellent candour and quixotic smile. Atiku and his collaborators are known for their perpetual corruption and criminal destruction which brought the country to this sorry pass. Character and credibility should be fundamental issues to any serious-minded persons.

Accountability and trust are also key to successful leadership. Last Christmas, a top African Ambassador in Western Europe, a formidable political historian, informed me that the character known as Atiku is seen a conman whose means of wealth is questionable. The fact that he was a public servant with traceable legitimate earnings casts a serious doubt on his sense of propriety. His stupendous wealth is a constant reminder to all patriots to remain vigilant until the final rout.

Every solution demands more time and in RUINS, THERE IS AN ARCHITECT. This is the time to rally round PMB so as to be able to lay a solid foundation for socio-economic growth.

Posterity beckons with a harsh verdict for nonchalance and connivance.

Lekan Akinosho, is the Research Director at Nigeria foundation. He lives in Brampton, Canada. Copyright © Lekan Akinosho.

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