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2019 presidential election: Nigeria, Quo Vadis?


Staff separate ballot boxes before delivery to polling stations ahead of Nigeria’s Presidential election at an office of Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in Port Harcourt, Southern Nigeria, on February 14, 2019. Nigeria’s presidential candidates wrapped up their election campaigns, making a final pitch to voters before Africa’s most populous country heads into the polls on February 16, 2019. Yasuyoshi CHIBA / AFP

It is dejavu – excitement, trepidation, disenchantment, poverty, distress – in the run up to the Presidential election, scheduled for February 16, 2019. The campaigns have become frenetic with mammoth crowds at venues. But I am told that the crowds are non-discriminatory, peopled by persons in search of doles that politicians drop as inducement for votes. They seek for doles because they are largely unemployed and must of necessity address the compelling needs of ‘stomach infrastructure’. They are the ones who will vote, not the elite. But on what grounds would they make their choices?

The administration of President Muhammadu Buhari came on board in 2015 amid disenchantment amongst citizens, arising from poor governance by the ruling party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). The profligacy of the government and insensitivity to the plight of citizens, evident under the administration of President Goodluck Jonathan, left much to be desired. Understandably, the citizens sought for a change of government and the All Progressives Congress (APC) took advantage of the moment and promised change.

Almost four years in the saddle, the APC’s government, has shown lack-lustre performance inflicting a much deeper misery on the people than was the case under PDP – increasing unemployment, increasing insecurity, a weaker economy, injustice and unabating corruption. The overall verdict is that the APC government has not delivered on its promises.

Now back to the question: on what grounds would the electorate make choices from the presidential candidates in light of the foregoing narrative? Do they have the capacity to understand the issues that ought to shape their judgment before voting? Regrettably, the politicians know too well that many of them do not understand the issues and that it suffices to sell to them the same puerile campaign promises they are more willing to hear, year in, year out. But what are the issues?

The Nigerian governance system is not working, and indeed, has not worked since 1966 when a federalist system of governance, agreed upon before independence, was truncated by the military and replaced by a unitary system. The unitary system was mirrored by the 1979 Constitution, the precursor of the 1999 Constitution. Thus, over the years, many policy objectives could not be realized because of the inherent contradictions and constraints in the provisions of the Constitutions which have shaped values and attitudes of the Nigerian peoples with attendant negativism. Thus, patriotism, nationality identity and national unity have remained elusive creating fault lines in the Nigerian body politic.

The constraining provisions of the Constitutions account for the country’s inability to realize her full potentials, endowed with enormous human and material resources. Consequently, over the years, the country has been in a state of distress – social, economic and political – prompting an intervention prayer by the Catholic Church in Nigeria as follows: “All powerful and merciful Father, you are the God of justice, love and peace. You rule over all the nations of the earth. Power and might are in your hands and no one can withstand you. We present our country Nigeria before you. We praise and thank you for you are the source of all we have and are. We are sorry for all the sins we have committed and for the good deeds we have failed to do. In loving Forgiveness keep us safe from the punishment we deserve. Lord, we are weighed down not only by uncertainties, but also by moral, economic and political problems. Listen to the cries of your people who confidently turn to you. God of infinite goodness, our strength in adversity, our health in weakness, our comfort in sorrow, be merciful to us your people. Spare this nation from chaos, anarchy and doom. Bless us with your kingdom of justice, love and peace. We ask this through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. Indeed, the key words, justice, love and peace, in the prayer are worthy of note, for without justice there cannot be peace and development in Nigeria. Therefore, Nigeria must be restructured, in the constraining instrument, the Constitution, to reflect a truly federal system of governance as a prerequisite for nation building and development. Herein is the bone of contention.

President Buhari is averse to restructuring of the Nigerian governance system because of his belief that what needs to be addressed are ‘processes’. Interestingly, there is no convergence of opinion amongst elites on the nexus between governance systems and wellbeing of citizens. Some believe, in our present circumstances, that endemic corruption in Nigeria is a prime factor of her economic woes. On the contrary, others believe that endemic corruption in Nigeria is a symptom of a fundamental weakness in the governance architecture. I subscribe to the latter in light of failure of the present government to deal decisively with corruption, a cardinal item of its campaign promises. Those who think that the President needs more time to rid Nigeria of corruption simply miss the point that the war against corruption must be a collective effort by all levels of government on a sustainable basis. The desperation to achieve meaningful results in the anti-corruption campaign underscores the incessant violations of the due process, the rule of law and court orders by the present government. There is no doubt that endemic corruption in Nigeria is systemic, ingrained in the body politic and that fighting the monster in the manner of the present government is simply a wild goose chase.

Undoubtedly, Nigeria’s mono-product economy which is dependent on crude oil is weak. Its weakness however, resides in non-development of myriads of natural resources in the country and the rudimentary stage of the oil industry, in the absence of derivative chemical and petrochemical industries which could impact positively on the economy. While efforts at exploring for more oil wells in the country, particularly in the north for geo-political reasons is salutary, there is the need to develop the down stream sector of the petroleum industry. All these however, do not appear feasible under the present governance architecture with its constraining hold on the constituent states in resource control and development. A truly federal system of governance certainly holds the key to equity and justice and the promotion of the collective strength of the people for development.

Back to the 2019 Presidential election and the question: Nigeria, quo vadis? If President Buhari wins, and pursues his three cardinal agenda – economy, security and anti-corruption – under the present governance architecture, the overall performance ultimately would be sub-optimal as it has been. Similarly, if Vice-President Atiku wins, and reneges on his promise on governance reform through restructuring, it would be business as usual. Now the way forward: a restructured governance architecture, in true federalism, is a sine qua non to kindle the process of nation building and sustainable development for the benefit of all citizens.
•Eromosele, former deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic), Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta.

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