2023 elections and the soul of Nigeria
Not a few Nigerians are desirous to see a speedy end of the APC –led central government for sundry reasons, chief of which is, life has become brutish and miserable for many amid insecurity, poverty, unemployment, corruption, excruciating debt burden and an unsettling absenteeism of government in the saddle. Functionaries of the government, every now and then offer run-of-the-mill explanation on the national state of affairs on grounds that it is a world –wide phenomenon to which Nigeria is not immune. But this is puerile, unwitting, insulting our collective wisdom and sensibility. So, Nigerians are praying, in specific terms, that this situation should not subsist beyond the tenure of this government.
On October 1, 2022, the Catholic Church celebrated the solemnity of Our Lady Queen of Nigeria – the Virgin Mary. The homily in my Church, anchored on Isaiah 11: 1-10, which says inter alia, “ on that day, there shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse. ” The priest re-configured it, in the Nigerian context, to read, “ on that day, there shall come forth by divine Appointment, a leader, a President, and the spirit of the lord shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the lord ————”. And now, his expectation: “ the leader shall not steal our money ———, he shall not tell us lies ——-, in his days shall justice flourish ——, he will not send military men after innocent citizens; he will not go on months of medical tourism while our hospitals have become dignified mortuaries; he will not send his children to school abroad, while our universities lie in shambles ———-, he will not encourage division through one –sided political appointments, whereby key offices are given to persons not because of what they are capable of doing but because of where they come from.” He prayed for the intercession of our Blessed Mother Mary so that God may give us such a leader, to which I say Amen.
Campaigns for 2023 presidential election have begun with presentation of manifestoes by political parties. But except by name, the political parties are indistinguishable having no distinct ideological underpinning, populated by serial defectors. They are therefore, mere platforms for seeking political positions. On manifestoes, there is the trust issue. The APC’s manifesto in 2015 contained plans and programmes the implementation of which could have served the country well. But it was set aside whimsically by the President on assumption of office, and the party unable to exercise superintending authority over him on the matter. This is the case across political parties where the President or Governor exercises overriding powers over the party on whose platform he rose to office. To what extent can a party manifestoes be taken seriously? Now, there is the question: how many Nigerians bother about manifestoes? This is critical because the bulk of voting Nigerians can neither read nor write. A casual interaction with such a Nigerian shows the critical role that tribal affiliation will play, and has been playing in our elections amongst the grass root. Many Nigerians are simply content to see their kith and kin in power, unable to comprehend the nexus between incompetence in office and their misery.
The complexities of the Nigerian State confront us with twin challenges of leadership and of system, the latter, as configured by the 1999 Constitution. In a sixty-one-part editorial serial of The Guardian newspaper, titled, “Federalism is the Answer After All”, it rightly captured the foundational basis of governance dysfunction in all facets of our national life. In other words, the recurring leadership failure and weak institutions in the body politic are systemic problems that can be resolved by a fundamental change in the system of governance. This is the crux in the advocacy for true federalism in contradistinction to the extant system which is quasi federalism. Thus, 2023 presidential election, against the backdrop of the subsisting governance system, is a contest for the soul of Nigeria, the contending forces on the one, for retention of the status quo and on the other, for a paradigm shift in the governance system.
It is instructive that former President Goodluck Jonathan has begun to advocate for constitutional amendment to include Referendum, consistent with section 14(2)(a) of the 1999 Constitution which states that “Sovereignty belongs to the people of Nigeria from who government through this constitution derives all its powers and authority”. By the absence of Referendum in the Constitution, the sovereign power of the people has been expropriated, and the people alienated, deprived of their sovereign right to demand for a new Constitution. In the present circumstances, amendment of the myriads of inherent contradictions and deficiencies in the Constitution can lead only to a cul de sac and a heightened frustration amongst citizens. The youths are restive because the current governance system has not worked for them and promises no hope for their future. They are seeking for a leader who understands their yearnings and who is trustworthy, courageous and exemplar in character to berth a new order, social, economic and political. Here lies the task ahead.
The call for State police by the northern governors in light of overwhelming security challenges is a refreshing departure from their earlier reticence on the subject. But it has to be in the context of federalism in ways that allow states to have their constitutions, set boundary conditions on executive powers and empower State House of Assembly to exercise effective oversight functions. State police in the extant governance structure is a recipe for anarchy as is evident in the alleged misuse of even vigilante by a State government in the south east.
The reawakening of educated youths to a realization that they can mobilize to reclaim their country from those who hold it down is a relief. But it must be from a clear understanding of the nature of the problem, that is, that the overriding powers of the central government enshrined in the extant Constitution, as pertaining to responsibilities and resources, stand on the wheel of progress of the Nigerian State. Therefore, there is need for true federalism, as amply elucidated in The Guardian serialized opinion supra; nay, federalism is the answer after all. In it underlies the principle of subsidiarity, in a decentralized governance structure for a more effective and efficient resolutions of local issues and challenges. The youths and all concerned citizens must interrogate the leading candidates for the position of President to assess their commitment to a new constitutional order which embraces federalism in all its ramifications.
Professor Eromosele is former Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta.