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2023 Elections: The battle for the soul of Nigeria

By ‘Femi D. Ojumu
11 January 2023   |   3:05 am
Fortes fortuna adiuvat is a Latin maxim which means fortune favours the brave. The inference is pretty clear: misery is the allotment of cowardice or indifference! For emphasis, the words cowardice and indifference are used inter-operably, in a strictly narrow sense, and imply a failure to proactively engage with the democratic process, within the context…

Permanent Voter Cards (PVC) ready for distribution at the INEC AMAC office in Abuja… yesterday. PHOTO: OLAOYE SADIQ

Fortes fortuna adiuvat is a Latin maxim which means fortune favours the brave. The inference is pretty clear: misery is the allotment of cowardice or indifference! For emphasis, the words cowardice and indifference are used inter-operably, in a strictly narrow sense, and imply a failure to proactively engage with the democratic process, within the context of this article.

The characterisation of such indifference would typically include failing to sufficiently interrogate the manifesto pledges of all the candidates of the respective political parties and, in turn, failing to make rational choices; insufficiently assessing the ideas, consensus-building capacity, judgment, leadership qualities, track records and practical strategies for salvaging the country from the thundering of abyss of insecurity, the albatross of sovereign debts, galloping inflation and unemployment.

Demonstrably, it implies failing to obtain a Permanent Voter Card (PVC) and, more importantly, negating to use it wisely at the ballot box. And for those, who for whatever objectively valid reason, cannot obtain a PVC, the moral imperative to positively influence the thinking of those who possess, and intend to use it, is incontestable.

Why’s all this important? Because the choices people make at the forthcoming elections on February 25 and March 11, 2023, respectively will determine the future of this generation and succeeding generations in the years to come. Nigeria is at a dangerous cliff-edge in its 62-year political history! In a literal and figurative sense, the battle for Nigeria is real! The contextual dynamics and seminal posers for the aspirants to high political offices are outlined in the succeeding paragraphs.

Only on January 7, 2023 terrorists ransacked the Igueben train station in Edo State kidnapping at least 31 persons. On March 28, 2022, 8 persons were killed and 62 were abducted (since released!) in a terrorist attack on the Abuja/Kaduna train route. On March 8, 2022 in Sabaka and Wasagu/Danko, Kebbi State, terrorists killed at least 62 people including 13 soldiers and 5 policemen. Barely a fortnight later on April 10, 2022, terrorists killed over 70 people in coordinated attacks in the Kanam and Wase local government areas of Plateau State. OkeChukwu Okoye, an Anambra State Parliamentarian, was abducted on May 15, 2022, by terrorists. His mutilated corpse was found days later. Even worse! On one of Christian’s holiest days, Pentecost Sunday, parishioners at St. Xavier Catholic Church, Owo, Ondo State, were attacked by terrorists leaving at least 40 people dead including 2 children. Over 57 persons were injured too. The deadliest of these 2022 terrorist attacks, and the worst in Nigeria’s history, was from January 4 to 6, of that year; in Zamfara State where terrorists killed over 200 people!

The latter attack prompted strong condemnations from the UN Secretary General, António Manuel de Oliveira Guterres, who urged the Nigerian authorities to spare no effort in bringing those responsible for the heinous atrocities to justice; and reaffirmed the organisation’s solidarity with the country in its battle against extremism, violent terrorism and organised crime.

What then is the strategy of each presidential and gubernatorial candidate for effectively and sustainably addressing the despicable insecurity that’s touched every nook and cranny of the country ravaging innocent lives and displaced tens of thousands? Does their track record inspire public confidence? Upon what evidential basis?

Self-sustainability on agriculture remains an insuperable policy objective. However, this aim has eluded several administrations. The focus of the National Agriculture Technology and Innovation Policy (2022-2027) for instance, to transform the sector, consistent with dynamic global food systems, greater public and private sector participation and seamless supply chains, are noble. Notwithstanding, how achievable are those objectives given the perverse convergence of pernicious insecurity, which invariably forces agro-investors/farmers off farms, the consequential food inflation and the inability to utilise the country’s vast hectarages of arable land? The country’s 2022 general unemployment rate is 33% whilst youth unemployment is 42.5%.

How best can the agro-economy be optimised to safely catalyse employment and create wealth? Afterall, even if Nigeria cannot feed its over 218 million people, can it at least come close to doing that? How do the political contenders address this conundrum?

Economic Diversification
Petroleum remains the country’s main foreign exchange earner. Approximately 9/10ths of foreign exchange earnings, and approximately 2/3rds of the government’s income emanate from petroleum exports. OPEC established that through 2017 to 2021, the country earned over $206 billion from crude oil exports; $37.9 billion in 2017, $54.5 billion in 2018 and $45.1billion in 2019. The exceptional aftershocks of Covid 19 in 2020 yielded lower returns for the country at $27.3 billion. Still, that rose to $41.3 billion in 2021. Notwithstanding, crude oil export constitutes less than a 1/10th of gross domestic product (GDP).

Given the increasing global shift away from fossil fuels, in response to the necessary demands for cleaner energy and, importantly, the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal 13, on action to combat climate change and its adverse impacts, how might presidential and gubernatorial aspirants address the challenge, whilst seeking to cut carbon footprints? Why does gas flaring still exist in the oil producing Niger Delta states exposing the population to toxic pollution? Has any political aspirant produced a compelling policy paper to address this perennial challenge?

Sovereign Debts
A 3year trend analysis from Q3 2020 through Q3 2022, demonstrates that the country’s total debt, comprising domestic and external debt stock of the Federal Government, State Governments and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) in each of those years was; N31 trillion ($85.89 billion) in 2020; N38 trillion ($92.6 billion) in 2021; and N44.6 trillion ($101.9 billion) in 2022. Thus, the debt profile has risen by 42.1% between 2020 and 2022! The Debt Management Office affirms that the increase in 2022 was especially due to new borrowing by the Federal Government to part-finance the deficit in the 2022 Appropriation Act plus, new borrowings by sub-nationals.

How sustainable are these rising debt profiles given the high costs of interest repayments, the dislocation of public investments and critical delivery spending? Will these debt burdens simply be outsourced to future generations? The opportunity cost of these debts is the inability to prioritise essential investment in frontline education, healthcare and policing services. What is the vision of the political gladiators on these issues?

The First 100 days
The symbolic import of the first 100 days of a new administration can, in part, be gleaned from the antecedents of an aspirant to high political office. It is a strikingly significant metric for demonstrating purposeful leadership, competence and performance. This isn’t a new concept either. The celebrated 17th Century British poet, John Milton (1608-1674), in Paradise Regained, first published in 1671, wrote; “the child shews the man, as the morning shews the day”

Assuredly, voters can already get a sense, of course unscientifically, of how of ready a presidential aspirant is likely to perform in the first 100 days of assuming office based on their track record. For instance, how did they perform in the first 100 days of prior assumption of an elected public office? Did they hit the ground running? Was it the converse? Did they assemble a formidable team of subject matter experts beforehand to brainstorm various scenarios with a view to creatively solving complex societal challenges? Were dilatory tactics employed in their first 100 days? What, if any, evidence have they demonstrated to the electorate in campaign mode, to show seriousness, urgency, commitment, sagacity and the capacity to forge effective alliances across all geopolitical zones; such that the probability of performance on the job is heightened, not diminished? What are the specific, measurable, actionable, realistic and timebound impactful milestones that the electorate can expect to see in the first 100 days?

Foreign Relations
A thorough grasp of international relations is essential in Nigeria’s strategic national interests. A fortiori, important alliances have to be forged and sustained on a bilateral and multilateral basis on multiple fronts, including but not restricted to anti-corruption policies, climate change, defence, economics, justice, science and technology, trade exports etc. Trade-offs which balance competing geo-political and national interests would be necessary. Yes, there is no monopoly of expertise here. Nevertheless, an aspiring leader must be able to formidably and confidently represent Nigeria on the global stage with conviction whilst grasping the finer nuances of realpolitik. Wherein lies the strategic competence? Are the aspirants’ engaging internationally proven policy leads not just “experts” who can assist to tackle capacity deficits? What are the foreign policy priorities and why?

Defence and National Security
Notwithstanding the major security challenges besieging the country as alluded to above, the heroic efforts of loyal, courageous, dedicated Nigerian troops and serviceman must be commended. They are often unheard, yet, their victories against terrorists and enemies of the state cannot be ignored. Some of their notable operational successes include major victories against terrorists in Borno, Kaduna, Sokoto, Zamfara and other Northern states in kinetic air and land campaigns. Plus, the kingpins of the Owo terrorist attack were arrested after a massive manhunt.

The issue here is how are these troops incentivised? Is it sufficient? Do they have the requisite resources to do their jobs; that is, to safeguard the lives and well-being of Nigerians and the country’s territorial integrity? Do the right support systems exist for the families and dependants of those who pay the ultimate price to safeguard the lives of their fellow citizens? Is there a case for massive military enlistment now? Does the right combination of kinetic and non-kinetic strategies and tactics subsist to address the war against terrorism?

Conclusion and Recommendations
The battle for the soul of Nigeria is real! For the sake of current and future generations, it is recommended that the eligible voting electorate and influencers, give serious considerations to all the issues posed above, ask themselves, which candidate or combination is best-placed to address them, before they cast their votes.

The posers raised are by no means all-encompassing as similar questions could be raised on issues ranging to child protection, compulsory health insurance, debt re-financing, defence procurement, financing education, health sector reform vis-à-vis public/ private participation; land use reform, multi-modal transportation, power sector sustainability; poverty alleviation, social security, youth engagement etc. Political aspirants in the forthcoming elections should conscientiously address all the issues raised and fashion a coherent, timebound and implementation strategy.

Likewise, policy teams with the brightest minds, drive, innovative capacity, should be developed now, and sustained, to help drive forward the transformational aspirations for a better Nigeria. Innovation negates repeating rehearsed models and those with the brightest ideas may not necessarily be in the ivory towers or staid monolithic institutions. Afterall, the American Silicon Valley was not built mechanistic routines.

Visionaries like Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Jeff Bezos and others with the right ideas and strategies were able to diligently identify the right combinations of talents and skills to execute excellence in product and service delivery. Patently, running a country is different from running an organisation.

However, the case for learning how a successful organisation is run, can be reasonably adapted to the political management of a country. The critical issues are effective leadership, clear vision, effectively communicating with and delivering for people, security, financial and resource management and social/financial returns on investment either for taxpayers or shareholders.

To finish where I started, there is no place for indifference in the imminent elections. Go out and vote and persuade others to do so for aspirants to political high office with the proven leadership qualities, vision, intellectual and physical capacity and integrity; with the drive, the capacity to unite all sections of society and inspire the active followership of the people; those committed to justice and the rule of law, who can and have built sustainable institutions, and can reassure Nigerians that they can enduringly safeguard lives, well-being and property. Fortes fortuna adiuvat!

Ojumu is Principal Partner at Balliol Myers LP, a firm of legal practitioners in Lagos, Nigeria.