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Vacuous campaigns, weak-kneed policy positions

By Alade Rotimi-John
10 January 2019   |   3:07 am
It is tempting to regard the Nigerian political landscape as bereft of ideas or as discouraging of issue-oriented debates, discussions or campaigns; or that creative thinking is not a forte of the political class. In place of properly articulated positions reflecting reasoned research, thoughtful analysis and an unsightful understanding of the immediate or remote causes…

Motorists drive past a campaign billboard for Nigeria’s presidential candidate of the opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP) Atiku Abubakar and his running mate Peter Obi at Ojota in Lagos, on January 4, 2019, ahead of Nigeria’s general elections of Ferbuary 16, 2019. (Photo by PIUS UTOMI EKPEI / AFP)

It is tempting to regard the Nigerian political landscape as bereft of ideas or as discouraging of issue-oriented debates, discussions or campaigns; or that creative thinking is not a forte of the political class.

In place of properly articulated positions reflecting reasoned research, thoughtful analysis and an unsightful understanding of the immediate or remote causes of a progressively-worsening social, economic and political condition of the country, political parties (particularly the ruling APC and its arch rival, the PDP) have sadly been offering, as campaign dishes, wooly or irrelevant prescriptions for relieving Nigeria’s endemic or recurring woes.

The strategies for achieving the solution to the identified logjams have not been disclosed thereby giving the impression that the proponents of the ideas themselves have no vision regarding their achievement.

Even as the campaign “contents” generally lack depth or breadth of thinking and are hollow with regard to facts, figures, originality of answers to urgent national issues, etc they are replete with unsubstantiated accusations, mudslinging and vitriolic personal attacks.

It is difficult to see how these inanities address the issues surrounding the resolution of the national question or how they guarantee the achievement of the purpose of our social contract.

The APC’s promised “next level” has not taken account of the quagmire or depth to which the country has sunk under its leadership for the people to appreciate if “the next level” to which they are being invited is high or good enough or is all that can be attained, after all.

The party has regrettably failed to disdain the bathos, emotionalism and plaintiveness that have characterised its governance style.

It has not proposed a paradigm shift from its buck-passing or blame game tactic. It has yet to interrogate the psycho-social dimensions of the charge of lie-telling or taradiddle regarding its 2015 manifesto thrusts.

It has merely glossed over the requirement to be truthful or to state clearly which vision it has, for example, for the country’s economic or technological development, say in 2030 or in the next 25 years or what strategies or tactics it is proposing for achieving it.

The requirement to uplift the standard of life of the people encompassing the social, economic, political and cultural dimensions of their livelihood has been glibly touched under a “welfare of the people” sing-song.

The PDP’s “Let’s get Nigeria working again”document contains very few (if any) novel or fundamental promises or plans for addressing its rival’s controversial anti-corruption offensive.

Most of PDP’s prescriptions are general strategies promised or implemented by previous regimes (many of which have patently failed).

A promise to do what had been done and which had failed, surely disregards the contextual or practical difficulties or impossibility of making an omelette without breaking the egg.

Nutrition, health, education, housing, employment, etc, receive ordinary or hackneyed attention in the 186-page document.

The plan however to establish or launch an open governance partnership framework – a plan to establish anti-corruption and transparency monitoring units in government and its agencies – is commendable and will hopefully introduce a refreshing twist or impetus to an offensive that is popularly perceived as skewed, one-sided or discriminatory.

President Muhammadu Buhari’s government assumed power from a previous administration which had lost popularity.

The APC government had come into office shackled by a “we no go gree” attitudinal stance it acquired in opposition, by the terms of its starry-eyed manifesto and by the many “stories by moonlight” pledges it made to the people.

Thereafter followed a period of honeymoon in which the people waited with baited breath for the performance of the publicised programmes.

In the interim, the price level and the stability of the naira became threatened and resort was therefore had to borrowing at home and abroad and to higher taxes.

The resulting economic crises begin to become obvious even as the social and economic progammes are frozen or put on hold. The popularity of the party falls into decline.

A general election is impending and the party drives itself inexorably into a frenzy whereof those who call the shots in form of governors and other financiers refuse to take the back seat regarding the decision as to who will succeed them in office and of other matters.

This is the background of the situation that calls for serious issue-oriented and image-driven strategies on the part of the President and his party.

The failure or inability of the APC to fulfil many of its 2015 campaign promises respecting strategic issues of state e.g power, infrastructure, un-employment, the economy, anti-corruption, insecurity, etc. puts the party at a moral dis-advantage vis-à-vis its fellow competitors especially its closest rival, the PDP.

The absence of ideological polarisation of the country’s body politic and also the un-exercised power of entrenched interest groups e.g. the trade unions, the organised private sector, civil society organisations, etc. have compounded the political system’s inability to deal with its myriad of socio-political and fiscal challenges.

These bodies have become feeble and unable to exercise an effective veto on legislation that are injurious to their vocation, take-home pay packets, or their bottomline.

An imperative agenda for the coming elections should have been insisted upon to consist of a desired political restructuring of the country.

The report of the 2014 National Conference has set a workable agenda for the resolution of the worrisome issue of the necessity to firmly ground the basis of Nigeria’s corporate existence and of the desire of her people to live in peace and plenty.

The 1999 Constitution is generally perceived as a military ambush of the true yearnings of the people to live together under a legal regime that recognises their commonality of interests.

A proper Nigerian people’s constitution ought to be acutely cognisant of the diversity, plurality, peculiarity and respective identity of the people which features define their respective distinctive uniqueness.

In the view of this writer, this period of electioneering offers our political parties the opportunity to hook up to the canons of the report of that confab with a view to making them campaign issues in the light of the worrisome absence of formidable manifestoes and of the visible critical lack of content or of strong ideological position on serious matters of state in their published documents.

The conference report has provided them a contextual platform on which to stand and tell the people their position regarding the pursuit of social welfare, of the vaunted resolution of the national question, etc. Even as political parties of the First and Second Republics were identified with philosophical and practical positions concerning issues of governance, theory, praxis, thrust, etc. today’s vacuity is disturbing as it is a-historical.

We aver that the only agenda that is worth being canvassed at these elections is the discussion of the political restructuring of the polity and the welfare state even as politicians will undoubtedly agree that it would be an odd sort of state which regards the general welfare as irrelevant to policy.

Contained within this welfare regime is the requirement for a faithful adherence to the principles of true federalism and of that model’s policy offshoots.

Our parties have turned ellipsis or selective faciturnity into a craft. They verbalise much but say little or nothing. They have dis-ingenuously avoided issues which are germane to our decision-making process.

It is to be put to the presidential cadidates what they would do with the efforts/reports of the national conference (which one hopes they have read with understanding) regarding the popular yearning for the political restructuring of the Nigerian State.

Will our political parties abandon the imperative of working for a new constitutional order? Or are they satisfied with the provisions of the 1999 Constitution with all its identified pitfalls and gaffes? The truth of the matter is that the constitution in the works has presented us with a document that is development or people-oriented; that abjures regional or ethnic control or sectarian ambush of the polity; and that is generally less odious or problematic.

The foot soldiers of the struggle for a restructured Nigeria have been provided an appropriate constitutional context or millieu from which to operate even as our parties have been coy or conveniently bashful regarding this all- important matter. They have not offered any insights further than their respective elliptical incantatory screams of “Progress” and “Power to the People.”

We conclude by advising that the political parties in the race for the presidency be pressured to publicly unveil their critical positions respecting the popular pan-Nigeria quest for a politically-restructured country under a new constitutional regime favoured by the 2014 Constitutional Conference report or be prepared to be consigned to the dunghill of history even as the electorate is encouraged to use the opportunity of the 2019 election to reject the shenanigans of capricious, quixotic or whimsical political actors.

Rotimi-John, a lawyer and public affairs commentator, wrote from Lagos.