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2019 campaigns: Saying no to vacuous sloganeering

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[FILE] Atiku Abubakar<br />Photo: Twitter/UcheSecondus

As the nation closely counts down to the 2019 general elections, the clear aspiration of citizens for better governance is forcing the political gladiators to go back to the drawing board. Like never before, citizens are demanding accountability and are pushing for answers to the myriad of challenges across the nation. On social media, righteous anger about Nigeria’s faltering steps towards shaping itself as a serious nation is mixing with online cynicism to push political actors to respond to the great issues of the day. Although the responses from the partisan gladiators have largely not satisfied a demanding citizenry, which is leveraging the information revolution to expose the fundamental flaws in governance system, there is some movement, nonetheless.

From security to the economy, and to the debate on the anti-corruption crusade, as well as the push for transparency in the management of the proceeds, the 2019 electoral process is compelling candidates to take a hard look at the very serious governance issues confronting Nigeria. As things stand, the resonant demands for answers to the key questions relating to why a nation so endowed would be hobbling from one crisis to another, is resulting in a distillation of ideas around which the leading political gladiators have to pitch key messages to the audience, the Nigerian electorate.

This development has further inspired long-suffering citizens to go further in demanding specifics. Unlike in the run up to 2015, when the actors in the opposition got a free rein to make blanket promises, which became very difficult to implement, leading to denials on assuming power, active citizens in the 2019 conversation are not waiting for promises to be dished out without appropriate fact checking. They are moving a step ahead to make specific demands about the promises being made, the cost implications of implementing such initiatives, and the cost benefit analysis. A robust interrogation of the signature issues driving the candidacy of the major party contenders is currently underway. There are clear indications that citizens are not interested in vacuous sloganeering.

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The result is that across major party platforms, there is circumspection and some level of rethinking to avoid outlandish promises, which could come back to create credibility crisis, assuming any of the platform wins power and is unable to move ahead towards a realisation of what has been promised. This has forced partisan gladiators in the political space to return to the drawing board, brainstorm and rethink the policy proposals being put across to voters. The 2019 conversation is even going as far as raising accountability questions, relating to how the incumbent has performed, and how the opposition performed when it had the opportunity of being in power. Although, the problematic issues around the politics of identity, driven by ethnicity, religion and geo-strategic calculations are yet to go away, the resilience of the campaign for greater competence and understanding of the core governance issues is a touch stone of the emerging 2019 campaign season.

While it is not yet time for citizens to congratulate themselves, that the basis for political accountability has been laid, it is a noteworthy point that the campaign will not be run on the basis of empty proclamations. Voters and those seeking votes are gradually coming to terms with the reality that campaigns without a clear, meticulous and nuanced focus on the demands of citizens, would deliver no good in the end when governance takes the centre stage after the ballot. These subtle developments within the polity are providing context for a robust analysis of the documents of the candidates of the two major parties. President Muhammadu Buhari, who is seeking re-election on the platform of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) has unveiled the document encapsulating the governance priorities for the next four years, if re-elected in 2019.

On his part, the challenger of the major opposition party, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar has also presented his governance strategy document outlining core governance issues, which would form the basis of policies and programmes if he were able to surmount the hurdle of defeating the incumbent.

For President Buhari, the economy, as well as the security threats from the farmer’s herder’s problem have combined to constitute a major weak point for the incumbent. It is therefore not surprising that in presenting his “Next Level” document, he sought to drive conversation on what initiatives would be taken on the economy, which suffered serious haemorrhage, partly due to the volatility of oil prices, and the constraints of policy antidotes to address the plight of millions of Nigerians trapped in poverty. Although the administration touts that its slew of social investment programmes targeted 13 million Nigerians in the first instance, the “next level” document is anchoring recovery around the march away from a mono-economy.

The document talks about specific plans, which are underway to exploit the comparative advantage of the geopolitical zones and different states by developing six Industrial Parks and 109 Special Production and Processing Centres (SPPCs) across each senatorial district. Added to this is the projection by the APC administration, if re-elected to develop special Economic Zones that “will quickly concretise our Made in Nigeria for Export (MINE) plan.” The next level document similarly contains projections to sustain food production and value addition. It notes that if given another chance it will rev up the current mechanisation policy for agriculture to make tractors and processors easily accessible and available for farmers across Nigeria.

The document reads further: “We will continue a wide scale training policy, prioritising technology to reach the demography of young people within the productive sector on a massive scale even as we create jobs and growth within our economy. We believe that our people who are still in poverty have a direct way out and up through our expanded National Social Investment Programme. We believe we can implement the painstaking and comprehensive policy and work we have done to bring an end to the perennial conflict between farmers and herders – a conflict which is heightened by a struggle for land, water and pasture and the effects of climate change and every now and then, opportunistic and cynical manipulation by political actors. We are implementing a blend of measures that ensures that justice, order, modernisation and new economic paradigms emerge.”

The Buhari Next Level Plan further projects that there would be a comprehensive intervention to create an entrepreneurship bank, as a basis for the financing of initiatives, especially technology start-ups. The implementation of the ongoing Trader Moni is being pushed to come under the oversight of the entrepreneurship bank.

Former Vice President Abubakar’s document is titled My Plan To Get Nigeria Working Again; in it the push to bring the economy back to life is anchored on a development agenda, which seeks to “create a sound, stable and globally competitive economy that is diversified with a mix of output from a ‘technologically- enabled agriculture.’ The plan also promises to create policies, which will bring about a ‘vibrant and globally competitive manufacturing sector’ and a modern services sector.” The document in its projections further notes that the economy will be supported by adequate and efficient economic infrastructure as well as investments in the New Economy. “With regards to fiscal resources, we recognize the imperative to broaden Nigeria’s resource horizon, maintain spending efficiency and reform internal revenue generating machinery. Economic growth is envisaged to be all inclusive, accompanied by increased employment and reduced poverty levels as well as a greatly enlarged and much more effective system of education, training and health.”

The recent killing of troops by Boko Haram insurgents, who invaded a military base in the North East, has raised renewed questions about Nigeria’s security architecture. The Atiku document provides, some outline on how key challenges would be addressed. The former Vice President promises to tackle the issue of non-cooperation and coordination among security agencies through technology using cutting-edge technologies to minimize duplication of efforts, guard against mishandling of information, while enhancing information sharing. According to the plan, restructuring the entire security sector as well as strengthening peace and security mechanisms, in order to eliminate insecurity in different parts of the country is critical. “Training and re-training of all cadres of security personnel mandatory to expose them to trends in contemporary security management.

“Enacting legislation that will protect information providers and the privacy of the information provided. Commencing the gradual process of instituting the state police in line with the principle of restructuring; establishing a unified, centralized and coordinated Vital Registration and Security database, where necessary personal data of all residents are stored for national security, economic planning and developmental purposes.”

Broadly, the document of the candidates provide contrasting visions of what they would do to address Nigeria’s challenges across several sectors, the next phase of the campaign is to begin to ask the how question. For the Buhari document, there is a sense in which it reflects an incumbent’s tendency to carefully review what has transpired in nearly four years. The document takes its projections from the idea that some steps have been taken in the first term, which should be tweaked, while being cognisant of resource constraints. On the whole, the Buhari Next Level plan explores the theme of continuity, and linkages with foundations laid in the first term.

On the other hand, the Atiku Plan as expected contains a lot more. As the challenger, talks of overhauling current systems. The Atiku document contains a lot, which would clearly not be achieved in four years. It therefore requires an implementation plan, which would break down the timelines for the achievement of the multitude of visions in various sectors as contained in the 200-page document. For both candidates however, the fundamental question about how these plans would be realized remains. It is the role of citizens to pick up the conversations from there, including demanding the candidates comprehensively explain how their respective visions would be realised.


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