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Confronting trust deficit and tracking campaign promises for national development

By Sodiq Omolaoye, Abuja
22 January 2023   |   4:10 am
One major issue thrown up at every election cycle in Nigeria is the debate on whether politicians contesting for public offices would fulfill the promises made during electioneering if elected or not. 

[FILES] INEC Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu. Photo; FACBOOK/INECNIGERIA

• Stakeholders Highlight Why Elected Officials Fail To Keep Promises
• Olurode Urges Parties To Submit Manifesto To INEC

One major issue thrown up at every election cycle in Nigeria is the debate on whether politicians contesting for public offices would fulfill the promises made during electioneering if elected or not.

This trust deficit has been a challenge with politicians since the nation returned to democratic rule in 1999, making it difficult for members of the public to believe most of the campaign promises or commitments made.

However, the 2023 elections present a unique opportunity for Nigerians to confront the issue of trust deficit among the political class.

Since the commencement of political campaigns in September 2022, politicians have been marketing themselves, differentiating themselves from others, and making proposals on how they will perform if they get elected. While some of these promises are made at campaign grounds, some are contained in their manifesto.

Ahead of next month’s general elections, the four major presidential candidates have released their manifesto, detailing how they will solve issues confronting Nigerians, especially in the areas of economy and security, among others.

But the experience Nigerians have had with politicians who made big promises during campaigns and failed to implement them have continued to re-engineer the trust deficit.

As such, observers believe there is need to document and track the promises made by the politicians during campaign, as this would ensure accountability and transparency when they eventually get elected.

This was the basis of a stakeholder dialogue, ‘Tracking Campaign Promises for Good Governance,’ organised by NPO reporters in Abuja.

The dialogue had in attendance both past and present political office holders, academics, members of civil society organisations, security agencies, media and other stakeholders interested in nation building.

Political office holders, who spoke at the event, explained why politicians do not fulfill promises made to electorates during campaigns. According to most of them, elected officials usually meet the unexpected after assuming office.

Former Ekiti State governor Kayode Fayemi

Former governor of Ekiti State, Kayode Fayemi led this argument. While explaining reasons most governors and other political leaders continue to fail in implementing their campaign promises after getting into office, Fayemi said despite challenges, state governors do their best to ensure growth at the state level.

According to him, “there are times you genuinely promise to do something as a government or as governor, either during your campaign or even when you get to office, and then you get there, you are confronted with circumstances that you cannot explain. Even when you can explain it, time lapses and you’re not able to do things.

“Those who are from my part of the country will know about the popular Ado-Akure road, a very bad road that we promised we were going to do during campaigns. When the President came to campaign, he also promised to fix that road. Then, we got into office and started the process.

“We ran ahead of ourselves, we managed to secure some funding from the African Development Bank, with the government of Ondo state to fix the road. And then the federal government said, ‘No, you cannot fix our road. This is our road, don’t use the money to fix our roads; we will fix our roads, and we’re about to award the contract.

“So, we were stuck. In the end, we had to transfer the money, the funding we got from African Development Bank went back to the federal government, through the Federal Government who is the sovereign lender. They were lending on our behalf. The African Development Bank will not lend the state money but they will entertain the federal government on behalf of the state that has applied.

“So, the Federal Ministry of Works, with good intentions, decided that they were going to take the money and they did in principle. By that time, the federal government had awarded the road and then the African Development Bank now said, well, if we’re going to sign off on this, we need to ensure that your procurement process meets global standards, our own standards in the African Development Bank. And then, we started another thing for almost a year.

“Meanwhile, we’ve been told by the federal government that we cannot fix the road and toll it. We said okay, if they’re not going to give us money, we said Ondo and Ekiti states will toll the road and there’s an alternative route for those who don’t want to pay; they will go through that alternative road. So, that went back and forth.

“In the end, the federal government did not take the money. The contractor that was given the road has not been taken off the road and the road has not been awarded four years after since 2018. So, there may be reasons why promises may or may not be kept. I’m not saying that’s always the case,” he added.

On his part, former governor of Kwara state, Abdulfatah Ahmed, advised Nigerians not to get blown-away by sugar-coated campaign promises, but that the quality, capacity, mental alertness and suitability of the campaigner should also be investigated.

He explained that for campaign promises to be easily implemented, they must conform with the contents of the national budget.

His words: “Budgeting should not be treated as an academic exercise, we must all be involved in budgeting; we must begin to recognise that those promises are traceable to the budget. Once they are traced to the budget, they can now be reduced to measurable deliverables

“And on that note, we will begin to see whether performance has been done or not. And don’t forget, for every elected officer, there is a tenured time: at local government that is probably three years, at the state and federal level, it’s four years. So, we have an opportunity to assess what has been done and what has not been done, vis a vis the budget created based on campaign promises. So, in a nutshell, campaign promises are measurable. If you take the instrumentalities of the institution that are available to us, we will be able to get there.

“But, most critically, what is the quality of those that make campaign promises? Do we check their capacity, do we check their suitability, do we check their mental alertness? These are areas that are also relevant in making choices.”

He, therefore, advised Nigerians to vote for credible leaders in the 2023 general elections.

Nigeria Interior minister Rauf Aregbesola. Photo; FACEBOOK/RAUFAAREFBESOLA

Former governor of Osun State, Ogbeni Rauf Adesoji Aregbesola, blamed poor national revenue generation, unemployment, and poor implementation of campaign promises as major reasons slowing the pace of Nigeria’s development over the years.

Speaking on why Nigeria has had slow developmental pace over the years, among other things, Aregbesola explained that the country has failed to adequately organise its local council structures across Nigeria.

He also bemoaned the fact that a country of about 200 million people is yet to have a working national revenue base, which, according to him, should be gotten from a good percentage of working class citizens.

He said unemployment has indirectly taken a toll on the country, particularly as regards national development.

He said: “I realised that there is this knowledge gap about governance and I don’t want to sound self-righteous. It is unfortunate that there is this huge confusion and there should not be confusion because there are templates somebody worked on.

“Nigeria is not the only federation in the world. Australia is a federation for goodness sake, India is a federation, America is a federation and many others. So, how do federations run? People just talk, there is no third tier government in a federation. There are only two tiers of government in a federation. So, let us all educate ourselves on what a federation is.

“Germany is a federation, so how does the federation run? Why must our own be different? Nobody cares. They say why is the local council not working, but why is it working in India? Why are they working in Germany? Why are they working in America? Why are they not working here? They are not working here because they are not self-sustaining.

“County, which is the equivalent of our local government, city councils, they fund themselves from the income. You cannot contribute much to a government. We all leave one out and that is where the challenge comes from, and I am saying this so you know that what is wrong is not where you’re looking at. No recipient of a handout can be responsible.

“Why Nigeria still have challenges is because we have no revenue. In a country of 200 million people, less than 10 per cent are working and earning, and you think there will be progress? It is impossible. Even per capita of our income from oil, assuming nothing is taken from it, is nothing. We are 200 million people depending on what? If we don’t get half of our population to work, we are going nowhere. It is not a curse. There must be revenue generated from the people and that revenue is what you can budget upon.”

Olurode

Former National Commissioner, Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof. Lai Olurode, while presenting his paper on ‘Politics and Governance: Imperative of Tracking Campaign Promises,’ observed that politicians do a lot of politics with campaign promises and they thereby often pull a fast one on electorates and go away with a lot of deception.

While maintaining that campaign advertisements are an integral part of canvasing votes under electoral and competitive democracy, he argued that there are no concrete evidence to say whether campaign language impacts voting behaviour.

The professor of sociology, however, said it was certain that both electors and candidates standing for elections subscribe to the notion that campaigning on key issues of human existence can influence voting behaviour.

He said: “Candidates might be adjudged by what is said or unsaid. Long after campaign, the feasibility of delivering on what was promised might become subject of community discussions for days or even months.

“Though monitoring campaign promises has no constitutional backing but certainly it is an ethical issue which cannot be glossed over. Moreover, it would amount to supporting a rip off if elected officials are not held accountable for campaign promises freely made.”

Olurode recalled that a group known as Politifact, under the auspices of Poymter Institute tracked President Barack Obama’s Campaign Promises known as Obameter, noting that the same was true of President Donald Trump known as Trump-O’-meter and the coverage included that of tracking the campaign promises of President Joseph R. Biden which is looking at 100 most important promises of his.

“Efforts also commenced on tracking of campaign promises of President Muhammadu Buhari by the Centre for Democracy and Development – Buhari meter,” he stated.

On methodology of tracking campaign promises, Olurode observed that in situation where there are large number of candidates and a large number of media outlets, preliminary matters would have to be settled such as which of the candidates and political parties’ campaign promises will be tracked.

His words: “Secondly, which of the media outlets will be used for tracking – electronic or newspaper or social media. What of national coverage of the chosen medium? How do we select which of the plethora of campaign promises will be tracked and by what means? Who determines which issues qualify for tracking? In tracking, it is important to come to terms with core campaign issues in any political society.

“For example, campaign issues can be grouped into the following headings: social and physical infrastructure; economy; agriculture and industry; health; law and order issue; education; social sector including sports and labour matters. What are the promises of candidates in respect of these major issues, venue of campaign promises, frequency of campaign promises, source of information and date of delivery – mid term or end of tenure?

“Was there any mention of funding or financial commitments in fulfillment of those campaign promises or budgetary allocation in fulfillment of campaign promises? If political campaigns are tracked and those seeking elective offices are aware that they may be confronted with hard data, they may have a second thought before they promise heaven on earth during the next campaign session. Where they failed to deliver on those campaign promises, which form the basis on which electorates had exchanged their votes in fulfillment of those promises, then, good governance becomes compromised and electorates must have learned some hard lessons. Next time, they are unlikely to fall for empty promises filled with unmet expectations.”

While making his recommendations, he argued that in most electoral regimes including USA, Great Britain and Nigeria, campaign promises are not justiciable, adding that they cannot form the basis of litigation, even though not keeping to them raise ethical concerns.

He said trust, as a concept in Nigeria, has been flattened and its dependability severely eroded.

Olurode stated: “First, constitutional amendments are being proposed to make campaign promises justiciable and on which elected officials can be challenged for non-fulfillment. Once this is done, non-governmental organisations, opposition political parties and interested members of the public should collaborate to provide guidelines for political parties and candidates to frame their campaign in ways that are actionable.

“Campaign documents and promises must be part of requirements to be submitted by candidates and political parties to INEC before being cleared to stand for elections. How those promises will be met and funding issues must be clearly addressed in such campaign advertisement. Public debates and discussions may be organised around such documents, which should be affirmed at swearing in ceremonies.

“Certainly when political campaigns are tracked, arbitrariness of elected officials might reduce as alarms might be raised when allocations are made to sectors that were not mentioned in campaign advertisements. In essence, political campaigns must be regulated. Also, panelists who spoke at the event called for legal liability for unmet political promises.”

Former executive secretary of the Nigerian Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (NEITI), Adio Waziri noted that a collaboration between the media, CSOs and citizens “can compel political office seekers to deliver on their campaign promises.”

“If politicians know that there would be strong demand from electorates if they fail to fulfill their promises, that would be more portent than even the law,” he said.

Founder of Omalicha FM, a radio station in Owerri, Imo State, Angela Agoawike, said it was high time politicians were held legally accountable for their campaign promises.

Agoawike, said her stance was informed by the many unfulfilled promises made by political office seekers to Nigerians.

“Apart from tracking federal and state officials, we also need to track local council officials. Most people who do tracking do not track LGs,” she stated.

Founder/Chief Executive of Connected Development (CODE), Hamzat Lawal, called for accountability journalism at subnational levels to address issues of unmet campaign pledges.