Economic revival, security, others dominate wish lists as campaign begins
•President Of Southern Extraction Priority To Rivers State, Niger Delta People — Sara-Igbe
•Country Must Be Restructured To Address Multifaceted Problems — ARG
•Challenges Ravaging South East Must Be Thoroughly Thrashed — Ohanaeze Ndigbo
• Blueprint To Tackle Educational Backwardness Must Be Made Public — Olukoju
•Environmental Justice, Holding Govs Accountable Must Be Encouraged — Azaiki
In the next 72 hours, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) will mark two major milestones in the countdown to the 2023 general elections. The first is that it would tick the ninth out of the 14 major events lined up ahead of the exercise, while the second milestone on the way to 2023 polls would be the commencement of campaigns.
But ahead of the electioneering, socio-political organisations, regional blocs, interest groups, civil society organisations and individuals have pin-pointed what they consider burning national issues, which they stress must form the kernel of discussions as the 18 political parties that have fielded candidates for the presidency strategise to appropriate their segments of the electorate.
While some of them are in favour of the parties placing on the front burner, blueprints that would address stunted national development, worsening insecurity, and unending economic woes among others, others say they would appreciate no-holds-barred conversations on how the regional challenges plaguing them would be resolved.
For instance, besides the strong desire to be embraced and integrated into the mainstream of the nation’s politics, addressing infrastructural gaps, and agitations by the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), South East stakeholders stress that the challenges ravaging the region should form the fulcrum of campaign messages.
While a former spokesman of the Pan-Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF), and a prominent South South stakeholder, HRH Anabs Sara-Igbe, insists that the issue of a southern president remains a priority to Rivers State and the region, the Afenifere Renewal Group (ARG), insists that “the country will hardly surmount the multifaceted problems challenging it,” just as all developmental efforts may come to naught if the country “is not restructured in accordance with the wishes of the people.”
Because of the systemic and long-standing crisis in the country’s education sector – the nursery for human capital, which in turn is the main driver of national and global economic development, every presidential candidate should develop a blueprint to tackle the sector’s menace. This is the view of the Pro-Chancellor and Chairman of Council, Chrisland University, Owode, Ogun State, Prof. Ayodeji Olukoju.
ACCORDING to the National Publicity Secretary of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Dr. Alex Ogbonnia, the South East expects presidential candidates to explain in detail, how the zone’s alienation could be addressed should any of them be given an opportunity to rule the country next year.
He stressed that the region has not been treated as part of the country, despite its contribution to its independence and development, as it remains an integral section that has not been allowed to taste power at the centre.
“But we are happy that Afenifere, the Middle Belt, and former President Olusegun Obasanjo among others have done the work by narrowing their search to one person. Ohanaeze Ndigbo had set out a guideline earlier that it is high time the South East is allowed to produce the next president. Of course, I expect that people should work for their political parties, but at the same time, it will not be good for any Igbo to antagonise Peter Obi’s ambition because every other interest group bought into it and that has reduced to the barest minimum, our level of work. So, I think those that will campaign in the zone should justify why the South East should not be given the opportunity to rule the country after Buhari, and when it will naturally be their turn,” he said.
On whether the issue of Nnamdi Kanu should be part of the campaign messages, he stated that the message from him (Kanu) was not the same as the Ohanaeze Ndigbo.
“What the IPOB is saying is different from what the Ohanaeze Ndigbo is saying. Kanu is consistent with his demand for a referendum and Biafra, but when you are going into the election as it is now, you don’t bring in the two. What we are talking about is the election, and South East producing a president. So, my advice is that the two should not be mixed; they are not related. That has been Ohanaeze Ndigbo’s position, and we are happy with the role the Southern and Middle belt leaders are playing. It is no longer an Ohanaeze Ndigbo project; it is a national project,” he said.
For First Republic’s Minister of Aviation, Dara Mbazulike Amaechi, the region would need to know how rail lines that crisscrossed the area would be reactivated and put back to effective use, stressing that: “There is a need to assure the people of the region that they are part of Nigeria. This should come in the form of what the region should benefit in the event of any of them winning the election, than what is obtainable in the current regime, where the zone has been shut out in the scheme of things.
“I also believe that they should address issues that created agitations by the people of the region as doing so will help check further uprisings in the region and bring the people to contribute to national development and growth. Nigeria has almost been ruined and it is at the point of political disintegration. So, it behooves the presidential candidates to engage in campaigns that are targeted at bringing the country together to what the founding fathers like me had in mind while fighting for independence.
SARA-IGBE in his submission maintained that since the North is about to complete its eight-year shot at the Presidency through Buhari, it is time for the South to lead. It is now left for the leadership of the South to think out the presidential candidate to support. Ordinarily, the West has taken its turn, so for equity sake, it will be ideal to support the South East.”
The former spokesman of PANDEF stressed that the incoming leader should know that the region has suffered immensely from oil production, and so wants its people to participate in the oil production and servicing industry.
THE position of ARG was made known by its National Chairman, Mr. Wale Oshun, who said that Nigerians would definitely want to listen to how the candidates will solve the issues of insecurity, the near economic collapse, infrastructural decay, marginalisation, religion, and ethnicity. “The bottom line is if this country is not retooled to true federalism nothing will change. We want to hear the candidate that will discuss restructuring and whose programme will show his determination to achieve it.
“You also look at the issue of economic development. No nation in the world is developing without a virile production base. Production base can only thrive at a lower level. It is this kind of issue that we want to hear our candidates discuss. We want to hear how they will review the contents on the residual and exclusive lists to reduce the pressure on the Federal Government. They should tell us how they want to reduce unemployment, and rural-urban migration. These are the various issues.”
FOR the Yoruba Council of Elders (YCE): “It is obvious that the state of the Nigerian nation presently is not the best, as the country is not even optimal with the resources and endowment that God has bestowed on her even though the multi-ethnic groups that formed the country have been together for a long time. So the campaigns must be issue-based with focus on harnessing our natural endowments, from the Atlantic Ocean to the Sahara desert in the next four years forming an integral.”
The General Secretary of YCE, Dr. Kunle Olajide who said that Nigeria has advanced beyond where any candidate will dwell on mundane issues of ethnicity, religion, and sectionalism, added: “It is expected of the flag bearers to approach the campaign with a service mind determination and not just craze to acquire political power. I will look out for any of them whose message will tilt towards leaving a legacy.”
Other than having a blueprint to tackle educational backwardness, Olukoju pointed out that political parties must appreciate the magnitude of the problem facing the sector, ranging from its roots, that is immediate causes, its sheer magnitude, and ramifications.
“Thus calls for an inventory of what we have and what we lack; how to remedy deficits in the short, medium, and long term; who will execute what tasks, at what cost, and who and how to share costs will be important at this time.”
He said the second task is identifying the most pressing issues requiring attention within a specified time frame, ranging from six months to one year, or five years, and so on.
“The key issues are funding, facilities, and functionality. Funding is a key issue that is best tackled by a rational formula of cost-sharing, where there is a consensus that no single stakeholder – government and the private sector (business, religious organisations, and philanthropic bodies) and parents – can fund education singlehandedly. The easiest way to get it right is to calculate the average cost of training per student, per programme, per location, and the age of the institution. In broad terms, fees have to be charged and paid by students with assistance from the federal and state governments – scholarships, bursaries, and loans – targeting indigent students. This worked seamlessly during my time in the 1970s,” the don stated.
A member of the House of Representatives, representing Yenagoa/Opokuma/Kolokuma Federal Constituency of Bayelsa State, Prof. Steve Azaiki, is afraid that having not gone around the country to appreciate peculiar challenges, the campaign is likely going to be jamboree and lacking depth.
Nonetheless, he added: “For us in the Niger Delta, the presidential election must be assumed as a referendum on the restructuring of the country; the candidates must define what they understand by restructuring, which is not about depriving any region, but must be broad and most of the functions and duties of the Federal Government should be decentralised.
“As an emerging democracy, we should also begin to think about the six-year single tenure for presidents and governors because we know today that after two years in office, a president or governor begins to worry about how to secure a second term. We must also look at whether it is necessary to have this bogus National Assembly that we have today. We can restructure the National Assembly.
“We must look at environmental justice and flooding of several places every year in the region. The incoming president must be somebody that can hold the governors of the region accountable. We have to wake up,” Azaiki stated.