Experts interrogate presidential agenda, chart way forward
Stakeholders at the 20th edition of Daily Trust Annual Dialogue organised by Media Trust organisation in Abuja, were unanimous that the 2023 general elections must not only hold, but must be free, fair and credible.
But how to get to the desired destination without rocking the foundation of the country’s fabric remains a subject of debate. With the theme, “Interrogating the 2023 Presidential Agenda”, the forum, which attracted participants from the political class, business, diplomatic community, civil society organisations, as well as the media, appraised the manifestos of some of the leading presidential candidates in the February 25 election.
Notable speakers at the forum included the Metropolitan Archbishop of the Catholic Diocese Abuja, John Cardinal Onaiyekan, and United States Ambassador to Nigeria, Ms. Marybeth Leonard.
A retired Federal Permanent Secretary and former chairman of First Bank of Nigeria, Mrs. Ibukun Awosika; Senior lecturer with the Lagos Business School (LBS), Dr. Yetunde Anibaba; member of Daily Trust Editorial Board, Prof. Jibrin Ibrahim; and a human capacity development expert, Dr. Eugene Enahoro; constituted the panel of discussants at the occasion.
Also present were the traditional ruler of Karshi in the FCT, Alhaji Ismaila Mohammed, former governors of Niger and Katsina states, Dr. Mu’azu Babangida Aliyu and Ibrahim Shehu Shema respectively, as well as former ministers and top government functionaries and the chairman of the New Nigeria Political Party, (NNPP), Prof. Ahmed Rufai Alkali, among others.
The chairman of Daily Trust Board of Directors, Kabiru Yusuf, who set the tone for discussion, noted that ahead of the polls, there were sober voices, flashes of red lights.
According to him, “The government and the security agencies must be aware that in hundreds of towns and villages in the Northwest and North East of the country, banditry and kidnappings have made normal life impossible. It remains to be seen if people faced with such existential threats can patiently queue to do their civic duty.
“In the South east, violent agitations by IPOB, mostly directed against the police and INEC facilities and personnel might put off whole communities from voting. This deliberate disenfranchisement will feed into the separatist agenda and become self-fulfilling prophecy.
“When you add this to the online, offline political vitriol; the dirty tricks campaigns and the dirtier money making the rounds, it is hard to envisage an uncontested electoral outcome. So, indeed, if we the citizens ignore the provocations Nigeria could be the ultimate winner at the polls. Therefore, it is our collective interest to give this poor, yet rich country another chance to rise from the ashes.”
Onayeikan, who chaired the event, wondered if the 2023 elections would usher in the desired change, lamenting that the peoples expectations in the past from their elected leaders were not met.
He added, however, that the renewed interest among Nigerians, especially youths in the forthcoming elections, was a marked departure from the past. Quoting from the figures of the Independent National Electoral Commission, (INEC) to the effect that there were approximately 100 million voters so far recorded on its voter register, the clergy said: “This is a great change in the citizens and this is an indicator that the people have abandoned their voter apathy.
“Therefore, let our professional riggers be put on strong notice that this time, it is not going to be business as usual and this is not a threat, but a strong warning, let he who has ears hear.”
The US envoy in her remarks, noted that her country had, “full confidence” in INEC to conduct free, fair and credible elections in the country, noting that all the commission required was the buying in and cooperation of Nigerians to make the exercise error-free.
She said: “We saw INEC capabilities on display during the successful completion of the elections in Ekiti and Osun states as we look forward to that success extended during the nationwide February and March general elections. Our confidence stems from the year’s signing by President Buhari and other elected leaders of the 2022 Electoral Act, the key legislation that strengthened Nigeria’s electoral system.
“For instance, the use of the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS), for voter accreditation and the transmission of results. In all these, the media have a great role to play in ensuring that Nigeria voters get accurate news and facts before, during and after the polls.”
“Therefore, as the election days draw near, we urge parties to adhere strictly to the peace agreement they signed in September, last year,” noting that another opportunity would be offered to the candidates to sign fresh deal before the main election.
In her words, “The US stands firm with Nigerian voters’ demands and desires for complete transparency and electoral integrity as anyone who tries to undercut or undermine the democratic process in any way, including violence may be found ineligible for visas to travel to the United States.
“We took similar steps in the past to impose US visa restrictions against people who were identified as undermining the electoral process and will similarly cancel visas for those, who try to undermine the upcoming elections. It is essential that candidates and supporters do not make brash predictions of victory or instantly claiming victory.”
The forum was presented about five minutes
of video by four of the 18 presidential cand
dates scheduled to slug it out at the polls
tagged: “My first 100 days in office as the
President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.”
That provided the ingredients for the panel of
The presidential candidates, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar of the PDP, Bola Ahmed Tinubu (APC), Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso (NNPP) and Mr Peter Obi of the Labour Party, took turn to unfold their agenda for the election and after swearing-in.
Their submissions centered on thematic issues of insecurity, economy, unemployment and corruption. Atiku, among others, harped on his familiar topic of restructuring the polity, where power would devolve from the center to the sub-nationals.
According to him, overconcentration of power at the center had created a fertile ground for excessive corruption. Therefore, he said if power moves to states and in some cases, local governments, the much-desired development would be felt at the grassroots.
For Tinubu, the youths hold the future of the country. Therefore, his administration would prioritise education and enhance industrialisation. Kwankwaso identified insecurity as the major problem responsible for the socio-economic crises in the country. He lamented that previous administrations, including the present government had not taken bold steps to address the problems squarely, saying if elected, he intends to boost manpower of the security.
Obi declared that he would tackle the systemic corruption that has held the country down for a long time. Besides, he promised to improve education sector, in such a way that out-of-school children are sent back to school. In addition, he remarked that there is vast agricultural land in parts of country, especially in the North that have not been exploited, noting that if elected, he will turn Nigeria from consumption to a producing country.
However, the panel of discussants picked holes in their presentations, which they felt were short of the expectations of Nigerians, especially as they were devoid of clearly defined actionable plans to get Nigeria out of the woods.
For Mrs. Awosika, there were no clear-cut differences in the problems so far identified by the candidates since every Nigerian knows the problems as highlighted and faulted their modus operandi of solving them.
She said: “The fundamental challenges we face as a nation in the recruitment of our leaders is that we have leaders who know our problems but cannot provide visible approach to solving them. This stems from the lack of clear-cut ideological stance among our political parties, which has made it easier for our politicians to change parties at short notice.
“Therefore, the challenge is for candidates to offer how they would want to solve our problems. Nigerians must therefore demand from our leaders a committed sense of responsibility, that is the only way we can maintain the integrity of our electoral or democratic process.”
For Prof. Ibrahim, the issue of restructuring as espoused by Atiku was no longer important, noting that Nigeria has been undergoing restructuring since 1956, from the independence era to the periods of various military regimes.
He identified some factors responsible for the problems facing the country as dysfunctional and corrupt civil, as well as re-cycling of bad leaders. The professor of political science said unless these challenges were addressed, Nigeria would continue to witness leadership deficit.
Similarly, Anibaba said the presentations by the candidates did not articulate their visions. Her words, “The manifestos of the candidates as we have listened to them do not offer anything new, because none of the candidates has demonstrated that we have a future to protect.”
Agreeing with her, Enahoro submitted that in articulating their visions, none of the candidates made reference to the role the National Assembly, as a critical arm of government would play to support them. He argued that since they are not going to be sole administrators, the candidates ought to realise that the success of their programmes in office would be dependent on the level of cooperation they got from the legislature.
In their separate interventions, a former Defence Minister, Lawal Batagrawa; Spokesman of the Northern Elders’ Forum, (NEF), Dr. Hakeem Baba-Ahmed, former Katsina State governor, Shema, Prof Alkali, Sen. Shehu Sani, who represented Kaduna Central in the 8th Assembly, among others spoke on the dangers postponing the forthcoming elections posed to the democratic process, calling on the President and the electoral umpire to resist the temptation.
On possible postponement, Kwankwaso said it was inconceivable to think of postponing elections dying minutes for whatever reasons. Though, he claimed his party had issues with the electoral body on some of its policies, he does not believe shifting the polls is the best way of resolving whatever problem is on the ground.
Sani noted that Nigerians have been used to doomsday predictions at every cycle of elections since the beginning of the fourth republic. According to him, “In every cycle of the election since the beginning of this democratic dispensation there was no election cycle that we have not been reminded of the fact that Nigeria is at a crossroads.”
He expressed optimism that just like the previous elections, the 2023 exercise would come and go, noting that the only demand is that Nigerians should be allowed to go to the polls and freely elect those they feel could lead and represent them adequately, devoid of any rancour.
Baba-Ahmed, a former Secretary to INEC said Nigerians should send a clear massage to President Buhari and the electoral body that they would not accept anything less than a free, fair, credible election next month. Therefore, any thought of interim government must be jettisoned.
A one-time minister of state for Health, Gabriel Yakubu Aduku, expressed worry about the preponderance of too many guns and other instruments of violence ahead of the polls. He said that with so much arms in the hands of those not trained to use them, the fear being expressed about violence must not be dismissed, citing the Kaduna-Abuja train attack in March last year, when victims were either killed or taken hostage for months.
Shema admitted the deficit of trust in politicians because they have failed Nigerians. He argued that there was widespread disunity among the class as fallout of the contest for power, warning that unless they act with common objectives, Nigerians may not repose their trust and confidence in them.
The Karshi monarch in FCT raised the alarm about the content of the proposed amended constitution to be submitted to the President and called on Buhari to decline assent to some of the provisions in the amendment bill that will soon be presented to him by the National Assembly.
He noted that as it is, state governors are operating like emperors in their states as they have acquired enormous powers with full control of lawmakers to install speakers at their will. He said: “Therefore, signing that piece of legislation would amount to giving them additional powers that they would use in driving away opponents.”