Time To Talk Development
THIS is time to talk development. As a country, we have spent considerable time talking and playing partisan politics. Not that it is so bad playing partisan politics, just that ours hasn’t been developmental. We have spent the last six years chasing political power, and doing less of bi-partisan engagements for the purpose of creating opportunities for national development. Those outside government have worked extra time to ensure that they nail tag of ‘cluelessness’ on mantelpiece of Aso Rock. Those inside the Rock, for whatever reason, also did not commence early enough to reject that ugly label. There are no middle grounds for fair assessment and the kind of cooperation required to ignite a connection between democracy and development.
Now that the coast seems clear after the huff and puff of sleazy campaigns and average outcomes of the first two elections, all sides must be fair to put the real issues back on the table. As a country, this is the time to reorder priorities and let extreme partisanship take some holiday.
To engage real issues, we still cannot run away from party politics. If it is agreed that democracy is what Nigeria needs to remain one huge and united country, where peace and progress are to be guaranteed and sustained, political parties must set new priorities. What we have now are election-winning platforms; and if the pattern of play does not change significantly, in the next 16 years, we shall continue to entertain ourselves with rituals of elections that are costly, deadly and unbelievable. Each time we manage to stage some make-belief elections, we path ourselves in the back and thank God we did not all go down.
Moving forward, the All Progressives Congress (APC), after this narrow victory, should assist Nigeria to deepen democracy and development, and not to see itself as another occupation army. The victory, highly commendable, considering how long it took the opposition to labour and toil from the flanks, is not something to be taken for granted. It is an opportunity for lovers of democracy in the opposition to open up the space for real representative and participatory governance system.
First, the APC should not do it the way the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) had done to the opposition since 1999. The PDP had been a ruthless player, draining the opposition and leaving the people with little choice in a system that was supposed to be driven by the people. Some of the states where the APC has made a rebound originally belonged to the opposition parties in 1999. They were states that belonged to the former Alliance for Democracy (AD) and All Peoples Party (APP). Take for instance, Gombe, Kwara, Ondo, and Kogi; these states were captured one after the other by the PDP, beginning from 2003. Now, they are back in an APC that evolved from those old parties. So, let there be robust opposition so that we do not run the risk associated with one party system.
The next thing is to evolve a more scientific electoral system that is believable. What we have now is an average system, something in the rating of a third class pass. Even the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) knows it could do far better if the political class is ready to bring on board a more credible electoral system. It is for the APC to admit that monumental flaws still exist in our electoral system. The electoral laws should be reviewed to make voter registration and voting less cumbersome. In the next four years, it should be possible for Nigerians in the Diaspora to vote. In the next four years, it should be possible to go full electronic; it should be possible for the EMB to have a central, national data, to make it possible for voters to vote anywhere, irrespective of where they registered. INEC also needs to show more transparency in its procurements and budgetary system. Because of exigencies, a lot is taken for granted regarding the integrity of INEC itself, for which reason it is poorly audited, both in personnel and resources. If APC’s focus is not just to grab power, let the party demonstrate commitment in the deepening of the electoral system. Late President Yar’Adua showed commitment when he admitted that the 2007 elections were flawed. He set up a committee, the Uwais Committee, whose recommendations were far-reaching, but which the ruling party never summoned courage to implement. President Jonathan has shown commitment, by allowing some of the best elections in Nigeria’s post independence history to take place under him. Let APC take over from there.
Another area where the APC can advance democracy is in voter education. It is important to educate our voters so that they are able to connect elections with development. What we have predominantly in the last elections is that voters are captured en bloc for parties and candidates, which does not show significant discernment.
Take the voting pattern in Northeast and Northwest for example, where President Jonathan performed dismally, against the empirical evidence that his government made sincere efforts to connect with the people of these two zones. The millions who voted here, were, apparently more concerned about the change that their political leaders foisted on them. The northern political elite had not hidden for a moment its desire to return power to the region, where Yar’Adua was unable to complete eight years. Were the voting pattern to be instigated by the need for development, perhaps, it is the one who provided modern Almajiri schools for northern children that should have made the first choice of voters in the two zones. It is on record that in the history of Nigeria, only Jonathan has shown more than average passion for the education of northern children. The number of Almajiri schools built by this administration is unprecedented. When you talk development, education is the number one. But voters here do not seem impressed.
In the area of agriculture, which was the mainstay of the northern region before soldiers foisted a unitary system on the polity and oil money became a substitute, Jonathan is again on record to have made serious attempts to ignite that old passion. The ministry of agriculture under this administration has made conscious attempt to connect with farmers more than at any other time since 1966. Fertilizer becomes more available and less costly for all year round farming; yet, voters in the far north do not seem impressed.
Transformation attempts by the Jonathan administration are not felt more in any other zone than in the north. Those who have used airports in Kano, Kebbi, Yola, Kaduna, have testified to the good works of the Jonathan administration. Yet, voters here do not appear impressed. We are not campaigning here, but just trying to understand what motivated the voting pattern of the presidential election, so that if we have the opportunity, we may begin to intervene, to ensure that voters are not misled anywhere. Those who have visited South-south communities are wondering exactly what Jonathan has been doing for six years. Yet they voted for him.
In the Southwest, the outing of the two frontline parties was neck to neck. The fact that this is an APC stronghold did not tilt the votes substantially to either side. Even, Ekiti, where the PDP is in government, the APC did remarkably. In Ondo, where the people are not to be taken for a ride, the tables did turn. Again, that shows some discernment and a reliable level of voter awareness of issues.
In the Southeast, PDP has always been on ground and that was demonstrated. In Imo, where the APC has some modicum presence, the party also did fairly. Some discernment you might say.
In all, we do not begrudge voters their preferences, not at all. We are just wondering what it would have been if Nigerians truly understand development. And wondering too if the voting pattern has not suggested something some have advocated, but which some are shy of – regional/parliamentary system, so that regions can express their sentiments and live with them.
For the media, some have been more concerned with propitiating political personalities and parties, instead of doing more of developmental criticism. Some of us have worked our fingers out on behalf of the political class, but achieving less for the growth of the country. In the past four years, some have had the themes and subject matters of their analysis and commentaries provided by the Jonathan government. It is always about ‘cluelessness’. I wonder what they will talk about now. Of course, it is easy to migrate from regime bashing to regime protection, but that is not the forte of the media.
The point is that in moving forward and in order for the media to contribute meaningfully to the development of democracy, we must reach a point where we draw the line between the media and them, just the way the media battled the military to a standstill from 1983 to 1999. Let the media demand accountability and insist on development.