Issues That May Shape 2019 Presidential Election

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With the first round of the 2019 elections some eight months away, it suffices to admit that the season is finally here. It also goes without saying that all the trappings to justify an election season are evidently at play. At least, the sitting President, Muhammadu Buhari, has declared interest in a re-election. He is running again on the platform of the All Progressives Congress (APC). Some aspirants in other political parties are already in a game of wits. And of course, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has been firing from all cylinders, churning out distinct messages of its readiness for the task at hand, albeit not without a few reservations. Even more intriguing is the fact that a majority of the defining elements of the 2019 elections tend to resemble those that shaped and ultimately led the 2015 polls to a safe harbour. Like every election that is wont to assume its own life, the 2015 Presidential poll waltzed gallantly on the tripod of security, corruption and economy. The narratives that stemmed from this triumvirate and as skillfully tweaked by the opposing parties, largely shaped the mindset of the average voter and ultimately sculpted the outcome of the poll. Then candidate Buhari of the APC was the opposition party, whilst then President Goodluck Jonathan was cheekily boxed on the defensive. That election, as it turned out, is history. Yet, another Presidential election is knocking hard on the doors of every active player. But, curiously, the issues are different. This too is constructively aiming to assume a life of its own and how far the issues would come together to navigate the process through to a credible, fair and free exercise is yet to be seen. Olawale Olaleye and Tobi Soniyi attempt a dissection of some of the issues that may set the tone for the 2019 Presidential election in this report

The frenzy that ushered in the 2015 Presidential elections was in a class of its own. For the first time in the political trajectory of the country, the seat of an incumbent president wasn’t just threatened with the odds against him; he eventually caved in to the menacing threats of the opposition in an election that left him more a hero of the nation’s democracy than a vanquished.

The build-up to the election was cleverly controlled by the opposition, which narrowed the issues to three major challenges at the time. The issues were security, economy and corruption, the last being Buhari’s actual selling point given his much touted integrity. But as it appears now, integrity has little or no place in the electoral artery of 2019. Thus, to guide the 2019 election, the issues seeking attention are capacity, unity of the country, security and corruption.

Before breaking down the relevance and the importance of these issues to next year’s poll, an understanding of how the triumvirate of security, economy and corruption delivered the 2015 election is crucial. This is not just to understand why the issues were singled out, but also how they made it happen amid the plethora of challenges the country had faced prelude to the exercise. It is only after these are situated in apt context that the quadruplet of capacity, unity, security and corruption waiting to navigate the 2019 election would sit well with discerning minds.

First is the issue of security. Capitalising on the poor handling of the security of the nation by the Jonathan-led administration, the APC and Buhari made security an issue in 2015 and Nigerians could not agree more.

Even the 2015 general election had to be postponed due to security concerns. Boko Haram terrorists had taken over a chunk of the landmass in the North-east. The kidnapped Chibok Secondary School girls in Borno State remained in captivity. This development did not help the former president’s case. So, it was a total mess for him, standing no chances whatsoever.

This scenario cast President Jonathan as a lame-duck and one too weak to make the country a secure place to live in. This then combined to give rise to the emergence of the acronym – ABJ – Anybody But Jonathan.

Another issue that weighed heavily in the minds of voters in 2015 was corruption. Everyone agreed that the country’s development was being hampered by corruption. Buhari was presented as a clean politician, who would be tough on corruption whereas Jonathan was pictured as a leader, who was very soft with the corrupt and who also condoned corrupt acts. His assertion that stealing was not corruption didn’t help his candidacy at all as the opposition unleashed terror.

Although the economy was not doing badly under Jonathan, Buhari and his co-travellers in the APC promised to make it a lot better. Under Buhari, the US dollar would be equivalent to one naira. Fuel price would come down. Fuel subsidy, they claimed, was a scam. There would be no queue for fuel. Buhari, they said, was coming to revive the economy. Under Buhari, it would be eldorado. Who would not want a better economy? The promises made by team Buhari on the economy were too good to be ignored. Many bought into Buharinomics but as it turned out, it was a scam more or less.

Now, traveling the 2019 road, the issues are naturally different. They have increased in number and changed significantly from what they were as an aftermath of the handling of the nation’s fault lines by the current administration.

TACKLING THE FAULT LINES
In the days of former President Jonathan, opinions were almost unanimous that he was one leader unable to make hard choices. This attitudinal deficiency became pronounced in the twilight of his reign and so, in itself, created the debate that would later ensue. It soon became the assumptions of all Nigerians and unanimously so.

From the South to the East, West and North, Nigerians came together to battle a president, who assumed office with staggering goodwill and within the first eight months, lost it all. But the unity of the country was not threatened despite the security challenges. What was absent was an effective leadership and on the basis of that, the three narratives of corruption, security and economy sold with Jonathan expressly dismissed as incapable of giving the much desired change.

However, three years after Buhari assumed leadership, never before has the unity of the country been this threatened. Unfortunately, the president is by disposition unable to pretend about his confounding nepotism, which was hugely reflected in his choice appointments, safe for those constitutionally compelled to reflect national spread. Even in matters directly affecting ethnic groups that the president is believed to have strong affinity with, he genuinely exhibits his biases, either in his judgment or the handing of the issues thereof. Here, the case of the herdsmen attacks readily comes to mind.

It is for this reason that the 2019 Presidential election would take into account, the factor of the unity of Nigeria, which is not only key but not negotiable. The next elections would dwell heavily on the unity of the country and whoever is challenging Buhari would have to identify this as an issue and be able to sell it convincingly to the awe of the voting public. A Nigeria without the unity of the different ethnic nationalities is a façade. But the country under Buhari is believed to be inching towards that station. It is for this reason that the 2019 elections would take this factor into account as candidate after candidate must be able to say what they would do to hold the country’s unity together.

CAPACITY AND STYLE OF LEADERSHIP
In the build-up to the 2015 election, one of the issues raised against Buhari was the fact that he was not a hands-on leader and the opposition at the time gave instances to back its position. Unfortunately, it was lost in the “Jonathan Must Go” jeering and therefore, not much attention was paid to it. But then, the points raised against the President in this area includes the fact that as a former head of state, his late deputy, Tunde Idiagbon was the one effectively in charge of the running of the country while he looked away but took the glory.
As chairman of the defunct Petroleum Trust Fund (PTF), the allegation was that he outsourced the running of the place to consultants, mostly relatives hence the staggering allegations of corruption that later reared its head even to his own chagrin too. Only recently, former President Olusegun Obasanjo spoke about the corruption that reigned supreme under Buahri as PTF boss and rued not probing him as head of state.

Since he assumed leadership over three years ago, a lot has happened under Buahri that he has no clue about. Under him, he gives an order and his appointees do something else and nobody gets punished. His inability to deliver leadership is helplessly evident. He appears totally averse to the principle of reward and sanction in the evolution of a decent society.

Also, his inability to deliver leadership is largely believed to be responsible for the torture the economy went through in the first two years that he assumed power, leading the country into the worst recession ever in history. He hardly understands what the issues are and definitely unable to sell them.

Three years later, if there is any reason many regretted voting Buhari, it is the economy. If also there is any reason that is likely to make him lose the 2019 presidential election, it is his poor handling of the economy. From South to North and West to East, Nigerians are unanimous in their assessment of Buhari’s economic policy – a colossal failure they are wont to agree.

Statistics released by the National Bureau of Statistics showed that unemployment remains on the increase. According to the Bureau, 18.80 per cent were unemployed in the third quarter of 2017 compared to 9:30 per cent in the third quarter of 2015. The level of poverty has worsened. Naira once hit 500 against the US dollar. Fuel price was increased. No one knows the exact figure of the subsidy on petroleum products, now steeped in official corruption under the guise of cost recovery.

Thus, for the 2019 elections to effectively assume shape, capacity is an issue that none of the intending candidates can run away from.

UNYIELDING INSECURITY
Another issue that provided a good push for the Buhari presidency is insecurity, which has refused to abate. The era leading to the 2015 elections had witnessed the ‘inglorious reign’ of the Boko Haram terrorist, which clearly, Jonathan was unable to tame. In fact, the story was that the terrorists were being sponsored to diminish the chances of the former president.
The then opposition cashed in on this and promised a safer Nigeria through a better manager in the person of Buhari. His resume was fraught with his record as a gallant military officer and how he proved his capacity to contain threats to national security at one time or the other.
Unfortunately, whilst the government had actually tried to address this challenge, it dwelt more on propaganda. Thus, each time the lid is blown off its many lies, government is always left helplessly disappointing. And unlike the Jonathan era, which battled majorly the Boko Haram menace, Buhari has in addition to that, the menace of the herdsmen, who have killed more people than the Boko Haram has done lately.
There is also the perception that the president is slow in addressing the herdsmen challenge, because they are mostly Fulani, his kinsmen. This has further eroded the confidence in him, even though he had issued orders to clamp down on the criminal herdsmen, those responsible never really acted, which is typical.

CORRUPTION STILL AN ISSUE
Corruption is an all-time enemy of the country and it is a no-brainer. It is one scourge that has stood in the way of her progress from time immemorial. It is therefore an easy sell each election year, depending on how well the contending parties can sell it. But corruption under former president Jonathan was staggering in spite of his avowed efforts to tame it. But because capacity was equally lacking, he failed to achieve the threshold and so, the opposition exploited his obvious shortcomings and made corruption an issue.
However, when he took over as president, Buhari introduced measures to block leakages. He implemented Treasury Single Account, which the Peoples Democratic Party could not implement and flushed out ghost workers. Under his watch, huge sums of money had been recovered while prosecution of those indicted are in progress. The whistle-blower policy has also helped with recovery of stolen funds.

But, has Buhari done well in the fight against corruption? The jury is still out there. The president protects his associates and friends while chasing members of the opposition. Many have therefore come to the conclusion that the president isn’t as clean as people were made to believe, because he can’t lay claims to personal integrity while the government relishes in sheer corruption, with eyes fixed only on real or perceived enemies.

NPDP AS AN EXISTENTIAL THREAT
Only the discerning can appreciate the threat posed by the former members of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the APC. There have been series of meetings lately between the NPDP members and the leadership of the APC cum the federal government following allegations that the nPDP members were being poorly treated in the system. But after meeting with the APC leadership and the Vice-President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo at separate meetings, the nPDP pulled out from further discussions after one of them, Senate President Bukola Saraki was indiscreetly linked to a recent robbery in Offa, Kwara State by the police leadership and it has since been unduly quiet.

Expectedly, however, there have been growing concerns in the APC on the implications of ill-treating members of the nPDP by those who know and understand it. This is because according to the concerned APC members, a similar development like this unsettled the PDP ahead of the 2015 elections and paved the way for the APC victory.

For example, APC sources noted with tepid reservation, the fact that in spite of Buhari’s popularity and the staggering unity in the party in the countdown to 2015, he was only able to defeat former President Goodluck Jonathan with some miserable two million votes. This fear, they reckoned, was further compounded by the fact that the nPDP members are effectively in control of their respective states, which are Sokoto, Kebbi, Kano, Bauchi, Kaduna, Adamawa, Benue, Kwara, Kogi and Gombe – 10 states in total.

They are therefore worried that the APC leadership had so far approached the development the same way Jonathan did before he realised too late, concluding that an unpleasant history might be on the verge of repeating itself in the countdown to the 2019 polls.

The raging question, concerned APC members contend, is that how does the party or president make up for the two million votes, with a waning popularity and dwindling fortune of the party, citing that such states as Bauchi, Gombe, Adamawa and Taraba might have been completely out of the APC kitty as a reality that currently stares the party in the face.

In addition, they hold the view that the North West is presently shaky for the APC as states like Kano, Kaduna and Zamfara are in serious crises, not leaving out the fact that the South-east and South-south are naturally unfriendly to the party.

It is for this reasons and more that concerned members hold the view that the APC leadership and government must reopen their discussions with the nPDP, because according to them, whilst in the time of Jonathan, only the Speaker, Aminu Tambuwal was in the opposition; today, both the Senate President, Bukola Saraki and the Speaker, Yakubu Dogara are not happy with the party leadership and government.

Even more disturbing, APC sources say, is the fact that unlike Buhari’s rating at inception in 2015, his popularity has not only dropped, performance has remained a serious subject of debate, noting that he urgently needs to engage them and address their concerns in the interest of what is at stake.

APC sources maintained that they were not oblivious of the fact that even if the party relied on the weight of incumbency, a party or candidate can only manipulate the electoral process, where he or she is popular since every politics is local, more so that the international community is not only watching but interested in what goes on in the country before, during and after the polls.

LOOKING AHEAD 2019
There is no gainsaying that Buhari assumed office in 2015, partly on the strength of Jonathan’s failure to address the security challenges in the country at the time, tackle the failures of the economy and tame the menacing corruption. As a former military officer with records of having confronted near-similar challenges, Buhari’s team had the grounds to sell him on the basis of such records.

Unfortunately, it has turned out that the president is not as proficient as he was made to look in the lead up to the 2015 elections. Under his watch, the Boko Haram group has continued to grandstand, seizing as many towns and villages in the North-east region. Like they did to the Chibok girls, they also kidnapped some 110 schoolgirls in Dapchi, a town in Yobe State.

The economy went into straight recession in Buhari’s first year of assuming office, while corruption fight has been palpably selective. Although the country is said to have exited what has been variously described as the worst recession in recent history, an average person is still unable to interpret that in terms of naira and kobo or his purchasing power.

It is true that almost all the kidnapped Dapchi schoolsgirls have been released, including some of those of Chibok through negotiation and or swap deals, it also shows Buhari too does not have the magic in addressing the nation’s security challenge. To think that months after the negotiated release of the Dapchi girls, the only Christian amongst them, Leah Sharibu, is still with her abductors typifies the crass failure of the government.

Also, under Buhari, the herdsmen have gone berserk, killing as many as they choose to as well as sacking an entire community. Attempt to downplay this development through government’s many propaganda has not yielded as much. It is therefore certain that security would take the front row in the 2019 campaigns, with emphasis on capacity and a good understanding of the economy in an emerging market like Nigeria’s and other affiliate issues of development.

Importantly, no presidential candidate will henceforth avoid debate on what he or she intends to do this time and so, these issues would naturally form the fulcrum of such debates. Whilst the sitting president would be expected to run on his record, those challenging him would have to point out what they considered his obvious failure and also explain what they would do better and how, with clinical details.

It is therefore a no-brainer that the election of 2019 is not a walkover for President Buhari, let alone anyone. It will be issue-based and how well the intending candidates articulate their points as well as convince the electorate would go a very long way in shaping the voting dimension. Even more instructive is the fact that the issues have changed and those changes, however insignificant, are the ultimate drivers of the elections.