As political parties get set to begin campaign ahead of the 2023 presidential election, opinion leaders have advised the electorate to shun the frenzy of electioneering and politicking and use the period to interrogate presidential candidates on their agenda to pull the country out of socio-economic and political doldrums, Gboyega Akinsanmi writes
Will Nigerians get it right in 2023? Will they continue with the entrenched culture of apathy to elections? Or will they elect a president who will decisively address growing public concerns about the socio-economic and political realities stunting the country’s growth and development?
Among others, these are some of the questions that daily beg for answers in the build-up to the 2023 elections. Answers seem to be far off given the approach of most eligible voters to the whole process. However, a huge population of youths nationwide is now calling for a new political order that would guarantee their voices in the task of rebuilding Nigeria after decades of unwarranted decay.
The rationales for rising public concerns are not far-fetched. In 2015, for instance, Nigerians became wary of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), which governed the country for 16 years with disputable records of performance. Its rule, mainly under former President Goodluck Jonathan, suffered profound public disapproval, which a Professor of Political Science, Emeritus Prof. John Ayoade attributed to deep-seated insecurity that breached the trust of the people in the government as stipulated in the preamble of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999.
The primacy of the Nigerian Constitution, as stipulated in the preamble, is first and foremost, to promote the welfare of all persons in the country, on the principles of freedom, equality and justice, and for the purpose of consolidating the unity of Nigerians.
For 16 unbroken years, however, PDP was not able to guarantee public trust convincingly in line with the letters and spirit of the Constitution. The party’s poor response to diverse national challenges clearly spurred the resolve of regional political parties – Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) and Congress for Progressive Change – to let go of their individual corporate identities and agreed to a merger that produced the All Progressives Congress (APC) on February 6, 2013. Eventually, the APC was able to garner the majority votes that ended the 16-year rule of the PDP in 2015.
But has the APC turned the tide of Nigeria’s heinous challenges as it promised during the electioneering in 2015? In reality, this question perhaps divides the Nigerian public, mostly along ethnic, political and religious lines. For those who always want to be politically correct, President Muhammadu Buhari is the best thing that has ever happened to Nigeria since 1999.
This category of people frequently point at Lagos-Ibadan expressway, Second Niger Bridge, Abuja-Kaduna railway, Lagos-Ibadan railway and other similar federal projects to justify Buhari’s commitment to infrastructure development.
Specifically, they have argued that the governments of the PDP, especially under former President Olusegun Obasanjo and former President Jonathan, promised in vain to fully execute these projects, which they conceived and started their implementation.
Beyond the prejudice of Buhari’s allies, different indicators bear different accounts about APC’s abysmal performance since 2015. Whether in economy or governance, Ayoade, like most analysts, shared common perspectives about the socio-economic regression the country has encountered under the reign of the APC amid deepening security challenges.
In its last consumer price index (CPI), for example, the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) revealed the surge of inflation rate from 9.01 per cent in 2015 to 20.52 per cent in August 2022. As Chief Executive, Economic Associates, Dr. Ayo Teriba recently observed, the trend of CPI has shrunk the purchasing powers of Nigerians by 127.75 per cent in seven years.
In December 2014, five months before Buhari formally assumed office, the Bureau put the Nigerian economy at $546.68 billion with foreign investors then scrambling to inject into different sectors of the economy until the twilight of the Jonathan administration.
But in 2015, shortly after Buhari took over, Nigeria ran into the worst economic headwinds in its history, which according to the Bureau, significantly reduced the size of the economy from $546.68 billion in December 2014 to $375.75 billion at the end of the 2017 financial year. This represented a crash of 45.49 per cent within the period of two and a half years.
Since then, as shown in different reports, the national economy has terribly been gasping for fresh air. As at December 2021, the economy stood at $440.78 billion, still representing a 24.03 per cent shortfall from what Buhari inherited in 2015.
Under Buhari, unemployment has skyrocketed at an unprecedented rate, which in aggregate, surged to 33.33 per cent in 2021. In the same financial year, however, the youth unemployment component was more frightening. The Bureau put it at 53.4 per cent for the youths between 15 and 24 years as well as 37.2 per cent for those between 25 and 34 years.
Given its record ratings, the country now ranked the second highest on the global list of countries with the worst cases of unemployment rate. These dynamics explained why the President, African Development Bank (AfDB), Dr. Akinwunmi Adesina likened the country’s unemployment indicators to 40 per cent of hopelessness among angry, discouraged, jobless and restless youths.
As a consequence, these stark realities have forced thousands of youths out of the country, mainly highly skilled professionals including engineers, doctors, nurses, scientists and ICT specialists. The realities have further compounded security challenges nationwide with acts of terrorism, Internet frauds, ritual killing, drugs trafficking and kidnapping for ransoms now in vogue among youths.
Under Buhari alone, banditry and other acts of armed violence have claimed no fewer than 17,481 lives nationwide, as shown in the killing mapping of the Nigeria Security Tracker, a project of US Council on Foreign Relations (CFR). The killings justify Nigeria’s retention in the Global Terrorism Index (GTI) as the world’s sixth most terror-infested country after Afghanistan.
Obviously, all the gnawing records provide justifications for recent observations by the Bishop of Sokoto Catholic Diocese, Dr. Matthew Kukah that the passion that drove people in 2015 had already dissipated because they had realised that the APC lied to garner their support to defeat the PDP.
Despite these decades of disappointment, APC and PDP have still offered themselves to the electorate to produce the president in 2023 general election. These two dominant political parties, according to analysts, have mismanaged the commonwealth of Nigeria for 23 good years.
But apart from the presidential candidate of the PDP, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar and his APC counterpart, Senator Bola Ahmed Tinubu, the Labour Party (LP) and the New Nigeria Peoples Party (NNPP) have presented Nigerians alternative presidential candidates, Mr. Peter Obi and Senator Rabiu Kwakwanso, respectively. Who then can lead Nigeria out of the woods among these candidates?
This is one fundamental question Nigerians keep asking as presidential campaign kicks next Wednesday. In answering this question, according to Ayoade, requires all eligible voters across the federation must be painstaking, objective and pragmatic before they cast their ballots on February 25, 2023.
For him, pulling Nigeria out of the woods is not a function of political affiliations, but leadership qualities. Almost all the presidential candidates had been members of dominant political parties at one time or the other. He thus argued that APC did not fail in government because it was APC, but because of the wrong choice of presidential candidate.
In the same way, according to the emeritus professor, the PDP did not fail because it was the PDP. At least, Obasanjo still stands tall among presidents Nigeria ever produced since 1999. Rather being fixated on the political identities, Ayoade advised Nigerians to probe into the track records of every presidential candidate before they exercise their suffrage next year.
Ayoade’s perspective obviously conforms to what Delta State Governor, Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa shared with select journalists at a section in Kano three weeks ago. Asked whether Obi was a threat to PDP in 2023, Okowa in response emphasised the need for Nigerians to probe into the records of every candidate before they take decision in favour of or against him or her at the poll.
Citing the enormity of disequilibrium Nigeria had gone through in the last two decades, Kukah challenged Nigerians to interrogate candidates during the electioneering to determine the value they attach to the lives of ordinary citizens, their resolves to ensure justice in all cases, their capacities to tackle the root causes of the country’s gnawing economic crisis and their will to guarantee public trust as enunciated in the Constitution.