Now That Campaigns Have Started
Nigerians should only give audience to politicians who can deliver concrete dividends, writes Monday Philips Ekpe
Yesterday, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) raised the curtains for political campaigns. We expect the political parties to come out openly and woo the electorate, secure places in their hearts and hopefully convert that goodwill to real-time electoral value in next year’s general election. Truth is, covert vote soliciting, many times open actually, has been going on anyway, especially since the primaries were conducted in May and June this year. The various media of mass communication have been utilised by the growing number of media experts and consultants, many of them self-ordained, I must say, to project the positives of their principals and also damage, as much as possible, the reputation of their opponents.
In so doing, much of what has so far been served members of the public has little or nothing to do with their own lives. Ignoring the pertinent issues bordering on the corporate and individual survival of Nigerians, they have dwelt more on petty things and undermining the chances of their rivals. We simply cannot continue on that suicidal path.
As a people, we’ve had enough of self-sabotage. In 48 hours, our country will be 62 years as an independent nation. Since that historic ceremony in 1960 at Tafawa Balewa Square in Lagos during which the Union Jack was lowered for the green-white-green flag to ascend, we have been stumbling from one political transition to another. One way or the other, and in varying degrees of manifestation, we have allowed intangible factors like ethnicity, region and religion to colour our preferences and choices. Those divisive lines have never left us alone, sadly. They are even worsening. Thanks to the political elite, the base sentiments have been used to blindfold the populace while feathering their own nests. Calls for inclusiveness and protests against maginalisation have taken the centre-stage. Legitimate and pertinent as they are, such clamours are hardly based on more elevated concepts like merit and competence.
We can’t afford this way any longer. Politicians should not be allowed to mine people’s emotions for their selfish aggrandisement. Granted, group agitations are recognised elements of democracy globally. They are emboldened by the doctrines of freedom of expression and that of association. People do not fight against less fancied forms of government like military, authoritarian and monarchical in favour of the democratic and popular type only to be gagged and coerced into servitude, hence the desirability of having the option of freely expressing their views, at the very least. Even with that, however, the point must be made that today, Nigeria is a single geographical body. Despite the fact that some people have argued that it’s only a physical collection of numerous nationalities, the country is indeed one geo-political reality and registered as such by the United Nations (UN), African Union (AU), Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and other multinational organisations.
Beyond those diplomatic placements, Nigerians have more things that bind them together than they may even realise, like the prevailing fundamental national threats, many protracted. Take security, for instance. No hinderance to internal travels – a constitutionally guaranteed right. Persons and goods move easily across states. With that comes different tendencies that cannot always be trusted to be positive. It doesn’t take any special intelligence, therefore, to conclude that it’s in the interest of everyone to be sufficiently concerned about the wellbeing of places other than one’s residency or origin. Boko Haram that began as a north east problem has since snowballed into a national and trans-national predicament. Other brands of terrorism, banditry and kidnapping have since compounded the situation. Same can be said of the other monsters that undermine our capacity to stay, act or live as one.
Other fronts have not fared better. The education sector which is directly accountable for positioning the younger population to take responsibility for the nation’s present and future is at its most traumatised at the moment. A whole generation of potentially great learners is groping without immediate chances of hope. Dreams are being aborted even before their proper conceptualisation. The oil segment upon which the larger portion of our economy rests is now a theatre of corruption, greed, incompetence and institutional mediocrity. Nobody seems to be in charge of this all-important aspect of our national life. Electricity? The national grid has collapsed for the eighth time in 2022 alone. The last one recorded few days ago must be the most bizarre, having reportedly hit zero to 38 megawatts. Now, how worse or more embarrassing can this get? Need anyone be reminded of the massive joblessness and underemployment plaguing the country? Who then would seriously fault the unusually high exodus of Nigerians to foreign lands in search of the good life? Hyper-inflation in the face of dwindling or non-existent earnings has also not helped matters.
I have mentioned these staggering challenges to show that there is more at stake as we march towards electing a new set of leaders for the executive and legislative wings of the federal and state governments. Persons who have nothing to appeal to other than primordial persuasions should have no business climbing political podiums or reaching out to voters through the mass media. Last week, I watched two videos that stood out for their repulsiveness and extremism. One is a white-garment preacher who declares repeatedly that he would never vote for an Igbo person and that he knows his congregation would not either. The other one is a speaker addressing a crowded hall, giving northern Christians reasons why they should perish any thought of voting for southern candidates.
From experience, more cases like those ones are to be expected in the months ahead. With the heightening of the campaign tempo, desperate political office seekers and their aides will go for the jugular. The worst in them will be untamed as winning the prizes would be their main preoccupation. Nigerians should be ready to stand up to these unscrupulous characters whose primary goal is power grabbing that ultimately leads to the crude exploitation of privileges.
Politicians who are not able to adequately articulate their plans, who keep dwelling on divisive messages, are certainly not the ones we deserve at this grave hour of national need. I observed something last Sunday in Abuja that indicated a possibility for renewal. I sighted the Labour Party (LP) flag in the ‘kabukabu’ of one of those at the forefront of the ‘Sai Baba’ movement during the election that brought the current administration to power. I did not hide my surprise from the driver who told me that he would support Mr. Peter Obi, LP’s presidential standard bearer, all the way. That encounter may not be representative but Nigeria stands to gain immensely if the walls that prevent the citizenry from acting decisively and in unison to drastically change their own fortunes are brought down.
The time to do that is now. If not, when? Examples abound in ancient and contemporary times of compatriots who, fed up with the status quo, step forward to do the unusual. In democracies, there are no better platforms for transformational interventions than the ballot. The victory of Ms Giorgia Meloni as Prime Minister of Italy, the country’s first ever female and its first far-right leader since World War II, illustrates this point. Nigerians must break away from the norms that have not helped them. That would mean daring to do the exceptional. And being prepared to close their eyes and ears to politicians who can’t prove their capacity to move the imposing mountains that have bullied the nation to its knees.
Dr Ekpe is a member of THISDAY Editorial Board