By Olusegun Adeniyi
The editorial board of THISDAY newspaper on Monday hosted the flagbearer of the Labour Party, Mr Peter Obi in continuation of our presidential dialogue series. After the session, we all came out for group photograph, just as we did when we hosted the New Nigeria Peoples Party (NNPP) presidential candidate, Dr Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso in July, and former Vice President Atiku Abubakar of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in August. What followed was the kind of drama that surrounds Nollywood stars and popular musicians. Having been informed that Obi was in the house, a large group of young ladies mobilized to seek selfies with him, delaying our photo session. While I do not know how many of those ladies are registered to vote or whether they would even bother to exercise their franchise come February, I was amused by their enthusiasm.
The 2023 general election is crucial not only in terms of the challenges that plague the nation but also because it is the second time we will have an open-seat presidential election. The first was in 2007 when President Olusegun Obasanjo had to leave after the two terms, paving way for the election of the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua. In June this year, the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and other opposition parties elected their presidential candidates eight months ahead of the 2023 general election as prescribed in the new Independent Electoral Commission (INEC) guidelines. Ample time between the primaries and election may have been provided to deal with the usual litigations that accompany party primaries, but it serves a more important purpose: to give citizens enough time to interrogate aspiring office seekers at all levels.
At THISDAY editorial board, we shortlisted four presidential candidates. We believe, given the strength of their parties and their personal appeal, that the next president will likely emerge from one of them. The idea was to interrogate their manifestoes in a convivial atmosphere, and generally discuss the state of the nation in a manner that would also benefit the candidates since our board features people with vast experience and exposure in both the public and private sectors. I was mandated to reach out to these candidates to secure their commitment and I did. At the end, it was only the APC presidential candidate, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, who did not meet with us.
In her recent book, ‘Economic Diversification in Nigeria: The Politics of Building a Post-Oil Economy’, Dr Zainab Usman raised several questions that should agitate the minds of critical stakeholders in our country. Zainab, by the way, is one of the brightest young Nigerians in the Diaspora and currently Director of the Africa Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington DC, United States. Some of the questions posed in her book include, “Why are Nigeria’s political transitions from one administration to another crises-ridden and chaotic? How does Nigeria’s perennial instability affect its long-standing aspirations of economic diversification? What do these divergent experiences tell us about the interplay of politics, institutions, and polices in African countries and their economic outcomes?”
I find the book’s comparative analysis of Nigeria and some African countries fascinating, especially on how the intersection between politics and economics has made it difficult to forge elite consensus on pressing national issues. In Nigeria, the underlining factor is the economic structure that is more extractive than productive. “Where economic resources flow largely from a central source, such as in oil-rich countries, the elite consensus constitutes the informal rules over their allocation in ways that result in productive or predatory outcomes,” Zainab argued in her book, which I strongly recommend for all those who seek a better understanding of the political economy of Nigeria. “Formal institutions such as the civil service, the parliament, pollical parties, and intergovernmental transfers will either reinforce this informal consensus, or be distorted when there is no alignment with this underlying bargain. The durability of the elite bargain is based on the extent to which it includes powerful actors and is thereby fortified from contestation by excluded factions and whether it enforces actual agreements thereby preventing the exit of powerful members who can challenge it.”
Whoever takes over in 2023 will inherit a country challenged on many fronts: insecurity, high external and domestic debts, high inflation rate, high unemployment rate, low economic growth, and generally low level of social economic indicators. Therefore, our conversation should focus on options for digging us out of the existential hole we have found ourselves. How do we create meaningful jobs for our teeming population of young people? How do we revamp the education sector? How do we minimise the impact of the tough but necessary decisions that would have to be taken on the vulnerable among us? How do we make Nigerians more secure and safeguard them from the plunder of terrorists, bandits, kidnappers, and sundry criminals? How do we reduce the debt overhang while increasing the productive capacities of our people and of our economy? How do we position our country for a world without oil?
The challenge of the moment is also, in a way, rather peculiar. In the separate but quite enlightening engagements we had with the presidential candidates, each of them harped on the issue of the leadership deficit in the country. Recent events bear eloquent testimony to a serious dysfunctionality in the federal government, and we can see the consequences. How does one explain the war of attrition between the State Security Service (SSS) and the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) Governor, Mr Godwin Emefiele, almost as if there is no adult in the room to restore a measure of order?
Truly, we are at the most challenging moment in our nation’s history in terms of the problems confronting the state and citizens. Neither the military nor the civilian transitions of power in the past have been this beset with so many countless crises. Therefore, the next president will have a dual mandate: First, to reinvent the Nigerian state and replace the national order and secondly, govern a society dancing at the brinks of anarchic meltdown. For the presidential contestants, the key question is that of how to restore the confidence of a people that have since transferred their hope of salvation to all manner of supernatural interventions.
In many senses then, 2023 is Nigeria’s year of critical decisions, and it is my hope and prayer that we get it right. Meanwhile, on Sunday, 1st January 2023, THISDAY will publish excerpts from the editorial sessions to provide a peep into the minds of these three presidential candidates.
Reconnecting With China
Forty-four months after its inauguration in Beijing, the Belt and Road News Network (BRNN) Council held an online meeting on Monday with 38 members from 23 countries. Established as an initiative of President Xi Jinping and coordinated by ‘People’s Daily’, the official newspaper of the Central Committee of the ruling Communist Party of China (CPC), BRNN memberships are from 206 media organisations across 111 countries. The objective is to promote “mutual assistance, collaboration and exchanges among members.”
Although inaugurated in April 2019, the Council (comprising journalists from Asia, Africa, Europe, Latin America, Middle East, and Eurasia) could not meet because of the Covid-19 pandemic. But after several weeks of interactions, the BRNN secretariat in Beijing was able to facilitate an online meeting on Monday. It was worth the effort as the session presented opportunity to reconnect with one another, after Covid-19 which, as it happens, China still contends with.
As many readers of this column are already aware, I began going to China in October 2000 when I covered the first Sino-African conference in Beijing and in recent years, I have had an association with the country. It all began in 2016 when I received an invitation from Beijing to speak on the theme “Advancing China-Africa people-to-people exchanges and media cooperation to achieve development” at the China-Africa Public Diplomacy Forum in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. A year later, I was nominated as the African voice at the September 2017 Media Cooperation Forum on Belt and Road, in Dunhuang, Gansu Province of Western China. The following year in Boao, Hainan Province on 30th October 2018, I was again one of the speakers. And in April 2019 in Beijing, I was appointed into the BRNN Council. At our meeting on Monday, each Council member was given three minutes to speak. Below is my brief remark:
To say that our world has changed dramatically since the inaugural meeting of this Council in Beijing more than three years ago is an understatement. I am sure many of us could share depressing stories about our various experiences in the intervening years. But our presence here today is also a testimony to human resilience.
When COVID-19 broke, many in the Western world feared that Africans would be falling on the street and dying. Their morbid prediction turned out to be misplaced. In my country Nigeria, we had learnt sufficient lessons from the Ebola Virus outbreak of 2014. Our coordinated response to that emergency saved many lives and prevented what could have been a national calamity. By applying the same vigilance to this pandemic, lives were saved. But while we may have survived the Covid-19 health scare, our economy, like that of most other African countries, has been badly hit. China, of course, will know that as our biggest creditor.
Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, we live in a world of uncertainties. But the common adversity we experienced with Covid-19 should teach us how much we need one another. The lesson here is simple: No one is safe or secure until everyone is safe and secure. That lesson, I believe, will also serve us as we forge ahead to create a more prosperous and inclusive world. Meanwhile, I have read all the reports and I endorse the idea to expand this Council to accommodate media representatives from Brazil, Malaysia, Mexico, Greece, Cuba, and Algeria.
I thank ‘Peoples’ Daily’ not only for this conference but also for constantly updating us on developments within the Belt and Road family in the past three years. I look forward to a time when we can all reunite in China for the annual Media Cooperation Forum.
Adieu Shehu Malami
A few weeks before the public presentation of my book, ‘Power, Politics and Death’ in December 2011, I reached out to the late Ambassador Shehu Malami asking him to chair the occasion. Despite having another commitment in Kaduna on the day I had chosen, he accepted my invitation and decided to send someone to stand in for him in Kaduna. I cannot forget that, even though I was also not surprised. Ever since I first met him more than two decades ago while I was working on the ‘200 years of Sokoto Caliphate’ report, the late Malami had taken interest in my career. And he called me regularly to ask after my family. It was therefore with sadness that I learnt about his passage. I commiserate with his family as I pray God to grant him eternal rest.
And in the spirit of the season, I wish all my readers Merry Christmas!
You can follow me on my Twitter handle, @Olusegunverdictand on www.olusegunadeniyi.com