The date of the elections is getting closer every day and the campaigns of all the candidates are more and more intense. Candidates from the major parties tour the states to sell themselves to the electorate. It’s one of those things I like about democratic governance beyond militocracy, where someone just shoots their way to the top office whether you like it or not. In a democracy, at least, the electorate has the opportunity to determine who rules it, rightly or wrongly, through the ballot box.
The electoral period is also the time to measure the strength of each candidate in terms of health and party background. Well-funded parties sponsor and organize elaborate campaign activities in many states. A solid candidate covers a large number of states by physically campaigning and telling people what to expect from him or the base for the electorate to make him the preferred candidate. However, it may not translate to winning or losing votes at the end of the day. One may recall that the late President Musa Yar’Adua was physically unable to move to campaign due to health problems in the campaign period and “won” election as President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in 2007. Chief Obafemi Awolowo, using The helicopter, compared to the pedestal campaign mode of its co-contenders, covered more states than any other candidate during campaign terms since 1965, but did not win as prime minister or president.
However, things are changing. In those periods, nobody looked at the ingenuity in electoralism. I can remember the Action Group, Chief Awolowo’s party, distributing campaign leaflets and other campaign materials through the use of helicopters in the early 1960s. Young people like me were fascinated to see papers flying out of the sky, but not they realized their ingenuity while the old ones, I suppose, saw such acts as magical rather than an invitation to see a bright future from a brilliant mind. The electorate, who could understand the innovative method of the campaign, simply felt that the Chief arrived too early for the Nigerian environment.
I also remembered how we waited for the Chief to land from the air for his campaign in Makurdi, Benue State in 1982. Many of the people in the crowd were not only interested in meeting Chief Awolowo for the first time as a national figure, but also in getting a glimpse of a helicopter that some took for a regular plane. With an increased level of literacy, the rapid advancement of technology and information technology in particular, some degree of economic development, and the use of private aircraft in a number of religious outreach programs, the use of helicopters for the current campaign would be seen as the last straw. I imagine if Chief Awolowo were alive today, he would have told today’s politicians what 22nd century elections demand!
The above is a long preamble, but it is worth sharing with young people who did not know that Nigeria was such a progressive country where the first space election campaign in Africa took place. The same country is now among the poorest and most educationally backward economies with the highest number of children out of school in the world. It is necessary to return to the forefront of development. The 2023 general elections could be the turning point.
The proposed political activities that emerged during the first week of this year have shown that politicians at different levels, particularly those aspiring to the highest office, will go through a busy schedule of interviews. There is a need to answer our questions and tell us more for your own good. Actually, the campaign environment is more competitive than before. Now, we have so far three or four main contenders, as opposed to what it used to be between two main parties. Even one or more of those that don’t show high levels of visibility before the end of 2022 could surprise in the new year. When it was basically two major parties like up until 2019, it was possible for one party to ignore the debates and get away with it, but not anymore. Not even when Nigerians have realized that their lives have been discounted, devalued and degraded by corruption, incompetence and greed.
If we have to refer to the top candidates for the office of president for everyone running for that position, we have to base our questions on the assumption that they all have experience in public service. This implies that anyone running for the office of President must have the experience of having served the nation at some levels of government, at least at the ministerial level. With that experience, the candidate has some working knowledge of government.
Fortunately, the top contenders have served as executive governors or vice presidents. So, in addition to what we saw in the minutes, each candidate should be able to tell us how he handled the position he held in terms of successes and failures; the initiative brought to the office; development in terms of job creation, management of available human and physical resources; and the provision or belief in development plans as a guide for managing the state or nation.
Still relying on the assumption that candidates have held public office before, what have they been doing outside of that office? What is the profession of each candidate and how has he made a living since he left the government house? Were they employees or employers? If you are an employer, what businesses have you established and how many jobs have been created? Are those businesses in Nigeria or how many of the businesses are in Nigeria? How many Nigerians have you employed and are you still employing? What has been the staff turnover? This should give us your insight on labor management. What have been the sales or turnover of the business? We need to know how the candidates have been able to grow their business or knowledge of the private sector. How much tax has each candidate for government been paying during the period outside of the public service commitment? Do the businesses have growth plans and audited accounts? Do we have proof?
Each candidate should have a printed or published plan of what they will do when they come into office, in addition to the party manifesto. That tells us about the preparation of the candidate. He should have views and ways to address eight major economic issues affecting Nigeria’s development. There must be details about job creation; revenue mobilization out of debt; corruption and greed (mother of all problems); power generation and distribution; economic restructuring away from oil; education and health; security architecture and understanding of the importance of achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. Of course, the details must contain the modus operandi to overcome the problems inherent in each of these elements and these details should have been adequately documented in your plan to show how prepared the candidate is.
Anyone who cannot answer the questions satisfactorily does not deserve our votes. It is not religion, tribe or age that will solve our problems. Our problems are bigger than any of these. When our community is illegally shared, all kinds of people, regardless of their tribe or religion, become friends and work together for self-aggrandizement. Let us not allow them to use factors that do not separate them to divide us.
There are social, political and scientific questions that also point towards Nigeria’s reset to greatness. These cannot be accommodated within the scope and space allocated for this column. Nonetheless, I had planned that a piece on political economy would not be out of place in this final stanza of our campaigning, but the idea of getting a hand on politics from this contribution to our campaign debate by my brother and colleague the Professor Ayo Olukotun was brutally cut by the cold hands of death that snatched the learned scholar in the first days of the new year. A great planner and a moderate theorist, I will definitely miss his invaluable advice in tempering my anger writing about how Nigeria was being mismanaged. But the echo of the messages will not go away in a hurry. Goodbye egbon. Your legacy will continue to be a national benchmark.