The campaigns for the 2019 general election in Nigeria seem to have ended with the conclusion of party primaries across the country. Apparently learning from past experiences, the politicians perhaps believe that parties rather than individual candidates win elections. That’s why each fought tooth and nail to get selected as their party’s candidate.
Like everyone else, however, we know there were no real primary elections: in most states, lists of party candidates were compiled in government or party houses – party delegates or members (where direct primaries were presumably held) had no say in the choice of candidates that emerged eventually. Supposed voters were placated with raw cash shared in hotel rooms or election venues. Former aspirants who had bought forms with enormous funds felt used and dumped, as they were not given an opportunity to test their popularity.
Here we are in the middle of a campaign season and there is calm everywhere, except on digital platforms where inanities rule the roost. Even the campaign slogans of the leading parties are neither inspiring nor enlightening. “Vote for XYZ”, “Vote for effective representation”, “ABCD all the way” and the like printed on T-shirts, fez caps, posters and billboards have been conspicuous long before the approved campaign take-off days. But it’s as if the candidates don’t care much about the feelings of actual voters: come what may, they would win anyway by buying votes or manipulating results on Election Day!
This state of affairs destroys, not just weakens, democracy. We are afraid that, after 20 years of politicking in this Fourth Republic, Nigeria democracy has been put in reverse gear. The governorship polls held in Ekiti and Osun states, this year, provided a foretaste of what to expect in February and March 2019: “cash-and-carry politics”. Alas, no one is doing anything to head off the looming danger. Threats issued by electoral umpire INEC or security agencies are little more than face-savers and are therefore easily ignored. After all, the election fraudsters caught in 1999 and 2003 are yet to be punished, and candidates who violated campaign spending limits have yet to receive a reprimand.
What we consider as the cause of this dullness is the lack of cash nationwide. Most Nigerians have been impoverished, and what matters most now is how to get the next meal. The political candidates have exhausted their money on party primaries by paying millions of naira for forms, bribing delegates or voters, buying opponents off or oiling the hands of godfathers. Though parties are expected to sponsor their candidates thereafter, it is not the case in reality. Individual candidates do borrow even from banks to finance their campaigns. The economy having been stripped to bare bones, few Nigerians have any money to throw around anymore. Is it change in the air?
We desire a vigorous campaign season, nevertheless. With over 90 parties and over 70 presidential candidates fighting the elections, every nook and cranny of the country ought to have come alive by now. The two leading parties – APC and PDP – have promised to run issue-based campaigns. We believe the issues to be discussed at state and national levels should be clearer to the electorate now. Let us listen to engaging debates on radio and TV. Let us read thought-provoking interviews and viewpoints in newspapers and magazines.
At campaign rallies, the people should be able to ask probing questions: Can a nation prosper without adequate and regular power supply? How does the political candidate define “corruption”? What is their attitude toward jumbo pay for legislators? How can they end the strike by university teachers without making false promises? Are we still paying a subsidy on petroleum products? As a governor, would they seek bailout funds or external loans? How would budgets be funded? How would they create jobs for the Nigerian youth? Would banks be able to lend at less than 10% interest rate? Do they admit there is hunger in the land? What are their programmes for revamping the education system? And the health system? Are they dedicated to ending all forms of discrimination as provided by the constitution? What steps would they take to restructure Nigeria? When they held another position in the past, what were their achievements? Have they declared their assets? How did they make the money they have?
Such questions and more are barely scratched even on social media platforms where mischief makers peddle all manner of fake news and deformed information. Mercifully, in Nigeria, posts on the social media have little influence on voter behaviour. The traditional media – radio, TV, print newspapers – are more credible, though they still speak to the elite who constitute perhaps less than 10% of the voting population. The majority of voters are waiting in towns and villages, unconnected to the noises being made online.
The two leading political parties have structures nationwide and could therefore get the conversations humming. Although the polls have been rigged already (at the level of party primaries), The Oracle still urges the electorate to examine the candidates closely. Party manifestoes may no longer be relevant, for the contending candidates can no longer be distinguishable based on party affiliation: each was once in either PDP or APC. A “third force” has failed to materialise in many states; we only hope it would be able to cause upsets in the few states it emerged out of politicians’ discontent with the conduct of party primaries.
We do not advocate a tension-filled campaign season. But even if the politicians cannot educate us on their qualifications for the jobs they are seeking, we expected them to storm campaign grounds with bits of entertainment. Let us dance to campaign songs and jingles. Let us behold the faces of our current and future leaders once again; it is always difficult to see them while they are in office. Let the drinks go round – no scrambling for food or drinks during meetings and rallies. On Election Day, however, the voters would do well to vote their conscience rather than their pockets or stomachs.
With: The Oracle Today