It is not news anymore that ahead of the blowing of the whistle for political campaigns, they have begun in bits and pieces. Television stations, radios and newspapers are already giving rather lavish space and time to aspirants for one political office or the other. The idea, I suppose, is to gain time ahead of one’s opponent and not to fall behind in the pervasive jostling for offices. For this columnist, seasons like these present their own challenges to the extent that one can easily be accused of siding one political party or the other even when the journalist is only doing a yeoman’s job of agenda-setting. This columnist has criticised succeeding governments with nearly equal if not equal ferocity pointing up their failures, unkept promises, abandonment of the social contract, arrogance of power and a lackadaisical attitude towards governance. This is the way it should be for public intellectuals who wish to do the job of conveying the people’s feelings to those who lead in the hope that they will get a fair hearing.
Let me begin obliquely by alluding to my surprise (even shock) when a federal minister, one of our brightest, came on national television two weeks ago and stopped short of trivialising the intensity of the sufferings that Nigerians are currently going through. It was exactly a day to the All Progressives Congress’ National Convention and the journalist had asked, “What does your party have to say to the intensity of the woes of Nigerians, arising from the slippage of living standards and runaway inflation?” The minister responded pontifically that the senior reporter ought to know that the whole world, including the advanced democracies, is going through a hard time because of the fallouts of the invasion of Ukraine by Russia and its economic consequences.
The minister had obviously scored a debating point but at the expense of not addressing, or at least sidestepping, substantial issues. I shudder to think that if this kind of response foreshadows the character of the political conversation to come in this election season, then it is not good enough for a country that had often been promised change without doing more than skirting the borders of genuine reform.
True, the United States, the Eurozone countries are going through their own economic and social turmoil, with inflation reaching an all-time high in these countries. But what is that rate? In Germany, it is about 7.3%. In France, it is less than 5%. In the United Kingdom, it is 6.2%. Without going into unemployment indices, let it be noted that Nigeria has an inflation rate of about 15%, symptomising the galloping of consumer prices for over a year now. So this is like comparing apples and oranges in terms of the distress of Nigerian citizens compared to these other countries. That is not all. There are hardly any of these powers that are not making active efforts to cushion the standards of living crisis with policies such as actual tax reduction, rebates for example in electricity bills, subsidies among other palliatives. I stand to be corrected but this columnist is not aware that apart from the postponement of the implementation of the so-called removal of subsidy on petroleum prices, which was nullified for at least two months by the importation of contaminated fuel, there is no other area in which government has shown sensitivity to the plight of the citizens. Rather, various agencies such as the National Electricity Regulatory Commission have come upfront to announce that they have increased prices in a period when the demands of unions such as the Academic Staff Union of Universities for rectification are ignored. Consequently, the comparison with other countries in which governance is taken seriously does not hold water at all but dances on the graves of those who have fallen victims of these harsh, austere times.
It would have been a relief if the minister, as indeed other politicians, had chosen to enumerate how his party if it is re-elected will make life more meaningful, less uphill for the average and above average Nigerians.
Listening to those who have expressed the desire to rule us, there is little or no recognition of how low governance standards have fallen, much less providing a sketch of the promised land—the utopia to which they are angling to lead us. The ruling party carries on in a business-as-usual style with governors claiming as achievements the regular payment of salaries and the tarring of roads. It is sad, almost tragic, that the regular payment of salaries, if and when they are paid, is considered a spectacular achievement by office holders pointing to the mediocrity that has overtaken the political space. The main opposition party, the Peoples Democratic Party majors in predictable criticisms of the APC without providing alternative visions, scenarios and programs that they will embark on should they be elected in 2023. It can be argued that the campaigns have not begun full steam and that it is too early in the day to unveil programs. This caveat is weakened, however, by the fact that the politicians are already campaigning anyway, whether they say so or not, but the public is learning more about what they are against than what they are for or precisely how they hope to make differences to the prevailing morass.
To give an instance of just how comprehensive the current rot is, recall that in the immediate aftermath of the tragic detonation of explosives and prolonged shooting of the Kaduna-bound train recently, the Minister for Transportation, Mr. Rotimi Amaechi, presumably one of the most senior cabinet ministers, came out smoking that the disaster could have been averted but for the opposition of his colleagues to the request he made for N3.7 billion to purchase digital equipment for the railways. Subsequently, it became known that the company that was to purchase the equipment is a barely known one with a turnover of N84.9 million. It has never before undertaking any business assignment of that calibre. It provided no description of the equipment that was to be purchased. It is owned by husband, wife and child and did not include in its application a concept note by which to judge its reliability, seriousness or integrity. In short, there is no evidence that if the contract was approved by the Federal Executive Council the equipment would have been delivered and the mishap averted.
This writer brings this anecdote up to show that a truly reformist government, if Nigeria had one, would have done things very differently with salient effects on the protracted war against terror. Who knows, to be sure, how many of such contracts have been awarded under the guise of expeditious arms purchase in the last decade or so? Interestingly, very few, if any, of those aspiring to lead have commented on this attempted high-level scam and what they would do to remake Nigeria.
If 2023 is to be more than an exercise in futility and recycling of familiar maladies, then the political elite needs to go beyond empty rhetoric to give us fresh perspectives, fresh ideas, new vistas and what they would do to turn around a country bogged down by diminution and running scams.
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