CHOOSE your leaders with wisdom and forethought. To be led by a coward is to be controlled by all things the coward fears. To be led by a fool is to be led by opportunists who control the fool” – Octavia E. Butler
Another campaign cycle is upon us. The euphoria of 2015 has all but dissipated, and Nigerians left highly disappointed. Despite tell-tale signs of non-performance in the first four years, Nigerians were patient and did not do the needful in 2019. To correct this anomaly, Nigerians are being urged to collect Permanent Voters Cards, with a view to making amends. Empowered with their PVCs, it is believed that Nigerians will coalesce around a right choice. I’m going ahead of issues because the question is: would Nigerians recognise and vote for the right choice?
I am sceptical that Nigerians will do the needful because they are as culpable in the debacle we find the country, as their lead politicians. A lot of the galling issues have been on since the 1980s. Is it the removal of petroleum subsidy or the sale of refineries? Is it the market determining the naira value to the dollar or fixing the value by fiat? Is it on concessions or sale of government assets or privatisation? Has anything changed? Time enough for Nigerians to have resolved these issues.
To assess if Nigerians have learnt lessons, I ask questions of them and gauge responses. In the run-up to the 2019 elections, there was the question of refinery sale, a front line candidate candidly responded he would have the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation’s refineries sold as done in 2007 before the sale was reversed after lots of public outcries. This candour didn’t resonate with the electorate. This time around I asked card bearers whether they will still vote in a candidate who promises to revive the refineries and keep them in the family. I also ask if they will be proud to have a national carrier-Air Nigeria.
Have voters’ views changed as regards the value of the naira vis a vis other currencies, especially the dollar? Do voters think the value of the naira can be determined by government pronouncements or by the cancellation of zeros? How would they view a candidate who says he will not only allow the market to determine our naira value but that he would adopt a gradual depreciation to favour non-oil exports? On the other hand, how will voters react to a candidate who says there is really no subsidy so long we refine locally and stop petroleum importation.
These are questions for the Nigerian electorate, how about questions for aspiring presidents? Our recent history informs us that neither the ‘Change’ nor the ‘Next Level’ was well interrogated to perceive if the ‘Change’ was going to be for better or worse, or if the ‘Next Level’ was the lower level or upper level. Meanwhile, some big wigs postulate they will continue where the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), leaves off and build on his achievements.
The Nigerian media have important roles to play in bringing intelligence back to electioneering. The media have to help enlighten the card-carrying electorate so they make informed choices rather than sentimental ones. There are loads of empirical data that point to the right way to unlock Nigeria’s potential beyond normal platitudes such as it is corruption holding us back. Vietnam, Bangladesh and Ghana are nations that have picked up tools of development from the developmental kit box, applied them and are getting the necessary results of close to double-digit economic growth.
Conductors of interviews for aspirants must up the game, quizzing and exposing how much depth each aspirant has beyond rhetorical abilities. Some practitioners play this role, and I need to commend Mr Oseni Rufai on AriseTV, who asked a pointed question of a young female presidential candidate. She had to be rescued by Dr Ruben Abati as she beat about the bush on what she will do about the nation’s rising debt. She had been exposed.
Here are other issues the media need to dig deep into. Our president must be grounded in developmental economics and we must know his leanings. Is he a statist or a liberal, the two leanings that have been in control of the economy at one time or the other, and one has delivered more than the other? Our president must be read. Need to ask him which politico-economic books he has read in his life. Also need to ask what he has written on developmental issues facing our nation.
Pointedly our president to be must have diagnosed what has gone wrong in the last ten years such that Nigeria cannot pull back to the high economic growth as was achieved in the first fourteen years of this decade. In 2015, with the national debt at around 20 per cent of the gross domestic product, some leaders at the helm said Nigeria didn’t have a debt problem so we entered one and worsened a manageable situation. What is the new president going to do, borrow more since other countries like Japan have debt profiles of above 100 per cent of GDP?
President to be must tell us in stark detail how he wants to solve the power problem once and for all. Yet questions asked should be beyond macroeconomics to foundational, ideological and constitutional issues. Probing questions to unravel the soul of candidates. Candidates should be confronted with what they have written or said or done in the past for we, the electorate, to know what we are buying.
Our objective media houses must alert the electorate to the fact that their preferred candidate can mean well for Nigeria but that he or she does not have the wherewithal to deliver. Are we still looking for a Mr Integrity’ or a Mr No Shoes’ or do we want a super-competent man? This is calling on journalists who are usually the best informed in society to shred apart demagoguery.
One remembers how well the late sage Chief Obafemi Awolowo prepared for office, yet he never gained office and was called the best president Nigeria never had. One remembers the galling statement by a father of modern Nigeria that the best candidate might not win and did not in fact win. Rather the weakest candidate won. One remembers how well late MKO Abiola did during the presidential debate and how poorly Alhaji Bashir Tofa did, yet Abiola never assumed office.
These antecedents could be the reason current day politicians are just power-grabbing demagogues, wealthy but lacking in depth. Can the run-up to 2023 reverse this trend or will it remain business as usual with the largest but empty drum making the largest splash of money and noise? I plead on behalf of Nigerians that the legacy media do not abandon the electorate to influencers and social media who promote these empty drums.
A dogma I heard in my early days has always been a guide, it goes something like this, ‘while ordinary people discuss individuals, great people discuss ideas…’ We have the saying, ‘Ideas Rule the World,’ but not in Nigeria. The saying in Nigeria is more like show me your money, not your ideas! Indeed, can Nigeria escape the dictum that a people will get the leadership they deserve?
With these in mind, the role for the Nigerian journalist is of utmost importance, and it extends beyond 2023. It is the uplift of society and reversing its dumbing down. To achieve this the journalist must remain most informed and deep, after all only the deep can bring out the deepest. Journalists must not have a price and should dabble less into politics by taking political appointments, and if they do, they should add value to their principals rather than help him or her along their wayward ways.
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