By Kayode Komolafe
0805 500 1974
With elections around 11 months away, it is not too early to expect that those aspiring to be President of Nigeria will now be identified with their passion for certain ideas.
With the announcement of the electoral calendar, the stakes of the elections should now crystallize. Elsewhere, the political debates on the stakes of the preparation of the parties’ primaries could be as vigorous as the debates between candidates. What currently dominates discussions in Nigeria, however, are the regional or ethnic origins and religious affiliations of candidates seeking to fly their respective party flags. Current debates focus on which region or zone should “produce” presidential candidates.
Well, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) can do no more than officially set the timetable. Informally, beyond political parties, democratic forces should push election issues to be addressed by politicians as aspirants. These issues would be more vigorously addressed later by candidates flying party flags. This latter task is beyond the remit of INEC President Prof. Mahmoud Yakubu and his colleagues. That is why other unofficial institutions of democracy should pay attention.
For a nation in the throes of a multidimensional crisis, the content of the policy should be more comprehensive than what is currently displayed. Beyond the zoning of political offices, many electoral issues do not receive the attention they require.
Along with the big names in the parade, big ideas should clash in the public sphere to solve the big problems plaguing this country.
The aspirants should not only be identified as inhabitants of the North or the South; they should also be identified as being in favor of a more kinetic approach to insecurity or in favor of negotiating with terrorists or both approaches.
For clarity, the legitimacy of current geopolitical calculations is beyond doubt. The reality of the stakes of national construction made it inevitable in the circumstances the scramble of politicians from the different zones for the position of number one. Such calculations have become a necessary subjective factor of national integration. It would therefore be sheer idealism to ignore regional, zonal, ethnic and religious considerations in the political development of Nigeria. The universal logic of diversity supports it.
However, the present and future task is to wean the political system from the narrow vision and largely empty permutations of the ruling class.
Furthermore, the number of members of the political elite who could honestly claim to speak on behalf of Nigeria (and not regions or ethnic groups) is rapidly and depressingly shrinking. At the other polar end, the political calculus of ethnicity and regionalism is increasingly embraced by the majority of the political elite to fill the void created by their lack of rigorous ideas for development. This is the nature of the prevailing politics in the country. It is surprising that the political elite seems unaware of the limits of this type of politics in the context of the development needs of the overwhelming majority of the population.
Yet, among other things, it would take the factor of a formidable grassroots democratic force of Nigerian nationalists, who are politically relevant, to render regionalism and ethnicity irrelevant in the elections. Unfortunately, that might not happen anytime soon. But it is a possibility.
On the question of national integration, the political elite is hardly coherent. Those who professed the primacy of “zoning” in the 2015 elections now preach “meritocracy”. It is even more problematic when ethnic and regional champions seek “national interest” and “merit” while their counterparts in other areas insist on “rotation of power”.
More fundamentally, the question arises: what is the material meaning of the “rotation of power” for the poor in each region or zone? Since 1999, there is no evidence that the material condition of the majority of the inhabitants of the zone which “produced” a president has improved compared to the condition of the inhabitants of the zones “marginalized” by the dynamics of “rotation of power”. ”
Who owns this power, anyway? It is certainly not people power.
The crisis of governance that is ravaging the territory is in no way mitigated by the “rotation of power”. The state of public education and health care delivery cannot be said to have improved in one area or region better than the other due to “rotation of power”. Yet politicians invoke the name of the people as they insist on ‘rotation of power’.
In other words, they substitute their class interests for the fundamental interests of the people. By false conscience, some people line up behind the gladiators in their battle for the “rotation of power”.
If “rotation of power” is really in the interest of the inhabitants of an area, the northwestern area should be the safest and most prosperous area and Katsina State, the home state of the President Muhammadu Buhari, should be the most secure and developed state. . But it is well known that this is not the case today, just as Obasanjo’s presidency did not put Ogun State at the top of the development league and Jonathan’s presidency did never transformed Bayelsa State. Not to mention the areas that “produced” these presidents.
Those who bang on the table on “the equity and justice of the rotation of power”, do not speak of the socio-economic injustice inflicted daily on the poor of all areas and regions and of all faiths.
Perhaps part of the explanation why things have remained as they are over the past 23 years of Nigeria’s experiment in liberal democracy is that the last six presidential elections and most gubernatorial elections have not were hardly disputed on issues. Politicians aspired to office largely because it was their zones’ turn. They got party tickets, and as candidates, they were mostly not associated with any concept of how to address underdevelopment issues holistically. The necessary concept is deeper than the management of random and incongruous projects.
At the root of this malaise is the fact that political parties are not defined by the development strategies on the basis of which they could mobilize the people. If a political party has an ideology that guides its programs and policies, any aspirant wishing to be its candidate in an election must first subscribe to this guiding ideology. A candidate’s manifesto must be in sync with the party’s ideology. Otherwise, a candidate has no reason to seek the party ticket in the first place. That is why it is useless for the political development of the nation that the big and small parties have not held political conferences in which the members would debate the ideologies of their parties. The conventions are organized only to choose the leaders of the party, then to designate the candidates for the elections.
With the politics of ideas, the debates would be better structured because the issues to be addressed would be clearly identified. There will also be greater harmony in the political process.
For example, if some aspirants share the same passion for certain ideas to solve economic problems, it would make more sense for one to stand down for the other during the contest than to invoke zonal or regional reasons. The proximity of ideas on development is a more rational thing to give as a reason than the geopolitical concession during the primaries.
At the party level, it is also explicable that parties form electoral alliances on the basis of ideological proximity. It would be a clean break with the shenanigans of a “coalition of parties” supporting a candidate on the eve of the elections without giving solid reasons.
For example, if some parties have fundamentally neoliberal strategies on the economy, it would be justified for them to join forces to fight against elections on the basis of policy harmonization. In contrast, social democratic parties could also lay the groundwork for electoral cooperation through similar programs. Politicians involved in election coalition efforts would push certain ideas and not just aspire to positions. During the Second Republic, the victorious National Party of Nigeria (NPN) of Shehu Shagari called for the formation of a national government. Obafemi Awolowo’s Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) has made it a condition of participation to adopt its program on education, health, job creation and rural development. This was of course not acceptable to the ruling party. But it showed that there was once a principle in Nigerian politics.
It is time for the stakes of the 2023 elections to be clearly defined. Beyond their ethnic or regional origins, aspirants and candidates must articulate their ideas to solve problems.