Journalism in the service of society

A primary season, and the dearth of governance ideas

IN his aptly titled book, The Agenda, legendary American journalist, Bob Woorward chronicles how President Bill Clinton and his kitchen cabinet debated, designed and implemented ideas and policies, which shaped the Democrat’s two terms as leader of the free world. From the point when the possibility of the Clinton Presidency was only a figment of the imagination of close friends and associates to the time he clinched the democratic nomination, and ultimately took the Presidency, there was a constant and consistent conversation about what the Clinton Presidency would mean for American economy, jobs and foreign policy. In the context of American politics therefore, it is apparent that the political elites, irrespective of their ambitions and interests, always try to frame the political and electoral processes as vehicles for the realisation of the aspirations of the people who vote in elections. 

In Nigeria, the reverse is apparently the case as would be gleaned from the narratives, which have dominated the race for the Presidential tickets of the frontline political parties, the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). A close scrutiny of the campaign trail of the motley of aspirants on the platform of the two dominant parties puts any observer in quandary over what specific governance ideas the candidates stand for. Taking a cue from the United States, from where Nigeria adopted its current emperor-styled presidential system, it is the governance idea or set of ideas pushed by an aspirant that determines if he stays in the race or drops out. In the case of President Clinton for instance, the message in his quest for the nomination of the Democratic Party was anchored around the pledge for a new economic deal for the American people. After winning the Presidency therefore, fulfilling the pledge to pass a comprehensive economic recovery plan became the central thrust of his Presidency. 

Given the myriad of governance issues facing Nigeria, long suffering citizens have apparently been waiting anxiously to get a sense of the governance ideas, which would drive the aspirations of the scores of presidential hopefuls. On the high wave of insecurity facing Nigeria at the moment, not much has been heard in terms of a real plan by the presidential hopefuls. As things stand, an assortment of terrorists, bandits and other blood thirsty outlaws continue to wreak havoc on communities across the country. Many communities, according to reports now pay taxes and other forms of protection fee to gangs of terrorists in order to enjoy some measure of peace. In the face of these grotesque realities, not much have been heard from those aspiring to take the job of the Presidency. On the economic front too, things continue to go south for the country. The level of inflation has practically taken the basic necessities of life away from the reach of families, especially those on the lower rung of the economic ladder. At the moment, none of the presidential contender across the two dominant parties has been able to put forward an inspiring vision focusing on how to rescue Nigeria from these economic woes. 

On other issues, which are at the heart of democracy and good governance in Nigeria, mum has been the word from the aspirants. One ready example is what the presidential hopefuls would do about curbing corruption and the cost of governance. The only candidate who has provided some sketchy ideas on cutting cost of governance is Mr. Peter Obi, who is eyeing the presidential ticket of the PDP. At campaign stops, he has repeatedly declared that Nigeria no longer has money to share to political bigwigs. But the Obi campaign has been lean on details relating to how an Obi Presidency will cut the cost of governance. Although, he has backed up his sketchy messaging on the issue by alluding to some of the cost saving measures he implemented during his tenure as governor of Anambra State, the messaging has however not put into context that the Presidency of Nigeria is a far complicated structure, which has been enveloped by the interest of the political elite. How to dismantle these layers of interests and save costs is a big debate has to begin now even during the primary season. 

Similarly, on issues such as infrastructure, including roads, rail and provision of stable supply of electricity, not many Nigerians know where the presidential hopefuls stand. Vice President Yemi Osinbajo who would be taken to task on the record of the Buhari administration in the electricity sector has appeared reticent when it comes to discussing what the challenges in the sector are. Although the VP mentioned some of these issues in passing in his declaration speech, no further attempts have been made to flesh out the part of the pitch wherein he promised to “rapidly advancing our infrastructure development, especially power, roads, railways and broadband connectivity.” Other prominent presidential contenders like Bola Ahmed Tinubu, Rotimi Ameachi, Godswill Akpabio, Tunde Bakare among others have also not picked up these issues as key talking points in the race to win their party’s ticket.

Consequently, most of the presidential hopefuls got the opportunity to put forward their perspectives on managing Nigeria’s ethnic and religious diversity in the light of the tragic and gruesome murder of Deborah Samuel in Sokoto by fanatics who accused her of blasphemy. So far, only the Vice President has weighed in to condemn the premeditated and heinous murder of a Nigerian citizen. All the other presidential front runners have remained mum, apparently to avoid backlash from voters in the region where the crime was perpetrated. Many Nigerians have therefore slammed this unwillingness to discuss some of the sensitive issues affecting the stability of the country as a sign of lack of courage and commitment to address them decisively.    

As the final countdown to the presidential primaries of the two major political parties gathers steam therefore, it is apparent that the whole concept of democracy as a contest of ideas, has not been well served. In place of governance ideas, which would energize, not only the party delegates, but also the electorate, the presidential hopefuls have largely resorted more to self-praise. Most of the aspirants have concentrated more on arguments about zoning and how they are better off than their co-contestants. This has left a massive vacuum in terms of thinking through the content and ideas, which would drive governance. Little wonder, many close observers have described the current primary season as a hollow exercise in political ego-trip, instead of being a process for vibrant discussions on the future of a deeply troubled country.     

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