The February 25, 2023 presidential election has come and gone, leaving in its trail seething anger and despair among a majority of Nigerians, court cases, and fatal bruises on the credibility of INEC and the elections in general. Even though a president-elect has been announced, the major opposition parties, the Labour Party and the Peoples Democratic Party have headed to the tribunal to challenge the outcome of the election believing that they have been unfairly, unjustly maliciously schemed out of the election by the ruling party, APC and its agents. Before the hubris and dust raised by the elections settle I would like to ruminate and reflect on some of the things that happened in the build-up to the election.
Those who knew me and anyone who cared to ask knew that my preferred candidate in the presidential election was Atiku Abubakar and my choice for Atiku was predicated on the simple fact that I believed he was the only candidate that showed he understood the problems of Nigeria and, in my opinion, had the best solutions to these problems. I will talk about these later. At almost every point and conversation, the revelation of my choice for Atiku Abubakar was met with squeezed faces and distorted noses. Some people were flabbergasted that I would choose to support Atiku Abubakar. Then they would proceed to interrogate my choice, not objectively though, with a fury of questions such as; “why would a young man like you be supporting an old man like Atiku?, How much are they paying you? What did they promise you? Why would an intelligent and brilliant young man like you support an old man when it is time for the youths to take back their country?” etc. One person even said to me that “how can any sensible youth be supporting Atiku when Obi is in the race?” This was a euphemism for saying that I was senseless. One time, someone I was not familiar with said I was not a genuine Christian if I were not voting for a Christian candidate after eight years of Muslim rule. When they found that I was neither Fulani (or Hausa) nor a Muslim, so they could not accuse me of religious or ethnic bias, they concluded that I must be doing so because of personal gains. What a primitive way of thinking!
The most intriguing thing for me was that not even one of the people who attacked my choice of candidate, ever referenced any part of their candidate’s policy document to support their arguments why they supported that candidate. They could not reference their candidate’s manifesto because they did not know what was in the manifesto; they have never cared to read it. The substance of their support was based on other reasons mostly fuelled by primordial sentiments. For those who cared to listen, even though I knew it would not convince them, I explained, more like I defended, my choice for Atiku Abubakar. Even though I was berated, harassed, and bullied for my political choice, I remained unfazed.
So why did I pitch my supper with Atiku? In the build-up to the 2019 elections, it was almost unanimous that Nigeria needed restructuring in order to address the pressing challenges bedeviling us as a country. Four years later, these challenges are still visible and have metastasized. If Nigerians believed and agreed that restructuring was the solution at that time, it still is the solution now. The solutions to a problem do not change over time or by who becomes the president or governor. The problems of Nigeria are fundamental and structural which is why the proposal to restructure the country by Atiku appeals to me because restructuring would address a lot of our challenges.
Atiku’s proposal for restructuring Nigeria in 2023 is similar to his 2019 proposal, but with some modifications. The proposal includes the devolution of powers to the states, giving them greater autonomy and control over their resources and revenue, allowing them to address their unique challenges and opportunities. The Federal Government would be responsible for only a few key areas such as defence, foreign affairs, and macroeconomic policy, while the states would be responsible for providing services such as education, healthcare, and infrastructure. Under Atiku’s proposal, there would be a new revenue-sharing formula between the Federal Government and the states. The current formula, which allocates a larger share of revenue to the Federal Government, is seen as unfair and creates a disincentive for states to generate revenue. Atiku’s manifesto proposed a new formula that would allocate a larger share of revenue to the states, allowing them to invest in their development and reduce their dependence on federal allocation.
Another important aspect of Atiku’s restructuring plans is the facilitation of LG autonomy, also giving the Local Governments greater responsibilities (LGs would be responsible for primary education). Part of Atiku’s restructuring plans includes devolution of more powers to the states, giving the states greater responsibilities and greater resource control over their mines and natural resources. It also included the transfer of primary education to be the exclusive responsibility of the LG. The plan also proposed initiating a constitutional amendment that would allow states who are willing and capable to establish their own police force to enhance community policing. Even though some of his opponents have argued that the proposal could lead to the fragmentation of Nigeria and the creation of more divisions between the regions, it remains the practical solution in which greater autonomy for the states could lead to more effective governance and better service delivery.
In various conversations, Nigerians have criticised citizens’ obsession with the Federal Government while paying less attention to the state governments, state legislature, and the local governments. The obvious reason for this is the over-concentration of power at the federal level. The LGs have little impact on the lives of the people. Restructuring, in the manner proposed by Atiku, would have remedied this situation by shedding off more powers and responsibilities to both the states and local governments.
Beyond restructuring, I appreciated Atiku’s proposal for a private sector-driven economy that would have facilitated the creation of jobs and the growth of the economy. I have always believed that for the economic growth of any country, such an economy had to be spearheaded by the private sector while the government provides the conducive and enabling environment for businesses to prosper, provides a social welfare safety net that caters for and protects the vulnerable, and provides the regulatory frameworks that ensure that there is fair competition. Even though there are concerns that this is a capitalist idea that would lead to the exploitation of Nigerian workers, a responsible government would ensure that the workers are protected with stronger labour laws and their implementation.
Among the top economies of the world, they all practise capitalism in one form or another. As a matter of fact, no economy in the world grew without embarrassing capitalism. During the “Great Leap Forward”, an intense socialist economic policy of Mao Zedong in China, Chinese leaders had to agree to bring the policy to an end in 1952 not only because it failed, but it also caused the Chinese over 40 million lives. The Chinese economy only witnessed a real leap forward after it decided to embrace capitalism under the leadership of Deng Xiaoping. This is the reality. The only way we can solve our high unemployment rate of 33.3% and uplift over 100 million Nigerians out of abject poverty, I believe that this can only be done through a private sector-driven economy. Part of Atiku’s economic policies was the privatisation of some state-owned enterprises including the national refineries. While his opponents ignorantly argued that he wants to sell off to his Nigeria’s assets to his friends, I wonder if the current state of the refineries benefits Nigeria in any way. Do not consider that, functional refineries would mean more jobs and prosperity for many Nigerians. Not to mention that this would greatly solve the perennial and acute fuel scarcity we experience frequently.
During the election period, I heard the most bizarre and ridiculous things that could both be brain-draining and exasperating as well. I also realised that no matter the level of education and exposure of the average Nigerian, they are mostly driven by emotions, sentiments, and biases than by logic and that Nigerians largely still identify along their ethnic and tribal lines than as Nigerians. The elections exposed the level of political illiteracy and poor knowledge of Nigeria’s history among the citizens.
One final take away, the voting demography is changing rapidly and therefore issues are also changing. Technology and social media have contributed largely to the disruption of the political space as witnessed recently. This means that the politicians will also have to adopt the changing dynamics of the voter demography and issues. I also observed with utter disgust and came to the realisation that even the youths are not ready for the Nigeria that they clamour for. The youths are ralso engaging the ethnic and riogious divisive politics and propaganda, repeating the same mistakes made by the older generations that we want to replace. The youths are, brazenly and unapapollegetically, deploying the same tactics and antics of the so-called older generations of religious supremacy and ethnic chauvism. While the reader might be quick to point fingers at the “obidients” do not forget those who called their fellow kinsmen “omo ale” and “alatenujes” for not supporting a particular particular.
•Victor Terhemba writes from Abuja.
He can be reached via [email protected] or via Twitter @Victor_Terhemba