The Issues The Campaign Forgot By Pat Utomi

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The presidential election approaches with major party candidates in a war of character assassination rather than on issues. Those policy and performance matters taking the back seat reminds of one of the many wars Iraq has known. Saddam Hussein’s long battle with the Kurds had, at some point gone on for so long that one of the international newsmagazines labelled it ‘The War the World Forgot’. The 2015 campaign surely advertises the issues the campaigns forgot. But the people must not forget.

Issues-based elections, besides the values of fueling learning for all and making for mobilising public support for policies easier through the learning that comes from public debate, yields governments better able to lead and solve problems. But 2015 election campaign has failed to turn our radars towards these issues critical for claiming the promise of Nigeria.

Missing from the stump in 2015 is a serious engagement to an innovation-led attack of the unemployment scourge; the frightening trouble of the size and cost of government, the poor security situation, whether the Army is finally making progress or not; the big question of how to deploy revenues; the challenge of declining education and deteriorating healthcare as well as empty treasuries of parastatals as a result of elections. Also critical are candidates’ positions on the National Conference, as well as addressing the amazing claims on road, rail and power infrastructure, and on an economy in apparent free fall. Amazingly, all of these are easier to engage on than the name calling and hate messages that have polarised the country.

As I have remarked before, the saying in the West is that opposition do not win elections, incumbents lose them. The challenge of elections is for incumbents to defend their record; and opposition, to show a vision superior to that record.

The records of incumbents in Nigeria have so far been offered in the breach. Where they have been put up they have come as glittering generalities, or intentions presented as accomplishments. None has been more ridiculous and embarrassing for me, than presentations of incumbents at the centre, on infrastructure. In a normal country I cannot possibly imagine a government going for elections and taking so much and so many for granted.

As one Nigerian on the road all the time across the country, whenever I see suggestions of extraordinary performance on roads in TAN and other adverts I remember being stuck between Ikot Ekene and Umuahia; regularly travelling between Onitsha and Enugu, and between Akure and Lagos. I wonder what country they are talking about. Then we hear of trains all over and I think someone is daydreaming, but a media, too lazy, or too compromised, to question, allow these claims to confuse the uninformed. With power we face the unusual. Besides the fact that the incumbent President said no one should ever vote for him if the power problem was not ancient history by the time of the next election the situation somehow manages to be so much worse than four years back. I am fortunate for three hours of power in my up-market neighbourhood for a day; I can only imagine what it is like in less favoured areas.

Everywhere in the world politicians have cosmetic budgets and deliberately touch up performance as elections approach. Ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the UK this week. Only in this 2015 elections have I seen misery index factors like poor power supply, poor state of pockets, as government agencies fail to pay monies they are owning Nigerians for honest work done in good faith with expectation of prompt payment. These failures to honour such payment obligations may indeed be, as one NNPC general manager said to me, because politicians have made their treasuries bankrupt for campaign funds. Bottom line is that the system is dry even as the exchange rate has been losing value, frustrating traders and middle class people trying to remit money to children in schools abroad. Watching the state of mind and purse as they relate to human misery you almost get the impression people in power believe people do not vote for their wellbeing because of ethnicity, religion and other parochial mind blockers. Still it seems all so unusual.

Most candidates at both the centre and in gubernatorial races do not seem to bother with issues.

The only one who has presented evidence-based questioning of these matters has been the APC vice presidential candidate, Yemi Osinbajo. Strangely, his share of voice has been very low. Is it media to blame or the APC campaign organisation? Maybe both.

Then comes the big elephant, the economy. In many ways Chukwuma Soludo already set up the issues for big conversation on the economy. Fayemi responded for APC but the debate and town hall meetings that should have flowed from it did not come.

If Nigeria does not cut the cost of keeping down politicians and bureaucrats with an entitlement mentality, costs will kill the economy, just as was said about corruption, that if Nigeria does not kill corruption, corruption will kill Nigeria. Corruption is so pervasive today it makes one sick, and the cost of maintaining so many appointees, so awful as most of our spending is on recurrent expenditure.

It will take a few more instalments to get to a full review of the issues, but it is good to start here and then move to the peg social sector with education and healthcare.