So the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has finally opened the floodgate for declaration of intents for the 2011 elections by announcing a timetable that includes voter registration in November, primaries by November and elections into various positions at state and federal levels in January 2011?
For those of us in the Diaspora, 2011 represents a watershed in Nigeria’s history. If nothing, the election presents an opportunity for us to turn on a new leaf as a nation. This is no ordinary election but one in many. It is coming just after 50 years of slow, none or retarded national progress at different stages. This election is coming at a time that Nigerians for the first time have a real opportunity to upset the ‘establishment’ system of doing things. By establishment one refers to the ‘god fathers’ and ‘god mothers.’ Hopefully, this election for the first time would focus on the issues and not individuals. Although one expects that the persons presenting themselves for the presidency and governorship need to be above board and free of blemish.
For one, any presidential candidate has to tell us how s/he will solve the electricity problem once and for all. Every presidential candidate needs to tell us how our roads and infrastructure will become more functional. Every presidential candidate needs to tell us how portable drinking water will flow into people’s houses. How our airports will become better and functional. How our Civil service will be professionalized. How our universities will become true citadels of learning. Institutions that will place Nigeria once again on the highest levels of global education ranking, that will attract some of the best minds from all over the world to teach in Nigeria’s universities. Along with these, we need candidates who will tell us how they will tackle the problem of unemployment that has affected the entire country.
We need candidates who will effectively address the health care system from primary through to tertiary levels and put a stop to this policy of ‘foreign treatment’ for senior government officials. We need candidates who will tell us clearly their security strategy for the country. We need candidates that understand global diplomacy. We need candidates who are ready to fight corruption regardless of who is involved. Candidates that will make sure our foreign policy is one that represents Nigeria’s interest and the interests of her citizens abroad, and not based on estacode driven foreign travel. We need candidates who will provide clear, time bound solutions to the Niger Delta challenge.
Over these many years, Nigerians have received endless promises about how the problem of electricity supply will be solved, and it has never come to fruition. For one time, Nigerians need to ask for clear solutions. The recent mantra has been that ‘government has no business doing business.’
This is very funny. We cannot privatise wholesale. Government has to provide the basics. In a developing country like ours, infrastructure projects should be the responsibility of government. Unfortunately, all our efforts seem to focus on decentralisation and privatisation. While it is agreeable that decentralisation is a reasonably acceptable policy, can the same be said of privatisation? Does Nigeria have the needed institutional framework to make privatisation work for the tax payers? Along with privatisation comes the so-called public private partnership. In the end, do these partnerships yield good returns on the tax payers’ resources invested? To me, privatisation amounts to ‘passing the buck.’ But the buck stops with the government! There is no point trying to pass it along. Those presenting themselves for elections need to show that they have a good appreciation of the problems and are able to proffer solutions that work.
Solutions need to address the root causes. Why can’t the electricity system work in Nigeria for example? Is it corruption? Or is it the centralised nature of the institution responsible? Why can’t rail transport work in Nigeria? Is it the legal and legislative framework establishing the railway corporation? In these two sectors, why has it been impossible for states to truly invest directly? Why do we constantly need outside help even when our institutions have budgetary allocations that cover so many expenses? We need to ask the right questions in order to find solutions that work.
But asking questions needs to start from the grassroots. The village people, the community leaders, the women, the men and the young need to ask questions. They need to ask questions about health care, about education, about security, about transportation, about infrastructure such as roads, about social support, about employment, about electricity, about spaces for young people to play. There are many things to ask about, but the communities need to shape what to put on the agenda, and the candidates should be made to provide appropriate answers.
In addition to asking, communities need to act. At different levels, there is a commitment that the votes should count. One would think that the first step for communities to make sure votes count is to go out en-mass to register when registration begins in October. The next step is to make sure that communities engage with their political representatives and those seeking electoral positions about what they have to offer. This should not be based on ethnic sentiments or such like, but based on issues. The third step is for people to go out and vote. Communities need to make sure that every vote is counted at the polling stations and the results declared.
This is within the ambit of the electoral laws. Communities need to ‘encourage’ their kids not to carry arms or cause disruption. Communities need to take responsibility to report any of their ‘kids’ planning to cause disruptions. In these elections, the responsibility will not only be INEC’s, it will be everybody’s- communities, law enforcement, government institutions and most importantly the young people.
In our chequered national history, the young people have always being the real kingmakers. They have been the ones with the highest population. They have been the election riggers and ballot box snatchers. One hopes that in the 2011 elections, the young people will be the real heroes. The ones that will make sure every vote counts. They will be the ones to support their communities and ensure that the elections produce the best candidates. This task is a Herculean task, but it can be done!
Dabesaki Mac-Ikemenjima is the convener of the International Forum on African Development and author of ‘Service my Country.’