The current political campaigns are perhaps the most diversionary in Nigeria’s political history. It seems everything else has been meticulously addressed by the political parties, except those issues that really matter and which border on economic and social progress. The major contenders have spent the last couple of months elaborately discussing every farcical subject – from which candidate looks more handsome, to which of them married a better wife. Principally to blame for the deterioration of the political discuss in an election year, is the Nigerian people who have simply refused to graduate the discussion to something more serious. A clear manifestation of this is the shallowness of policy approaches which the major contenders articulate whenever the campaigns manage to tilt away from the mundane. You can hardly blame the parties for this sad reality; after all, they are only obliged to tell the electorate what they want to hear. If the electorates are keener on learning about the supposed personal habits of the president or watching poorly made documentaries in the evenings, then I guess that is just how far the campaigns will go. Little surprise then that for supporters of different parties, the real victory is weighed on a scale of the quantum of insults you have dished to your opponent on social media. Clearly, the failure to hold any reasonable presidential debate in the 2011 election and now too, is a direct outcome of the fact that issues are hardly at stake. Certainly, the two major parties would have fielded their most experienced propagandists if it was a contest of insults and bad mouthing.
With less than one week to what may turn out to be the most keenly contested election in the history of Nigeria, some of the key policy issues have never been mentioned talk less of being addressed. As it is in other democracies, we should be able to tell what each of the political parties represents. It is not enough to keep repeating the mantra of ‘’change’’ or ‘’transformation’’. Nigerians need to know the manner of change, from what to what. Transformation for whom? Transforming to what?
For instance, what is the position of the APC or PDP on the over bloated cost of maintaining Nigeria’s federal legislators? Not too long ago, former Central Bank Governor Lamido Sanusi made the headlines when he revealed that 25% of Nigeria’s overhead budget was being spent on the National Assembly of less than 500 persons. Recent calculation have also revealed that members of Nigeria’s National Assembly are amongst the highest earning legislators in the world, despite legislating for one of the poorest countries on earth. What should interest every Nigerian to hear is how each of the parties plan to resolve this anomaly. Will they be cutting the legislators to size if elected or do they intend to keep this burden on Nigerians?
Similar to this is the new trend of pension legislations that endow life benefits on former governors and their deputies. Everything from choice houses in the state capitals and Abuja, to free overseas medical treatment for self and family members for life, the equivalent of a serving governor’s salary for life, yearly renewal of vehicle fleet for life, full domestic staff for life, etc. are to be endowed on state governors for the mistake of having been elected to preside over the affairs of their states for four years. Unfortunately, both political parties have passed these outrageous pension laws in states which they control. Thus far in the campaign, none of the parties has made any mention of these laws. If this is not corruption legalized, then what is? Will these pension laws be scrapped? None of the parties has made any commitment.
For different segments of the Nigerian society, there are issues peculiar to them, and begging to be addressed. For women and child right activists, there is still that #ChildNotBride campaign. Just over a year ago, this was the slogan of a major national movement calling attention to concerns over the abuse of girls, some as young as 12, who are given out in marriage. For some, it is considered a cultural preference despite the well documented health risks the practice poses; talk less of the indignity and lack of choice that comes with it. To put it more clearly, at what age is a girl old enough to get married? If a person is deemed not mature enough to vote before the age of 18, is that person mature enough to marry? On this matter, there is no PDP or APC position.
For communities in the Niger Delta who have suffered several decades of environmental degradation and loss of livelihood, an end to the pollution of their environment is the most pressing concern. For them, a proper start point will be an end to the environmentally poisonous practice of gas flaring. What people from the Niger Delta will want to hear is a clear promise of an ultimatum to multinational oil companies to stop gas flaring or stop oil exploitation. They will want to see any of the parties make a promise of putting lives before profit. Unfortunately, none of the parties has made any commitment to ‘’change’’ or ‘’transform’’ this situation.
These are just a few of the thousands of policy questions which Nigerians should be asking if they were to take a breaks from the endless bickering and insults. Where does PDP and APC stand on gay rights? Which of these parties support local government autonomy given the fact that both parties recently voted against it? Which of the parties intend to continue with the mediocrity called ‘’federal character’’? What is their position on signing the European Union inspired Economic Partnership Agreement? What is the stand on using public funds to sponsor religious pilgrimage? The questions are endless.
Rather than demand hard answers and strong commitments from those who aspire to preside over their affair and their commonwealth, Nigerians have spent the last months chasing shadows, churning slogans and trading insults. On Saturday, Nigerians will head to the polls with nothing more than the empty slogans of ‘’change’’ and ‘’transformation’’ in their heads, and hope that somehow it translates into progress. Sorry to disappoint you, the world doesn’t work that way. We shall repeat this process again in four years until we get it right.