By Zainab Suleiman Okino
Amid the unfolding spectre of the implosion in the governing party, All Progressives Congress (APC), this past week came a refreshing ray of hope in a promising interventionist citizen-centred civil society project concerning our attitude towards election. The Akin Fadeyi Foundation’s (AFF) “2023 Election Sensitisation Project”, tagged “Put on Your Thinking Cap”, was the much-needed elixir for a politically toxic week. The AFF unveiled some media skits to sensitise the populace and encourage citizen participation, as we begin preparation for national elections next year. The presentation challenged us to show interest in political activities, rather than just being arm-chair critics, passive onlookers or being aloof in an electoral process that will shape our future, determine the quality of life we live and the existential threats thereto.
However, as optimistic and excited as we should be, towards another chance to choose our leaders, the scuffle in the governing APC does not inspire confidence in the political system, and least of all engender good governance; this is quiet discouraging. There are also no signs yet that people who are visionary and have the capacity will emerge and be voted into power come 2023. All we see around us are mainly people with a lot of baggage.
The main concern revolves around recycled contenders that have been around in over two decades of this republic. With the exception Vice President Yemi Osinbajo who came into national limelight about seven years ago, and Governor Nyesom Wike who has been around since ex-President Jonathan presidency, the Atikus, Tinubus , Sarakis, Tambuwals have been around for long. Although there is nothing wrong in straddling the political firmament for long—after all in the United States where our presidential system is derived from, politicians remain relevant right from youth to old age.
Sadly, most of our long-standing politicians do not have much to show other than stupendous wealth largely acquired at the expense of the collective patrimony of Nigerians. Meanwhile, because the ones with capacity to turn things around do not stand a chance in our kind of federation, the electorate may all be cowed and ‘forced’ to choose not necessarily the best, but a lesser evil among this set. This will further reduce our leadership recruitment criteria, as we did with President Buhari in 2015 over Goodluck Jonathan, not necessarily because of a record service and outstanding leadership qualities but because of his past iron-fist rule and discipline, which his minders felt Nigerians needed then.
Second, almost all the aspirants on the card have cases of corruption allegations hovering over them. In order words, none can be described as a shining example of leadership model and service to the people but are perceived as serial system rapists taking advantage of our dysfunctional political arrangement, while making accountability and transparency almost impossible. Besides competence, they have integrity question. Why then is it so difficult to get clean people to run for election? INEC has put election expenditure for presidential candidate at 5 Billion Naira to underscore how important money has become in our elections but that’s just a tip of the iceberg because, there are other opaque back channels through which money is spent on election in Nigeria without accountability and transparency and decent people do not have the amount of money required to run election campaigns in Nigeria.
Third, the political party system in Nigeria has failed to mobilise members for good causes; instead, they serve as avenues to grab power for self-aggrandisement. Our political parties are so badly run, you’d think of it as a motor-pack arrangement. The governing APC, currently enmeshed in conflict of interests is an example of how not to run a political party. The CECPC which Governor Mai Mala Buni spearheads for almost two years now is in tatters. There are allegations he was even a stumbling block to the convention he was mandated to organise. Whatever goes down in the end, it is now obvious that the governing party is not different from the PDP it supplanted in 2015 in a keenly contested election that saw the ruling party capitulate, thereby making Nigeria a model for a smooth power transition.
Yet another problem is the fate of Nigerian youth in political participation, despite the celebrated Not Too Young to Run law in existence. There is near absence of vibrant, visionary, and idealistic youth below 40 in the race for the presidential and governorship elections. They are probably cowed by the experience of 2019, when a lot of young people indicated interest to run, but were passed over for either Buhari or Atiku, both in their 70s, but with huge support base and deep pockets. The youth have now been forced by circumstance to queue behind the old guards and pick the crumbs.
The last, but by no means the least, is our existential realities: Fuel scarcity, low purchasing power, hyper inflation, power outage, crisis in the educational system and a crippling insecurity have all conspired to frustrate the populace. Yet there is near absence of good governance and insensitivity on the part leadership. The president is on another medical vacation and not available to lead from the front while his wife, the first lady is revelling in a birthday bliss among friends and courtiers in Dubai.
But we cannot wallow in negativity forever. Like the Greek philosopher, Plato said “if you don’t take interest in the affairs of your government, then you are doomed to live under the rule of fools”. Perhaps, that axiom must have informed AFF not just to show interest, but to act; gathered civil society groups, media, and friends to do something to defeat the odds ahead. Akin Fadeyi, the Executive Director of AFF had reeled out damning reports of the country’s dire strait situation. He said despite the let-down of the past and present, there is the tendency for people to be nostalgic about the past anti-democratic forces, describing such a situation as delusional escapism and poisonous allure.
According to him, people are generally disillusioned because they have an uncaring leadership, and the nation is in doldrum.
So in the face of this degeneration, what should citizens do? Fold our arms and watch our country degenerate further or seek to elect the right people? On its part, the AFF, through its advocacy projects, in collaboration with some civil society organisations like YIAGA Africa, is set to bolster citizens’ participation, trigger conversation about their choice of leaders and build a coalition of nonpartisan groups for the task ahead. The lesson from the unveiling is clear: There might be confusion in the polity, the ruling party might be heading for the rocks and the opposition PDP does not fare any better, but the danger of not doing anything to change the narrative is even more grievous.