The Africa Editor of US Financial Times, David Pilling, in an opinion article in the January 31, 2022 edition pose the question, ‘What is Nigeria’s Government For?’ With all the attributes of being a politically sponsored promo, campaigning against the government of President Muhammadu Buhari, Pilling’s article signposts what is to come in the months ahead leading to the 2023 general elections. Chock-full sentiments, laden with inauspicious interpretation of Nigerian reality aimed at influencing public opinion will dominate both local and international media. Very conveniently, indices of economic performance in the last seven years will hardly feature largely because the aim is to whitewash the government of President Buhari as a failure. With very harsh conclusions of ‘Nigeria has sleepwalked closer to disaster,’ there is no empirical evidence to support the claims of failure other than poor attempt to appeal to the emotions of innocent Nigerians.
To be fair to Pilling, the only two attempts to present indices of economic reality is that the federal budget is about $30 billion and ‘it takes estimated $2 billion to get a president elected.’ While he is right that the size of Nigeria’s federal budget is about $30 billion, the estimated $2 billion to get a president elected is largely speculative. It is simply aimed at rubbishing Nigerian democracy, which is why he made the insinuation that ‘those who pay will expect to be paid back.’ May be since the US is the model of democracy Nigeria is copying, Pilling should have volunteered information about the cost of electing a US president and how charitable organisations funds campaigns to elect US Presidents without expecting any pay back.
The disrespect for truth and common logic is very glaring. Otherwise, how can Nigeria be ‘sleepwalking’ under President Buhari but ‘if Yemi Osinbajo, the technocratic vice-president, were miraculously to make it through the campaign thicket and emerge as president, the hearts of Nigerian optimists would beat a little faster.’ What distinguishes Vice President Osinbajo from President Buhari that one can be good and the other bad? Is Vice President Osinbajo not discharging his responsibility based on approvals and directives of President Buhari? Isn’t his (Vice President Osinbajo) so-called success not simply a reflection of the confidence President Buhari vested in him, on the one hand, and his loyalty to the President, on the other?
It is simply very damaging to Vice President Osinbajo for anyone to seek to project him as a good person while President Buhari and the government he serves are bad. It is even more grievous to condemn Nigerian aspirants for the presidential race as ‘familiar candidates… mostly recycled old men.’ If we condemn presidential candidates in Nigeria as ‘recycled old men’, the world should celebrate the young presidential newcomers in the most successful democracies, including the United States. It is quite contemptuous and an abuse of privilege for anyone who claim to support the development of democracy in Nigeria to dishonestly makes the kind of unhelpful remark made by Pilling.
Perhaps, it is important to admit that Pilling is only responding to the unfortunate reality that while President Buhari and other Nigerians in his government are busy initiating responses to Nigeria’s intractable challenges, many Nigerians, especially some leaders saddled with the responsibility of steering the affairs of APC have become overconfidence to the point of imagining that there is no need to start strategising for the 2023 elections. So much time is being lost debating whether APC is ready for the February 26, 2022 National Convention. While as APC we have frozen ourselves, others have moved on and are already planning the defeat of APC.
Beyond, Pilling and his likes outside the country, PDP leaders are daily mobilising for 2023. A party, which performed so badly has suddenly found new voice that is very loud. As APC, with all that the government of President Buhari is doing and many of our state governments, most times, our voices are only louder when we are distressed. Sadly, most causes of our distress come from normal political contests, which suggests incapacity on the part of some of our leaders. Problems of capacity is largely a reflection of poor leadership recruitment strategy, which is not peculiar to APC. It is more pronounced now in APC because being the governing party at Federal level elude part leaders and members with a strong self-belief of high probability for electoral victory. This was the case in PDP before 2015, which largely facilitated their defeat.
APC leaders must wake up to the reality of preparing for 2023 campaigns. Without good preparations, APC campaign for 2023 will be reactive and defensive. PDP leaders and their international sympathisers such as Pilling will continue to set the tune for the 2023 campaigns, which will continue to present APC and its government under the leadership of President Buhari as a failure. We must appeal to APC leaders, especially the leadership of the APC Caretaker and Extraordinary Convention Planning Committee (CECPC) under the leadership of His Excellency Mai Mala Buni to free the party from the current high level of uncertainty surrounding the February 26, 2022 APC National Convention. It is important that the Convention is allowed to produce the needed excitement around all the contests at the Convention. Being the National Convention, it should be the highest opportunity to celebrate the party and begin to mobilise every party member to recommit himself/herslf ahead of the 2023 electoral contests.
Without doubt, preparing for 2023 electoral contests for APC, being the governing party, come with a lot of challenges. As a party, APC must not put itself in a difficult position of campaigning based on propaganda, which in the end will seek to dismiss challenges facing the country and rationalise every action of governments controlled by the party. APC leaders must recognise challenges and objectively assess initiatives taken by governments. Where there are manifest weaknesses recognise and accept shortcomings as reflection of commitment to remedy the situation. It is only when there is such commitment that party leaders will be able to win the confidence of Nigerians and to that extent win their support. Winning the support of Nigerians should be the orientation of APC campaign for 2023. APC leaders must remove every illusion that being governing party will guarantee electoral victory. In fact, being governing party come with high disadvantage because power is always unpopular.
Part of what we need to remind APC leaders, ordinary members and by extension Nigerians, is that as a democracy that is gradually stabilising with more than twenty years experience, the question of issue-based campaigning should no longer be hypothetical. When PDP and their sympathers such as Pilling are broadcasting that APC and its government under President Buhari has failed, we must as loyal party members and patriotic Nigerians be able to prove that, to the contrary, we have succeeded with empirical evidence. For instance, what has been the size of federal budget during the sixteen years when PDP rule this country as compared to the $30 billion today? Has it stagnated, shrank or expanded? What is the ratio of capital to recurrent budgets under PDP as compared to today? What is the success rate of budget implementation?
Specifically, what are the key projects successfully implemented both under PDP and today under APC? While acknowledging that critical reforms initiatives were implemented during the sixteen years of PDP such as Treasury Single Account (TSA), Integrated Personnel and Payroll Information System (IPPIS) and Government Integrated Financial Management Information System (GIFMIS). Landmark legislative frameworks were also put in place such as Public Procurement Act, Administration of Criminal Justice Act, Pension Reform Act, Freedom of Information Act, Pension Reform Act, and Electric Power Sector Reform Act. These are pieces of legislations that strengthened the capacity of government to manage challenges in the country.
Of course, in terms of poverty alleviation and job creation, there were YouWIN and NAPEP. And in infrastructural development, it is to the credit of PDP governments between 1999 and 2015 that they started and almost completed the Abuja-Kaduna Standard Gauge Rail Line and the Abuja Metro Rail. PDP governments also started the construction of Zungeru Power Plant, as well as new Airport Terminals in Lagos, Kano, Abuja and Port Harcourt. There was also the rehabilitation of Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, which was initiated by the PDP governments. There are many projects initiated and executed by PDP governments in various sectors of the economy. How successful were these initiatives and what were the costs?
For APC, in the last seven years, the key highlight of success is in infrastructure. Most of the projects started by PDP have either been completed or nearly completed. Beyond the ones that were started, project such the second Niger Bridge, which was conceived by the PDP is scheduled for completion. There is the Lagos-Ibadan Standard Gauge Rail conceived by the APC government of President Buhari and completed. There are many road projects at various stages completion. The Petroleum Industry Act initiated by the PDP government of former President Olusegun Obasanjo is now a law.
Since November 2015, large scale agricultural intervention has been initiated by the government of President Buhari, which has supported over 3.1 million smallholder farmers of 21 different commodities. With the intervention, Nigeria is becoming increasingly self-sufficient in food production. There is also the ambitious social investment programme introduced since 2016. It is the largest safety net intervention programme in Africa and one of the largest in the world.
How can we assess initiatives implemented under the APC as compared to the PDP? While it is convenient for PDP to campaign based on hypothetical estimation of the failure of APC, it is important that APC leaders, and, more importantly, Nigerians use empirical assessments of achievements of both PDP and APC to determine issues of success or failure. However, recognising that the issues of insecurity inherited by the APC led government of President Buhari remained a major national challenge and is largely the current source of national frustration, it is important that assessment of performance of APC government is not reduced to opinions of individual politicians. The reality is that both President Buhari and all APC leaders acknowledged the enormity of the challenges of insecurity in the country. This is in recognition of the fact that notwithstanding all the achievements of the APC administration in other sectors of the economy, once the problem of insecurity persists, it means the government has failed.
Noting also that APC administration is taking steps to equip the security agencies and build morale, promote community-led solutions, develop new security infrastructure and operations across land and maritime environments, and address the underlying drivers of insecurity (poverty and youth unemployment), encouraging reports are emerging from the various theatres of operation. Just on Thursday, February 10, 2022, His Excellency, Babagana Zulum, after a meeting with President Buhari informed journalist that over 30,000 former Boko Haram terrorists have surrendered to Nigerian armed forces. Based on all the evidence, Governor Zulum expressed the optimism that the war against Boko Haram insurgency in the North-East will come to end in 2023.
With incidences of banditry in the North-West and North-Central producing more cases of kidnappings and abductions of citizens, including schoolchildren, capacity of Nigerian security agencies to prevent and arrest criminal activities of rebellious groups in all parts of the country are legitimate concerns of all Nigerians. There is also the challenge of preventing or managing conflicts arising from activities of herdsmen, which have provoked all manner of conflicts between Fulani herdsmen and other citizens, especially farmers, across every part of the country. Criminal activities associated with herdsmen also increased incidences of banditry, kidnappings and abductions of citizens.
The narrative around this, promoted by the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) and their supporters, including Pilling is that challenges of insecurity facing the country is a confirmation that President Buhari and APC have failed Nigerians. Citing campaign promises of APC in 2015, undertaking to end insecurity, fight corruption and build the economy, problems of insecurity in the country is being used to mobilise Nigerians against the APC and President Buhari. Part of the politics is also aimed at mobilising support to defeat the APC in 2023 elections.
Consequently, there appears to be some disconnect between politics and the need to unite Nigerians to work together to address the nation’s security challenges. Opposition politicians and their supporters are unreceptive to efforts to mobilise Nigerians to forge strong unity towards ending insecurity in the country. It is therefore a good mark of leadership, notwithstanding the desperate grandstanding politics for 2023 by PDP and its supporters for President Buhari to acknowledge that Nigeria is passing through period of momentous challenges. No doubt President Buhari is not in denial of Nigeria’s security challenges. Acknowledging the challenges is indicative of the commitment of President Buhari and by extension APC leaders to end the problem of insecurity facing the country.
Therefore, as part of the preparations for 2023 campaigns, based on strategic initiatives to win the confidence of Nigerians, APC leaders must be very proactive in providing information to citizens about progress being made and challenges. It is our responsibility as the governing party to take every necessary step to depolitise the campaign against insecurity in the country. How can a party and its leadership, which diverted $2.1 billion meant for procurement of arms to fight insecurity to their private pocket even have a voice about who has succeeded or fail? Such a party and its leadership should be hiding in shame.
Given all that is happening to our democracy, there must be independent initiatives to engage the debate about comparative review of Nigeria’s experiences under sixteen years of PDP and seven years of APC. There is the need to engage this review based on sectoral consideration to support the leadership of APC to develop the needed capacity to mobilise Nigerians to see beyond the opportunist strategy of PDP leaders and their sympathisers, which is to exploit the frustration of Nigerians to win their votes in the 2023 general elections. The review of achievements under sixteen years of PDP and seven years of APC is also to compel the PDP to go beyond propaganda in its campaign to win the 2023 elections. If PDP is to develop any capacity of defeating the APC in 2023 elections, it must be compelled to accept its failings, recognise the successes of APC and to that extend commit itself to proposing concrete initiatives beyond hypothetically false rendition of its successes before 2015.
Every information regarding the assessments of both PDP and APC since 1999 will be verifiable. In this 21st Century age of super information highway, issue-based campaign must be the orientation of partisan politics!
Salihu Moh. Lukman
Freelance APC Campaigner