2011 And Dearth Of Issue-Based Politics

by Joel Nwokeoma

The way things are slowly but steadily building up, there is the possibility that Nigeria could, once again, be foisted with a leader in 2011 who never promised the country anything before assuming the presidency. And, as such, would, not uncharacteristically, have nothing to offer except to feather the nests of those who ensured his/her emergence, to the detriment of the country at large.

It is a measure of the dearth of ideas in our national politics that, a few months to the next general election in 2011, the only “issue” that has occupied the attention of Nigerian politicians, and the media as well, is not who is better placed to improve the welfare of the citizens, but the zone or location from where the person shall come from. In other words, the competencies, abilities, perspectives and policy options of the aspirants are not in any way of concern to anyone, so far.

Incidentally, it is not for lack of issues to talk about. The Nigerian electorate want to know, and should know, what those aspiring to rule the country come 2011 are thinking about such issues as power generation and distribution; railway; energy supply; policing/security; education, especially against the backdrop of the mass failure of students in public examinations in recent years; and climate change, that will not be too strange to them.

This is the trend in most functioning democracies across the world, driven by the pursuit of the “greatest happiness for the greatest number of people”. In the United States, for instance, Barack Obama and other aspirants in the run-up to the 2008 polls were confronted by the electorate on such definitive issues as economy, homeland security; universal healthcare; immigration; energy and oil; embryonic stem cells; same sex; death penalty; education; Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan, among other issues. At no time was the colour of Obama’s hair, shape of nose not to talk of his ancestry, for instance, a major campaign issue.

Similarly, in the last UK elections, the major parties and their contenders, namely Liberal Democrats’ Nick Clegg; the Conservatives’ David Cameron and the Labour Party’s Gordon Brown dealt with issues ranging from the huge public deficit, war in Iraq to immigration.

The electorate in such climes, at least, knew what each political platform represented, and will hold them accountable on such. This is not, sadly, the case in Nigeria where politics of the stomach, as against that of national development is the order of the day.

We are, however, not particularly new to this path of national perdition, for that is what issue-less politics amounts to, but it is tragic that we have not learnt our lessons from the immediate past experimentation. That most Nigerian politicians do not learn lessons of any kind, it must be stressed, is confounding.

In 1999, what remained of the political elite from the ashes of the late Gen. Sani Abacha administration regrouped under the auspices of the Group of 38, headed by former Vice President, Dr. Alex Ekwueme, to take over political power from the retreating military regime of Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar.

The group, which later morphed into the now calamitous Peoples Democratic Party, struck what seemed like an accord within its ranks where they agreed, so accounts said, that for the sake of justice and fairness, the presidency should be zoned to the South West region of the country, to compensate for the perceived injustice suffered on account of the death in detention of the winner of the June 13, 1993 presidential elections, Chief M.K.O. Abiola, as part of a rotational arrangement

No sooner had Chief Olusegun Obasanjo breathed the air of freedom from Kuje Prisons than the chieftains of the PDP literally ambushed him in his Otta Farm residence where the candidature of the party, and the presidency of the country as it turned out, was offered to him on a shining platter. And, if you care to add, without him having a faint idea of what to do with power.

After much persuasion and cajoling, the reluctant Obasanjo caved in, but not before he had asked them the oft-quoted question: “How many presidents do you want to make out of me?” The rest, as the saying goes, is now history. Both sad and bad history!

Apparently, in deference to this agreement by the Nigerian political elite, the two contestants in the 1999 Presidential Election, Olusegun Obasanjo and Olu Falae, fielded by the parties involved, namely PDP and the Alliance for Democracy/All Peoples Party alliance were from the South West only.

But, it must be pointed out that adherence to the zoning arrangement limited the power of the Nigerian electorate to choose their leaders freely given that the choice of Obasanjo as PDP candidate had long been “signed, sealed and delivered”, and forced down the throat of the electorate, without their input, by the military and political elite. The events of the Jos Convention of the PDP that year was just a fait accompli in this direction.

It is instructive that what was uppermost, and has always been, on the minds of the power brokers in Nigeria, in their political permutations and calculations, has been to advance evidently parochial, narrow and subjective interests. For instance, a thoroughly trautimatised Obasanjo, who was a beneficiary of the zoning perfidy, did not have the required presence of mind to articulate and propagate issues in the run-in to the elections. And, because he did not promise to address any issue during the electioneering, to the electorate, if voted into power, he ran the full course of his tenure not doing any.

The tell-tale signs of that gamble are everywhere for anyone to see, but it must be emphasised that the country, and its democracy, in particular, is the worse for it when a cabal appropriates to itself the right and power to select and foist, without the input and participation of the electorate, leaders who in most cases are ill-prepared, ill-equipped and ill-motivated for national leadership challenges. Especially, when such people assume positions, as has been our experience, bereft of firm grasp of issues.

. At the end of Obasanjo’s reign, late Umar Musa Yar’Adua took over in 2007 in furtherance of this zoning formular, but his death last May clobbered, and rightly too, the whole “deal”.

Obviously, the first impact of this discriminatory process of leadership recruitment is on the quality of governance derivable therefrom. It is not for nothing that Nigeria has progressively been listed among the most misgoverned and mal-administered entities in the world with its democracy failing to deliver its celebrated dividends to the people. Year after year, human development indicators released by international think tanks and research agencies paint grim pictures of “nasty, cruel and brutish” life for most Nigerians.

As a corollary, because the process of emergence of leaders in the country is mainly not broad based, transparent and credible, decisions and actions of government officials are, at best, tentative and half-hearted. There is nowhere this is more evident as in the country’s so-called anti-graft war where godfathers and cronies accused of corruption are protected.

Nigeria has not always been a country devoid of issue-based politics. During the Second Republic, there was a healthy competition among the parties on germane issues with which they approached the electorate. For instance, while the Chief Obafemi Awolowo’s Unity Party of Nigeria promised “free compulsory education”, the National Party of Nigeria spoke of its readiness to provide “qualitative education”, housing and agriculture to the electorate.

The path to the recovery of the Nigerian state, from the vicious grip of self-serving leaders, essentially, lies in our return to issue-based politics and discarding restrictive considerations that do not e

mphasise merit, competence and proven capacity. As we head towards 2011, political parties should strive to articulate and project issues that would address the felt-needs of the nation and galvanise the electorate for national development. Besides, if we intend to build an enduring democracy that would serve the people well, it must be all-inclusive and all-embracing, restoring the sovereign power of the electorate to choose their leaders at all levels on the basis of merit and competence alone. Above all, the Nigerian electorate, the critical element in a democracy, must insist on issue-based politics in 2011. Enough of this zoning shenanigans, let’s get down to the issues!

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