ON Sunday, the 2019 general election campaigns began officially. Ordinarily, this should not call for any concern. But if the primaries organised by the major political parties are any indication, there is ample cause for concern. The primaries demonstrated a high level of organised crime and were, in most cases, faker than a forged certificate. They were unusual in the allocation of bogus figures to candidates, widespread use of thugs to suppress voters and the deployment of cash to sway voters. In many cases, the election dates were changed at the last minute, victors declared in the dead of night, and many an aspirant learnt of their sealed fate just as they were preparing to head to the venue of the exercise. Now, as the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) officially opens the campaign window across the 36 states, the candidates, most of whom had already begun the battle for votes long before today, will begin to unleash their manifestos on a beleaguered populace. But just how should they go about it?
The auguries are portentous. As we noted in our previous editorials, the most pervasive aspect of life in Nigeria today is poverty. Between January and September 2017, 4.07 million Nigerians reportedly lost their jobs. The number rose from 11.92 million in the first quarter of the year to 13.58 million and 15.99 million in the second and third quarters. Between the second quarter and third quarter, the number of economically active or working age population (15 – 64 years) increased from 110.3 million to 111.1 million. The 2018 figures indicated that the economy remains fragile as GDP growth slowed down in the second quarter of this year. The economy grew at 1.5 per cent in the quarter, a downturn from the 1.95 per cent growth recorded in the first quarter. In March this year, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) averred that despite the recovery of the economy from recession, more Nigerians were sliding into poverty. In June, the Brookings Institution, a non-profit public policy organisation in the United States, rated Nigeria as the poverty capital of the world. Worse still, Boko Haram and Fulani herdsmen, designated on the Global Terrorism Index as part of the most potent threats to global peace and security, have not yet been curbed. Against this backdrop, the country requires urgent and viable solutions to its myriads of problems, not aggravation by politicians. Nigeria has problems, yes, but what are they going to do in their respective capacities to reverse the situation?
The times call for politicians to address issues, not one another. Regaling the electorate with details of how the grandparents of their opponents once stole a goat or how their opponent contracted gonorrhea and is a suspected HIV patient will not solve the problems that Nigerians face in their daily lives. In case they need any reminder, their ambition is not worth the blood of any Nigerian. Now, more than ever, they should show restraint, decorum and responsibility in their campaign. Nigerians are tired of hate speeches, accusations and counter-accusations that do not advance the national discourse in any way and do not take Nigeria anywhere. Nigerians expect to hear from them what they plan to do practically to solve the problems of Nigeria. Today, Nigerians are suffering in an unprecedented manner: across the states, the salaries and allowances of workers have remained unpaid for months. The situation is the same in the private sector. Entire families are living in despair, ravaged by hunger, and there is no respite in sight. This is the reason Nigerians are not interested in retrogressive speeches but in demonstrable solutions to the appalling conditions in which they are entrapped. They are tired of the politics of deceit.
Of course we recognise the fickleness of human nature and of human institutions. Certainly, it would be unrealistic to expect a campaign run by saints and monitored by angels. What we insist on, and what Nigerians have a right to expect, are common core features of decency, restraint, decorum and patriotism in word and deed. The gladiators must eschew violence. For far too long, the country has groaned under the weight of perverse politicians setting brother against brother and community against community with words designed to excite base emotions, reinforce animalistic behaviour and enable horrendous crimes. Even in relatively peaceful times, as in the 2011 general election, the country’s march to a free and fair process was marred by political marauders who caused criminals to set upon innocent National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) members working with INEC and murder them in the most gruesome manner. Homes have been wrecked, lives irreparably shattered, destinies truncated and communities crushed by conscienceless individuals for whom politics was and still is a nasty vocation. Nigeria’s political history reeks of bloodshed, arson and disorder and it is time a new path was charted.
This time around, there must be no rhetoric of “do-or-die” elections. The ignoble objective of politicians to preside over the people by force must not be realised. Since the First Republic, national elections have been hollow rituals of power transmission and poverty perpetuation, and so we are not interested in any rhetoric of political sainthood. Neither the present government nor its predecessors have met the wishes and aspirations of Nigerians. Over the years, Government Houses have been inhabited by thieves and bribe takers, vagabonds and bloodthirsty individuals exploiting ethnic and religious cleavages for personal benefit.
In this connection, we urge the security agencies and the courts to carry out their responsibilities without fear or favour. On the other hand, the civil society and the media owe the country the duty of alertness, objectivity and decorum. They must moderate political discourse in such a way that the best interests of the voting public are served. They must conscientise the people and lay the key issues before them dispassionately. Politicians must not be allowed to set the country on fire in the quest to realise their ambitions. Punishment for hate speech and other infractions and dangers to the Electoral Act must be swift and decisive. Let the campaigns begin with sense and decorum.