First published in Daily Trust
Nov 26, 2018
I read three times the speech that President Muhammadu Buhari delivered on Sunday last week at the launching of his 2019 campaign program, titled Next Level. For good measure I also read three times Atiku Abubakar’s campaign platform titled Get Nigeria Working Again, which he delivered online nine days ago. They are good programs, both of them, and we thank them for the catchy, if somewhat slippery titles. When one or the other candidate wins the election next year, we may have difficulty putting our finger on what he actually promised.
Taking Nigeria to the Next Level is a problematic promise because there is no consensus on where Nigeria is right now, much less where it ought to go. There is room for confusion as to whether the Next Level is for better or for worse. Some Nigerians actually want us to go back to the Last Level, not the Next Level, with respect to such things as value of currency, societal values, internal peace and security, civil service values, youths’ orientation, teachers’ commitment to duty, integrity of judges, selflessness of policemen, truthfulness of husbands, fidelity of wives, spirituality of clerics and honesty of traders.
Get Nigeria Working Again is also a problematic promise. There is no consensus on whether Nigeria was working before. Getting Nigeria to work again could be interpreted by some to include a return to free-wheeling on the public till, free reign of insurgents and militants, free reign of subsidy merchants and forex round trippers, serial crashing of the Super Eagles out of major tournaments, as well as pell-mell fleeing of young Nigerians to Europe via the Sahara Desert and Mediterranean Sea. All those represented elements of Nigeria working at different points in time.
Next Level and Getting Nigeria Working Again are sweet music in the ears of APC and PDP supporters respectively, but they are less precise than the slogans of Second Republic political parties. NPN’s Food and Shelter, UPN’s Four Cardinal Programs, PRP’s General Program and GNPP’s Politics Without Bitterness were easier to comprehend than these two programs. Never mind that all the Second Republic programs faltered at the level of implementation. For example, GNPP’s politics was quite bitter. The late Alhaji Yusuf Dantsoho once told me a story that when he defected from GNPP to NPN in 1982, Uncle Waziri Ibrahim sent thugs to retrieve a Mercedes car that he gave him in 1978.
There could be a catchier, yet easier to verify campaign slogan. During the 1928 American presidential election campaign, the Republican Party’s slogan was, “A chicken in every pot, a car in every garage.” This slogan was easily verifiable; all that a voter had to do two years into Roosevelt’s rule was to peep in his pot and see whether there was a chicken, then peep in his garage and see whether there was a car. Two years from today when a Buhari voter or an Atiku voter looks out through the window, can he determine whether we have moved to the next level or whether the country is working again?
Anyway, fulfilment of promise will come much later but before we get there, there are eight issues that I did not see featuring in either President Buhari’s program or former Vice President Atiku’s. The first one is power supply. Even though Buhari’s program spoke about marching away from mono-economy and Atiku’s program spoke about wealth creation, neither candidate dwelt on power supply, the fulcrum of modern economies. On reflection, I didn’t blame them because power supply is one of the most intractable issues in Nigerian governance. The late President Yar’adua once promised to declare an emergency in the sector but never got around to it, even when Obasanjo spent $16 billion in the sector “without commensurate results,” as his successor said. The Federal Government has set more target dates than anyone can count to improve power supply but for many decades we were stuck at 4,000 megawatts. Maybe that is why the two major candidates are reluctant to make promises in the power sector that will most likely come to naught.
Ten million almajirai [the figure was recently revised upwards to 12 million] are the weakest youthful link in the Nigerian socio-economic and cultural equation. Yet, they did not receive even a passing mention in either major candidate’s program. Almajirai make the UN’s Sustainable Goals unrealizable. Their presence denies us the optimal use of millions of young brains; they are cannon fodder for communal warriors and insurgents; and it forces us to spend millions on public enlightenment programs on things that going to school would have taken care of.
Environmental protection was another missing issue. Gully erosion in the East, desert encroachment in the North, oil spillage in Niger Delta, deforestation in the West, tidal erosion in coastal areas, air pollution in the cities, and the concomitant disappearance of donkeys, vultures, pigeons, antelopes, doves, bustards and large fish from our grasslands, valleys, forests, skies and rivers all failed to make it into the campaign programs.
Even though we are sandwiched between sometimes friendly, sometimes hostile Francophone neighbours; marooned in the world’s poorest continent; stuck in Africa’s sleepy western half; hemmed in by vigorous continental rivals; largely ignored by our Middle Eastern and Asian contemporaries; overtaken by our former Central and South East Asian mates; unable to join the ranks of BRICS and transform them into BRINCS; pulled down by old colonial powers; dribbled around by EU, OPEC and Commonwealth and then kicked around by the world’s lone superpower, foreign relations somehow failed to feature in the platform of either candidate.
Neither major candidate made illegal migration to Europe a part of his program. During my primary school days I read a book about the Latin American “wetbacks” that swam across the Rio Grande [river] from Mexico into the US. I thought that was a dangerous undertaking, until West African youths crossing the Sahara Desert came along. If they manage to survive desert storms, trackless paths, intense heat and thirst, and assuming that they manage to cross Libya without becoming slaves, and if they are lucky that unscrupulous human traffickers do not dupe them, then they must still cross the Mediterranean Sea in a dinghy. It makes the 1943 Anglo-American landing in Sicily look like a picnic.
Internally, another migration is taking place, with our youths migrating from reading books to Facebooking. Everywhere you look, people have their heads down calling, texting, browsing, chatting, pinging, twitting and selfie-ing. Few people visit the Local Government Reading Rooms or the State and National Libraries anymore. Although Education officials often moan “the collapse of reading culture,” our universities are awarding First Class degrees in record numbers. Teachers of the Facebook Age apparently have a digital marking scheme. Yet, neither major candidate spared a thought for this internal migration, which has more debilitating potential than Trans-Saharan migration.
Two years ago an energetic movement called Not Too Young To Run stormed this country and for a time it looked like youths were about to climb on top of the political pile. They even got the president to endorse a bill to lower the age for which one could seek high office. As these idealistic youths soon found out, Not Too Old To Run is more like it. Next time they would seek a law to clamp an upper limit to the age by which one can seek high office.
I did not see a mention on either platform of the days when the oil wells run dry, which we understand is not too far away. Even before the wells run dry, the Whiteman could migrate from hydrocarbons to renewable energy, in much the same way that he migrated from horse-drawn carriage to trolleys to steam engines to coal-fired railways to cars to turboprop planes to jet engines to space ships, all within one hundred and fifty years. What is our plan for that eventuality?