Towards 2023: Any Lessons  Learnt

Olugbenga Jaiyesimi

Olugbenga Jaiyesimi


Another campaign cycle is upon us. The euphoria of 2015 has all but dissipated, Nigerians left highly disappointed. Despite tell tale signs of non performance in the first four years, Nigerians were patient and did not do the needful  in 2019. To correct this  anomaly,  Nigerians  are being  urged to collect  Permanent Voters Cards, PVC, with a  view of making  amends. Empowered with their PVC it is believed  that Nigerians will coalesce  around a right choice. I’m going ahead  of issues because the question is, would  Nigerians recognize and vote the right choice?

I am skeptical Nigerians will do the needful, because they are as culpable in the debacle we find the country  as much as their lead politicians. A lot of the galling issues have been  on since the 1980s. Is it the removal of petroleum  subsidy or sale of refinery? Is it the market determining naira value to dollar or fixing of the value by fiat? Is it on concessioning or sale of government assets, privatisation? Has anything changed? Time enough for  Nigerians to have resolved these issues.

To assess if Nigerians have learnt lessons I ask questions of them and gauge responses. In run up to the 2019 elections their was the question of refinery sale, a front line candidate candidly responded he would have NNPC refineries  sold as done in 2007 before the sale was reversed after lots of public outcry. This his candour didn’t resonate with the electorate. This time around I ask card bearers whether they will still vote in a candidate who promises to revive the refineries and keep them in the family. I also ask if they will be proud to have a national carrier Air Nigeria.

Has voter views changed as regards the value of the naira vis a vis other  currencies especially the USD. Do voters think the value of the Naira can be determined by government pronouncements or by cancellation of zeros? How would they view a candidate who says he will not only allow the market to determine our naira value but that he would adopt a gradual depreciation to favour non-oil  exports. On the other hand,  how will voters react to a candidate who says there is really no  subsidy so long we refine locally and stop petroleum importation.

These are questions for the Nigerian electorate, how about questions for aspiring presidents? Our recent  history inform us that neither the change or the next level was well interrogated to perceive if the Change was going to be for better or worse or if the Next level was the lower level or upper level. Meanwhile, some big  wigs postulate they will continue where President Muhammadu Buhari leaves off and build on his achievements’.

The Nigerian Media have important roles to play in bringing intelligence back to electioneering. The media have to help enlighten the card carrying electorate so they make informed choices rather than sentimental ones. There are loads of empirical data that point to the right way to unlock Nigeria’s potential beyond normal platitudes such as, it is corruption  holding us back. Vietnam, Bangladesh and Ghana are nations that have picked up tools of development from the development kit box, applied them and are getting the necessary results of close to double digit economic growth.

Conductors of interviews for aspirants must up the game, quizing and exposing how much depth each aspirant has beyond rhetorical abilities. Some practioners play this role,  and I  need to commend Mr. Rufai on AriseTV who asked a pointed question of a young female presidential candidate.  She had to be rescued by Dr Abati as she beat about the bush on what she will do about the naton’s rising debt. She had been exposed.

Here are other issues the media need to dig deep into. Our president must be grounded in developmental economics and we must know his leanings. Is he a statist  or a liberal, the two leanings that have been in control of the economy at one time or the other and one has delivered more than  the other. Our president must be read’. Need to ask him  which politico-economic books he has read in his life. Also need to ask what he has written on developmental issues facing our nation.

Pointedly our president  to be must have diagnosed what has gone wrong in the last ten years such that Nigeria cannot pull back to the high economic growth as was achieved in first fourteen years of this decade. In 2015 with national debt at around 20% of GDP some leaders at the helm said Nigeria didn’t have a debt problem so we entered one and worsened a manageable situation. What is the new president going to do, borrow more since other countries like Japan have debt profiles of above 100% of GDP.

President to be must tell us in stark details how he wants to solve the power problem once and for all time. Yet questions asked should be beyond macroeconomics to foundational, ideological and constitutional issues. Probing questions to unravel the soul of candidates. Candidates should  be confronted with what they have  written or said or done in the past for we the electorate to know what we are buying.

Our objective Media houses must alert the electorate to the fact that their preferred candidate can mean well for Nigeria but that he or she do not have  the wherewithal  to deliver. Are we still looking for a Mr. Integrity’ or a Mr. No Shoes’ or we want a super competent man? This is calling on journalists who are usually the best informed in society to shred apart demagoguery.

One remembers how well the late sage Chief Obafemi Awolowo prepared for office yet he never gained office and was called the  best president Nigeria never had. One remembers the galling statement by a father of the modern Nigeria that the best candidate might not win and did not in fact win. Rather the weakest candidate won. One remembers how well late MKO Abiola did during the presidential debate and how poorly Alhaji Tofa did,  yet Abiola never assumed office.

These antecedents could be reason current day politicians are just power grabbing demagogues, wealthy but lacking in depth. Can the run up to  2023 reverse  this trend or it will  remain business  as usual with the largest but empty drum making the largest splash of money and noise. I plead on behalf of  Nigerians that the legacy media do not abandon the electorate to influencers and social media who promote these empty drums.

A dogma I heard in my early days have always  been  a guide, it goes something like this, ‘while ordinary people discuss individuals, great people discuss ideas…..’ We have the saying ‘Ideas Rule the World’ but not in Nigeria. The saying in Nigeria is more like show me your money not your ideas! Indeed can Nigeria escape the dictum that a people will get the leadership they deserve.

With these in mind the role for the Nigerian journalist is of uptmost importance, and it extends beyond 2023. It is the upliftment of society and reversing  its dumbing down. To achieve this the journalist must remain most informed and deep, after all, only the deep can bring out the deepest. Journalists must not have a price and should dabble less into politics by taking political appointments and if they do, they should add value to their principals rather than help him or her along their wayward ways.

Olugbenga Jaiyesimi

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