Issues In The Nigerian Presidential Elections – Japheth J. Omojuwa

National insecurity, the economy and Nigeria’s challenge with corruption should dominate the conversation surrounding the nation’s 2015 elections but they have been sideshows to the trivialities that have risen to the fore over the last few weeks. The presidential election holds on March 28, just over three weeks today. None of the major candidates, incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan and Maj. Gen. Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), has committed to any debate, but they have in their different ways attempted to dominate the issue space. While arguing for essence of a debate between the two has been briefly debated here on AfricanLiberty.organd with none of the political parties keen on debating, it would help to look at the issues beyond a debate space. The absence should not deprive the nation, the opportunity to finally have critical issues of development get tabled without much of the puerility that has accompanied the campaigns, especially with characters like Governor Ayo Fayose dominating the media space.

Nigeria’s latest democratic experiment started in 1999 and the ongoing 16 years journey has been the nation‘s longest democratic run. There is a semblance of stability at the centre but only just. The 2015 elections are likely to offer the biggest test yet as the prospects of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party losing to the main opposition party, the All Progressives Congress, are the highest the ruling party has faced since it began its leadership of Nigeria in 1999.

The stakes are high, higher than the number of feet the US Secretary of State, Sen. John Kerry, had to fly to be in Lagos from his engagements at Davos to commit the major candidates to upholding the tenets of justice and non-violence at the polls. Nigeria’s challenge with deadly the insurgent group, Boko Haram, was only another subject on the menu. Despite getting the word of the President that the integrity of the polls would not be compromised, a political postponement was effected just days after.

These are dicey times for Nigeria and the elections are only a sideshow in a movie that’d last long after the elections are closed and the results announced. Dwindling oil prices have caught Nigeria unawares. The naira continues to take a plunge against the US dollar, interest rates are higher than ever, the time it takes to register business continue to be a burden on entrepreneurs, austerity measures are biting so hard even the privileged Aliko Dangote – by far Africa’s richest man – lost about $10 billion last year with his fortunes plunging from about $25bn in 2014 to $15bn according to a recent Forbes publication. Economic diversification would no longer be deemed a luxury as free oil money will drastically reduce from any time from now when the receipts of the oil sales post big prices start coming in.

Insecurity is right there with the economy as a critical issue. Boko Haram killed about 10,000 people last year. They have already killed more than their monthly average of last year this month. Two thousand people were reportedly killed as the insurgents massacred civilians in Baga, Borno State. Expect a major overhaul of Nigeria’s security set-up after the polls.

On corruption, the incumbent President has promised to engage technology in the fight against the menace but many would have sneered at that seeing as technology is not the reason corruption thrives in Nigeria. What would technology decide to do in the face of state-backed impunity? What sort of technology boosts political will? That is exactly what is lacking and it is also reflected in the badly managed war on insurgents in the North-East. The recent advancements are praise-worthy but they don’t change the fact that the people of the North-East were left to die in the hands of insurgents for several years. Is this about the elections? Better late than never. Some thousands of lives would have been saved had we realised being never late is better.

Whoever wins the election, reforms will be inevitable; oil will not be selling for $100 in a long while, so some 95 per cent of Nigeria’s foreign exchange earnings are threatened. The Santa Claus government will need to find its way back to the North Pole as there would be no free gifts to give away anymore. The big-for-nothing-civil-service will have to be drastically reduced and reformed. The companies’ registration process remains one of the most arduous on the continent but Nigeria’s new reality requires that private business should be allowed to thrive while government takes the back seat it very much deserves. The liberalised telecommunications sector remains the most competitive sector and the only one where Nigerians are paying far less for the same service just over a decade ago. There was some pretence about the liberalisation of the power sector but the reality on the ground shows that government remains very much involved, including fixing prices. How absurd?

Petrol subsidies will go sooner than later. They disappeared recently when the landing cost of petrol reduced from N141 to about N84. But the government that was selling for N97 suddenly decided to reduce it to N87. Government subsidies on petrol have now gone from about N40/litre to just about N2/litre but this is likely to increase as the oil prices take a hike again. The subsidy days are numbered, as the price reduction was just another move of the pawn in the battle to convince the electorate about the President. Or again, maybe not.

Will Nigeria survive the coming tough times? Only if the Nigerian government gets its act together to institute reforms across the board. It is never too late to do the right thing. But the critical question is that that would be answered on March 28, 2015. It would help to see the authorities clear the noise about Jega’s removal. Nigerians are watching and waiting. The international community has been alerted. Nigeria must get it right. Removing the chief umpire just days before the elections can only send one signal: the incumbent wants another advantage against the main challenger as a new INEC Chairman would owe his/her allegiance to the one who appointed him or her. The time for these shenanigans should be over by now. Nigeria deserves better.

This piece has been syndicated from The PUNCH and has also been published on other platforms