By Godwin Onyeacholem
With many years of uncertainties as the hallmark of her wobbly existence, Nigeria has once again arrived at a critical juncture – that inevitable episode in the life of a nation when it is summoned to deploy the courage to take crucial decisions for good or for bad, depending on the resolve of the people. And as history has shown, the tougher the decision taken the higher the chances of avoiding a lurking calamity.
That unique circumstance has presented itself in the 2015 election, where Nigerians will do well to seize the moment and take the decision that will hopefully alter the nation’s trajectory towards a more meaningful purpose. It cannot be overemphasised that never in the history of the country has an election generated so much interest, anxiety and fear of violence. This is due to its zero-sum character as a result of the high stakes embedded in it. One thing is clear in this poll: between the ruling Peoples Democratic Party(PDP) and the opposition All Progressives Congress(APC), whoever is victorious wins everything, and whoever suffers defeat loses everything.
And what are the issues in this much-talked-about election? Certainly human rights is not one of them. Therefore, the human rights record of the APC standard bearer Mohammadu Buhari under a military dictatorship is irrelevant here. Though the past of any individual or nation cannot be completely ignored, such pasts must be anchored on facts, not shamelessly distortion of facts for political expediency as in the case of the noxious documentary on Buhari being aired by a TV station.
In any case, Nigerians seem to have overwhelmingly resolved that this election is not about human rights, but about Nigeria of the present and what the future holds for her. Therefore, the focus of the campaign has naturally been on three key issues of the day, namely, corruption, unemployment and insecurity.
To say that corruption has been identified at various times by both local and foreign experts as the bane of Nigeria’s development is to overstate the obvious. At independence in 1960, Nigeria was put on the same path of advancement with countries like South Korea and Brazil for instance, but today these countries, through focused leadership, have left Nigeria far behind and gone far off in terms of development that is almost equal, if not at par, with that of USA and western european countries.
Instead of showing statesmanship by preparing the grounds for a solid developmental take-off, the conservative ruling class which inherited power from the colonial masters chose to evince an inept leadership whose chief tool of governance was corruption. Sadly enough, successive governments (civilian or military) have not deviated from that ignoble path. So much so that the ruling PDP in the last six years has taken corruption a notch higher by imbuing it with crass impunity.
Under the PDP-led Goodluck Jonathan administration, which no doubt has its root in the discredited colonial inheritors, government accountability has taken flight. Money gets missing at will. Subsidy on petrol suddenly rose from N300m to N2.6trn. Jonathan promised the nation in 2012 after the House of Reps probe on fuel subsidy that all those involved in the massive swindle would be made to account for it. But nothing has happened to them up till now. They still walk free, and some of them are still seen hobnobbing with top government functionaries including Jonathan himself.
Many more scandals were to follow. For blowing the whistle on a missing $20bn that the NNPC – which routinely funnels money into PDP projects – was supposed to have deposited into a federal government account, former governor of Central Bank of Nigeria and now Emir of Kano, Sanusi Lamido, was fired. Only recently, a report of the Price Water House Cooper forensic audit of the NNPC elicited by Sanusi’s allegation was submitted to Jonathan. It recommended that NNPC should refund $1.48bn to the federal government purse.
On Jonathan’s watch, the former Minister of Aviation, Stella Oduah, forced some agencies under her Ministry to buy for her two BMW bulletproof cars at the cost of about N250m. Instead of handing her over to EFCC for prompt prosecution, Jonathan beat around the bush for a long time before reluctantly sacking her in a cabinet reshuffle. Today, the woman is contesting a senate seat under a PDP ticket.
On her part, Minister of Petroleum Resources, Diezani Alison-Madueke, spent a whopping N10bn of taxpayers’ money to hire private jet to satisfy her extravagant ego, yet nothing has happened to her. When a committee in the House of reps attempted to question her, she quickly rushed to the court to block the probe. Yet government agencies under her Ministry are known to be veritable conduit pipes for siphoning state funds. The size of corruption in the petroleum sector alone is so enormous as to cause some concerned citizens, including former top staff, to call for the scrapping of NNPC.
Today Nigeria loses about 400,000 barrels daily to oil thieves who operate in the Niger Delta area. Rather than empower the Nigerian Navy to secure the oil pipelines crisscrossing the delta, government handed the job over to ex-militants who alongside their sponsors are benefitting from the theft.
That massive stealing of public funds is going on under this PDP government is stale news. Clearly, Jonathan’s government has no appetite to fight corruption. He has demonstrated it by not only telling the world that stealing is not corruption, but also by going ahead to embrace a man who is still being tried for money laundering and make him the head of media and publicity of his presidential campaign organisation. As one former President put it in a local dialect, there is no better way to literally describe the way Jonathan is handling governance than this: ‘I can do whatever pleases me…..nobody can arrest me.’
Still, the incapacity of this government to deal decisively with corruption invariably negatively rubs off on the economy. Government officials keep churning out all sorts of statistics to buttress their view of a growing economy, but the reality on ground points to the contrary. Now with the crash in oil price in the international market, government is telling the people to brace up for some austerity measures. An already flattened people will now have to pay for government’s profligacy, poor policy planning and acute incompetence.
In 2011 Jonathan made specific promises, but none has so far been fulfilled. Surely, there are more people out of jobs today than four years ago when Jonathan was first elected. The poverty level is higher today than it was four years ago. More people now go to bed with just one meal per day and Nigerians are definitely poorer today than they were four years ago. Four years ago $1 was sold for between N155 to N158. Today it is not less than N210 and more likely to keep going up.
In January 2013 at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Jonathan told CNN’s Christine Amanpour that by the end of 2013, steady electricity would be available to Nigerians. Today, Amanpour would be shocked to learn that Nigerians still enjoy no more than six hours of electricity, if it comes at all. This is even after selling off the assets of the Power Holding Company of Nigeria to PDP sympathisers in the name of privatisation.
It remains an eternal embarrassment that Nigeria remains the only oil producing country that imports refined petroleum products. Successive PDP governments, propelled by corrupt inclinations, refused to build additional refineries to boost the nation’s refining capacity. Nor would they focus on diversifying the economy towards agriculture and mineral resources especially as oil is a wasting asset. Instead, they chose to revel on the gravy train supplied by the petroleum sector, appropriating the numerous oil wealth for themselves and their friends alone.
However, most distressing is the inability to rein in growing insecurity in the land. Nigerians never heard of insurgency perpetrated by a perverse group called Boko Haram, or kidnapping of any sort by some misguided youth angling for quick money until the PDP years. And under this government, these problems have become worse with bands of kidnappers operating mostly in the southern part of the country, and Boko Haram posing a clear threat to the existence of Nigeria as a nation. As of today, on Jonathan’s watch, the group controls no less than 25 local governments, a territory about the size of Belgium, in the north-eastern part of the country.
Without doubt, this government has run out of ideas on how to tackle these insurgents. Instead of leading from the front and taking on the country’s enemies head-on, Jonathan and his party spent much of the time labelling the APC, accusing the party of being the sponsor of Boko Haram. By the time they stopped making excuses, Boko Haram had kidnapped hundreds, maimed many, killed more than 13,000 Nigerians and carved out swathes upon swathes from the Nigerian territory which they have declared an Islamic caliphate.
Section 14 of the 1999 constitution as amended says the primary objective of government is the security and welfare of its citizens. But from the way the current PDP government is carrying on, it has failed woefully in this regard. Therefore, Nigerians will be better served if they reject a government that cannot protect them and provide for their welfare.
That is the reason the 2015 election is crucial. Having seen that the PDP cannot take this nation out of the woods into which its governments keep pushing it, Nigerians through this election must take a bold decision to substitute this government for the one with far greater potential to improve their lot.
With its seemingly left-leaning orientation, the APC government will certainly do more for the people within a short time than the PDP claimed to have done in 16 years. Coming with a package of social security benefits that will greatly encourage primary school enrolment as well as significantly address the plight of the unemployed in the society, there is no doubt that the APC deserves to be given a chance to prove its mettle.
As for corruption and insecurity, Nigerians can be rest assured that they will be well secured under a Buhari government. His government will make concrete efforts at plugging the sources of leakage; it will not be caught shielding a confirmed rogue; it will not be found pussyfooting on insecurity. Instead, it will take the battle to the enemies of Nigeria, wherever they are.
Godwin Onyeacholem is a journalist based in Abuja. He can be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org