As Nigeria prepares to go to the polls on March 28 2015, I am yet to decide who I will vote for. I cannot help but reminisce on the spirit of excitement that gripped the country as we once again inaugurated a democratically elected government on May 29, 1999. We were the center of international attention because there were high expectations for our new democracy.
Once again, we are in the spotlight as we prepare to choose our leaders. However, the attention is not from high expectations, but fear. In addition to corruption, Nigeria has become synonymous with terrorism and post-electoral violence. Whenever these challenges are discussed, the populace quickly place the blame on our leaders who have managed to turn Politique du Ventre (Politics of the Belly) from an anomaly to a Nigerian norm.
In the film, ‘Fair Game’, Ambassador Wilson’s character played by Sean Penn addressed an audience towards the end of the movie. He urged them to do something when they feel misrepresented by their leaders. He recalled that when Benjamin Franklin left the Independence Hall during the United States 1787 Constitutional Convention, he was approached by a woman on the street who asked “Mr. Franklin, what manner of government have you bequeathed us?” He replied, “A Republic Madam, if you can keep it”. Ambassador Wilson then added that democracy was not a free ride; it is the duty of the electorate to ask the right questions.
Obviously, we feel misrepresented by our leaders but what have we done about it? We are eager to cast our votes on the 28th but how many people have read the Candidates’ Manifestos?
Having heard General Buhari’s Manifesto, I am of the view that issues of security and foreign policy were not adequately addressed. Furthermore, I noticed a lot of freebies that his government would disburse to the masses through the proposed welfare package. As someone whose taxes are deducted at source, all I can think of is that this can only lead to increased taxation.
Interestingly, General Buhari addressed this issue in his speech at Chatham House, by saying that funds for such social interventions will come from recoveries made in the fight against corruption. Not only have we heard this story before, I would have preferred if the funds were invested in effective and sustainable structures and systems.
Secondly, for a government that would be in power for four years (or eight years, should he be re-elected), in due time, the various freebies suggested in his manifesto will deplete the accrued funds. When that happens, how would the projects be sustained? Please do not mention IMF because our past experience under the Structural Adjustment Programme still resurrects bad memories.
Regardless of my observations and opinions of the Retired General’s critics, the bottom line remains that he made the effort to apprise us of his plans.
When I requested for our current President’s manifesto, a friend of mine asked, ‘Haven’t you seen the 7-Point Agenda?’ In every establishment, staff members are expected to carry out periodic appraisals and also develop annual work plans. This is done to ensure that the employees and the organization are working towards the same goal. President Jonathan’s current Manifesto is supposed be both his “Periodic Appraisal” and “Work plan”.
Our leaders should not assume that Manifestos and Public Debates are just privileges given to the masses at their whims and caprices. They are our rights. If you want my vote, you have to prove to me that you are worth it- not just in writing but verbally and under pressure. You have to prove that you are intellectually equipped to drive the change I desire.
Our current democracy, remains young, not because of the number of years it has been in existence but because our leaders still get away with actions that should have fizzled out with the dictatorship era. To an extent, I think we let them get away with these actions by failing to ask the right questions. We encourage their failures every time we vote based on ethnic or religious grounds rather than on qualifications, experience, vision and strategy.
Granted, it is difficult to dwell on rights and privileges in a country where practices like rigging, dispossess us of the most fundamental right of deciding who governs us. The country is still ours and we cannot be silent until we get the Nigeria that we can bequeath to our children.
Well…these are my thoughts; please feel free to gist with me as we sit around our virtual table to further explore these issues.