18th November, 2018 distinct itself as another period, possibly one of the most significant, in the events lined up for the 2019 presidential election, which is now 2 months and 3 weeks away.
According to the timetable earlier released by the Independent National Electoral Commission, (INEC) campaigns for presidential and National Assembly elections have now begun formally.
The 2019 elections will no doubt be aN exceptional one, compared to past elections, some eyewitnesses have said.
Not only because there are now more registered voters or newly registered political parties, but primarily because the election will be keenly contested.
The pause placed on campaigns had barely been lifted when at least three presidential candidates; incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress,(APC), Atiku Abubakar of the Peoples Democratic Party(PDP) and Mrs. Oby Ezekwesili of the Allied Congress Party of Nigeria,(ACN) revealed their policy papers.
In his campaign document titled, ‘The Next Level: Working for the Greatest Number,’ Buhari promised to, among other things, sustain the anti-corruption war, provide more infrastructure and rebuild the economy.
The President is also planning to re-double the anti-insurgency war, build one industrial hub per geopolitical zone and one value processing plant in each senatorial district and provide at least 15 million new jobs, if given a second opportunity.
Atiku, in the 186-page document on his website, titled, ‘My plan to get Nigeria working again’, promised to, among other things, privatise the nation’s four refineries, partially privatise the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, restructure the economy, and build the country’s Gross Domestic Product to $900bn by 2025.
The PDP runner also intends to target the creation of up to three million self-and wage-paying employment opportunities in the private sector annually as well as lift at least 50 million people out of extreme poverty by 2025.
Also, Ezekwesili, in her Oby 2019 Policy speech, promised to, among other things, lift 80 million Nigerians out of poverty through human capital development, upgrade the education curriculum in schools, optimise agricultural and manufacturing productivity, deregulate the entire oil sector, including the NNPC, and reduce the number of out-of-school children by 20 per cent annually.
She also plans to increase labour productivity, increase the paved road network from 65,000km to 120,000km and “actively” lead the national conversation on restructuring and devolution of powers.
Even though some people have described the documents as things that are only good on paper, pointing to past cases of unfulfilled promises by politicians, some are of the view that the initiative is a good step in the nation’s democratic evolution.
A professor of Strategy and Development, Anthony Kila, commended them for starting their campaigns with a policy plan, which he said would be used to hold them accountable. He, however, said there was need for a debate over their plans.
While appraising the documents of the three aspirants who had released theirs as of the time of filing this report, Kila said it would be safe to describe Buhari’s document as a catalyst and interventionist plan; Atiku’s document a liberal market-based capitalistic plan and Ezekwesili’s document a reformist plan.
He said, “I think the Buhari’s document is a catalyst document and there is a lot of state intervention in his programme. The vision of the Buhari plan is relying a lot on the state, and so it is an interventionist policy.
“I think Atiku’s document is the most liberal market-based capitalistic document, because emphasis is on privatisation and private partnership.
“And then, I think Dr. Ezekwesili’s document is somewhere in the middle of the two and you could see that in her mind, she believes that Nigeria needs general reform. She doesn’t think you need to amend some things; she wants to start from zero and build a system, according to that document.”
Kila said it was therefore up to the electorate to look at the documents and vote for the candidate who would meet their respective needs, which he termed the principle of selfish generosity.
He continued, “But fortunately and unfortunately, our problems are so basic that they don’t allow for great ideological divides because things like roads, health care, education and job creation need to be fixed, and that is why all of them are talking about those things.
“However, the media, and where possible, organisations, should harp on what we call justification question and strategy, which is for the candidates to justify how and when they would do those things. If they say they would create four million jobs in four years, are we to expect a million jobs in the first year or will they use the first year to plan? What is the GDP rate they project we would have and the minimum wage they plan? Basically, what we need from them now are the specifics. I believe in timelines.
“I believe we should also ask them if they are aware of the current situation in the country so that they won’t get there and tell us they didn’t expect what they met.”
Kila pointed out that there were shortcomings in each of the documents but that setting timelines for the promises and making them to debate to enable people to interrogate their promises would help.
He said, “What we hope for is for them to have a debate. And my personal view is to have some timelines. I’m more interested in 100-day action plan, for example. I challenge all the candidates to submit their 100-day action plan and it doesn’t have to be achievements; it could be that by the end of Day 10, I would have submitted my list of ministers. This is important because the morning shows the day, as they say.”
Also, former Vice-President of the Nigerian Bar Association, Mr. Monday Ubani, said the policy papers would be a device to hold whoever wins accountable.
He, however, stressed that in spite of the well-crafted documents, candidates would need to go through debates.
Ubani, a public affairs analyst, said, “Our political culture has so much grown that you don’t just elect a leader blindly anymore; we know that anyone that does not have policy document is not serious so you don’t pay attention to such a candidate.
“Most of the documents are beautiful, as usual, but the integrity of the candidates is very key because that is what would make them fulfil all the promises they have made, else they would remain what they are – promises.
“Debate, which is for them to expand the promises in their documents, must be part of the electoral process as our political culture develops, and people will know they can’t trust you with their vote if you won’t participate in a debate. When in office, we can show you in a video what you said during the debate in case you want to run away from your promises.”
While emphasising the need to restructure the country, Ubani said, “Nobody should vote for any presidential candidate that does not talk about how to restructure this country because we know we have not made any progress with our current structure, and so such candidate cannot help Nigeria get out of its problems.”
“There are many more issues that tie down those promises, like funding and the input of the National Assembly because some of these promises would require constitutional amendment. So, we need strategies on how those promises would be actualised,” he added.
But an election observer and Chairman, Partners for Electoral Reform, Mr Ezenwa Nwagwu, disagreed with the idea of policy document, saying what Nigeria needed was a citizen charter and not the “document politicians come up with every four years.”
Nwagwu, who is also a member of the Working Group of Watching The Vote, Yiaga Africa, explained that communities should be telling the politicians what they wanted and not the other way.
According to him, any document that does not detail how to industrialise the country is a waste of time and that Nigerians should not waste their time on such a candidate.
Nwagwu said, “Politicians go through this ritual of policy document every four years and what you see is a nicely crafted manifesto prepared by consultants or whatever they call them. But what has that translated to over the years? In fact, I can assure you that in 2023, you would see better documents.
“Ideally, there should be no candidate manifesto, because the party you represent already has a manifesto. Why have we continued to have an unbroken chain of unfulfilled promises? The fact is simply that what we need is not a policy document but a citizen charter, designed by communities, with which they can hold elected persons accountable.
“Hope 1993, Green Revolution, Seven-Point Agenda, Transformation Agenda, Change, Next Level, Getting Nigeria to Work Again and all those things are mantras and clichés, crafted by jobbers who call themselves consultants. Nigeria needs a leader that can work with a charter drawn by communities and not a policy document.”
When reminded that the candidates in the forthcoming election were already coming up with their policy documents and that Nigerians were constrained to choose one of them, Nwagwu said, “Yes, it’s their names that would be on the ballot, but I believe Nigerians should only vote for a candidate that is ready to industrialise this country and embrace their own charter.
“We have reached a level where a candidate should hold consultative meetings across the country. They can hold a meeting in Enugu for people of the South-East, hold it in Kano to capture the needs of people of the North-West and hold the same meeting across all the geopolitical zones. Harmonise them and tell them the ones you can do. If all the candidates do that, we will move forward because the winner would be doing things that impact positively and directly on the lives of the people.
“But, this idea of getting consultants into a room and telling them to produce a beautiful document, called policy document, would get us nowhere.
“I should also add that Nigerians should not be deceived by these promises. Anybody that promises to fight corruption has not done anything creative because they are constitutionally required to do it.
“If anybody promises restructuring, don’t be deceived because they would parry it when they get there. That is because there can be no restructuring in this country with the kind of National Assembly that we have and the only way to do that is through revolution and I don’t think Atiku or any of them is ready for that. People once demanded sovereign national conference but the same elites shut down the idea.
“I believe Nigerians shouldn’t vote for any candidate that has no plan to industrialise the country. How can Nigeria have Kaduna textile and be importing fabric from Ghana? Nigeria needs to be productive.”
Also, the Director General of the Nigeria Intervention Movement, Mr. Olawale Okuniyi, said instead of coming up with documents, the country only needs one-point agenda, which he termed ‘reworking the system.’
He said, “We need stability in the country and the environment is not conducive for any economic policy now. What should be crucial in the agenda of any presidential candidate is reworking the system democratically and constitutionally.”