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The much-awaited September, when election campaigns will officially begin, has come. From the 28th, politicians and their stalwarts will brave encounters with a public that will either adore or jeer them but will hardly be indifferent. Politicians, knowing that every election season guarantees a turnout of a crowd that wants to be merely entertained with the usual electioneering jibes, will dutifully cater to these basal appetites. There will, of course, be the more serious-minded who will be put off by the babbling exchanges of name-calling, cant, and outright nastiness that excites the petty-minded who take elections with less than the seriousness they approach even football matches.
The overly serious ones will expectedly try to redirect issues by asking for a focus on an “issue-based” election. By issue-based elections, they mean they would rather have the spotlight redirected from the usual distractions and beamed on supposedly more serious issues of the economy, political reforms, education, healthcare, power generation, security and even anti-corruption matters. Unfortunately, in a society like Nigeria where seemingly minor issues such as religion and ethnicity can garner huge political rewards, there is hardly any matter that cannot fall under the rubric of “issue-based” politics.
In a society like ours where decisions that rule in the public sphere are hardly ever based on reasoned ideas, it is hard to assess politicians based on the ideological source from which they draw the basis of their actions. Forget the “progressives” label in the all progressives congress moniker, its members have no orientation towards any progressivism. Whether defined as social advancement through socio-political reforms or a vision of progress that tends toward social liberalism, “progressive” does not describe those who currently identify with the apc. Ironically, some APC members, in the bid to take down the young people clamouring for radical change in the stultifying political order they represent, even described themselves as the “conservative” core of Nigerian politics. This switch in self-perception might owe to their status as the holders of aso rock since their tag of “progressives” was a marketing term forged while they were still regional players and basking in the fantasy of opposing the ruling authority. So while they presently bear a name that suggests forward motion, they also perceive themselves as resolute defenders of the status quo. Precisely because of this form of ideological cross-dressing, one can hardly pin them down to a series of political actions defined by specific characteristics.
Not limited to the APC, the Nigerian political class generally does not have a defined set of values or even an overarching political philosophy that guides their actions. Compare the states where either the peoples democratic party or the APC holds court, one sees that their differences are based on the individuals at the helm. Neither side draws from a coherent pool of ideas teleologically fashioned to guide Nigeria towards a vision that should gradually unfold over the long term. Innocent of values and still shorn of the thoughts that could structure a defining agenda that tend toward progress, we are permanently adrift. Despite having leaders, we are a rudderless country run by a set of rulers who do what is merely politically expedient. Their actions have no higher purpose in view than either winning them the next election or, at least, increasing their share of revenue allocation. There is not much else to politics in Nigeria than that.
So, we know we cannot hold our leaders to account based on any ideological standards; we are also aware that they do not have enough integrity to pursue reformative policies; and despite their professions of religion, they also lack the fear of God to do what is needful for their fellow Nigerians. Still, we need an objective marker to critically probe their campaign promises so we are not tossed around by the vacuous talks coming our way in the coming weeks. Such measures should guide us to interrogate which aspect of these people’s antecedents rightfully suggests their current promises can be taken seriously. A logical means of assessing them should be through their commitment to policies that improve the quality of life, and it should be the issue around which other issues are based. Life is the issue and actions that contribute to improving it are issue-based politics.
Nothing any candidate has done or promises to do is sufficient if the objective markers through which the quality of life is assessed are not swinging progressively forward. For instance, it is not enough for someone to tell us that when Mr Lagbaja became governor of his state, there was only one ambulance, but now they have a dozen. Such an increase is merely superficial unless backed by empirical proof of how people’s lives were consequently improved. Simply adding to the number of ambulances is not a valuable indication of leadership that has sustained interest in improving the overall health infrastructure of the state. As these things go in nigeria, a leader could have procured such ambulances to award inflated contracts to their cronies, not because they were sincerely committed themselves to improve the quality of life. A politician who says they built ten public hospitals would be far more convincing if they told us the last time they or their family used the same facilities. Candidates should not merely tell us how they built schools in their war-ravaged hometowns but go further to demonstrate how they also intentionally improved student enrolment rates, reduced the drop-out rates, and grew a student better-educated student citizenry.
Politicians—and their unreflective supporters—should not be allowed to get away with merely circulating photographs of mere buildings or displaying images of a futuristic city being built for the ultra-wealthy. The ultimate test for each candidate vying for power should be about how their policies have impacted lives and the demonstrated potential of every candidate to do even more. For instance, to sell the candidature of the apc contestants, we are being told how their incumbent administration has been building infrastructure and that they would continue toeing this line. Regrettably, these people have also egregiously reduced the idea of what constitutes “infrastructure” in the life of a nation to road transport. They slyly overblow their rather modest achievement in building some federal roads and a railway system that runs across less than a dozen cities in the whole country while conveniently forgetting that transport infrastructure alone can only go so far in revamping what is wrong with nigeria. Other critical areas such as education, health, water, power, security, and waste management still require their infrastructural plan, and the nigerian government has evidently fallen quite short in these aspects. Without a comprehensive plan to improve the quality of life, they would only have confronted the symptoms of a complex problem. The life of the average Nigerian, meanwhile, diminishes.
Those potential leaders who will approach us in the coming weeks should therefore demonstrate the value they attach to Nigerian lives and their commitment to improving it. Away with the distractions of politicians who oversell silly stories of their family background of poverty or even brandish their characteristic stinginess. Those accounts hardly express useful insights about the candidates’ administrative perspicacity or managerial wisdom. We need not hear—for the umpteenth time—that this and that candidate has a talent for grooming leadership materials. The gist is stale. It is far more helpful to hear the names of those whom such a candidate has previously selected, an itemisation of how their prudence contributed to improving governance, and the concrete ways these mentees heightened the quality of life.
Lies and exaggerations are inextricable parts of electioneering, and we will hear enough of them in the coming weeks. Politicians will struggle to outbid each other in making promises; being circumspect entails checking out their commitments to improve life. Some of the candidates coming to boast of possessing the keys to Nigeria’s freedom, let us not forget, are themselves our jailors. They should be interrogated, not with the now frivolous habit of supposed “fact-checking” by people searching for truth to merely weaponise to win low-stakes debates on social media, but because what is at stake is our collective life. Those whose words should be entertained come September 28th should be those who demonstrate the commitment to improving it. Life, and all that makes it worth living, is the only issue on which campaigns should be based.
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