By Emeka Alex Duru
Few weeks to the presidential election, the candidates are literally on the home stretch and in business mode. There is no more time for side shows. The gloves are off, leaving the contest to a fight of bare knuckles. Everyone is showcasing what he has and telling Nigerians and the world why he is the best.
This is part of what informs the pilgrimage to Chatham House, the famous British international Policy institute by the leading candidates. On personal note, I have reservations on the trips to the London institute. The elections are for Nigerians and the choices, theirs to make. We are yet to commence diaspora voting. Thus, it is Nigerians at home, who possess their Permanent Voters Cards (PVCs), that can cast their ballots. Featuring at the Chatham House, may therefore not have much impacts on the rural voters, who may not even have access to what transpires in the Institute. There is also an aspect of the argument that sees the gravitation to London as willing resort to colonialism – a romanticization of the ugly past in which Britain lorded it over Nigeria as her colonial master. British politicians do not present themselves to Nigerians for assessment or endorsement during their elections. Why then should our politicians parade themselves before them?
But others can look at it from another angle and have the right to do so. The world has gone nuclear and has been reduced to a technological village. What happens in one country, therefore affects the other. Nations strive to know candidates with likelihood of winning major elections in their countries for purposes of economic and diplomatic relationship. So, in inviting the standard bearers of Nigeria’s leading political parties, Chatham House, has some points.
The appearances have also given the Nigerian electorate insights into the thought patterns of the contenders. Some, like the All Progressives Congress (APC) candidate, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, who had dodged townhall meetings and television debates in Nigeria, had no hiding place in London.
Chatham House provided him the opportunity to tell the world that he was ready for the job; to sell himself and his programmes to the international community. It gave him the chance to address nagging questions on his health, his past, his academic records and his real identity – issues that his opponents have serially feasted on in mocking him. Such windows do not come frequently and when they come, they are grabbed with both hands. But Tinubu did not. Rather, he ducked and pushed the questions thrown at him at the gathering to his stooges. By evading the questions thrown at him in Chatham House and assigning them to surrogates, Tinubu unwittingly confessed his lack of capacity and preparation for the presidency
That particular gaffe brought Nigeria to an all-time low. Looking at the expression of surprise by the participants, their countenances, it was easy to imagine them sniggering, ‘if this is among the best from Nigeria, the country still has a long way to go’. It was really bad outing for the country. Any Nigerian that does not feel sufficiently horrified by that shameful episode, deserves pity.
It is therefore heartwarming that Peter Obi, the presidential candidate of Labour Party (LP), has lifted that veil of shame from the country by his stellar performance in the same arena that Tinubu fumbled. Obi’s classic outing is beyond the mere symbolism of appearance but redeeming for Nigeria and Nigerians. His presentation at the occasion, was rich in content and brilliant in delivery. By his elevated responses to the questions thrown at him, Obi demonstrated that he has a mission in aspiring for the presidency. He showed class and clear understanding of the leadership, concurring with Angadipuram Appadorai (known better as A. Appadorai), an Indian author, in his work, The Substance of Politics, that the state exists for the benefit of the individual.
Obi’s thesis in Chatham House is critical and factual. Nigeria is presently in piteous state, with all indices of development going the axiomatic south. A recent report by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), classified 133 million Nigerians out of the country’s estimated 200 million, representing 65 percent of the population, as being multidimensionally poor. 60 percent of this figure is from the North and 35 percent from the North West, President Muhammadu Buhari’s region of birth.
By the close of 2022, youth unemployment in the country had exceeded 30 percent. As of September of the year, the country’s total debt stock had hit N44. 06triillion. The figure must have gone up with more loans acquired by the presidency. Estimated 20 million children are out of school in Nigeria, according to reports by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO). The spate of insecurity remains high with terrorists, insurgents, kidnappers and other shades of criminals scaring investors.
The country is broken and needs to be fixed. The issues at hand go beyond propaganda or quick-fix measures. Obi’s template for addressing the situation, deserves trial. He has assured that the first and most important thrust of his governance priorities is to secure Nigeria, end banditry and insurgency, and unite the country to manage its diversity, such that no one is left behind. That is a good strategy in managing the tensions in different parts of the country and addressing the monster of insecurity in the land. To ensure sustainability, he said he would turn the youth bulge to a demographic dividend, rather than today’s harvest of a time bomb of violence and insecurity from the uneducated, unemployed and marginalized.
Next, is to shift emphasis from consumption to production by running a production-centered economy that is driven by an agrarian revolution and export-oriented industrialization. With about 70 million hectares of arable land, pursuing an agricultural revolution through proper segmentation of the country to activate and harness the factor endowments of different parts of the country, will make for rapid and mechanized agricultural development. That would ensure food sufficiency, widen the diversification base, encourage small and medium scale enterprises and reduce borrowing binge, except for productive purposes.
The third pillar of his governance priorities is restructuring the polity through effective legal and institutional reforms to entrench the rule of law, aggressively fight corruption, reduce cost of governance, and establish an honest and efficient civil service. Restructuring is an idea whose time has come. We can only advise him not to abandon the project as others before him, did.
He equally talked of building expansive infrastructure for efficient power supply, rail, road and air transportation, pipeline network, through integrated public-private partnerships, and entrepreneurial public sector governance. Doing this will usher Nigeria into a sustainable productive era. Obi spoke on other beautiful programmes for the country. He made a lot of senses in his presentation and needs the space to see them through.
*DURU is the Editor, TheNiche Newspapers, Lagos