Presidential debate and matters arising

By Carl Umegboro

Ahead of the 2019 presidential election scheduled on the 16th of February, the Nigeria Election Debate Group (NEDG) strategically designed a debate for presidential candidates of the various political parties aspiring to occupy the seat of power in the next dispensation from 29th of May, opportunities to present their manifestoes and policy directions to the electorates for evaluations. The platform advantageously afforded some political parties that may not have the wherewithal opportunities at least to be heard with a level playing ground alongside other contenders to elucidate on their visions for the nation.

The candidate of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), President Muhammadu Buhari was absent while his counterpart in the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP), Atiku Abubakar instead of leveraging on the absence to sell his policies, vamoosed shortly after arrival, giving President Buhari’s absence as his reason. In a release from Buhari Campaign Council, the President purportedly overstretched his time at an official function alongside a scheduled town-hall meeting outside the federal capital, and resultantly unable to arrive in time. But be that as it may, logically, Buhari is the incumbent and tactically, maximally utilizes his policies and programmes to woo the electorates to his side, and even if he didn’t show up for debate albeit a desideratum, he may not lose much. But Atiku that firmly intends to unseat him certainly has onus to convincingly showcase realistic superior ideas to earn peoples’ confidence.

With the three common attributes with Buhari – tribe, age bracket and religion, that’s if some wouldn’t say ‘Jubril of Sudan’, perceptibly, the exceptional willpower coupled with integrity will be exclusive advantages for the president. Inarguably, Atiku unconsciously, technically punched himself by his absence at the debate for swallowing a golden opportunity to showcase whatever he intends to bring to the table for people’s evaluation. In the first place, candidates’ focus is on the people and not fellow contenders, and therefore prioritizing to ‘attack’ the president is the height of gaffe. In a nutshell, Atiku goofed. Or could it be Oby Ezekwesili’s presence over the Due process allegations, well, a tale for another day.

Nonetheless, Atiku’s ‘making Nigeria to work again’ slogan is defective. Nigeria never worked before. Nigeria didn’t work in military era. In the democratic era from 1999 to 2015, PDP admitted its colossal failures and apologized openly to the nation. Then, APC came with ‘Change’ mantra and still striving assiduously to make the economy stand from recession. Hence, illogical to claim that Nigeria will work again when it never worked before; indicative that Atiku possibly hasn’t grasped the primary issues facing the country. Then, at the NTA’s ‘The Candidates’, Atiku failed to clearly explain his ‘restructuring’ policy different from gradual reforms through legislative instruments as presently going on.

Away from the leading contenders, the presidential candidates particularly Kingsley Moghalu (YPP), Fela Durotoye (ANN), Oby Ezekwesili (ACPN) now withdrawn, among others, deserved commendation for gracing the event albeit merely academic exercise. The three however, demonstrated passion for making Nigeria a great nation if given a mandate. Incidentally, from their respective remarks, the consensus are integrity, reducing cost of governance and enhancing internally generated revenues towards improving the economy which incidentally synchronized with the ruling party’s stamina. Many other promises particularly ‘free education, free this and free that’ are unrealistic, whitewash promises. Even in Freetown, there is no free lunch.

Precisely, Alliance for New Nigeria’s candidate, Durotoye in expounding his ‘reduction of costs of governance’ policy offered to outlaw presidential convoys, endorsed boarding same buses with ministers and aides if elected, but forgot that most presidential aides and other government officials have designated functions even before, on and after the arrival of the president, and therefore, they cannot technically always move together at the same times in a bus. That alone will amount to ‘pennywise, pound foolish’ and slowdown government activities, and in effect jeopardize productivity. Hence, the point will be parenthesized with, “Fa-fa-fa – foul” borrowing Chief Zebrudaya’s phrase.

On the contrary, Buhari’s government in pursuit of reduction of cost of governance visibly reduced number of ministers which led to merger of Ministry of Labour, Works and Housing presently headed by Babatunde Fashola (SAN). Ditto on other MDAs (Ministries, Departments and Agencies) with their respective workforce intact. In other words, their blueprints are more or less Buhari’s policies and programmes but rhetorically repackaged. For example, Moghalu generously offered to recruit 6 million policemen in four years but didn’t explain how to sustain their remunerations and maintenance. Meanwhile, despite higher populations than Nigeria, India has 1.9 million policemen; China – 1.6million; US – 715,000 for a population of 325 million, and Russia has 759,859 policemen in 2016 for a population 143,030,106. Besides, UN standard designates about 300 police for every 100,000 people.

On anti-corruption which all the candidates endorsed, the present government has encouraging scorecards particularly through its Whistle-blower mechanism. Remarkably, the protracted illicit deals at the National Assembly sadly for statutory duties especially screenings of nominees, passage of budgets and confirmations of appointments are rapidly becoming history. It is no longer business as usual except the jumbo allowances that still persist therein. In the public service generally, the battle has manifestly made great impact as most workers now learn to depend on legitimate earnings.

Overall, one of the present government’s exceptional designs is the Executive Order No. 7 of 2019 on Road Infrastructural Development and Refurbishment Investment Tax Credit Scheme recently signed into law to rapidly boost economy through Public Private Partnerships with investors. If properly implemented, massive road constructions and projects running concurrently nationwide, diverse employment and business opportunities will be guaranteed in no distant time. With the evident improvements on internally-generated revenues, it is attainable. Then, the recently commissioned Independent Power Plant (IPP) at Ariara, Aba with capacity to power over 80,000 shops by Buhari’s administration is phenomenal. Principally, leadership according to Warren Bennis is the capacity to translate vision into reality.

Umegboro is a public affairs analyst and Associate, Chartered Institute of Arbitrators (United-Kingdom). 08173184542-SMS-only.

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