Jide Akintunde, Managing Editor/CEO, Financial Nigeria International Limited

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Campaigning for the Nigeria we desire 14 Aug 2018

Another Nigerian electoral cycle is here. As with the electoral democracies around the world, elections in Nigeria are heralded by the campaign season. This is a period that politicians are meant to present to the public their plans to make their constituencies better-governed for the benefit of the people.
It is in order for the campaign rhetoric to be colourful, and it is expected to be evocative and inspiring. The campaign is mostly a presentation of the vision and plan the candidates have for making the future better for the voters and the entirety of their constituency. In the Nigerian presidential system, the entire country is the constituency of the president.

One of the problems with the recent Nigerian electoral cycles is that they have been devoid of meaningful campaigns by the presidential candidates. In 2007, Umaru Yar'Adua was feeble and could not campaign because of undisclosed health challenges. Already in his dotage, General Muhammadu Buhari cleverly avoided rigorously campaigning to Nigerians ahead of the 2015 presidential election.

But Buhari's party in that election, the All Progressives Congress (APC), filled his campaign void. Therefore, the major problem with the 2015 electoral cycle was not the absence of campaigning; it was the nature of the campaigns, both by the major opposition APC and the then-ruling People's Democratic Party (PDP). The campaigns of both parties were against, and not for, the desired Nigerian future. The PDP's presidential campaign was spectacularly immoral, if not criminal; while that of the APC was a powerful toxin to the body politic.

The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) was virtually raided by the administration of President Goodluck Jonathan to fund his re-election. Money withdrawn inappropriately from the CBN, ostensibly for the purchase of arms to help the military in its fight against the deadly Boko Haram terrorists, was substantially diverted to Jonathan's campaign. Many of the beneficiaries of the financial misappropriation have since owned up.

On the part of the APC, its campaign was a brutal assault on truth, national cohesion, independence of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), and any sense of national economic progress. The APC campaign for Buhari, which for its effectiveness got him elected, was entirely a well-oiled propaganda machine. Its arrowhead, Lai Mohammed, who President Buhari later appointed his minister of information, has had his name transposed by the public to “Liar Mohammed”.

The APC campaign was essentially for a willy-nilly transfer of power back to the North. Having been hijacked by the APC to back this divisive agenda, the INEC conducted the elections with extreme partiality to the APC. INEC methodically suppressed votes in the southern parts of the country. In the South, INEC denied the voters their permanent voter's cards (PVCs) and widespread incidents of failure of card readers on election day marred the accreditation of voters and voting. But in the North, the PVCs were well distributed and voting was unencumbered by problematic card readers.

The APC campaigned against the economy. It ridiculed the fact that Nigeria emerged the largest economy in Africa after the rebasing of the GDP in 2014. APC's rhetoric of threats, should it lose the election, sparked a wave of capital flight out of the country.

As a concerned citizen, I had to alert the country in my March 2015 article, “Winning the Election and Losing the Country,” that whoever won the election would face significant challenge in governing, given the negative short- and medium-term impacts of the campaigns. Against the grain of Mario Cuomo's dogma, which says “you campaign in poetry but govern in prose,” I projected that the campaigns would shape the reality of the next administration, either of the PDP or APC.

Had Jonathan been re-elected in 2015, his government would have continued with the corruption of his campaign. Jonathan's corrupt government in his first term, plus his corrupt re-election campaign financing, would have made his second-term also a corrupt government. Politicians don't change for the better; if they change, it is for the worse.

Since May 29th, 2015, the APC government of President Buhari has been afflicted by the consequences of its toxic campaign. Its propaganda campaign poetry has refused to give way to the prose of an honest government. The campaign had created a pattern that the government has found to be convenient to retain and difficult to change.

The country and the economy have been the worse for it. The initial success of Buhari against Boko Haram has given way to multiple security failures. Nomadic Fulani herdsmen have been on a killing spree. Deadly bandits are operating almost without letting up in the Northwest; kidnapping for ransom is rife across the country. Aso Rock has greeted the herdsmen attacks with a deafening silence. As a result, the conspiracy theory of government-orchestrated land-grab and Islamization agenda is deeply dividing the country along ethnic and religious lines.

State institutions that are supposed to function impartially, including the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission and the Police, have overtly become agencies for serving the personal political interest of government officials instead of the country. The CBN that was compromised by Jonathan's campaign has since relinquished its independence to the Buhari administration. Nigerians are now generally apprehensive that the 2019 elections would neither be free – because of the use of state security apparatus to support the election of APC candidates – nor fair, as Buhari has appointed as INEC Chairman, Mahmoud Yakubu, who hails from his part of the country against the norm.

The economy is also suffering from the hangover of the campaigns. For months on end after assuming office, Buhari continued to campaign against the economy and fellow citizens whenever he travelled abroad. His adversarial disposition fuelled militant attacks against oil installations in the Niger Delta at a time of oil price slump in 2015/2016. This led to the 15-month recession. As a consequence, over nine million jobs have been lost since Q3 2015. Nigeria now has 87 million people living in extreme poverty, the highest in any country.

The reality the country would have in the years after the February 2019 elections would be shaped by the nature of the impending campaigns. Therefore, the candidates are urged to campaign in a manner that is consistent with the kind of Nigeria they would like to govern. A campaign that promotes religious and ethnic division will keep the country divided after the election.

The 2019 campaigns should be about how to realise a better Nigeria.