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

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The 2019 presidential election as a clash of realities 11 Feb 2019

In the 2015 presidential election, Nigerians had to vote for either the status quo or change. The “change” that prevailed has basically extended the same old pattern of leadership that is fundamentally incapable of rising to the challenges of the country.
This pattern of choices presents itself yet again in 2019. It is what has informed the notion of a two-horse race between the incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari of the APC and former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar, of the PDP. The candidates have impressed a lot of Nigerians by their “ability to win the election” and not by the consideration for their ability to govern well.

President Buhari is 76 years old and has publicly-undisclosed health challenges. However, his struggle with cognition was, on a few occasions, displayed on live television during this campaign season. This means he has been relying on the awareness of others in executing the mandate Nigerians gave him four years ago. But his record with the economy, which features average GDP growth of 0.23 percent between 2016 and 2018 and unemployment rate that has risen from 9.9 percent to 23.1 percent between Q3 of 2015 and Q3 of last year, indicates that his government by unelected proxies has not served Nigerians well.

Insecurity has also been festering around the country, especially in the north where, to its east the Boko Haram terrorists are finding ascendancy; and to its west deadly banditry and kidnapping-for-ransom are rife, making even a state governor feel unsafe. Buhari's dismal record includes fomenting national disunity, and more lately disregard for the Constitution with his illegal suspension of the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen.

On his part, Atiku Abubakar is running against the grain of public opinion that while he was Vice President, he used the office to enrich himself. But he continues to deny such wrongdoing and credits his stupendous wealth to his entrepreneurship. But based on the record of his career, he was running his various businesses while working for government in the Nigeria Customs Service – an illegality – and while actively in partisan politics – which seasoned businessmen consider as harmful indiscretion, and a practice they avoid.
Mr. Abubakar has recently visited the United States to show the electorate that he could do so without being arrested for money laundering, which some documents by the US government show he, allegedly, was involved in. He has issued counter blusters in the direction of President Buhari. Yet, no one is expecting him to personally present his vision to Nigerians, with only two weeks left before the election. He even stayed away from the presidential debate.
Nevertheless, the “reality” that many Nigerians have embraced is that only President Buhari or Atiku Abubakar can win the election. This is because of the “reality” that they are the ones that have the humongous sum of “money” to spend for their campaigns. Another aspect of this “reality” is that they are the ones with the “structure” needed to win. However, such campaign money is only illegally obtainable, directly or indirectly, from public funds and the structure is constructed by impoverishing the people.

But here is another “reality” before Nigerians. Extreme poverty is rising in the country, even as the population is rising at a high rate of about 3 percent annually, and unemployment is also rising. The population is expected to double to 400 million by 2050. Based on the current trend, the World Bank believes extreme poverty would continue to hold sway in Nigeria to the middle of the century.
Averting the intensification of misery in Nigeria is no easy challenge. But Nigerian presidents have never been elected on the basis of their intellectual acumen to help them grasp the serious economic challenges of the country, much less for their expertise in economic management. It is after the election that the people expect the president to start solving the economic issues. This is akin to buying a cutlass to make ridges.

But in 2019, Kingsley Moghalu is also on the presidential ballot as the candidate of the Young Progressives Party (YPP). His credentials seem curated specifically to address Nigeria's festering long-term challenges, including visionary economic management. He has presented himself over the past few months as a man of charm and vision. Moghalu says he will deploy his knowledge and experience as president to unite the country, fix the economy and restore the country's good standing in the world.

An intellectual, he had a career of 17 years in the United Nations, which he says entailed many nation-building assignments around the world, including Rwanda after the genocide. He also served as a deputy governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, which provides senior level experience in economic management.

Moghalu has attracted attention to the orbit of the young presidential candidates, who are pitching to the youth and progressive middle age demographics that constitute more than half of the electorate. In that candidate space is also Omoyele Sowore, a former firebrand student leader in the early 1990s, who went ahead to found a popular news website that blows the whistle on Nigerian public and private sector corruption. Sowore is public-spirited; he is promising to act decisively against corruption. There is also Fela Durotoye, well-known to a significant part of corporate Nigeria as a motivational speaker.

Many Nigerians have urged Moghalu and the other young candidates to come together and present a consensus candidate to stand a chance of defeating President Buhari and Atiku Abubakar. This hasn't materialised and may not. It, therefore, means that it is Nigerians that must decide, finally with our votes, who is best for the job of President in 2019.

This man will from day one in office on May 29th be confronted with the “reality” of Nigeria's development crisis. His action or inaction will begin to show the “reality”, whether we made the right decision on February 16th or not.