By Hope O’Rukevbe Eghagha
There is something akin to the paranoid about our reaction to aspirants to elective positions. I use ‘our’ rather loosely to refer to netizens who constitute the most vocal group of the polity. This is especially so with presidential and governorship ambitions of some politicians in some of the states. No doubt, there is some paranoia about the likes of Senator Orji Kalu, Professor Osinbajo, Alhaji Abubakar Atiku, Senator Bola Tinubu, former Imo State governor Rochas Okorocha, Alhaji Yahaya Bello and a few others declaring their interest to contest for president of the Federal Republic. The sub-text in the paranoid response is ‘You too? In other words, by our estimation, such fellows should not attempt to exercise their fundamental right as enshrined in the Constitution of the land.
Perhaps there is a reason. There is the remote fear that given our political antecedents, the system could produce anybody, fit or unfit, that the cabal of clandestine rulers of the country favours. The narrative is that the people do not have a say in who becomes president or governor. For most aspirants therefore, the real fight is to get the party nomination. Else any unpopular or unfit candidate of any political party will meet their waterloo at the polls. But deep down there is a vote of no confidence in the electoral system.
To be sure, anyone, that is any Nigerian who is of age and is not an ex-convict has the right to signal interest in the presidency. It is left for the electorate to make the ultimate decision. This is how it works in a democracy. The party internal mechanism produces its candidate after going through a screening process. The party decision should be based on certain criteria that have been fully discussed. In preparing for the general elections in 2023, there is something to be said for the presidency moving south after eight years of power in the north in the spirit of power rotation. Yet, the PDP has thrown the contest open to all fit and proper persons, no matter their regional background. There is the feeling that the PDP took this decision to calm the nerves of one of the strong aspirants within the party. It is now left for the screening and elective processes to conclude the matter.
While all the jostling was ongoing, we hear such inane and anti-democratic statements from the incumbent rulers as ‘I will not hand over power to Mr. or Mr. B! is it the duty of an outgoing president or governor in a democracy to choose who to hand over power to? What if the people think differently? It shows the anti-democratic mindset of the practitioners of democracy who currently hold the reins of power. The APC under President Muhammadu has mismanaged the country, especially in relations between and among the ethnic groups. The most obvious failure is in security. In a normal country, the APC would be jittery about facing the electorate. The PDP would be drumming on the ineptitude of the ruling party as the country prepares for general elections. No party that has decimated the social and economic lives of the people ought to be returned to power in the next elections. No party that has kept all strategic political appointments in the north should return to power. All politicians who kept silent while an elected president whom they could hold accountable drove a knife into ethnic unity deserve to rule this country. No party that opposed any step to ward re-ordering the political structure of the country should return to power. But sadly, in Nigeria, there are primordial and extraneous factors that shape election matters.
If truth be told, we need new hands in the saddle. Nigeria is too complicated to be left in the hands of persons who want to do business as usual. The old, grizzled politicians have led Nigeria into a mess. The future is uncertain. The economy is in a terrible shape. There is hunger in the land. There is anger in the land. The personal weaknesses of the incumbent president have affected the nation negatively. The narrative of the absentminded leader has finally taken a toll on all segments of the polity. It is tragic. In old age, there are certain things we should not embark upon. No old man should inflict himself on the electoral process in Nigeria.
Most of the aspirants have brought themselves forward as a way of negotiating their future. They know that they will not get the party nomination. They know that they do not stand in a chance before the electorate. But it inflates the ego of politicians to proclaim that they were once presidential or governorship candidates. No more. Some who could not govern their tiny states effectively, some who do not remember the names of their wives, some who left jail on technical grounds, some who are facing corruption charges in the court of law are all in the field. We should lose no sleep about them. The system will reject them, I hope.
2023 will be a make-or-break election. The greatest threat which is facing the nation is that of insecurity. The Buhari administration rode to the sear of power with so much promise and hope. The APC promised to end the insurgency in the north. The APC promised to end darkness in the land by making electricity available to the people. The APC promised to restructure the country. The APC promised to fight corruption to a standstill. The APC promised employment for the youth. The APC promised to stabilize the naira and make it more powerful. The APC promised to end strikes in the universities. As we write, all the federal universities are paralysed by a strike by all the unions. What has been the experience of Nigerians under the APC-led Buhari administration? An abysmal performance. The level of despair in the country is palpable. All presidential aspirants should be held accountable, should address these issues.
Nigeria must take itself seriously. That is the only way Nigeria will be taken seriously. That is the only way serious things can emanate from Nigeria. That is the only way Nigeria can be respected in the comity of nations. To choose a presidential candidate for all the wrong reasons is a sign that we are not ready to leap out of the stranglehold of poverty, hunger, and disease!
Professor Hope O. Eghagha (BA, Jos; MA; PhD, Lagos) MNAL
Department of English
Faculty of Arts
University of Lagos