By: Abba Mahmood
By 2015 it will be exactly 16 straight years since the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) came to power. Within those years, the party has been able to produce three presidents, including the incumbent Goodluck Jonathan. Within those years, Nigeria has earned more money than it ever did in the previous 39 years since the country got independence from British colonial rule. Within those years, virtually all the assets of the government have been sold to some individuals in the name of privatisation. But, within those years, there has been this paradox: the more resources available in the country, the higher the poverty rate among the Nigerian people.
There are many indicators to suggest that the next election will not be the same as the previous ones. For one, for the first time in the history of Nigeria, the opposition parties have been able to come together and present a formidable platform. Secondly, the people are getting tired of the same policies that have failed to have positive impact on their lives since 1999. Thirdly, for Nigerian democratic process to mature, deepen and widen, there has to be periodic ability by a party in power to get defeated and vice versa like is happening in other countries such as neighbouring Ghana. After all, election is not the same as democracy, even though free and fair election is an important element of democracy.
But by far the greatest factor that will lead to the inevitable change in 2015 is the ongoing crisis in the PDP. In the PDP today, governors are feeling they are sidelined; the National Assembly members are complaining they are sidelined; in fact, even President Jonathan is thinking he is sidelined by the Bamanga Tukur- led PDP National Working Committee. Virtually all the state branches of the PDP are in various forms of crisis. The PDP is suffering from terminal cancer which appears to be not properly managed and is just waiting for its final journey to political grave and oblivion.
However, non-performance by the PDP and dislike of the PDP will not automatically translate to support for the opposition or liking the other party blindly. It takes more than that. The opposition have to earn the support. The opposition have to work for it. For instance, if the opposition bring up the same candidates as they have been doing over the years, there will be voter fatigue and voter apathy. The choice will be very narrow. In fact, it will be a big anti-climax for a nation that is in dire need of change. That is the real dilemma of Nigeria for 2015. The air has not been fresh as promised by Dr Jonathan in 2011 and the only way to excite the public is to bring fresh ideas, fresh vision and fresh candidate who must have had a distinguished career and a solid pedigree in public service, who cannot be easily shot down by past misdeeds or corruption and who is capable of being accepted across the nation.
The record of the PDP since 1999 has been abysmal, to say the least. Nigeria has four refineries in Warri, Port Harcourt, Eleme and Kaduna. Over 14 years since the PDP came to power, Nigeria is still selling crude oil and buying petroleum products from outside, leading to the petroleum subsidy scam exposed last year. It is just like selling cows to buy cow-tail pepper soup. Why are the refineries not working after all these years and with all the resources expended in the downstream sector for goodness sake?
Every modern economy is run on power. Electricity is the main engine room of growth. With adequate power, there will be no unemployment as people will have the ability to set up small-scale enterprises to earn a living, pay taxes, reduce crime and grow the economy. Obasanjo alone spent $16billion on the power sector. Apart from unbundled PHCN there is NIPP, Presidential Task Force on Power, Ministry of Power, NERC etc -- so much bureaucracy with very little to show except the increase in overhead costs. No one announces any megawatts in functioning economies. Electricity is just like the air one breathes. Here, under Abacha, Nigeria generated 4,000mw but, about 16 years after, government is still beating its chest that we have attained 4,000mw! This is just what the Grand Mosque in Mecca consumes every day, and we are not ashamed to cite it as an achievement!
The primary responsibility of any government is protection of life and property; in other words, maintenance of peace and security of the people within its jurisdiction. The police who are the main law enforcement agency constitutionally are undertrained, underequipped and are therefore under-forming with the result that the military had to be drafted to help in the maintenance of law and order in many parts of the country.
In fairness to President Jonathan, he inherited these problems. But his party has been incapable of addressing them effectively. Consequently, there is warfare everywhere instead of welfare for all. President Jonathan inherited a fractured society with dilapidated infrastructure about four years ago when he assumed leadership. As the first PhD holder to be the president of Nigeria, everyone was expecting a great sense of statesmanship and good statecraft. Here in Africa, we have a very good example. With the demise of apartheid in South Africa, President Nelson Mandela’s deliberate policy of reaching out to the white population, after the African National Congress took power, was one of his great acts of statesmanship, in order to create an environment in which the various groups that make up South Africa have a sense of belonging. Here, this noble policy has not been internalised.
To compound matters, President Jonathan set up a cabinet composed of first-class local sycophants and those whose allegiance is primarily to the Bretton Woods institutions. They confuse the president with graphs, charts and statistics that have no meaning to the real life situation of average Nigerians. Agriculture which is a key to the national economy and important to the welfare and stability of the nation, being the largest contributor to the country’s GDP, is not being given the priority it deserves. The agriculture minister has textbook approach to agriculture and is only interested in cassava. The finance minister who is Nigeria’s first coordinating minister of the economy has centralized everything, causing stagnation. Consequently, instead of an Abuja Consensus, Nigeria is taking the Washington Consensus economic dosage hook, line and sinker. To make matters worse, federal appointments are getting more lopsided and skewed in total disregard of the Federal Character like Yar’Adua did with his Katsina clique. It appears like one bad turn is breeding another.
The gap between the rich and the poor is widening. The gini coefficient used by economists as a measure of the inequality of income and wealth is getting worse: less than 100 billionaires as against over 100, 000, 000 who are living below poverty line. Rising inequality and a polarization of society will inevitably lead to further social dislocation. Government has to ensure that the growth is more equitable and that opportunities are not limited to a privileged few.
Meanwhile, President Jonathan and all his supporters must know that 2015 is not about any section continuing or not continuing, as they keep saying south-south must have a second term; it is not about a minority must have two terms or three terms in this case, like the other presidents who are from the majority tribes, as they argue. It is about performance and non-performance; it is about progress and lack of it. There is poverty, insecurity, corruption and decayed infrastructure. These are the problems of the people requiring to be addressed and not any south or north. God save Nigeria.