Opinion: Winning the Election and Losing the Country

 

If political actors do not make national interest the object of politics, this election could leave the country worse off than the previous one, writes Jide Akintunde

As long as it is about building Nigeria and not about bringing our country down, it is unlikely there would be a more inappropriate contribution to the debate on the forthcoming presidential election than the one made by Professor Charles Soludo, former governor of Central Bank of Nigeria, in his article: "Buhari vs Jonathan: Beyond The Election." In my final analysis, the inordinately lengthy article is one big indictment of the writer.

Here is a man who, up till six years ago, was governor of the Central Bank of his country. But in this op-ed, he declared that the country's public finance was "broken." He prognosticated that the private sector was "soon to-be-beleaguered", and claimed that the world has not known of any country with Nigeria's "rate of public debt accumulation at a time of unprecedented boom." In his words, "the government had removed the speed bumps 'we' kept to slow the speed of capital flight."

These screamers notwithstanding, the market just didn't bother with Soludo. His opinion on the economy was not weighty enough to move the most irritable market indicator: the Nigerian Stock Exchange's All-Share Index, which adjusted very marginally to close at 0.1% lower on Monday, January 26th, the first day of trade after the article was first published by Sahara Reporters. When one considers the extant fragility in the financial markets which was the context of Soludo's article, his opinion becomes the more inconsequential.

The question that arises from this is whether Soludo was aware of his marketplace-inconsequentiality at the time of writing his article. If yes, he must have decided to cause a commotion as a deliberate strategy to bring himself to some reckoning again. But if he thought his was an influential voice in the market and still proceeded to write that article, we see yet another Nigerian elite who doesn't mind pulling down the country when his sense of entitlement is denied.

Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, who Soludo tried to canonise in his article, happened to be the one who claimed, as president, that an election was a "do-or-die affair." Contesting an election in Nigeria is therefore seen as fighting a war. And as they say of love and war, "all is fair," including undermining the country in every way possible. It is this negative play of politics that was writ large in Soludo's article. But he is a member of the 'privileged Nigerians club' who engage with the country on the basis of "nothing works when I am not the one in charge."

The Nigeria 2015 general election and the ones preceding it since 1999 have been about wrecking the country. This assertion holds across wide-ranging election stakeholders: the parties, electoral body and the press.

Yes, the administration of President Goodluck Jonathan has made some token changes to the electoral system. Nevertheless, the failure of the past and present PDP governments to fundamentally reform the electoral process explains the depraved politicking we have continued to see. Unscrupulous politicians under the watch of various PDP governments have woven illegal arms flow into the country's electoral cycle. Colonies of militancy have at different times emerged in different parts of the country as offshoots of militarised electioneering.

Today, the definition of political risks for investors in the country is not how market policies are likely to change depending on the party that wins the next presidential election. Rather, the possibility of violent aftermath is what has informed investors' flight to safety from Nigeria.

With no exception, the presidents who have come into office through the PDP show the party is conservative. However, under the conservative PDP governments, corruption has flourished. Politicians of the political right under the PDP governments have being contemptuous of state institutions. PDP governments have superintended the erosion of values in the society. And while deviating from the more salutary norms of conservative politics and governance, religious intolerance and ethnicity have found stronger expressions in public life under the PDP governments. As a result, the forthcoming presidential election has challenged citizen's nationalism sentiments instead of promoting it.

Should the APC win the presidential election, it would dawn on its government that the party had prosecuted a most atrocious election at the cost of the country. The hypothetical APC government would have to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to burnish the image of the country which the party had initially paid influential foreign PR consultants to sully during its campaigns. After running down the economy for so long ahead of the election, the hypothetical APC government will definitely have to start to sing new tunes. But how credible would that be?

One gets the impression that the APC really knows it cannot win this presidential election. Otherwise, why would its senior members find it necessary to so rubbish the economy and by so doing worsen a problem the likely APC government would have to solve? Every achievement recorded by the PDP government under President Jonathan is a farce according to the APC and its apologists. The APC is as guilty of naivety as much as it is of unpatriotism. Its presidential candidate, Muhammadu Buhari, was a Boko Haram apologist. Now it has to promise to wipe out the insurgents if elected into office. However, the biggest challenge of an imagined APC national government is how it would rule the country its presidential candidate has said and done so much to divide along ethnic and religious lines.

Indeed, it is my considered opinion that the candidacy of Buhari is the most unpatriotic element of the 2015 electioneering. Without Buhari in the fray, the temperature of the electoral process would not be near as high as it is. This is not because of what he has said and done since becoming APC's presidential candidate, but entirely because of his antecedents, which he needed not afflict the country with this time around.

Twice in recent times, the INEC has been accused of enacting frameworks that looked favourable to the APC. In the first case, the new polling units (PUs) the electoral body created were lopsidedly distributed in favour of the north. More recent was the geographical lopsidedness of the distribution of the Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs). In spite of the lopsidedness and the agitation of citizens who wanted to collect their PVCs and not be disenfranchised by not having them, a professor of political science who heads the INEC, Attahiru Jega, said the agency was ready to go ahead with the election.

He based his view on the fact that not everyone who registered for an election votes. However, the point was not about citizens who would exercise their volition not to vote, but those who want to vote but would be prevented from voting and possibly denied their choice of president because of the failure of INEC to distribute the PVCs fairly and comprehensively. One has got to ask why institutions of the Nigerian state always tend to fail to deliver in this manner. The more important the national responsibility, the higher the tendency not to deliver on the most important factor - fairness in the case of an election. A troubling question now ensues because of the salutary antecedent of the INEC Chairman. Did Jega compromise INEC or did INEC compromise him? Social critics who later occupied public positions like Jega have nevertheless left the country in search of an enduring institutional performance model.

It is imperative that we make national interest the object of politics. When we don't, one election leaves the country worse than the previous one. Because of politics, we cannot even agree on the progress we have made as a nation; whereas we need to know where we are before we can realistically determine where we are going and how to get there. Till today, I believe the banking industry consolidation agenda that was enunciated by Soludo's CBN is one of the biggest success stories of market policymaking in Nigeria. However, why should his success be acknowledged when he can't seem to acknowledge the achievements of other people who are not in the same camp with him?

Soludo has been unable to see anything good that has happened in this big country since he was asked to leave the CBN at the end of his first term in June 2009. His exit, however, paved the way for Lamido Sanusi to help save the big banks Soludo had created and was unable to exercise prudential regulation over. Because of the intervention of the CBN in the banks under Sanusi, the legacy of Soludo in Nigerian banks continues to endure.

A nation moves forward by consolidating the achievements of its successive policymakers and governments. The mentality that says "it doesn't work when I am not the one in charge" is antithetical to national progress. So also is winning elections through unethical means.

-Akintunde, Director Nigeria Development and Finance Forum, writes from Lagos.

 

Source: This Day