Although Nigeria’s next presidential election is twelve months away, the horse trading has already begun. Just last week, former President Olusegun Obasanjo wrote an open letter in which he bemoaned current leadership failure and called for a Coalition for Nigeria to “salvage and redeem” the country.
In 2015, General Muhammadu Buhari won elections on the strength of his promise to address insecurity, corruption and the failing economy. The jury is not out on how well or badly he has fared but it is fairly clear that while he may have taken steps to contain the boko haram insurgency, insecurity is still on the rise. The farmer-herder conflict in the middle belt of Nigeria is now an existential threat. In 2015, the Global Terrorism Index named the Fulani herdsmen as the fourth deadliest terrorist group in the world. Fortunately, the group has fallen off that number in the 2017 index. Nonetheless, Nigeria remains in the notorious group of top five countries most affected by terrorism. Regrettably, the government of the day is perceived as treating the herder violence with kid gloves.
The nexus between conflict and corruption is fairly well established. According to Transparency International, six of the ten most corrupt countries also rank among the top ten list of least peaceful countries in the world. Nigeria occupies the 149th spot of 163 countries listed in the 2017 Global Peace Index. Like Kenya, South Africa and Tanzania, Nigeria failed to improve its score on the latest Corruption Perception Index by a “statistically significant amount.” In simple terms, government is not doing enough to tame the scourge of corruption. Indeed, some Nigerians think their government is not fully committed to fighting corruption given its uneven treatment of public officials implicated in corrupt practices. They also point to nepotistic appointments to responsible positions as indicative of less than full commitment. To be fair, the fight against corruption is understandably difficult but it is possible to demonstrate that progressive steps can be taken in the right direction. As it stands, we are not there yet.
Nigeria exited a recession in 2017. In its 2018 Nigeria Economic Outlook, the World Bank suggested that economic recovery is “gaining steam” although “activity is still weak.” Available numbers indicate that although the population grew about 8% from 179m to 182m between 2015 and 2016, GDP per capital decreased about 35% from $2677 to $1976. Significantly, the inflation rate rose from 9.6 to 18.6; exchange rate went from $1 – N199.1 to $1 – N304.7 and international reserves dipped from $29.1b to $25.8. These numbers – for the transition between the first two years of this administration – do not engender confidence.
Given above picture, it is fair to predict that the Buhari Promises will remain topical in the build up to 2019. The capacity of opposition political parties to rally and present a united front like they did in 2015 is also critical to shaping the outcome of 2019 elections as are truly independent electoral umpire, vibrant and vigilant civil society, virile press and fairly strong law enforcement.
No matter how badly Nigerians want to transition to a new leadership in 2019, their inability to rally behind a credible and nationally acceptable opposition candidate could prove fatal. At the time of writing, a few candidates have either indicated interest or had their names dropped as potential contenders. The primaries of the main opposition, Peoples Democratic Party, provide an opportunity to attempt to redeem its battered image. Given its antecedents, it is fairly clear that the party needs to reach out to others to stand any chance of a good showing in 2019.
Early appropriation for and deployment of resources to elections are almost always a challenge. In past elections, the electoral umpire literarily got resources at the 11th hour thereby complicating preparations and conduct. There is no indication that this will change – although it should.
For its part, civil society continues to play the rather difficult but important role of holding government to account on its promises. In the build-up to 2019, the Buhari/All Progressives Party promises have become a litmus test of the current government’s trustworthiness. According to Buharimeter, an initiative of Centre for Democracy and Development, the current administration has only managed to keep 2.7% (6 of 222) of its campaign promises while working to keep another 50% (112). This will definitely be a talking point as the year progresses.
Law enforcement is often used as a tool to protect and preserve the regime in power. In the context of elections, many Nigerians perceive law enforcement as willing tools in the hand of the ruling class to deliver on predetermined outcomes. Nonetheless, people are becoming better aware of the power of their votes and their capacity to protect their mandates. The tendency to use law enforcement for purposes other than they are designed for is less likely to succeed if Nigerians take the time to prepare for, mobilize and participate in the elections.
2019 is set to be another watershed on Nigeria’s path to democratic development. Nigerians must stay vigilant to ensure that their votes are counted and in fact count.
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