Monday, February 25, 2019

Thoughts On Nigeria's 2019 Elections

I have felt very detached from Nigeria’s elections this year. I remain passionate about the country and committed to its development, but it has been difficult to engage on social media or canvass votes for my preferred candidate.

There are many reasons for this. I was away from Nigeria studying when most of the campaigning started last year, so it was more difficult than in previous election cycles to get involved. Importantly, I am still scarred from my disappointment with Buhari's first term. I was a big fan in 2011 and 2015, thinking he would lead the war on corruption and terrorism and provide a facilitating environment to fuel economic growth and build lasting institutions.

I was wrong, it seems. The war on corruption seems to have been prosecuted selectively; the President defended Ganduje publicly despite video evidence of bribery and remains close to Orji Uzor Kalu who has been accused with a N7.7billion fraud. Court orders have been ignored and there have been attempts to weaponize the judiciary, such as in the cases of El-Zakzaky and Sambo Dasuki who remain in detention despite multiple court orders directing their release. The economy has fared poorly under Buhari’s watch and his administration has missed many opportunities to make tough choices in the best interests of Nigeria.

Buhari 4+4
If anyone could have removed the wasteful fuel subsidy without sparking widespread protests, that person was Buhari. If anyone could have gotten most of the country to accept an early devaluation of the Naira in 2015/2016 as good for the economy, that person was Buhari. But what did he do? He insisted that the CBN continue to defend the Naira, putting pressure on local manufacturers with global supply chains. He took six months to appoint uninspiring Ministers such as Adebayo Shittu and Audu Ogbeh, missing the opportunity to consolidate on gains made by GEJ-era ministers such as Omobola Johnson and Akinwunmi Adesina.

Buhari and his supporters seem perfectly happy to pursue policies that ultimately make Nigerians poorer, such as by waging a war on imported rice that benefits a small number of farmers but makes it more expensive for Nigerians. To my utmost shock, they have defended this as right-sizing the economy and getting people to live within their means. Someone even kinda suggested that Nigerians forgo tomato-based soups in favor of ogbono. Let us not forget that our country became the poverty capital of the world under Buhari’s watch and the administration's first response was to query the data.

To be fair to Buhari, his first four years were not entirely terrible. There have been more convictions for corruption than in previous administrations. There was progress with completing unfinished projects from previous administrations. One cannot argue with the rails that are being laid from Lagos to Ibadan or the pillars that are being installed to support the second Niger bridge. There have also been gains in the war on Boko Haram / ISWAP. Their abilities seem to have degraded significantly and they have been restricted to opportunistic attacks on soft targets and occasional frontal attacks on the military. There has also been progress with settling pension claims for senior citizens, going back decades in some instances. I understand that the merits of the TraderMoni and MarketMoni initiatives are doubtful, but I count them as some of the bright spots in the otherwise dark cloud of this administration.

Sections of the Lagos-Ibadan railway. I only see one set of rails - cause for alarm?
Although Atiku has put up a good fight and won pockets of support across the country, Buhari will win these elections. I strongly believe Buhari does not deserve a second term as we should not reward poor performance with another four years, but not enough people share this belief and we must now accept the will of the majority. We must now hope that Buhari will deliver better governance in his second term.

There are reasons to be hopeful about the future. Buhari may be freer to take unpopular decisions as he no longer needs to think about getting re-elected. Second, he seems healthier and more lucid these days, so Nigeria may benefit from his new surge of good health. Third, his administration will get a chance to continue and complete many ongoing projects, some of which may have been at risk if a different government won these elections.

I think there is one more important positive. Buhari will not be on the ballot in 2023. He is the last of his kind on our current political scene, a man with a larger-than-life personality who inspires loyalty and devotion solely driven by his reputation for integrity. Future candidates will need to articulate clear plans for the country and show up to the presidential debates. There is the opportunity for leading political parties to present forward-thinking, young, and energetic candidates for election in 2023 without having to battle an incumbent who wants to retain power (except Prof. Yemi Osinbajo becomes President before this term is over). Nigeria may end up with better options to choose from in 2023 than we have ever had. I wrote about the third force earlier, and they now have four years to get their act together and present a credible alternative to the frontrunners.

It feels like only yesterday that I was celebrating Buhari's victory with my gateman in Ogudu GRA. Viewing this situation through the lens of 2023, it will seem like the years flew by. We must continue to engage with this government and hold them to account. Over the next four years, I look forward to deepening my engagement with Nigeria, to spending quality time understanding why things are the way they are, and to fine-tuning my thoughts about where we should be headed.

I would like to shout out to Banky W, who almost pulled off a miracle as a third-force candidate in Eti-Osa. I am very proud of what he achieved, and I hope this is only a beginning for him and the Modern Democratic Party.

For Nigeria’s sake, I wish President Muhammadu Buhari and Professor Yemi Osinbajo the best as they head into their second term. God bless the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

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