As the 2019 general elections draw near, the tempo of political activities will no doubt increase. The secret meetings, the subtle campaigns, and the rash of newspaper articles promoting various aspirants are few of the activities that will certainly form part of the pre-election politicking.
In my home state of Kwara, the knives are out. Many of the gubernatorial aspirants in the two main political parties have formed (secret) committees with the task of lobbying stakeholders for support. Several articles are also being published focusing on the perceived strengths and weaknesses of the major contenders.
One of such articles was published recently in the Kwara-focused online newspaper orientmags.com, titled: “Unveiled: Kwara APC/PDP’s Leading Governorship Aspirants”. The article dwelt on the paper’s view of the leading contenders. But one element that is missing in the argument made by that article – and in the general conversation about the 2019 gubernatorial election- is the lack of focus on the quality of the candidate and what they have to offer. Rather the conversation has dwelt too often on the pedestrian and the mundane, such as the candidates’ birthplace, or even whether they are tall or short!
In the orientmags.com article, the author made it seem as if what has attracted a number of these aspirants to vie for the governorship is the allure the office holds – the protocol, prestige, respect and influence being a governor confers; and after the governorship, the lifetime of luxury and affluence that is assured.
If that is the case, then we are in a very big trouble. Politics should not be a vehicle to wealth and affluence, and an easy life. It should be a means to achieve one’s vision for the society, a vision which must include the goal of improving the lives of the people. Implementing this vision is what is called governance and should take sweat, toil and sleepless nights. Of course, I know that over time Nigeria’s golf-playing, private-jet-flying political establishment has made being elected into a high office seem like winning a jackpot and a passport to a lifetime of luxury. But those days may be over as the country’s dependence on oil and gas resources – ‘free money’- is threatened by the development of alternative energy sources around the world and federal allocation gets even much smaller than it is now.
The US which used to be a net importer of Nigeria’s crude oil and gas has developed the shale oil and gradually weaning itself from crude oil. Several countries in Europe and elsewhere have set a deadline for the use of petrol-fuelled car, suggesting that we are at the cusp of a new era when cars would be powered by electricity and not oil. The consequence is that in a few years from now Nigeria may not find the market for its crude oil, thereby leading to financial crunch and worsening our developmental challenges.
Already, the reality is that most developmental indices for Nigeria are grim. According to a report by the World Bank, over 80 million Nigerians – 42.4% of the population – currently live below the poverty line. Nigeria has also over taken India this February by becoming what development specialists call the poverty capital of the world; that is, the country with the most people living in extreme poverty. By World Bank standards, living in extreme poverty is living on less than $1.90 (N680) per day. People living in extreme poverty are unable to meet even this minimum threshold of survival.
The statistics are no less distressing for our home state of Kwara. The poverty ratio is 23.7 percent and increasing by the minute. The cold stats may not tell the full story. We live with the grim reality daily. The reality of relatives or associates who are struggling to get by and who cannot afford three square meals a day, or a decent accommodation, or have to resort to begging when they or their dependants fall ill. Ironically, while the challenge of poverty and unemployment keep growing, the capacity of our government to respond to these challenges, which it is obligated to, gets smaller every year due to leaner resources.
For instance, the debt burden of the Kwara State government has grown to N45.39 billion just as the interest on the bonds and loans that have been taken by the government over the years eat deeply into revenue and impact significantly on the ability of the state to initiate and execute new projects.
The above reality has resulted in a very dissatisfied citizenry, who increasingly are agitating for a change in the political order. The last local government election is a case in point. What should have been a walk-over for the ruling party became a thug of war in which the political establishment escaped with the skin of its teeth. Then even more frighteningly the number of our young ones coming to bad ways is alarmingly high with cult killings now very common. The ironically-named good boys are anything but good; a time-bomb, they have become a big menace in the Emirate and its environs, constantly disturbing the peace.
What all of this suggests is that the next gubernatorial election should provide the opportunity for a re-set, to elect a governor with a good grasp of the issues and capacity to provide real solutions. The typical Kwara politician whose only credential for political office is closeness to Leader should not fly this time around. There is nothing wrong in having the endorsement of any leader or the political establishment, but that should be secondary. The nominee should himself have qualities that merit the job. The vision, the experience and the competence that the high office demands should be his.
The Governor we need in 2019 should be old enough to have the experience and temperance for the job but young enough to have the energy and zeal required for it. He should be able, to use the cliché, think out of the box and expand the achievements the current government has made in respect of internally generated revenue. But raising the IGR alone should not be enough. He should be sufficiently financially savvy to seek creative ways of utilizing the funds – by creating jobs for the army of our unemployed youth, expanding our health and other infrastructure.
He should be eloquent to inspire hope, but pragmatic to walk the talk.
That is the man, or woman, we need in 2019. Only a few of the aspirants jostling for the job now fit the bill. In fact, I can only think of one or two of them as possessing the required mix of executive and private sector experiences for the job. I would therefore urge the politicians, the leaders of the parties and all those who would be saddled with the job of picking the candidates to weigh the options carefully, to consider the future of our children, to consider the changing economic dynamics, before making their decision.
Comrade Habeeb is social and political commentator based in Ilorin, Kwara State. firstname.lastname@example.org