Clem Chambers, a Forbes contributor once wrote an article titled “politics drives economics, so politicians should be drug tested”. This aptly describes Nigeria’s situation today ahead of the 2019 presidential elections scheduled for February 2019. Given this, and the weight upon Nigerians to elect a leader that will lead us into the third decade of this century, I have decided to focus my commentary on politics in the period leading to the elections. For a start, let us summarise where we are.
The elections will be contested on four major themes. The first is the continuing economic fragility in Nigeria. Since the last election, the highest quarterly growth rate recorded was 2.84% in the third quarter of 2015 – a few months after the government assumed office. Since then the growth rate has trended downwards and the country endured a painful 5-quarter economic recession, which has been followed by a tepid recovery, and the highest level of unemployment since records began, reaching 18.8% in Q3 2017, while the national debt at its highest rate since Nigeria’s debt cancellation in 2005, growing to 19.11% of GDP from 11.94% in December 2014.
Second, it will be fought in the context of who is best placed to deal with corruption. This is especially going to be the case because President Muhammadu Buhari won his 2015 elections largely on the back of his perceived integrity and his ability to deal with corruption. In the last three years, the government has aggressively pursued those that were corrupt in the past, especially those in opposition. While the government has ramped up rhetoric on corruption, and has used existing laws and established systems to secure convictions and the return of stolen monies, the administration has not improved on those systems. Therefore, the debate will be between continuing with the current strategy pursued by the administration of “punishing” corruption after it has occurred or improving the system to reduce the possibility for corruption in the first place.
Third, it will be contested in the context of the desire for changes in the structure of the Nigeria’s federal system. Although there is no clear nationwide definition or agreement on the nature and description of the structural changes required, the common theme is devolution of powers from Abuja to the States within the federation. The structural debate has been elevated following recent escalation of insecurity, and poor economic conditions that is exacerbating poverty.
The fourth major theme in the election will be insecurity. President Buhari is a former army general who electorates in 2015 thought was better placed to solve the many security challenges facing the country. However, while Boko Haram has been slightly weakened in the past three years, a bloodier conflict has erupted in the North Central in the form of violent attacks on many communities, largely by herdsmen.
Nonetheless, there is no doubt that President MuhammaduBuhari will be the All Progressives Congress (APC)’s candidate, especially after a very generous but faceless group has painstakingly raised the money for the APC nomination form. The President, before winning the last general elections had contested three previous elections in 2003, 2007, and 2011. As it was in 2014, when he won the APC primaries, his candidature will be supported by large sections of the party.
The main challenger to the ruling APC will be the People’s Democratic Party (PDP). The party, which is in opposition for the first time since 1999, has scheduled its primaries for 5 – 6 of October 2018. So far, it has a very bulging group of politicians willing to contest against President Buhari. They include Atiku Abubakar, former Vice President (1999 – 2007), who has contested every presidential ticket since 2007. At over 70 years old, this is perhaps his last shot at the country’s number one job. He defected back to PDP from the APC. Other contestants are SuleLamido, the former governor of Jigawa State and a veteran of Nigerian politics, and Bukola Saraki, current Senate President and former two-term governor of Kwara State. Also in the running is Rabiu Kwankwanso, the former governor of Kano State, who recently defected from the ruling APC. Ibrahim Dankwambo, the former Accountant General of the Federation and a two-term governor of Gombe State. Ahmed Makarfi, the former chairman of the party, who midwifed the party’s successful conclusion to its legal chairmanship debacle, and KabiruTanimuTuraki, former minister and Senior Advocate of Nigeria from Kebbi State complete the list of serious expectations on the platform of PDP.
We do not see, nor expect the PDP choosing a candidate from outside of this group. However, each candidate has different implications for the fortunes of the party at the elections as well as the policy dynamics ahead and after election. Besides the APC and the PDP, there are other parties, which have very limited chances of producing the next president of Nigeria. Leading this group of contestants are former Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria Kingsley Moghalu on the platform of Young Progressive Party (YPP) and former Governor of Cross River State, Donald Duke, whois contesting on the platform of Social Democratic Party (SDP). Other famous ones are the KOWA Party, which has a former development specialist and staff of the Department for International Development (DFID) Sina Fagbenro, the Abundant Nigeria Renewal Party (ANRP), an interesting party that sprang up from Facebook, who has as chairman and presidential aspirant former banker and economic consultant Tope Fasua while motivational speaker Fela Durotoye is expected to contest on the platform of Alliance for a New Nigeria (ANN).
The number of presidential hopefuls will not surprise those familiar with Nigerian politics, but that is not important for now. What is important is that, after the elections in 2019, three issues will become urgent, if they are not dealt with before the elections. The rising national debt will have severe implications for fiscal policy and expenditure after the general elections in 2019. The next government will also have to deal with the issue of fuel subsidies. Since the rise in the price of crude oil last year, the Nigerian government has started to pay subsidies on petroleum products in order to maintain the fuel pump price at N145. The decision to raise the price of fuel, liberalise the downstream sector, or be transparent about the level of subsidies will likely remain on hold until after the elections. Third, and in the power sector, the government has stalled on the multi-year tariff order (MYTO) that seeks to ensure a cost reflective electricity pricing. This is imposing serious economic strain on the power sector chain. These are the issues being driven by politics, and since we are still dealing with these mundane ones in 2018, it is the reason politicians should be tested for drugs.
I thank you.