Issues That Should Shape 2007 Polls


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Issues That Should Shape 2007 Polls




Yusuph Olaniyonu



culled from THISDAY, November 30, 2006


By the last count, about 20 men and women who want to succeed President Olusegun Obasanjo as head of the Nigerian state have declared their intentions to seek the nominations of the various political parties. Many of them have been criss-crossing the length and breadth of the country seeking support of their party supporters as it is compulsory that one can only seek that office by being sponsored by a party. Many of these aspirants have also visited newsrooms to explain their missions and seek support of men of the fourth estate of the realm. However, one thing that is still worrying many Nigerians is that the presidential campaigns are still not issue-driven.

The emphasis is still on mundane issues as who will President Obasanjo annoint, which of the larger geo-political divide-North or South- will or should produce the next president. The candidates are still not well-defined and differentiated in terms of what their programmes or ideas are on issues of national develoment. Many of the candidates seem to have nothing to offer other than political intrigues while a few others seem to have declared their interests only with a view to bask in the euphoria of being a presidential aspirant, a tag which enables the wearer to participate in the negotiations that are bound to ensue as the presidential primaries get nearer.

As at today, it is common song among aspirants to mouth the phrase 'I will continue the reforms programme of the present administration' or ' I will fight corruption' and such other slogans which have now become cliches of the present political era. I have not seen any of the aspirants who did a detailed analysis of the Reform Programme or its thematic document, the National Economic Empowerment Development Scheme (NEEDS). I am expecting any aspirant who wants to adopt Obasanjo's reform programme to critically do a re-appraisal of the programme, let us into his understanding of what the programme is set to achieve and what it has achieved and what a future government is expected to do further beyond the aims of the programme. I expect our presidential aspirants to tell us the areas of the reforms programme, which needs to either be dumped or finetuned.
I also believe that the campaign should move to the level where aspirants go beyond the rethoric and the general. There should be extensive discussions of issues, which will define the specific programmes and policies or ideas aimed at addressing them. The aspirants should from now on talk of their priorities when they get to office. Such priorities should be so passionately and frequently articulated that each aspirant will be identified by the populace with the ideas or solutions that they have canvassed. It should be possible for members of the public to identify the aspirants so well with his ideas that whether they are eventually elected or not, it can be said that aspirant A stands for solution X on YZ issue.

It is part of the efforts to raise the level of dabate in the  2007 presidential race that THISDAY Board of Editors began the Presidential Series where aspirants were asked questions on their plans for the people. Most of the aspirants had only dwelt on the general programmes, their positions are still short on the specifics.

On Monday, as part of efforts to further sharpen the debates and improve on the quality of the men who want to lead the nation from next year, Eni-B in his column set some irreducible minimum qualities that the men should possess. I believe we should take the debate further by asking the presidential aspirants to give specific programmes, policies and ideas they will utilise in dealing with the following issues, which I believe should define the 2007 polls.

Economic Development: There is no doubt that the nation's economy has still not recovered. We still have an economy, which still mainly depend on oil. Even, all the other products, which could be developed from crude oil is still not being exploited. And this is an oil producing nation, which depends on imported refined petroleum. Industrialisation in this country is at the barest level and majority of the people are still suffering and are extremely poor despite the numerous resources with which the country is blessed. Infact, the Nigerian nation is one in which the middle class has disappeared and a citizen is either fabulously rich because he has been fortunate to have been able to manipulate state resources or he is so poor because he has been denied the opportunity to fully realise his potentials. Here’s a country where politics or access to state resources not productive ability is the easiest way of making money. It is the challenge of the next president to do what has been done in some Asian countries like Malaysia, Singapore, and Thailand. The President should create an enabling atmosphere as well as make other economic indices like interest rate, inflation ratio et cetera right so as to encourage production, exportation of qualitative locally produced goods and national self-reliance.

Employment creation: When earlier in the year THISDAY held a town-hall meeting attended by many members of the political elite to deliberate on the National Agenda in the post Obasanjo years, one of the general conclusions is that the next administrations should take the issue of job creation as number one priority. I believe any presidential candidate, who cannot unfold a programme through, which he can generate millions of jobs in his first four-year term is not fit to lead this country. The issue of job creation is key to the achievement of several other targets. I believe our next president should set for himself and accomplish. Issues like security, the Niger-Delta question, economic development and tackling corruption are only best resolved when almost all capable hands who wish to work has something meaningful to do. The presidential aspirants should tell us how they will ensure that the old, moribund industries resumed production, how many new industries will be established that will employ people en masse and how small and medium scale businesses will be encourage to flourish. There can also be ways of government's investment in building of infrastructural facilities targetted at creating employment opportunities while foreign investments in the economy should be encouraged. The presidential aspirants should tell us how they will accomplish all these.
Food Security: One Israeli ambassador in Nigeria was quoted to have once said if his country has just the expanse of land that Nigeria has between Lagos and Ibadan for agricultural purposes, it would have given the United States of America a big challenge in terms of food production for local consumption and export. However, this country has hundreds of arable land of the size available along Lagos-Ibadan expressway. Yet, many of its citizenry are hungry. Most of the food items are still imported. Many of its capable hands are still unemployed and the land are lying  unutilised. Also, the negligible percentage of the population engaged in food production are not encouraged. They lack basic amenities. They are poor because they still practice subsistence farming and they lack modern knowledge of increasing their yield or preserving the excess yield. Even, they earn pittance that is not commensurate with the efforts they put in. We need our presidential aspirants to articulate a food security policy which will liberate our agricultural potentials and make Nigeria  the biggest producer and exporter of agricultural products in Africa.

Niger-Delta: This oil-producing area of the country has suffered neglect for so long that its youths can no longer trust any government to deliver the much  needed succour.  The youths have taken up arms and agitation for justice has been mixed with criminality so much so that if the next president does not devise an ingenious way of assuaging the feeling of the people in that area,he will have a time bomb in his hand. And when it explodes, it may consume the administration, or at least damage its economy.

Corruption: It is not enough for all the presidential aspirants to claim that they will continue the anti-corruption stance of the present administration. It will be good if each aspirant can tell us what they will do differently to further solidify and institutionalise the anti-graft war.

Infrastructural Development: I expect each of the aspirants to unfold their blueprint for rebuilding national infrastructural facilities like roads, railway, fixing the problems in the aviation sector,  building inland waterways and other facilities which will make life better longer and more meaningful for the citizenry.

Power problem: It has been widely canvassed that one of the easiest ways of jump-starting the economy and freeing the productive potentials of the people is to provide constant power supply for the entire country all-year round. However, the present administration seems to have failed in this direction. Its various promises have failed to materialise. Those planning to succeed Obasanjo need to convince the nation that they have a workable plan for tremendous improvement of power generation, distribution and consevation in such a way that power failure will be a thing of the past in their first-two years in office.

Political Reforms: It is obvious that the present political system is anti-development and does not encourage the emergence of a peaceful atmosphere for honest governance. There is need for sincere reforms which will encompass thorough constitutional amendment to correct the weak areas of the 1999 constitution. The constitutional amendment must address the issue of devolutions., fiscal federalism, strengthening of democratic instutions and mobilising the people behind national objectives. We must know where each aspirant stands on all these issues.

International Affairs: This is one area where the present administration appears to have done so well. The administration has restored Nigeria into the mainstream in the comity of nations from the pariah status it use to have. But it will still be good to hear the position of the aspirants on Nigeria's foreign policy. It is possible some of them have different ideas about our foreign policy, concerning the overall objective, the method of achieving them or certain position the nation has taken on specific issues.
Education and Heath Sector: These are two critical sectors which can give meanings to our development efforts. An enlightenened and healthy citizenry are both necessities for national development. But perhaps there are no two areas which demonstrate our backwardness than those two areas where the political leaders have not been able to formualte consistent, enduring and popular policies for catering for the interest of majority of the populace who are too poor to take care of themselves. Now, we need a well-articulated policy on how to ensure qualitative health and educational services to the masses at little or no cost. This will result from a welfare programme which must have been well-thought out and debated. So, let the aspirants start addressing the issues now.

Security: There are so many reasons for one to believe Nigerian has gotten to the Hobbessian state of nature where life is short, brutish and nasty. The security agencies seem to be overwhelmed by the activities of the armed robbers, hired assassins, the 'area boys' and other criminals who make living in the country one of the riskiest venture to engage in. Inability of the government to address successfully some of the issues enumerated above has also exacerbated the security problem. So, we need to know what the aspirants will do to make life saver, to further protect our teritorial boundaries fom internal and external aggression and to shore up our foreign relations achievements as a major African power and a safe haven for both the citizenry and foreigners doing business in the country.

Lastly, we need to keep the debate going. The 2007 polls should define the aspirants in terms of their ideas for making this nation to realise her manifest destiny. Enough of bland politicking, bereft of ideas. Enough of sheer sophistry and rethorics. Nigerians want to sign a  well defined contract with their next president and may the man with the best ideas emerge.



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