Finally, the campaign is getting intense and exciting. Surprisingly, the current round is taking place in faraway Chattam House in London as key candidates and the INEC Chairman conduct political pilgrimages to a British Government policy centre in London to talk to Nigerians at home. Many Nigerians have correctly asked the question whether there is no policy think tank in Nigeria to receive politicians to air their campaign issues. The National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies has been mentioned by many as being the leading public think tank to handle such a task. I absolutely agree that the National Institute could play that role creditably. Unfortunately, it would not succeed because of the character of our political class that has disdain for our institutions. In fact, for the past decade, the National Institute has established a whole department for training and engagement with political parties where I have often participated as a resource person. In most of the meetings there I have participated in; the leadership of the so-called big political parties have either sent low level officials to represent them or sent no one in many cases. They suffer from colonial mentality and believe that Nigerian institutions are of no consequence and are therefore not deserving of their time. When they seek publicity, they pay tens of millions of Naira to key television stations to carry their programmes live.
There are also private policy centres that could host such events. To be modest, the Centre for Democracy and Development where I am a senior fellow is also very capable of hosting such a platform but once again some of the so-called big politicians will not come. They will be wondering whether the people that matter, the neo-colonial authorities in London and Washington DC would be watching events organised by “local” actors. Of course, they would, but the level of sophistication of many of our politicians is not high enough for them to be conscious of this reality. When you ask them why, many will tell you that you cannot trust the neutrality of local actors. Even those who have been making public declarations that the British are not equally neutral towards all sections of the country would still prefer to attend their events than attend local ones. The British and Americans know one of the most serious threats Nigerian politicians take seriously is refusal of visa to the US and UK.
One clear issue the current campaign has brought to the fore is the unwillingness of some of the old and maybe sick and exhausted candidates to debate among themselves. The Centre for Democracy and Development partnered with ARISE-TV to get the top candidates to debate and it did not work well. Some of them have simply lost the capacity to be clear and articulate and are unable to respond when confronted with facts. For this reason, they refuse to participate. It is ironic the way in which Chatham House exposed the incapacity of one of the candidates to respond to questions asked and he had to call on members of his delegation to respond for him. This is a frightening revelation because the issue is, if he wins, who would rule as he has already lost the capacity to understand and respond to challenges posed. I have watched some of the campaign video from campaign rallies and I am myself terrified at the level of incoherence of some of the candidates. I hope Nigerians are watching and are aware of their civic responsibility not to vote in a leader whose incapacity to rule is manifest.
Some of the top candidates who are refusing to debate amongst themselves have focused their attention on insulting their rivals and accusing them of having a terrible history of corruption. I don’t like the vile language being used but the accusations are useful pointers to their histories and apparently, they know themselves better than some of us know them. I have heard detailed allegations of how the other, I would say they, looted the treasury when they were in office. There are exposes on some of the mechanisms that were used such Special Purpose Vehicles (SPV), which are used to fleece government resources in a way in which the theft cannot be easily traced to the looters. As each accuses the other, we ordinary citizens would be free to think that sophisticated cover-up looting mechanisms are skill-sets all of them have. Our hope and prayers are that they all go to court as they have threatened, to prove that the other is a criminal. The courts might reveal more information on how many of our leaders are, as they call themselves – thieves, drag barons and criminals. I am glad that they are the ones telling Nigerians that on the grounds of ethics and good governance, they should be in jail not in power.
This situation presents a great challenge to voters. Is any one of them clean and if so which one? For the 2023 elections, all of us voters need to be skilled investigators. We should listen to, watch and read all the allegations coming out carefully. We should work hard to seek verification for them and base our choices on the results of our findings. This is important for national survival as if criminals take over the governance of the country, our survival as a Nation could be in jeopardy. Part of our task is to look carefully at not only the leading candidates but all of them. Are some of those who are not in the frontline better? Let’s find out and take appropriate decisions.
Finally, the question of Nigeria’s drift into gerontocracy has to be addressed. As an old man myself, I have great respect for the capacity of elders to continue to play positive roles in society. The problem is that at some point, both mental and physical capacities begin to decline dramatically. Governing a large and complex country such as Nigeria is very hard work and clearly some of the candidates have reached the point of no return. If they have lost the wisdom and respect for citizens to decide that they have passed their prime, then citizens need to tell them as follows through the ballot box. We love you, we wish you longer life, but please devote your future to useful endeavours such as playing with your grandchildren and telling them memorable stories of the things you have done – bad ones that they should not copy and good ones that they should emulate. According to INEC, 70,473,990 voters, 75.4% are between 18 and 49 years old and should be able to tell and act against those who are too old to govern.