By Ayo Fasanmi
As February 2015 election draw near, global focus is on Nigeria. There are several reasons for this attention. There is no doubt that the first reason for the attention is that elections are to be held in the most populous country in Africa thus bringing into bold relief the march or otherwise of plebiscitary democracy in an important African country.
A second and definitely compelling reason for preoccupation with the elections is that the elections of 14 and 28 February is scheduled to hold in a situation in which the nihilistic insurgent group, the murderous extremist group Boko Haram, is said to control about 50,000 square kilometres. The seizure of Nigerian territory by the terrorist Boko Haram has resulted in the displacement of over 650,000 Nigerians and another 80,000 as refugees in Cameroon and Chad. In effect, thousands of Nigerians may not be able to exercise their right to vote.
Yet, a third factor why the election has attracted the attention of the international community is the unpleasant history of electoral malfeasance in Nigeria. Past elections in Nigeria were characterised by rigging, switch of election results, vote suppression, and use of public media to promote the governing party. In addition, security forces were deployed by the federal government to intimidate the opposition, their candidates and supporters. The inexplicable election result of June 21, 2014 in Ekiti State is a reminder.
Regrettably, we appear not to have learnt from past gross electoral chicanery of 1964, 1965, and 1983 when turmoil followed elections of those years. Indeed, the pattern of past electoral malpractices appear to have reared their heads again or are in the offing as seen in recent events. Briefly, these events are purchase of voter cards, character assassinations, disruptive court cases, false opinion surveys, and sudden transfer of top police officials. In addition, the PDP- led federal government is said to have released billions of naira to farmers, in order to influence Nigerian voters.
Instead of investing in infrastructure, the PDP, on the eve of a crucial election is bribing Nigerians with a one-time so-called stomach infrastructure. After the elections, the PDP will abandon ordinary Nigerians to insecurity, darkness, hunger, starvation, and unemployment whilst PDP political barons feed fat in the house of patronage and continue their loot of the treasury. They will continue to ignore sixty percent of Nigerians who live below the global poverty level, that is less than a dollar a day that is 188 naira.
The Nigerian middle class, a dwindling class due to President Jonathan’s economic mismanagement, is also suffering. The spending power of the class has been eroded due, amongst other factors, to the dramatic depreciation of the naira by about 25 percent since October 2014. This has inflationary consequences. Further, import duty on used cars which the middle class can only afford has gone up by 35 percent. An additional 35 percent is to be added in April 2015 making 70 percent increase in a dubious effort to produce vehicles which prices will be beyond the reach of the average Nigerian.
The salariat category in the Nigerian middle class, most of who are public employees in the states of the federation, are owed salary arrears due to late transfer or non-availability of statutory funds under federal control to the states of the federation. Of course, the PDP may blame the crash in oil prices as the cause of the financial difficulties faced by Nigerians. However, Nigerians know that in 2010, at the time he took over as President, Dr. Jonathan met over 9 billion dollars in the Excess Crude Account and about 60 billion dollars in the Foreign Exchange Account. Over 7 billion dollars and close to 30 billion dollars have been spent in these accounts under President Jonathan leaving a balance of barely 2 billion dollars in the Excess Crude Account, an account that was meant for a period like this when oil prices are falling. A visionary and competent government should have known that prices of oil crash between 5-7 years and accordingly prepare for the rainy day. The last oil crash was in 2008; six years later, 2014, there was another crash. What makes the current crash very problematic for Nigeria is that the United States of America, a major importer of Nigerian oil, now exports oil and in a year or two might be the largest oil producer in the world. This is due to United States production of shale oil through hydrofracking.
In the old days, Chief Obafemi Awolowo would have warned Nigeria about the economic and financial difficulties Nigeria is now experiencing as he did in 1980 on the verge of then Nigeria’s economic and external debt difficulties. That is why when measured against the standards adopted by Chief Awolowo, then the leading light in Afeniferere, he would certainly not have endorsed Dr. Jonathan. Indeed, he would have trenchantly criticised him for gross mismanagement, incompetence and condoning of wanton corruption. He would also have noted the marginalisation of the South-west except for the little crumbs thrown at the greedy elements in the PDP from the region. Even with less than ten days to the election, appointments are being made to Ministerial positions and the appointee is gloating. In another political clime, the status quo would have remained as the outcome of the election may not return to office the incumbent. Of course, except there is a hidden master plan to rig the election and thwart the preference of Nigerian people.
In the history of independent Nigeria, not once has there been a change of power at the federal level between the ruling party and opposition (Nigeria since 1964 has held six federal elections under civilian administrations and three under military rule). African countries such as our neighbours, Republic of Benin, Ghana, Senegal, and Mauritius in southern Africa have peacefully voted out ruling parties in favour of the opposition. Indeed, power has changed hands between government and opposition twice in Ghana, Republic of Benin and Mauritius. These African states thus meet the test of Professor Samuel Huntington, late American political scientist, as democratic states. Nigerians can advance, deepen and begin the process of consolidating democracy by peacefully voting out PDP and installing APC in power.
The elections coming up this month thus provide Nigerians opportunity to make history by installing in power the opposition APC which will work for Nigerians, a party that will not loot the treasury, and a party that will truly serve the Nigerian people and bring genuine change.
When Nigerians effect peaceful change through the ballot, the country can then begin the arduous task of building institutions of state that will provide security for all, promote the rule of law, improve the economy for the benefit of all Nigerians, and hold all public officials accountable.
* Senator Fasanmi was in the Senate during the Second Republic.