What the 2019 General Elections Are About

Fasten your seat belt; campaign season is here and in less than 90 days, Nigerians will be going to the polls.

In keeping with INECs’ schedule for the 2019 elections, candidates in National Assembly and Presidential races began flagging off their campaigns on Sunday. Over the coming days, we are going to see more from candidates on the streets, on traditional and social media. Their chain messages will probably become our morning alarms in forms of SMS and WhatsApp broadcast messages. An awful lot of it will be irritating; a lot of muting to come guys. But they will be necessary because the freedom to be noisy that is par for the course in election cycles is the first base for democracy.

By the end of May 2019 when Nigeria may have a new Commander-in-chief or may re-elect Muhammadu Buhari, it would have been two decades since the return to civilian rule. The fourth republic’s record stands thus: A seventh general election to usher in a 6th term, the second term for a fourth president or the first for the fifth, Nigeria’s democracy could be said to be advancing. We have never had it this good and it must not be taken for granted how far we have come.

But democracy is not the default system. It is ever fragile and continues by the presence of certain key conditions: basic decency, respect for law and order, and academically/economically liberated individuals.

Twenty years after Nigerians cheered for the retirement of soldiers to the barracks, there are no cheers as to how valued the core principles of democracy are in Nigeria. There have been enough in the two decades to keep us ever vigilant. As John Campbell, the former emissary from the UK, wrote in 2004, Nigeria appears to remain on the brink. From the demands of secessionists to the collapse of states in their abilities to perform their basic duties, the undercurrents in the country are of tension and imbalance. You would not know this by parties thrown at the Aso Villa when foreigners like the Prince of Wales come to town, but a true student seeking the pulse of the country knows to look beyond Abuja.

The 2019 elections are about looking at the facts of today and making a judgment on how they compare to a Nigeria that works for everybody. Nigerians are being called to become judges of what the country has become to them over the past three years – the green land that is now more fruitful because it has been watered adequately or one that is looking more likely to become a wasteland.

As the campaigns begin, it is important to look out for those issues which are most pertinent to the prosperity of the country, the most indispensable being its structure and the quality of human capital. A continuous neglect of the first will continue to inhibit any progress in the second because a lot is wrong about Nigeria – education, healthcare, internal security, minimum wage – due to its present ineffective design as an administrative unit. A Nigeria that continues to be governed entirely at an increasingly over-burdened centre can only bear so much; the theory is that its elasticity is dependent on the renewability of the resource that binds it. Bad news: oil is not inextinguishable. Good news: countries like South Korea do not have any resource but are among the world’s most developed economies. They have only had visionary leaders who advanced a culture of responsibility and productivity.

Nigeria’s leaders in 2019 at the national level have to be people who are convinced that the world has now moved too quickly for us to keep acting like we can limp our way to success. It is no longer 1999; change is happening everyday in the new necessities of life being created from Silicon Valley to family garages in India. The ascent in number of out-of-school children in double-digit millions is an indicator that whatever little progress we make is already undermined; we have to accelerate with purpose to catch up.

To be elected in 2019, candidates should demonstrate ability to act as accelerators. They must be people who begin the process of inspiring everyone to take the destiny of the country by the scruff of the neck by getting everyone to take individual responsibility for their success. That mindset – to be fulfilled in the restructuring of the country – will change the output of academic institutions, the professionalism of the civil service and the viability of states.

Nigerians should only elect as leaders at all levels those who understand the duties of their offices as holding trust for the public. In their previous occupations, they must have shown capacity for decency, decisiveness and delivery, basing their directives on the details of data that can be verified and reported on. Nobody is voting anyone to Abuja to do the work alone; Nigerians will have to participate and see recepits every step of the way for gains and sacrifices to be truly valuable.

This kind of leadership requires certain kinds of people; we have less than 90 days to sift through campaign noise, scrutinize them and make our minds up. Will they seek to lead the country on horseback or are they the engine for a ride that will only accelerate as the journey progresses?

Compared to the hope that accompanied the return to democracy in 1999, the past twenty years has felt like a delayed flight. It is time to take off.


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