Pee Dee Pee! … Change! By Niyi Akinnaso
The Peoples Democratic Party should have had nothing to fear in Saturday’s election had the voters believed that the administration of President Goodluck Jonathan has been transforming this country in the past six years as his campaign organisation has repeatedly claimed. They have been telling the voters that Jonathan has transformed their roads, their railway lines, their power supply, and their food production. They were told that Jonathan established more schools and universities than any other president in Nigerian history. Recently, they were also told that Jonathan alone could implement the recommendations of the National Conference he convoked last year, as the elections approached.
Yet, at no time since 1999 have voters coalesced around the idea of change than during this election cycle. Why wouldn’t they bring good luck to Jonathan now, when he has been bringing good luck to them for the past six years? Why wouldn’t they re-elect him for another four years of transformation? Don’t they know that transformation is more complete than change? Why are many voters insisting on CHANGE when they hear the PDP?
Many commentators and reporters have attempted to answer these questions directly or indirectly. I will only highlight the main issues here. First, many voters have not experienced positive transformation in their own lives. Electricity remains inadequate and unstable, despite billions of dollars allegedly spent on the sector. Yes, one or two major roads are being showcased in each zone, the truth is that the vast majority of local and inter-state roads remain unkempt. No new rail roads have been built beyond the revival of parts of the old lines. The touted transformation in agriculture is belied by rising food costs and the government’s distribution of imported rice, especially during festive and election periods.
Similarly, the touted transformation in education is belied by consistently poor performances in the school leaving certificate examinations, hovering around 30 per cent nationwide, in the last six years. University graduates during the period are either unemployed or are unemployable, due partly to under-funding, under-staffing, and inadequate facilities.
Second, workers throughout the country are unhappy at the delayed payment of their salaries, sometimes up to six months. What is worse, the workers feel taken for granted because no one has deemed it fit to explain fully to them why they have to work for months without due compensation. How do they feed their families and meet other necessary financial obligations, such as house rents, children’s school fees, and loan payments?
Yet, third, they know that many politicians have been feeding fat on oil resources, occasionally staging empowerment projects, while salaries and pensions are being paid several months in arrears. They know that the total proceeds from oil revenue in the past six years far exceeded actual expenditure on salaries and advertised political goods. They read or hear about looted funds here and there with the looters getting compensated with more contracts, new government positions, or even national honours. And they know that weak leadership and corruption are largely responsible for these discrepancies and aberrations.
They wonder if they can continue to invest their future in a President, who does not “give a damn” about asset declaration, as required by law, and fails to see the connection between corruption and the stealing of government funds. They wonder why Jonathan looked away for six years as Boko Haram ravaged, and even claimed, some parts of the country, only to suddenly wake up to wage a latter-day war against insurgency, mainly for its electoral value. Why were thousands of lives wasted in the last six years, if the insurgency could be curtailed within one month?
Some participated in the campaigns, while others watched on TV. They saw through them all. They could distinguish between genuine and spurious claims and between true and false allegations. They know about surreptitious campaigns about Islamisation and clandestine claims about nonexistent secret pacts. They hear Jonathan’s promises to do this for this zone and that for that zone, if re-elected. Why were those things not done in the last six years? What can he do now with dwindling oil resources that he could not do at the peak of the oil boom?
They are also horrified at the shenanigans of the PDP campaign, which focused on conspiracy theories and the construction of the APC candidate as an illiterate, dictator, murderer, and dead-man-walking. True, the APC has also come up with its own conspiracy theories, but it has done so largely in self-defence.
Similarly, voters shrug, if not cringe, at the unfounded attacks on the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, Attahiru Jega, and his efforts to improve electoral sanctity, including the use of the Permanent Voter Cards and card readers. It has taken the intervention of the international community and well-meaning Nigerians to shave off the PDP onslaught.
These understandings underlie the behaviour of likely voters in the March 28 election, as revealed in various local and international opinion polls. True, most polls acknowledge a keen contest, they all predict victory for Buhari of the All Progressives Congress, some by as much as a double-digit margin. The margin of victory is predicated on huge votes for Buhari from the North and the South-West as well as marginal victory in the Middle Belt.
In the South-West, generally considered as the swing zone, many Yoruba voters were sensitised to the marginalisation of their zone by the Jonathan administration, especially during the meetings with traditional rulers in the zone and the Yoruba leaders summit organised by Gen. Alani Akinrinade, who earlier expressed disgust at unnecessary Buhari bashing: There is no single Yoruba person in the top dozen positions in the Jonathan administration – none in the top executive, legislative, and judiciary positions and none in the finance sector, from the Central Bank and the Ministry of Finance to the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation and the Nigeria Stock Exchange. Yet, it was the South-West that virtually elected Jonathan in 2011.
It is not surprising, therefore, that a comprehensive poll of likely voters in the South-West by African Consulting Professionals Limited predicted a complete Buhari sweep of the zone by a margin of up to 25 per cent. However, recent efforts by the PDP Campaign Organisation have reduced the margin of victory, while bringing up Ondo State to the toss-up category.
Many local and foreign newspapers see Buhari’s surging appeal as an indictment of President Jonathan. Here’s how The New York Times puts it: “That Mr. Buhari … has emerged as potential winner is more of an indictment of Mr. Jonathan’s dismal rule than a recognition of the former military chief’s appeal”.
It is not the case, however, that voters have not found attractive qualities in Buhari. His self-discipline, austere lifestyle, and taciturnity are attractive attributes. His persevering quest for the Presidency is viewed as an indication of a genuine desire to change the country’s fortunes. While these qualities may frighten politicians who are dependent on state resources for their lavish lifestyle, they are viewed as precisely the leadership qualities needed at this time in the nation’s history.
The point is that there comes a time in a nation’s history when citizens reach a tacit agreement on how to move their nation forward. Americans reached that point in 2008, when they crossed the racial line to elect President Barack Obama, a Democrat. They were fed up by two wars, a looming economic recession, and various scandals under the Republican government. Today, Nigeria has reached that point with the PDP, especially the Jonathan administration, as the nation continues to fight an insurgency; faces an economic recession, with dwindling oil revenue and a devalued currency; and wallows in corruption scandals.
Nigerians will decide on Saturday whether they want to continue on this beleaguered path or vote for change.
Opinion expressed on this page is solely that of the author and does not necessarily reflect the views of Abusidiqu.com and/or its associates.