Another campaign season: Issues or rhetoric?

The campaign season is here with us again when politicians will be inundating the public space with truths, half-truths, patent falsehoods and outright inanities. Even before the formal commencement of electioneering on Sunday, November 18, 2018, political actors have been disseminating vote-catching messages couched in various forms. The November 18 date for election campaign was thus a mere formality from when candidates and their supporters could begin to mount the podium to canvass for votes openly and use the different arms of the media to convince or confound in their bid to win the hearts of the electorate.

From what Nigerians have witnessed in the recent and distant past, election campaigns have focused less on substance and more on trivialities. In the build-up to next year’s election, political actors have been hurling brickbats at one another instead of laying before the people the work plan they have crafted to make Nigeria better. There have been allegations and counter-allegations which in many instances are baseless and laughable. There have been statements that are primarily intended to sully the reputation of opposing candidates. There have been comments that are intended to divert attention from pertinent issues. Their criticisms of one another have been more entertaining than constructive. They seem to see torrents of abuse as grist to the mill of the media and the avenue through which they can run down their opponents and project a positive image of themselves.

The year 2019 should usher in a new and edifying approach to the practice of democracy and the process through which leaders at various levels are chosen. Electioneering should not be about wild allegations that enable the speaker to cheaply hog the limelight. Nigeria has had enough of circus shows called rallies at which slogans are endlessly chanted and decibels of sweet nothings are hurled at rented crowds.

Nigerians are used to party leaders converging on state capitals uniformly attired, sloganeering in turns, making promises they do not intend to keep and thereafter proceeding to the next venue. It is a defective process which expectedly has been throwing up leaders who lack the capacity to bring about the much-desired change for the better.

There has been the suggestion that rallies should give way to town hall meetings at which candidates can meaningfully interact with the people. It is at such a forum that the electorate can have the opportunity to ask candidates questions that will put them on the spot. Candidates must be able to demonstrate a good grasp of the problems confronting the people they want to represent or govern. They should be able convince the people that they have done the necessary homework that will enable them to find solutions to pressing problems. It is at a town hall meeting that a candidate’s capability can be put to the test and not at a rally where flags are endlessly waved and rehearsed speeches are regurgitated ad nauseam.

To realise the much-talked-about dividends of democracy, electioneering should be raised to a higher pedestal. This is what can enable the electorate to make choices that will enhance the calibre of people being chosen to serve in leadership positions. Nigeria copied the presidential system of government from the United States of America where considerable premium is placed on the series of presidential debates which the two major political parties and their candidates take seriously. The converse has, however, been the case in Nigeria where candidates shun the debate and still record resounding victory in the election.

Nigeria’s two major political parties – the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) – have been expressing their desire to make the 2019 elections issue based. The fact is that the verbal skirmishes that prefaced the formal commencement of the campaign did not have the semblance of an issue-based campaign. Although the two major presidential contenders have kicked off their campaign with the usual promises, Nigerians are waiting to see how sincere they are in bringing a qualitative change to the electioneering process. Whether they will still choose to dance round the country, making vacuous statements or opt for constructive engagements with the people will be seen by all.

The problems of Nigeria are glaring enough even for the blind to see. The parties and their candidates should demonstrate their readiness to change the country’s fortunes for the better through convincing arguments supported with facts and figures. The economy staggered out of recession but remains at the brink of it. Youth unemployment is already at crisis proportions with young ones dicing with death in their desperate bid to seek fortune elsewhere. Governors are fighting tooth and nail to resist the N30, 000 minimum wage for workers because they cannot imagine where to find the wherewithal to implement it.

Crude oil remains the main source of the country’s sustenance while its market is as volatile as ever. In spite of efforts and sacrifices made, insecurity remains a daunting problem in the country. There are crying needs in the areas of education, health, housing and power supply in the face of dwindling resources.

The political parties and their candidates should in the course of their election campaigns lay before Nigerians the programmes of action they have put together to tackle the problems that have made Nigeria the poverty capital of the world. These are the issues on which 2019 elections campaign should be focused, not on abuses, not on rhetoric and not on sloganeering. The electoral body should, on its part, embark on an intensive campaign to dissuade voters pauperised by the system from seeing the miserable pittance usually doled out by those responsible for their plight as sufficient payment for their votes.

Will it be a campaign season of issues, substance and sincerity or a replay of replay of the well-worn circus shows Nigerians have always witnessed?

Olatoye, a veteran journalist, lives in Ibadan

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