Election campaign begins tomorrow, November 18, 90 days to the vote, and something of great interest to citizens and international observers alike is what kind of contest to expect. There is no gainsaying that this is an immensely important election. Apart from the fact of the stark choice of either going forward or backwards; choice between light and darkness, a large percentage of the country’s traditional and political elite is up in arms against the sitting Buhari administration, which they accuse of disrupting their lifestyle, itself characterised by licentiousness especially when it comes to dealing with the commonwealth. This opposition, it must be said, has liquidity of the type that government itself does not have. The US Dollar rain by a major opposition party at their convention in Port Harcourt is a dire warning in this direction. This contrasts sharply with the high level of discipline put in place through the Treasury Single Account being implemented by the Buhari government. It is a matter for great concern that the leading opposition parties have resolved to undertake a campaign clearly aimed at aggravating differences between Nigerians on the basis of especially religion, region and tribe.
A document in circulation, from the resolutions of a retreat in a foreign country by one of the parties, makes no pretences about their plan to cause tension between various communities. They have dramatically begun actions to destroy the integrity of the election process.
Even before the gates open for the race to begin, this country is already witness to a unique type of campaign based on unverified allegation or distortion propagated in the two chambers of the National Assembly which are strangely led by opposition candidates in a minority party in the coming election. They have lately launched scathing attacks on government concerning payment for fuel subsidy and the emergency feeding program of the displaced communities in the Northeast.
There are vivid reports of unscrupulous opposition politicians who have finished the lives of our youths by handing guns to them, turning them into rag-tag guerrillas confronting our security agencies in Abuja and states in the north central zone.
For the All Progressives Congress administration at the center, initial moves towards 2019 have been about the effort to publicise the administration’s achievements while at the same time dispelling negative propaganda by the opposition.
While it is clear that the opposition is unprepared for a contest based on policies programs, and past records of work, they are bent on distracting the attention of voters by appealing to sectional feelings and throwing voters into confusion. Churches and Mosques and other places of worship are being recruited for election propaganda.
For us in the APC, the task before us as we embark on the campaign is to make plain and clear how the country progressed over the last three years and I dare say that there is so much to talk about. We are proud of our achievements. But we must first of all make the voter to illustrate where we are coming from because without doing that, it is hard for many to appreciate the enormous strides the nation has made under the present dispensation.
For instance, the Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Babatunde Raji Fashola, at a press conference early this week announced that this administration has achieved the remarkable feat of doubting the available electric power in the county, from less than 4,000 megawatts to now 8,000mw. This wattage is the available power that is generated and transmitted. Distribution, which is now in private hands, has improved but at 5,000 mw, it still has a lot of catching up to do.
If we had continued with the pace, corruption and ineptitude that characterized the war against Boko Haram by 2015, it would have taken us decades to eliminate the terrorists’ hold on Nigerian territory and have them confined to a little corner in the country, by the banks of the Lake Chad. Agriculture was abandoned in that region and only a few could grow their own food in years. The Boko Haram had a state within the Nigerian State with a defined territory, a flag, a system of administration complete with taxation and a court system. There was a time that in the northeast, two million people were displaced. Now, the communities are returning as government, with local and international support put back damaged infrastructure.
The Buhari administration has shown the ability to take hard decisions, in the nation’s interest as has been seen in dealing with the economy. This administration is doing something that no government had done since independence in 1960, which is moving the economy in a completely new direction. Government has done so much, especially in agriculture, solid minerals and manufacturing, preparing the country for the greatness that we all desire. It would amount to a major reversal, if not self-immolation for the voters to take steps that return us to the discredited past.
Take another example, the reform of the trade and investment sector by which the administration has been streamlining systems, ensuring transparency and fewer rules. That’s what the ease of doing business is all about, measures that have brought a lot of international compliment to Nigeria and for which there is a Presidential Enabling Business Council. As a result of this work, Nigeria moved 24 places on the World Bank ease of doing business rankings, and earned a place on the list of 10 most improved economies in 2017. A prospective investor denied visa to come by a corrupt consular office in a Nigerian mission can today hop into a plane and obtain his/her visa on arrival. New businesses which took years upon years to register now have a maximum of a 48-hour waiting period to be certified.
In the words of President Muhammadu Buhari: “Nigeria is taking steps towards creating a more business friendly environment for foreign investors and visiting business people. Our Visa on Arrival policy as one of the components of our ease of doing business in Nigeria policy is working.
“Corruption has been identified as an impediment to sound business practices. The fight against corruption, the ongoing exercise to rid the country of the remnants of the insurgency, the continuing importance we attach to transparency in Governance. These are just some of the major policy initiatives, all of which need to be analysed and reported on to the global audience by the media both at home and internationally.”
For decades, demand for fertilizer had never been sufficiently met until this administration came. The foreign exchange part of it, $200 million is eliminated; subsidies that run up to N60 billion annually have been stopped and on top of that, prices per bag have crashed from N14,000, to government approved price of N5,500. From farmers to pundits and experts in the agric sector, no one ever imagined that Nigeria could stop rice imports and achieve near self-sufficiency in three years, but here we are: 90-95 percent of rice imports have ceased.
The President is carrying out difficult reforms for the future growth of the country, such as the implementation of the ease of doing business, the Treasury Single Account, the whistleblower process, and hundreds of others, including the massive investment in rail, roads, power and airports. If such reforms had happened in 16 years of the PDP, this country would not have been lowly ranked among nations.
In the middle of the process of changing the country from its unwanted standing to a more desirable one, that’s not the time to change a president.
In Nigeria as in many other democracies, campaign and elections are addictions. They come with attitudes and responses, those that wanted and those that are unwanted. There are worrying excesses that attend our campaigns, and these are already on display. These, if not managed using voluntary agreement or a code of conduct on rules of behaviour for the political parties and their supporters, can turn things in the wrong direction.
When they enter into those agreements voluntarily, parties are more likely to feel bound by commitments into which they have freely entered.
For a conducive atmosphere to prevail in making wise and informed choices, parties have a duty to sit around the table to decide. More than all the others, the governing APC has a national call to lead this coalition before the revisionists stampede the unsuspecting citizens into substituting the ease of doing business with the ease of doing fraud.
. Shehu is the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity.