Opinion: We need issue-based campaigns – By EZE ONYEKPERE
In a few days from now, the Independent National Electoral Commission will formally declare Nigeria’s political space open for campaigns by candidates flying the flags of the respective political parties at the presidential, governorship and various legislative levels. What are we expecting from the candidates and political parties? Do we expect a resort by the candidates to vulgar abuse, indecent and indecorous words, exchange of inanities or presentation of ideas to solve existing national challenges, planning for the future and novel concepts of societal organisation?
It is submitted that the quality of the electoral campaigns is a forerunner to the quality of governance after a winner has emerged. Candidates without clear cut ideas of governance are likely to descend into verbal abuse and use of gutter language thereby taking away the public focus from the main issues. Thus, it is necessary that candidates and parties address issues that confront the day-to-day life of the average Nigerian. This discourse will review a few of the key issues and pose questions that should agitate the minds of the presidential candidates and for which Nigerians need a statement of their position on how to resolve them. This will involve the candidates outlining policy positions for reform in terms of amendment of existing policies or enactment of new ones. Also, what are the first bills that the executive will send to the National Assembly and expect them to become law within the first six months of the administration? This will give an idea of the priorities in the event the candidate gets elected.
The first is the issue of restructuring the country, a term that has been in public discourse for so many years but has now attained the urgency of a “now or never” postulation. Every candidate should be able to state their position on the debate. If the candidate believes in restructuring, what are the contours of the restructuring agenda of the party and candidate? If the party does not believe in restructuring, it should as well state so, but present the reasons for being averse to restructuring.
The second is the fresh issue of a national minimum wage. It is not enough, as some candidates have done, to promise doubling or tripling the minimum wage. The posers include; how will the increase be funded? Will it involve trimming the workforce? How will the government get money to fund capital and other needed expenditures if the personnel expenditure increases? Beyond the federal level, how will the administration get states to buy into the minimum wage considering that more than 60% of the states have failed to regularly pay the extant minimum wage of N18,000 on the purported grounds of lack of resources?
We have been told that Nigeria now has the greatest number of the poor in the world, i.e. people living in abject poverty and penury. We do not have a larger population compared to countries like India and China. But they have organised themselves to have fewer very poor persons. How do we domesticate the lessons learnt from these countries to pull the bulk of our population out of extreme poverty? Will this be about creating new wealth and opportunities for accessing the wealth or are we going to focus on the sheer tokenism and non-sustainable sharing of a few millions or billions of naira to the poor? Linked to the above is about how to reduce inequality in the country. What policies will bridge the economic inequality gap and ensure a minimum threshold in the standard of living for all Nigerians?
The challenge of continued importation of refined petroleum products confronts us and we have been paying subsidies for imported petroleum products. How will the new government address this situation? The idea of importation of refined petroleum products is about exporting jobs and relevant taxes, putting pressure on the naira and doing all unimaginable harm to the economy. What is the position of the candidates on the needed reforms in the petroleum industry? Will it be the extant business as usual position where there is overwhelming lethargy especially on the part of the executive to reform the sector? Even if the candidates claim they want reforms, what will be the timetable and timeline for the reforms? Will the new government wait until the last year before elections or will it be one of the hot button issues?
The national productivity is very low and our capacity for producing competitive goods and services is also low. There is low value added in terms of goods and services produced in the country. For a country that virtually imports everything, what is the magic wand that will wean us from this overbearing consumption and reliance on foreign goods and services? How will local capacity and content be boosted so as to get more Nigerians into jobs and competitive entrepreneurship? How shall we rejig the national procurement policy to mainstream the idea of “Nigeria First”?
How will the candidates address the burning health challenges facing our nation? The health sector is underfunded and so is virtually every sector of the economy and society. How will the new government raise fresh and may be, novel funds to invest in the sector? Would the candidates introduce compulsory and universal health insurance, a new tax or the rearrangement of existing finances to prioritise healthcare? Maternal and infant mortalities have put the country’s name on the list of infamy. What exactly will the new government do to remove Nigeria from this unenviable position? On the exodus of Nigeria’s qualified healthcare personnel to other lands, what new ideas are the candidates proffering to turn the brain drain into a brain gain? The poor state of health facilities needs to be addressed. Shall we have special intervention funds or budgetary funds to improve the facilities? What is the short, medium and long term plans for health? Beyond mouthing universal health coverage, what are the pathways and logistics of achieving this dream?
Education as foundation of societal development needs to be addressed. How will the party expand access to education at all levels whilst improving the quality and good content of curriculum? Do we build new institutions, especially universities and polytechnics or do we expand the carrying capacity of existing institutions? Which one costs less or more money to implement? What is the agenda for engaging labour demands in institutions of higher learning? For the money available in the Universal Basic Education Commission, how do we guarantee that states will draw down their portions instead of leaving the money with the commission at a time children are learning under trees and dilapidated environments?
At the root of every challenge is the need to invest more. But we cannot invest more when we have not expanded our sources of public funding, especially reform of taxation. What are the new ideas beyond enforcement of existing laws? Shall we increase tax rates for instance, moving value added tax from five per cent to 10 per cent considering that our VAT rate is the lowest in the West Africa sub-region?
This cannot be an exhaustive list of issues to address. It is simply a way to remind candidates and political parties to focus on the core issues. Punch