TOP NATIONAL ISSUES THAT WOULD DECIDE 2019 PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN

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As political parties prepare for their campaigns towards the forthcoming 2019 elections, analysts say the conversation must shift from mere shouting of party slogans and attacking personalities to key national issues, TUNDE AJAJA writes

The conclusion of primary elections by political parties, in line with the electoral timetable released by the Independent National Electoral Commission, has no doubt set the stage for campaign in the run-up to the 2019 general elections.

INEC’s timetable for the election stipulates that the campaign for the presidential and National Assembly elections will commence on November 18, while that of governorship and state assembly elections will begin on December 1.

The Chairman of INEC, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, had at an event, the day after the primaries ended, advised parties to adhere to the timetable.

He had said, “Section 99(1) of the Electoral Act prohibits campaigns by political parties earlier than 90 days before polling day. I call upon political parties and candidates to strictly adhere to the dates issued by the commission.”

But analysts and observers have expressed worries at the manner the supporters and campaign organisations of the two most popular parties (the ruling All Progressives Congress and the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party) have been hauling jibes at each other’s candidates.

They pointed out that instead of the steady descent into personal attacks and mere shouting of party slogans at campaign grounds, the coming campaigns should be focused on key national issues.

They said this would help to prevent a repeat of the 2015 scenario, whereby the two dominant parties put salient national issues aside to embark on attacking personalities.

The last general elections’ campaigns failed to dwell on measurable promises that could impact positively on the lives of the people, the observers said.

A political analyst, Mr. Liborous Oshoma, said candidates and political parties should focus on how they intend to fulfill their promises to the people, instead of making bogus promises and attacking individuals.

He said the issues that should dominate the campaigns must be infrastructural development, education policy, diversification plans, job creation, agriculture, security, fight against corruption, among others.

He also stressed that candidates touting the issue of restructuring, which had for long been a subject of discourse in the polity, need to define it for people to understand and know what to expect, should they win.

Oshoma, who is also a legal practitioner, said, “The campaigns shouldn’t be about ‘I will construct more roads; build more hospitals and restructure Nigeria,’ because restructuring is vague and ambiguous. If you say you would do massive infrastructural development, what percentage of government earning will be deployed for that and how do you intend to raise the funds?

“Remember, Buhari and his team came and gave a lot of promises with no time lag. So, if you say you want to restructure, what and what will you restructure and how are you going to do it because the executive can’t do it alone?

“They should tell us what their education policy will be because the world is diversifying into a knowledge-based economy. Now, agriculture without added value is poor farming, so what is their achievable plan on this and we need to know the time lag for each of the promises; the short-term gains, the medium-term gains and the long-term gains.”

He added, “Let them tell us their plans on how they want to create employment, and not just ‘we’ll create employment for our people. Nobody should tell us ‘I will encourage massive farming’. The how is more important than the general statement, especially against the backdrop of what we have seen in the past.

“If they say they want to train people; if you train them in welding or farming, how will you ensure that they get jobs when they finish the training exercise and how will you assist them? That is why I said the ‘how’ is more important this time round. So, for me, these are the issues that should shape the debate and not about whether someone can go to the United States or someone is corrupt or brainless. With that, we will have a scorecard that we will be ticking.”

He also cautioned that the history of the candidates should matter to the electorate and that presidential candidates should be asked how they intend to address the various agitations from different parts of the country.

On the issue of the fight against corruption, Oshoma explained that electorate must ask candidates how they intend to curb the menace, aside the popular style of merely arresting suspects.

And on insecurity, he said candidates should explain in detail how they intend to confront the challenge, beyond just deploying soldiers.

The lawyer said, “The candidate of the party in government should be asked what it has achieved in these aspects and fresh candidates should be asked to give a breakdown of how they intend to fight corruption and how they plan to correct it from the root.”

He said people should also ask their state governors how they intend to supplement the allocation from the federation account, rather than the popular promises of ‘boosting internally generated revenues and encouraging agriculture.’

He stated, “Let it not be that it is when they get there that they would tell us they didn’t know the problems were so enormous, because  that was what led us to where we are now.

“We should ask them what they would have achieved in the first 100 days and anyone who cannot give a breakdown of their plan is not prepared for the job and so does not deserve our votes. Nigerians should not lose sight of these issues.”

Equally, the Director-General of the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Mr. Muda Yusuf, said the key dimensions of engagement by the political class during the electioneering, in terms of the economy, should be in the broad areas of policy, institutions, sectoral issues and general investment climate.

He added that issues about power, tax regime, automobile policy, trade policy and unemployment should be given due attention, especially in a system where unemployment is as high as 18 per cent and underemployment at about 25 per cent, both amounting to 43 per cent.

He said, “The issues they (candidates) should be talking about are the specific strategies they would put in place to address this big problem. Also, the power sector reform has been a failure for all practical purposes, yet power is very critical to the progress of the economy. The candidates should be able to tell us what they would do differently on the power situation. The economy and businesses are reeling under the weight of poor power supply.

“Businesses need a tax regime that is investment-friendly; what specific reviews will the candidates propose to reform the tax regime? Trade policy is a vital organ of policy that shapes the import and export regimes. It would be nice to have an insight into the trade policy direction of the parties. Will it be like a tight protectionist policy or a more liberal one?

“The automobile policy has been a big subject of debate among stakeholders in that industry. We have high cost of vehicles resulting from the high tariff on imported vehicles. Will the candidates consider a review in the policy in the interest of the logistics sector and the country?

“Tariff policy is also a major element and it has to do with policy on imports and exports.  What will be the approach of their governments to import tariff?”

The DG also said the candidates should unveil their strategy to bridge the financing needs in the education and health sectors; strategy for harnessing private resources to support infrastructure development and their strategy to deliver mass housing.

Speaking on the petroleum industry, he said the candidates should tell the electorate the the reform they would carry out in the sector.

He added, “The candidates should tell the people the kind of monetary policy they would introduce as this should impact exchange rate and interest rate. They should make known their position on debt profile and what they will do differently. What are the strategies for industrialisation of the country and how will they transform the agricultural sector from its present state of low productivity?”

Also speaking, human rights activist and legal practitioner, Chief Mike Ozekhome (SAN), said parties should focus on issues rather than attacking personalities.

He said, “Issue-based campaign is the best form of campaign that you can have. I think the APC and Buhari who have taken Nigeria for granted and for a ride for three and a half years did not expect the emergence of Atiku Abubakar. They also did not expect that the PDP will come out unscathed and the umbrella intact after the primary.

“It is therefore noticeable that there is a sudden jolt in the camp of the APC, and they thought that the best way to appeal to Nigerians is to throw up mud against Atiku, to talk about him being corrupt and not being wanted in America. But my advice to the PDP is to be focused on issues.

“If the APC throws mud at them, they (PDP) should fix their eyes on issues, just as they asked the President about 14 questions a few days ago. Let the PDP continue to draw them to the economic, security and anti-corruption issues; the issues of standard and cost of living rather than engaging in personal attacks.”

Speaking on the allegation by persons in the camp of the APC that Atiku, a former Vice President, could not enter the US, Ozekhome said, “Question; has Atiku been indicted by the justice system or any government organ in America? The answer is no. Question; has Atiku ever been declared wanted by the American government, with its tentacles across the world in such a way that Atiku would not have been able to travel abroad, when we all know that he travels from time to time, except to America? The answer is no.

“Question; has the journey Buhari made to America and other countries so far, being (one of) the most travelled presidents in the history of Nigeria, brought benefits or advantages on Nigeria? The answer is no.”

The SAN called on parties to stick to issues, adding that, “If a madman is fighting you in the mud and you are also fighting the man back, in the mud, both of you will be considered to be mad. So, the opposition parties should have a higher degree of sensitivity to the feelings of the people by having their eyes on the ball and interrogating the ruling party on the issues of polity. Nigerians are not baboons that learnt nothing and forgot nothing.”

Copyright PUNCH. 

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