From 14 February 2015, Nigeria, Africa’s largest democracy, will be observing national and states elections to usher in leaders that will undertake, hopefully, progressive pro-people actions to achieve outcomes that the people can celebrate. Nigeria presently has 36 states, operating a constitutional democracy ambitiously carved after the United State's federal system, though falling short in practice and structures.
Contests will be held for the positions of president; governors; senators and federal representatives for the federal bicameral legislature; State Houses of Assembly-unicameral legislature. Over 20 political parties from the 26 registered ones are presenting candidates for the elections. 11 parties are contesting the Presidential election with one female candidate and four others as Vice Presidential candidates. The military ruled the country for 39 years.
It will be the fifth of such elections after the country's return to constitutional democracy, 16 years after military rule was halted by series of local and global efforts.
To say that these elections, especially the Presidential contest has held the nation in such gripping anxiety is an understatement. Politicians and political parties’ pernicious attitude coupled with the winner-takes-all political arrangements heightened the fears. So far, cases of pre-election violence are increasing.
The palpable and ominous fears of election violence are forcing persons to start relocating from their places of sojourn to areas where their kith and kin are, to avoid reprisal attacks. For the politicians and the other elite, they are sending their families overseas to shield them from the possible violent attacks that they have been culpable in brewing by their actions and inactions. So far, the electioneering campaign has been more of hate, ethnic, sectional, religious and personal based with the ruling party more guilty of this kind of avoidable approach.
For instance, the relentless attacks on the candidate of the main opposition party with respect to his academic qualification and the allegation of religious fundamentalism as orchestrated by the Presidential Campaign team of the ruling party have avoidably contributed in no small terms to heating up the polity. Social media are abuzz with these attack issues with supporters of the different candidates being unwittingly being recruited into the 'fights'.
Nevertheless, in a promising move, politicians and political parties have signed a violence-free poll accord to the effect that they will work to prevent violence before, during and after the elections.
Aside the narrow and divisive arguments and the panthers to ethnicity, religion and sectional primordial sentiments by the political parties, the real issues that Nigerian workers and the electorates are seeking convincing guarantees on are: security; corruption the economy.
These issues are further narrowed down on the voters` checklist to include specific workplace related issues such as minimum wage and other negotiated agreements implementation; job creation; inflation control in the face of the recent devaluation of the Naira in relation to the US Dollar; renewed commitment to re-industrialization; effective and affordable public service delivery, as well as genuine and sustained commitment to infrastructure development.
On security, the Boko Haram insurgency concentrated in North-Eastern Nigeria, which has been on since 2009 has led to the death of over 30, 000 Nigerians through the use of guerilla warfare, suicide bombing and scorched earth tactics. Over 1.5 million persons in towns such as Baga, Damaturu, Biu, Askira, Uba, Konduga, Marte, Gwoza, Banki and Bama have been attacked. Most of them are seeking refuge in neighbouring countries- Chad, Cameroon and Niger, which, worrisomely, are also coming under Boko Haram attacks.
Children, women, workers and other civilians have been victims of the attacks. The 219 girls kidnapped from their boarding school in chibok in April 2014 have still not be returned or rescued. Over 300 teachers and 2000 school children have either been killed or kidnapped. Health and other public service delivery workers have also been affected and forced to flee.
Other security concerns include kidnapping and armed robbery attacks. In October 2012, the African Insurance Organization ranked Nigeria as the “Kidnap-for-Ransom Capital of the World,” accounting for 25 per cent of global kidnappings.
The government has continued to come under attacks for lacking a robust strategy to stamp out the Boko Haram insurgency, as well as effectively address the other security challenges. These observations are being fuelled by the inability of the government to successfully rescue the kidnapped Chibok girls even as more kidnappings and killings continue. Also, the false information and claim about the so-called non-existent ceasefire agreement the Nigerian government extracted from the insurgents fuels this opinion. The fact that over 80 Nigerian soldiers have been indicted for mutiny and sentenced to death underscores this concern.
For Nigerian workers, the Boko Haram insurgency is a declaration of war on the Nigerian state. Workers consider it the irreducible minimum the guarantee of safety and the protection of lives and properties as responsibilities that government should provide consistently. The issue of corruption is weightier now as an election issue compared to previous elections because of the link to national security and the military’s fight against Boko Haram.
Nigeria continues to be ravaged by crass public sector corruption, as well as by private persons and businesses. Successive governments have been embroiled in one corruption scandal or the other. A simple denominator of the extent of the nagging public sector corruption can be seen in the fact that over $400 billion oil exploration revenue has been frittered away by Nigerian leaders- military and civilian alike.
Under this current administration, five trillion naira ($31.5 billion) is the summation of government funds said to have been stolen from reports of different local and global official panels. One can only imagine what these monies can do in terms of rolling out Social Protection Floors for Nigerians or how far it will go to improve public service delivery when effectively applied.
The link to security can be seen in the fact that over $10 billion has been spent by the Nigerian government on the fight against Boko Haram insurgents in the past four years with very little result to show. Accountability and fund utilization efficiency are issues begging for answers. Soldiers at the battle fronts continue to point out that the lack of the necessary military hardware and welfare of men at the front lines are some of the reasons for the inability to rein in the extremist group.
Similarly, Transparency International observed that “Nigeria’s military budget is opaque, and only aggregate numbers are presented to the public, meaning that we don’t know how the budget is spent’’. “The link between conflict and corruption is clear: Where funds are lost through corruption, soldiers don’t get the equipment and materials they need.”
For the candidate of the ruling party and incumbent President, his approach to the fight against corruption might mean using other methods as against railing corrupt persons into jail as stipulated by the extant laws. In essence, the logic and weight of deterrence will be jettisoned for something else he has not yet articulated. Again, most Nigerians consider this statement as the confirmation of the weak position and stance of the present government in its fight against corruption. His comment that stealing is not corruption was made in what seems to be a consistent thought-line.
On the issue of the economy, the working class electorate will want to see how the looming economic crisis, as a result of the falling prices, will be better managed through imaginative and conciliatory approaches. This is more so because governments at the federal and state levels have begun to feel the effects of the fall in oil prices as they were unable to pay workers’ salaries in December.
The other specific issues around the economy are those of minimum wage administration; employment generation; poverty alleviation; infrastructure development and commitment to industrialization.
Nigeria has enjoyed economic growth to an average of 5% in the last five years without corresponding share and benefit to majority of Nigerians. Not too long ago, the Nigerian economy was declared the largest in Africa after a World Bank supervised rebasing exercise. However, these nice economic performances have benefitted the 1% of Nigerians with the 99% failing to see the so-called trickle down effects. More Nigerians are sliding down into poverty as they cannot afford daily consumption equivalent to the $1.25 International Poverty Line datum. Specifically, the World Bank 2014 survey ranks Nigeria amongst the top five poorest countries in the world with 61% of its citizens living below the $1.25 poverty benchmark.
Furthermore, the alarmingly high youth unemployment in the country underscores the weak state of the economy. The seriousness of this issue was underscored by a job interview stampede that led to the death of over 16 job applicants when over 225,000 applicants showed up for 4500 vacant opportunities.
So far, the political parties have continued to make promises to create jobs. The ruling party has promised to create 8 million jobs in the next four years in partnership with the private sector if re-elected. How much this can be achieved in the faces of falling oil prices and devaluation of the naira, which has led to the announcement of austerity measures, leaves room for cynicism, if such promise is not to be considered as mere campaign gimmicky.
Issue of respect for and the implementation of negotiated agreements will seriously drive the consideration of workers in deciding their votes. Successive governments have played lips service to the issue of human capacity development that education and health care services can deliver. As a result avoidable strikes from the education and health sub-sectors have been rampant to the detriments of Nigerians and the workers who provide these services, as well as to the aspiration of the nation to maximize its potentials.
At the moment public hospitals and the courts are closed because the workers are protesting the non-respect for and implementation of negotiated agreements and court judgment respectively. These developments clearly demonstrate the faint and halfhearted respect for people's welfare and respect for the rule of law. How else will the situation where public hospitals are under lock and key be described other than to say such issue is not a priority as long as those in government and the elite can access and afford private medical care at home and abroad, with the latter more and attractive?
No doubt, these are the issues, at least for Nigerian workers that are likely to decide which party and candidate they will cast their lot with. It is trite to say that workers will rather queue behind the urgency to change the current direction of travel rather than lament under the present status quo arrangement.
On electoral violence, workers are clear that free, fair and credible elections will eschew electoral violence and stem the possibilities of playing into the destabilisation script of Boko Haram. Eternal vigilance is their watchword even as they continue to keep hope alive.