Nigeria Decides: 2019 And The Choices Before Us, By Abdulrahman Usman Leme

Here we are again, at another crossroad in the political landscape of our dear country. Starting from Saturday, February 16, 2019, each of Nigeria’s approximately 80 million registered voters would be expected to exercise their constitutional right to decide those who get elected to the various offices at the various levels of government.
With the benefit of hindsight, given that Nigeria has been democratically governed over the last nineteen (19) years, there surely must now be vast enough experience for rational decision-making by discerning citizens on those to be elected into offices to govern for the next four years; from the presidential to the local government levels.
Of these nineteen odd years of democratic governance in Nigeria, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) has had sixteen (16) straight years – from 1999 to 2015, translating to four terms under three Presidents; including Olusegun Obasanjo (May 1999 – May 2007), late Umaru Musa Yar’Adua (May 2007 – May 2010), and Goodluck Jonathan (May 2010 – May 2015) Depending on an observer’s sociopolitical leaning, the party either performed or under-performed.
On the other hand, the All Progressives Congress (APC), formerly the main opposition party to the then-ruling PDP, won the 2015 presidential poll on the platform of ‘Change’ and a promise of improved livelihoods for majority of Nigeria’s approximately 190 million citizens. The APC’s candidate, currently the incumbent president, President Muhammadu Buhari (in government from May 2015 till date). is seeking a second term of four years ostensibly to continue his Change agenda, reform programs for the good of the electorate and ultimately move them to the next level.
Although the elections are for various positions at both Federal and State levels, this article will focus on the Presidential election. Also, although there are about seventy-nine political parties contesting the 2019 elections at various levels of participation, this article will only focus on the two major parties on the ballot papers; the All Progressives Congress and the People’s Democratic Party.
The two parties have marshalled reasonably strong points as to why either of them should be voted into power for the next four years. But, it has to be assumed that Nigerians, hinging on the now vast democratic experience, would no longer be hoodwinked, and each potential voter now has the unique chance to decide which of the two platforms best represents his/her interest to deliver on the gains of democracy.
It is in respect to the above that, perhaps, the only meaningful and logical way for any decisions to be made with respect to the two parties; APC and PDP, would be to appraise the performance of each in Government.
The PDP Years (1999 – 2015)
In appraising the PDP era, and given one’s leaning, especially if it would be unfavorable, one can begin by arguing that President Obasanjo had a unique opportunity to institutionalize democracy in Nigeria. An opportunity that would have brought about meaningful developmental reforms and programmes which could have ensured sustained economic growth, but, that didn’t happen. Instead, what we saw was a man who was only interested in idolizing and immortalizing himself. No more can be said than the fact that he sought for a third term. Like Obasanjo, late Yar’adua came with a lot of promise – which he did not live long enough to deliver; but left us with the Boko Haram insurgency to contend with.  However, and to be fair to Late Yar’adua, unlike Obasanjo, he will at least be remembered as a champion of the rule of law and a man who was committed to electoral reforms.
Late Yar’adua was then succeeded by his Vice President; Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, whose Government was blighted by security challenges, political patronage, cronyism, state capture and massive corruption.
To buttress some of the points above, two former Governors of the Central Bank of Nigeria; Charles Soludo and Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, publicly decried the scale of corruption in some government agencies which they observed were causing massive shortages in Government revenues. Furthermore, a former Minister of Finance also publicly expressed frustration on how her dogged resolve to have the excess crude revenue saved for rainy days was ignored, obviously in a bid to sustain political patronage and cronyism. Finally, we have literally been inundated with cases of how billions of Dollars were siphoned by serving top government officials serving as agents of state capture; all that unaccounted for during the Jonathan administration.
However, it must be noted that it was during the PDP years that Nigeria overcame South Africa to become the biggest economy in Africa; never mind it being based off of the country only rebasing its GDP. The point being that Nigeria only changed how it calculated the GDP to more accurately reflect current prices and market structure, and in so doing, gave more weight to Nollywood and mobile phone services that had grown a lot as of then. It must also be noted, however, that experts had argued, even then, that Nigeria needs more than GDP rebasing to stimulate the economy, and that while it was important to have up to date statistics, that would not, of its own, lead to economic prosperity, or any change in the reality on ground.
In the area of poverty reduction, alleviation or eradication, even though with limited or hardly any success, the PDP cannot be accused of lack of effort. During its years, it had the following initiatives to try and tackle the scourge; National Poverty Eradication Program (NAPEP) and YouWin etc. The programs barely had any impact most likely due to the lack of adequate commitment and perhaps corruption.
In the realm of security, boko haram were hoisting their flags in Nigerian territories; indeed, at some point they were in control of seventeen (17) Local Government Areas (LGA) in Borno State alone. These LGAs occupied a space twice the size of the entire geo-political zone known as South Eastern Nigeria.
In fact, boko haram was so bold and brazen, that there were coordinated, if not concurrent attacks in Kano, Bauchi, Gombe, Jalingo, Kaduna, Niger; and even Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory, wasn’t spared. With bombings in Abuja of the Police Force Headquarters, UN Building, nyanya bus stop and Emab Plaza. it was almost like nowhere was safe.
Indeed, the statistics on the spate of insecurity are a grim read;
  1. In the North Central, the Ombatse militia ran riot with a killing spree that included that of over 100 policemen in Nasarawa State.
  2. 59 school boys were killed by boko haram at the Federal Government College, Buni Yadi, Yobe State in February of 2014.
  3. 35 bodies were discovered dumped in the Ezu river, Amansea in Anambra state in 2013
  4. 276 schoolgirls were abducted from the Chibok Girls Secondary School in Borno State by Boko Haram terrorists. Till date, 112 of these girls are still missing, with some presumably dead. It took the Government two weeks and public outrage to even admit that the girls were missing.
  5. In fact, the convoy of the incumbent president was caught in a second explosion that rocked Kaduna in July 2014.
The APC Years (2015 – Date)
The Buhari administration came into power in May 2015 on a tripod of promises to fight Corruption, curb Insecurity and improve the Economy.
Unfortunately, at the onset of the admin, it was confronted by a myriad of near catastrophic problems amongst which chiefly were; nearly 75% of the states could not pay salaries, and the country slid into recession; as was foreseen by former Finance Minister, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, during the last days of the Jonathan administration. However, through a combination of economic prudence and effective official interventions by the APC-led government, the country emerged from the doldrums. In September 2015, the admin commenced disbursement of 689.5 billion Naira as bailout to 27 states to enable them pay salaries and offset pension liabilities.
To further stimulate the economy, the Federal Government embarked on an expansionary fiscal policy regime with investment of close to 2.7 trillion Naira in the 2016 & 2017 budgets alone on infrastructure. A further 650 million dollars Presidential Infrastructure Development Fund (PIDF) was set up to complement the capital expenditures of the Buhari administration with focus on funding Lagos-Ibadan express way, 2nd Niger Bridge, Kano-Abuja road and Mambilla Hydroelectric Dam. 
These investments on roads, power and a new national rail network are unprecedented; with an overall focus of guaranteeing increased access to markets, reducing operating costs for businesses, and allowing Nigeria make up for lost time; this being in realization of the fact that the country lost a golden chance to spur economic growth and development in the 16 years under PDP, when billions of dollars were generated; but were then mismanaged or subjected to large-scale looting.To further enhance productivity, and ginger economic activities at all rungs of Nigeria’s economic ladder, the governing APC administration initiated microfinance schemes such as; TraderMoni, Marketmoni and Anchor Borrowers Programme (ABP), in which billions have been invested, and that have been helping to generate appreciable income for smallholder businesses and thus make life better for thousands of Nigerians. 
The ABP was launched by President Buhari in 2015 to create a linkage between anchor companies involved in agriculture value chain (processing, milling, storage, distribution etc) and smallholder farmers (SHFs) of key agricultural commodities. In December 2018, the CBN noted that as at October 2018, 862,069 farmers cultivating about 835,239 hectares, across 16 different commodities, have so far benefited from the Anchor Borrowers programme; a development that has generated over 2.5 million jobs across the country.
The admin has also moved to improve the Human Development Index of the country with an unprecedented array of social intervention programs. These include the Home Grown School Feeding Program (HGSFP), N-Power, Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT) amongst others. The net effect of these programs are already been felt.
This been the cardinal theme of the admin’s campaign, it moved immediately to check it with a number of measure, amongst which are:
  1. Expunging more than 34,000 ghost workers from the Federal Civil Service payroll, thereby saving about N2.3 billion monthly.
  2. Implementing the Treasury Single Account (TSA); and by end of March 2017, over N7 trillion was recorded in the TSA, while as at August 2018, the TSA was saving the government N42 billion monthly; an initiative, which has been hailed far and wide.
  3. A Whistleblowers policy was also unveiled by his administration, and has led to the discovery and recovery of billions of naira of stolen government funds in both local and foreign currencies.
  4. A Presidential panel was set up to probe arms procurement between 2007 and 2015. The panel has made some shocking discoveries that are still rocking the armed forces and the security infrastructure of the country.
The admin is continuing with its vigorous fight against corruption with purpose, so much so that it can be described as retreating. Even the Judiciary is being cleansed of corruption, with top ranking judicial officers who were hitherto thought to be untouchable, now being investigated and prosecuted. We have also witnessed some high profile convictions.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) has also been recording hugely significant achievements in the fight against corruption. In February 2018, the EFCC reported recoveries of about 511.9 billion Naira in 2017. The commission reported that, between January and December 2017, it recovered 32 billion Naira and 5 million Dollars forfeited by the former Minister of Petroleum Resources, Dieziani Alison-Madueke. Other forfeited monies include the N449 million discovered at a plaza in Lagos, $43 million discovered in an Ikoyi apartment in Lagos, N329 billion from petroleum marketers in Kano, while withholding tax of over N27.7 billion was retrieved from banks.
On Security, many Nigerians may point accusing fingers at the current administration on the resurgence of Boko Haram attacks with casualties among the military personnel. However, President Buhari has sought for, and allocated huge funds from the budget to purchase military equipment so as to reinvigorate the onslaught against the terrorists.
In this regard, it can at least be argued that funds intended for arms purchase are not being diverted to private pockets. The country has also regained a lot of goodwill and respect in the international community; a situation that has meant arms procurement is no longer through the backdoors. The import of this will assume an even bigger significance if one recalls the botched and desperate attempt by the previous government to purchase arms from South Africa via a plane-load of cash.
Although the Buhari admin has been far from perfect, with insecurity challenges and industrial actions, the federal government moved to address the farmer/herder conflict in the North Central region, and armed banditry in North west through interventions like:
  1. Operation Whirl-stroke in Benue and Taraba States
  2. Operation Sharan Daji in the North West.
  3. Operation Diran Mikiya (An air force quick response unit set up in Gusau Zamfara State which is being complemented by counter terrorism unit and other security forces).
  4. An establishment of another air force quick response wing in Nguroje, Mambilla, Taraba State
  5. Forward Operating Base (FOB) in Gembu, Mambilla, Taraba State
These security measures are to be complemented by the National Livestock Transformation Plan that was recently launched by the Federal Government. 
In the Niger Delta, the Government has been in constant dialogue with stakeholders, community leaders and the militants for a lasting solution. Leveraging on its plans and programs in the Niger-Delta, the APC led Government has managed to maintain peace in the region. To this end, we have been witnessing sustained peace for the longest period in many years.
In the foreign policy realm, Nigeria under President Buhari has recovered considerable goodwill from global partners. These are being witnessed in the instances of the currency swap and infrastructure funding with China; the fertilizer deal with Morocco; the trade deal with Singapore; the bilateral agreements on return of Nigeria’s stolen assets with countries like United Kingdom, Switzerland, United Arab Emirates, and treaties which have raised the country’s profile internationally.
Based on the afore-mentioned records of the PDP and the APC in government, the choice for discerning voters as they go to polls are
  1. an APC Government that has spent over 10 billion US Dollars on infrastructure that cut across several sectors in four years or a PDP Government that spent nearly 800 billion dollars with little to show for it.
  2. An APC Government that is committed to diversifying our economy or one that abandoned other sectors of the economy for oil.
  3. An APC Government that has completed about 600 kilometers of standard gauge rail in three years; with Lagos-Abeokuta being the latest, with less resources available to spend or a PDP Government that had abundance of resources at its disposal but could not put in place a single standard gauge line.
  4. A PDP Government that depleted our foreign reserve despite selling oil at an all-time high or an APC Government that is growing the foreign reserve steadily despite earning less.
  5. A PDP Government that sold off government assets such as; NITEL, NEPA, Nigeria Airways to their cronies at giveaway prices spearheaded by Atiku Abubakar without compensating staff or an APC Government that is clearing this mess by upsetting the pension arrears and other entitlements of these staff after several years.
  6. A PDP Government that spent sixteen billion dollars on power with nothing to show for it under one of their three Presidents alone; an administration where the current PDP candidate was an influential Vice President, or an APC Government that has generated and transmitted the highest megawatts of electricity in less than four years.
  7. A PDP Government that allowed our refineries to rot or an APC Government that is working hard to have them function in full capacity whilst making possible for Private individuals to set up theirs. The Modular refineries in the Niger Delta will soon come on board.
  8. A PDP Government that had turned the country’s main revenue generating agencies to their cash cows or an APC Government that is ensuring prudent management of resources and accountability at these agencies. The Nigeria Ports Authority, under Ms Hadiza Bala, for example has seen remarkable turnaround in the way and manner the Authority is being run; It was one of the first Government agencies to implement the TSA which complemented the revenue and invoice management system which reduce traffic, blocked leakages and enhanced service delivery. NNPC, Customs and FIRS are other agencies that witnessed real change and have all broken existing records in terms of revenue turn over to the coffers of Government.
Finally, the discerning voters should reflect on whether they would rather weigh on the person they hired to repair their destroyed house (who despite all the initial obstacles has managed to structurally stabilize the house) to do better at refurbishing it or they would rather have the person who destroyed in the first place come back for repairs? It really does appear to be that simple.
Abdulrahman Usman Leme
Directorate of Contact and Mobilization