Let me begin with a quote attributed to Howard Dean: “I’m just disappointed that once again, we may have to settle for the lesser of two evils.” This quote was issued with respect to the 2004 US Elections. Applying this quote to Nigeria, especially in light of the fast-approaching general elections, a reader would be forgiven for quickly linking it to the presidential election. However, that is not my intention here. The presidential election, unlike some would argue, is not a choice between two evils.
Earlier this week, I had a phone conversation with a friend, who like many other Nigerians, is living the Nigerian Dream™ —loving Nigeria from outside Nigeria’s shores. In the course of our lengthy call—blessed be WhatsApp—we delved into national politics in an era where the Senate mace was seized majestically and a senator allegedly jumped out of a moving police vehicle. This friend then highlighted his concern that Nigerians were focused so much on the presidential election, with barely any focus on the National Assembly, who in his opinion were the greater evil.
Truly, the average Nigerian is either disappointed with President Buhari’s performance (or lack of performance) or angry that living conditions have worsened under the new Sheriff in town. Whereas government apologists cum sycophantic propagandists would extol the virtues of Buhari and report undying love by Nigerians, even those apologists, if still possessing a conscience, know that their tales are far from reality. It is therefore understandable that not a few Nigerians would want Buhari out by any means whatsoever. However, this is the same mistake Nigerians made in 2015.
In the last elections, the leading perception was that Nigerians had a choice between a “corrupt regime” symbolised by President Jonathan and a pristine era championed by the incorruptible General Buhari. Of course, Nigerians barely looked at candidates outside the two behemoths—APC and PDP. All eyes were on the presidency, thereby allowing a bunch of misfits to stroll into the two chambers of the National Assembly. To be fair, the present legislature has some good members, but the bulk of the members have no business leading a nursery school class. The worst of this set are those who genuinely believe the legislature stands for “National Retired Governors Assembly”.
2019 is approaching and once again, the focus is on the presidency. It almost seems like Nigerians were programmed to operate in two mutually exclusive states, with no provision for nuances. What most Nigerians fail to realise is that even if we were to manage to elect a useful president in 2019, that person would be crippled if misfits continue to hold court in the green and red chambers of the National Assembly. The executive requires the legislature and judiciary to function properly. Nigerians lacking direct control over the judiciary should not limit their power to the executive alone.
As we build up to the 2019 elections, what Nigeria needs is a two-pronged focus on both the presidency and the legislature. What this means in practical terms is that in addition to worrying about who becomes president, we also need to worry whether those vying to “represent us” are actually struggling for free hotel suites that allow their spirits attend legislative sessions for them. The legislature is too important to be left in the hands of people who have no clue what it means to monitor the executive and make beneficial laws. It is also too important to be left in the hands of those who think monitoring the executive means blackmailing the president to grease their palms, and that making laws means passing hidden budgets to fund their luxurious fantasies. It is also too important to be left in the hands of those who ignore daily public complaints about police brutality but scream rancorously when one of them gets a taste of the bitter medicine daily served to everyday Nigerians.
Beyond the national level, the state elections also need an invested look at contestants for both governorship and state assembly positions. Let’s review those contesting, subject them to public debates to verify they have pragmatic public-spirited common-sense, and then be willing to enlighten less-educated Nigerians who form the bulk of voters. We should also commit to spending the whole of two Saturdays in February 2019 queuing to vote and waiting until the last ballot is counted, ensuring collation-level fraudsters become aware of many witnesses should they choose to doctor result sheets in INEC offices. The rest of the world is leaving Nigeria behind too rapidly. If we miss it in 2019…let’s not even think about it.
Image Credit: imta.ch