21 September 2012

Nigeria: Diversionary Talk Over 2015 Elections


Conflicting signals have been coming from the ruling Peoples' Democratic Party (PDP) in recent times about what to do, and who to field into elective office, in the 2015 general elections.

Reports also indicate that the party is preparing to further amend its oft-amended constitution to give incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan and the party's first-term governors a so-called 'option of first refusal' to run again. This, coming from the party that has ruled this country for the thirteen years, is a disturbing distraction.

The last elections are just over a year ago. Nigerians, whether they freely gave the mandate or had the mandate taken from them, expect four years of robust development before any talk of subsequent mandates can be justified. To become obsessed with the next election so early in the life of an administration that should be busy delivering dividends of democracy is not only premature; it is diversionary.

With the abysmal performance of the 2012 budget, about which even the National Assembly has berated the Presidency, talk of 2015 is unnecessary and may well be a smokescreen to obfuscate failures and inadequacies in governance. Development projects in critical infrastructure such as power, roads and railways are begging for sustained attention, therefore there is no need to talk of 2015 when barely a quarter of the mandate has been exhausted.

For power supply, the current improvement, occasioned by the generous rains this year, needs to be properly managed. That could only be possible if government concentrates on adequate funding, close monitoring and diligent supervision to ensure the National Independent Power Projects (NIPPs) come on stream as the hydro-electric plants stations are rejuvenated. Similarly, attention should continue to be paid on the Mambilla and Zungeru hydro-electric power projects that are still at infancy.

On roads, the Abuja - Lokoja, Benin - Ore; Kano - Maiduguri and other roads have been suffering inadequate funding and lackadaisical supervision, causing loss of hundreds of lives due to accidents over the past few months. The current additional funds accruing from the Subsidy Re-investment and Empowerment Programme (SURE-P), which are being utilised for some of these roads, need to be judiciously used and not left to politicians and civil servants to divert to unrelated projects.

On railways, the recent signing of loan agreements with China for the Abuja Light Rail Project, as well as the new Kaduna - Abuja and Lagos - Ibadan rail projects (in addition to the old Lagos - Kano rail line rehabilitation whose delivery date has been shifted for the umpteenth time), need all the attention the government can give. With favourable oil prices, there is expected to be a bumper harvest in excess crude funds for the country's rainy day. With these projects needing commitment, attention should not be diverted to the next election.

The current queues for petrol all over the country are indicative of the rot in the distribution system of this important commodity. Petrol tanker owners and drivers and oil marketers are holding this country to ransom. If this administration succeeds in fixing the rail system (which can deliver fuel more efficiently), and the pipelines (for which it pays billions to ex-militants to protect), then that stranglehold will be broken forever. Talk of 2015 should not distract from that.

There are also important legislations that include the Petroleum Industry Bill and the effort to amend parts of the constitution that should engage our legislature instead of asinine calculation on 2015. There is the danger that fixation with the next election will harm legislative reforms.

This country should not be reduced to any political party's fiefdom, and should be spared the pain of perpetual politicking. Leaders must concentrate on the jobs at hand - and they are quite many - to achieve a favourable midterm report by 2013. At that point, dialogue must be initiated with the electorate and civil society at all levels of governance for a way forward.

Ultimately, it is Nigerians that will determine what happens in 2015, and not any segment of the political class.

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