As Nigerians Go To The Polls

By Nuhu Othman – Coincidentally, Nigerians will go to the polls in March and April 2015. The same year the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) programme is expected to wind down. By every stretch of the English language, Nigeria cannot be said to halve any of the 8-target goals. In few areas where some of the goals were remarkably addressed such gains have been rolled back by years of incompetence and corruption. By every reasonable classification, Nigeria, today, is another sad statistics. The 2014 report of the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative (OPHDI) revealed that 26.6% of Nigeria’s 170m people are destitute, while 68.0% and 84.5% of the Nigerian population lived below $1.25 per day and $2 per day, respectively in 2010. The report further explained that, a person is multi-dimensionally poor or multi-dimension poverty index (MPI) poor, if they are deprived in at least one-third of the weighted indicators, including years of schooling, school attendance, child mortality, nutrition, electricity, sanitation, water, floor, cooking fuel and assets. They grouped these 10 indicators under 3 dimensions: education, health and standard of living.

Nigeria PollsThe report also revealed that 10 states in the north of Nigeria are the country’s poorest. With Bauchi State leading the league. The states in this category happen to be Gen. Muhammadu Buhari’s (the opposition presidential candidate) strong-hold. I must state that these states may have been more impoverished in the last 6 years like the rest other 30 states that make up Nigeria. Certainly, they would compete among themselves if statistics was taken on poverty rate in the years before the emergence of this administration. In these 10 states and most of the northern states, Gen. Muhammadu Buhari’s popularity is unrivaled. The electorates here do not make demands of what they expect a Buhari presidency to do for them. They assume, rightly or wrongly, that Gen. Muhammadu Buhari knows their plight, demands and problems better, and will proffer solution to all of them. This is where Gen. Muhammadu Buhari may have a herculean task in the event he wins. Buhari’s major problem will be how best to manage sometimes these unattainable expectations.

In all of the 36 states of Nigeria, very few could realise more than $7m in internal generated revenue (IGR) month-on-month without federal government hand-outs, even if they tax their citizens to death. Only Lagos state and few other states could pay salaries and still have enough for major projects. They rely solely on federal government subventions. In spite of the risks inherent in the over-reliance on revenues generated from the abnormal product (oil) government pays only lip service in diversifying the economy. Nigeria now faced with dwindling oil revenues, depleted foreign reserves, and the prospects of a highly unlikely $100 per barrel benchmark, is certainly wobbling directionless. Now the rainy days are here with no provisions to fall back on.

So far virtually all the polls conducted have favoured Gen. Muhammadu Buhari to win. Even though power of incumbency in African politics dictates where the political pendulum swings to. This has certainly made Nigerians to have just a binary choice. The climb will be steep for a Buhari presidency.

Let’s look at the mountain of tasks before Buhari. Firstly, there is the Niger-Delta dimension. Interestingly, this is the political constituency of the sitting president. This section of the country that “lays the golden eggs” has benefited immensely from having one of their own as the president. A total of over $1b have been expended on the militants in this area to calm frayed nerves. In the 2015 national budget these militants are expected to smile to the banks with over $179m. A single individual militant was given a contract to secure the country’s coastline to the tune of $100m. This singular act has robbed off the image of respect that the nation’s navy used to have. Because this clearly is its prerogative. Now these benefits of being a presidential friend has made the Niger-Delta militants to have some air of arrogance and delusion of grandeur. The same feeling and insolence the northerners had when they held sway for decades. I am not sure if power changes hand these benefits would be sustained. The corollary effect of withdrawal of such benefits could lead to some sort of theatre.

Buhari keeps reiterating the fact that he will draw a line if he assumes leadership without bothering to check on corrupt practices that has characterised this administration. He said he will allow justice to run its full course on cases that are before the courts. I doubt if he has the stomach for such massive corruption that has dogged this administration once the facts and figures are laid before him. He is likely to eat his word. This may keep his administration distracted.

If the incumbent wins, we can be rest assured that there will be no can of worms. The status quo will be maintained, and business will be run as usual. But if the destiny of Nigeria defies the political norm in Africa and goes the way of the polls, we are likely to see the reversal and amendments of many policies. Perhaps beginning with the privatisation of the Power Holding Company of Nigeria.

Nuhu Othman can be reached at nuhuothman@gmail.com