By Jonathan Nda-Isaiah
Ahead of the 2 019 Presidential election, the political atmosphere is already tensed, with most of the gladiators getting set like cannons over charged with double cracks. JONATHAN NDA- ISAIAH in this report takes a look at issues that will define the 2019 presidential race.
Thirteen months to a politician in Nigeria is just like 13 days. Of course, this is what is left in the countdown to the 2019 presidential poll. Already, behind the scenes moves have started in earnest ahead of the election billed for February next year. This is contained in the timetable for the general election and guidelines for the parties released by the independent national electoral commission (INEC) last week.
It is a known fact that President Muhammadu Buhari will run for a second term. He has been dropping hints in this regard and governors on the platform of the All Progressive Congress ( APC) have endorsed him for a second term. Some cabinet ministers have also joined the endorsement train.
On the other hand, the Peoples Democratic Party ticket is looking like a two- way battle between former Vice President Atiku Abubakar and former Kaduna state governor, Ahmed Makarfi, with Sule Lamido, Ibrahim Shekarau and Ibrahim Dakwambo waiting in the wings.
Political analysts have called for a third force to challenge the duopoly of APC and PDP in the general election. According to them, both parties have nothing to offer. Unlike the 2015 general election, the electorates are more politically enlightened but whether they still hold the ace in determining the outcome of elections with their votes the way it turned out in the last polls is left to be seen in the kind of elections the Buhari administration would want to conduct.
If the elections are to be free and fair, here are some of the issues that will determine where the pendulum will swing in the 2019 presidential poll.
The biggest security challenge in the country right now is the wanton killings by suspected Fulani herdsmen. The Global terrorism index ranked the Fulani Herdsmen the fourth most dangerous group in the world. This means that they are in the axis of evil with Boko Haram, Isis, and al-Shabab.
The Herdmen have reportedly killed more than 2000 persons in the last two years and more than 100 in the last two weeks. The recent killings in Benue State drew outrage, most Nigerians calling on the federal government to designate the herdsmen a terrorist organisation.
President Buhari has been accused of treating the Herdmen with kid gloves, an allegation the presidency has come out to refute. Special Adviser to the president on media and publicity, Femi Adesina, in a video message he posted on his personal Facebook page said such killings by herdsmen predated the Buhari administration.
He however affirmed that ensuring the security of lives and property of the citizens is the responsibility of government, noting that the present administration is determined to fulfill this obligation. He said, “Something that is disturbing that I have heard about it is linking those developments to the fact that a Fulani man is president and so, he is brooking such kind of evil acts. I think that is very unkind. And I will try to back my position with statistics.
“In 2013, particularly, there were nine cases of herdsmen invading communities in Benue state alone and more than 190 people were killed. In 2014, there were about 16 of such tragic developments with with more that 231 people killed. And then there was a change of government in May 2015. But between January and May 2015, there were six attacks which left about 335 people dead. Now, the question is, during that period, did we have a Fulani president?
“This is showing us that the issue of herdsmen attacking settlements, attacking farmers, attacking communities is pure criminality and it is something that government must deal with. It is the duty of government to preserve the lives of the citizenry. It is the,responsibility of government to maintain law and order and that this government is determined to do.
“Therefore, let nobody say that all this is happening because we have a Fulani president. We have had many Fulani presidents in the past and this issue of herders and local communities at loggerheads, has predated this government. But I will just like to appeal to Nigerians that the Muhammadu Buhari government is determined to crack this issue, is determined to get to the bottom of it and it will get done”.
However, the explanation by Adesina has not changed the narrative, as Nigerians keep demanding for reasonable action from the president.
Keen observers of the polity posit that killings by herdmen may make or mar President Buhari ‘s chances in 2019. The thinking is that it seems President Buhari is towing the same line with former President Goodluck Jonathan who treated Boko Haram with kid gloves and paid dearly for it.
Restructuring will be a major issue in the campaign for 2019. President Buhari has shown that he is averse to restructuring. Recently, he said the country’s problem has more to do with process than with the structure.
While restructuring gained traction in the last two years, some analysts view the calls for restructuring with suspicion. Most of the chief proponents of restructuring were in the last administration and mute was the word and after losing out in the 2015 election, restructuring is now used as blackmail tool against the present administration.
The restructuring debate which subsided in recent weeks was reignited after President Buhari’s New Year message. Last week, Southern leaders met and insisted on restructuring the country as a way out of the socio-economic ills bedevilling the country.
On the other hand, Atiku, the chief proponent of restructuring who brought the topic to the front burner in national discourse, will definitely up the ante in 2019 if he is given the PDP ticket.
But political observers consider PDP’s call for restructuring as political deceit and mischief. They pointed out that the party was in power for 16 years and never made any attempt to restructure the country only to join the bandwagon because it was the politically correct thing to say in 2017.
The economy has and is always going to be a factor in any election in Nigeria. Recall that Nigeria slipped into recession two years ago and exited in the third quarter. Some political analysts have said a debate on how any of the candidate will put the economy on the path of sustainable growth is crucial for the election. The thinking is that no fewer than 4.4 million Nigerians lost their jobs in 2017, according to a report by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS).
The NBS report stated that the percentage of unemployed Nigerians increased from 16.2 per cent in the second quarter of 2017 to 18.8 per cent in the third quarter. It disclosed that the number of people within the labour force who were unemployed increased from 13.6 million in the second quarter of the year to 15.9 million in the third quarter of the same year, with more than two million people still unemployed within the period.
Similarly, the number of under-employed increased from 17.7 million in the second quarter to 18.0 million in Q3 2017 just as it added that Nigeria’s economy has been shrinking since2014.
The NBS report stated further that the total number of people in full-time employment (at least 40 hours a week) declined from 52.7 million in Q2 2017 to 51.1 million in Q3 2017. “During the quarter Q3 2017, 21.2% of women within the labour force (aged 15-64 and wailling, able, and actively seeking work) were unemployed, compared with 16.5% of men within the same period,” it noted.
But recently, the the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Chief Audu Ogbeh, said that agriculture sector created six million jobs in the last two years. Ogbeh said this while analysing the achievements of his ministry and the 2018 targets of the ministry at a strategy retreat in Abuja.
He explained that the six million jobs were created both on and off farms as a result of the huge increase in local rice production. According to him, Nigeria’s agriculture is heavily manual and to be able to reduce rice importation by 95 per cent, at least six million extra jobs have happened in the farm.
“There are about 12.2 million members of the Rice Growers Association; we have created more jobs than we have lost’’, the minister said, noting that the country earned 31 million dollars from the sale of purple hibiscus, popularly known as zobo leaves, in the last one year and that the demand was still on the increase.
He said, “We are exporting more than we are importing now and most exportation is agro-products. We are growing in agriculture and from the middle of this year, whoever chooses to eat Thailand rice is welcomed to pay duties. We shall impose duties on it because we consider it a wasteful luxury and something this country can’t afford’’.
Ogbeh said the federal government would also engage in establishing both cashew and cocoa plantations to boost production and export in 2018. He said that plans are underway to make the country leading producers in cashew nuts.
There is also going to be a robust debate on how to diversify the economy, an effort the present administration has succeeded in doing .The agricultural policy of this administration is its biggest achievement and efforts are being made to replicate that success in the solid minerals sectors and improve on tax collection.
The over-reliance on crude oil has been the bane of the Nigerian economy and the candidates would have to give practical steps on how the country’s economy will be diversified.
Age and Health Of President Buhari
The health of President Buhari will be a major campaign issue next year. At 75, the president is not getting younger and his age and health will be used as a weapon against him. Last year, he was out of the country for five months treating an undisclosed illness in the United Kingdom. However, events of the past weeks show that the president has not onky recovered considerably but has gotten his stamina back.
On the other hand, if the PDP presents an Atiku, age will no longer be a campaign issue as the former Vice president is 71 and can be said to be in the same age bracket with President Buhari.
Political observers have said age is not synonymous with health as the late Umaru Yar’Adua was less than 60 but was plagued with health issues in his two years as president. According them, emphasis should be on the ability of any of the candidate to perform. Some have also called for all the candidates to submit their medical records for Nigerians to know the medical history of the candidates.
Keen observers aver that United States President, Donald Trump is 71 and is likely to go for second term in 2020 when he will be 74. But in 2019, the age of the president may also be loose weapon depending on the candidate the PDP presents.