Lost in the noise of politics and intensity of power tussles today is any serious focus on the issues that are critical to the Nigeria’s future. In the political confrontation raging today, the preoccupation of political leaders is with outmanoeuvring opponents, not explaining how they propose to solve national problems or what their parties stand for. This at a time when the country’s multiple challenges are crying out for solutions and answers. Above all, a polarised environment marked by constant exchange of toxic rhetoric makes it impossible to evolve much-needed consensus on key national issues. It also creates an atmosphere inimical to the generation of new ideas.
It is rather unfortunate that the political discourse in our country as we approach the 2023 presidential election consists predominantly of bitter invective and aggressive rhetoric along with unceasing efforts by political leaders to denigrate opponents. Instead of debating public policy, much of the political conversation involves diatribes and allegations of malfeasance and venality hurled by presidential candidates of the leading political parties against one another. This has spawned a form of issue-less politics, where instead of the Nigeria’s challenges – poverty, inequality, insecurity, unemployment, poor economic growth, inflation, environmental degradation, desertification, water scarcity, poor health and learning outcomes, etc., – being seriously discussed, political narratives are reduced to disparaging rivals. Perhaps because the leading political parties no longer have any programmes, shallow narratives dominate politics. None of the major political parties, to the best of my knowledge has offered a credible vision of the Nigeria’s future, much less outlined a strategy to reach that destination.
Take, for example, the response of both government and opposition figures to the two key challenges faced by the country today — an unprecedented economic crisis and the security threat from the renewed surge of militant violence. On the first, public exchanges have taken the form of who is responsible for pushing the economy into the critical ward. In other words, a blame game has been underway rather than an informed discussion of what Nigeria needs to do to salvage the economy on an enduring basis.
Another aspect of the poverty of political discourse is how platitudes and clichés are what some presidential candidates and their campaign team think is enough to convey their position in key policy areas. This again reflects the fact that their parties lack any programme, policy plan or aims. Banal pronunciations by power holders are reported daily by the media. Examples include: “Nigeria will be the investment centre in the Africa”; “We need to boost exports and productivity”; “We will protect the poor from inflation”; “We are committed to provide education for all”; “Education is the key to progress”; “Terrorism and insurgency are Nigeria’s foremost problem”; “National unity is needed to fight insecurity”; and so on. These statements of the obvious say nothing about what the actual policy goals are, and more importantly, how they are to be achieved. It is as if mouthing platitudes will magically translate into policy and accomplish goals. If it isn’t platitudes, its exhortations — calling on people to unite, make sacrifices or show forbearance in the face of national adversity. Again, these are statements made in a policy vacuum. Platitudes are not a substitute for strategy any more than exhortations are for policy.
Nigerians have much higher expectations of their leaders, especially those aspiring to lead them at times of crisis. They seek a clear and credible direction, assurance that national problems will be competently addressed, and above all, solidarity among public representatives so that they are seen to be working together to responsibly and purposefully address challenges. If all the citizens hear are allegations that the other side is unfit to govern and sees no efforts to discuss and act on issues of concern to them, it erodes trust in both politicians and the political system. Democracy is undermined when people see politics as just a power struggle shorn of public purpose.
What Nigeria, and Nigerians really need is a capable president to lead the country. A president that can at all times come up with a collection of plans and policies, that comprise the country’s deliberate effort to harness political, military, diplomatic, and economic tools together to advance that her national interest. The country, like never before, needs a president who would think and act like a grand strategist. That is, someone that have mastered the art of reconciling ends and means. Someone with purposive action who has a comprehensive, agreed, or an actionable worldview that will allow Nigerians to understand and share a consensus at leadership level of how our dear country will compete, shape herself and transform in the future.