Another season of bogus promises by politicians

Ahead of the 2023 general elections, DIRISU YAKUBU examines the culture of unrealistic promises from politicians to unsuspecting electorate who are only jolted back to reality years into the politicians’ reigns

It is not for nothing that democracy is seen as the most acceptable mode of governance in the world today. With its pro-people ethos, the system has succeeded in improving governance across continents, stretching deep into the vaults of history. As absolute monarchies, totalitarian, fascist and military governments transform into democracy, the world continues to witness popular participation, with voices of the commons amplified overtime.

Arguably, democracy’s finest attribute is the room for periodic elections, which make it possible for people to change their leaders at the end of every term. This power in the hands of the people is perhaps the reason why democracy stands apart from other systems of government.

Since 1999, elections have been conducted into various elective offices, giving politicians an opportunity to bond with the electorate in rallies and campaigns. Although chances of success at the polls ought to be directly proportional to the candidates’ capacity for performance, politicians have since found their ways into voters’ minds regardless of their level of preparedness and competence.

In every election cycle, the tradition is to hire musicians and comedians to sing the praises of would-be elective office holders at campaign rallies. Here, the big man makes his way to the podium and tells the people what they want to hear. Millions of jobs are promised, women/youths are told they will be empowered to be self-reliant, and that schools will be free for all. Again, these politicians will not miss the usual pledge that epileptic power supply will become a thing of the past, among other promises.

In some instances, the aged are told to expect a life of bliss and comfort. All they need to do is to spend a few hours in the queue to cast their ballots and their challenges will be over forever. In Nigeria, loyalties are betrayed as electoral promises made exist on a narrow margin of possibility. Yes, in the end, voters get the worse end of the stick.

Who will forget in a hurry former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s pledge to address the nation’s power challenge, fix the education sector and create millions of jobs for the unemployed and under-employed Nigerians? What about the poverty alleviation programme championed by that administration from 1999 to 2007? When his first tenure elapsed, Obasanjo faced voters yet again with a sermon on consolidating what was achieved in the first four years.

In fairness to his government, the retired Army General succeeded in getting the nation a Paris Club debt relief and a reunion with the international community, but the promises of reviving the nation’s oil and education sectors were implemented more in the breach. It is on record that members of the Academic Staff Union of Universities went on strike for five months a few months after Obasanjo was elected President in 1999.

Although marginal improvement in lecturers’ remuneration was approved by the then President, ASUU again embarked on a strike in 2001, prompting an angry Obasanjo to describe university lecturers as “a bunch of lazy and ungrateful people.”

Before his election, Obasanjo, while campaigning in the South-East, promised to construct a second Niger Bridge, establish Enugu coal-fired power plant, Onitsha seaport, Oguta, Ukwa refinery and gas powered plant, and revival of the Nkalagu cement factory, among others. None of these pledges was fulfilled until he bowed out after eight years in the saddle.

Before he quit the stage, university students were forced to stay at home in 2002, 2003, 2005, 2006 and 2007 owing to breaches of agreements reached with members of ASUU.

As they quit the stage, both at the national and sub-national levels, successors of these lying politicians remain harnessed to this ignoble ethos in which they were schooled; making electioneering promises and breaking them at will.

When fate conspired with providence to hand him the presidential ticket of the PDP in 2015, Goodluck Jonathan promised Nigerians “fresh air,” a telling indication of his readiness to chart a new course. With billboards situated at strategic cities across the country, Jonathan won and governed the land until 2015 when he lost to the incumbent President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.). Needless to state here that the air he promised was neither fresh nor new as Nigerians lived with the agony of insecurity, unemployment and squalid living conditions.

Like Obasanjo, Jonathan came with his famous promise of fresh air. Given what many saw as the hands of providence in his emergence and his absolute lack of oligarchic air, the zoologist-turned politician won an army of admirers in style, particularly with his infectious shoeless story while growing up as a kid.

Under his watch, however, insecurity became Nigeria’s second name as bombs were manufactured and detonated at will by members of the dreaded Boko Haram sect, claiming the lives of many Nigerians. What started off in the agrarian settings of Borno and Yobe states soon became regular occurrences in many cities, including Abuja, the nation’s capital. Thus, Jonathan’s promise to secure Nigerians and their property became a campaign tool in the hands of the then hurriedly-put-together All Progressives Congress, which went on to hand Jonathan an electoral defeat in 2015.

The APC’s promise of change came with billboards announcing ‘One meal a day for children in public schools’, ‘Electricity, affordable kerosene and security, vote Buhari/Osinbajo’, ‘Generate, transmit and distribute electricity on a 24/7 basis, vote Buhari/Osinbajo’, and ‘Nigeria needs Muhammadu Buhari for maximum security, zero corruption, discipline’, among others.

However, power supply has remained epileptic as it can get, with the national grid packing up every now and then for the better part of the past seven and a half years. While kerosene has now become almost unaffordable to the average Nigerian, insecurity has worsened with Nigeria taking an ignoble place on the log of the most terrorised nations on earth. The country wears the shameful crown of the global poverty capital and more.

Before Buhari became President, ‘change’ meant everything it was expected to connote. He pledged to put an end to industrial actions in federal-owned universities, expand electricity generation and distribution to 40,000 megawatts, stabilise the monetary rate and improve the quality of lives of Nigerians, among others.

So sure were his loyalists about him that veteran journalist and former Minister of Information, Tony Momoh (of blessed memory) urged Nigerians “to stone us if we fail.” Like Momoh, the late Professor of Virology, Tam David West, a long time ally of the Commander-in-Chief, was once quoted as saying that in Buhari’s administration, a litre of the Premium Motor Spirit would sell for N40. The pledge to bring the naira at par with the dollar remains fresh in the mind.

In spite of his electioneering promises prior to 2015, Buhari failed to put together a cabinet for more than half a year, culminating in the stagnation of an already squeezed economy and an attendant woe on millions of citizens. As hunger battled insecurity for the top spot on the log, the APC and its standard bearer again told Nigerians to gift them another four years, promising to unleash ‘The Next Level’ on the tripod of economy, anti-corruption and security.

Under his watch, Boko Haram gave birth to kidnapping, insurgency and banditry, even as Nigerians continued to live in fear. The kidnapping industry has seen billions of naira paid to rescue abducted persons. Schools have been invaded and students, whose parents were unable to raise money to facilitate their release, got killed.

Herdsmen competing for space with farmers have wreaked havoc across the nation, leaving in their trails a tale of sorrow, tears and blood. They rape and kill at will as calls for their arrest and prosecution fell on deaf ears. The economy has remained in a shambles for years, while there has been a lack of sufficient official eagerness to prosecute some indicted persons considered to be close to the government of the day.

The incumbent government’s promise of creating at least one million jobs every year since it came into power in 2015 is up in the air for debate and with the National Bureau of Statistics putting the unemployment rate at 33.3 per cent; there is  little doubt that no success worthy of note has been recorded in this regard.

In health, the then APC presidential candidate pledged to put an end to medical tourism. However, the first citizen, like those before him, travelled out of the country many times to seek help after his election. “The State House Clinic designated for the medical needs of the first family lacks basic health facilities,” said the First Lady, Hajia Aisha Buhari, who lamented the sorry state of the clinic a few years ago.

The story is the same at the state level where those seeking the offices of governors, senators, House of Representatives and assemblies have mastered the art of making bogus promises to win themselves elective offices.

 Lack of accountability

Speaking on broken promises by politicians, the Executive Director, Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre, Auwal Rafsanjani, blamed the development on the lack of accountability in the nation’s political system.

He stated, “The absence of political accountability is what is giving room for people to make commitments and not fulfil them. Nigerian politicians always make untenable and bogus promises during campaigns without realising the implications on the electorate. In each election cycle, they make promises that are even beyond their constitutional powers when they win, especially those vying for legislative offices at the state and national levels.

“When they get there, they discover that it is not possible to implement or carry out those commitments they made. For instance, it is not the responsibility of the legislators to carry out projects that are supposed to be done by the executive arm of government. They do this at times because there is no accountability in the system.”

According to the CISLAC boss, politicians can do themselves a world of good by carrying out detailed study of the economy to avail them of knowledge, rather than swallowing empty party slogans and making vague promises.

Rafsanjani added, “Before they go into an election, they should do a background research, particularly on the economy, so that when they make any commitment, it will be based on informed knowledge. If it is an area that requires a legal framework, they can work on it when they get there. If it is about compliance with the existing framework, they can put in place qualified and competent people to assist them. If you promise to create jobs and in your manifesto, there is no provision for the kind of job that is needed to help your people, you will face a lot of challenges.

“Sometimes, it is about inadequate funding or institutional strengthening, but whatever it is, leaders need a competent team to assist them deliver on their promises. To succeed as a leader, you need like-minded people, people that believe in your vision. They can be ministers, commissioners and even members of the National Assembly.”

 ‘Blame electorate’

For Siraju Olanrewaju, Chairman, Human and Environmental Development Agenda, the electorate is to blame for failing to checkmate the excesses of politicians, who year in, year out, give them loads of unfulfilled promises.

He said, “Politicians adopt and get away with failed electoral promises because citizens are known to lack the capacity to hold them to account on those promises. The elite in the country not only abandoned the political space in terms of participation, but failed ordinarily in their inexplicable absence in assisting to analyse political issues and provide explanations to political promises. The citizens, on the other hand, have resigned to fate, knowing electoral pledges are mere promises to get votes.”

To reclaim the space and hold politicians and their political parties accountable to their promises, Olanrewaju urged citizens to shun electoral gratification and vote-selling, stressing that “the media and other elite sectors of the country must design and implement mechanisms for tracking and assessing electoral promises of politicians and political parties.”

 Institutional failure

A lecturer in the Department of Mass Communication at the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, Danladi Liwanti, opined that institutional failure to provide sufficient political education was a big causative factor for the continued ill treatment of voters by politicians.

He stated, “The bottom line is that institutions saddled with the responsibility of deepening democracy fail in ensuring that voters receive enough orientation and education to help them make informed choices during elections.

“For instance, the media is guilty because we pay more attention to politicking and sentimental politics than holding political candidates to account. Our reports and analyses should intentionally help voters to critically analyse candidates based on what they present to the public during campaigns. Journalists need to ask critical questions related to our actual problems, not the agenda set by the international community. We should be talking about the collapsed economy and how each candidate wants to revive it with a concrete economic agenda with timelines.”

That said, Liwanti noted that in tackling insecurity for instance, questions must be asked on how the nation intended to depart from the old failed strategies. He added, “What is their long term investment in human resources development that can address triggers of insecurity? Do they even understand the country’s social makeup? How does Boko Haram differ from banditry, Indigenous Peoples of Biafra and similar groups? Is the federal makeup acceptable to us?

“Is it suitable for us at this stage of our development? What do we need to do? The media should follow up on these promises and how elected officials fulfil their promises to the electorate. If the media is doing this, political parties and their candidates will be careful with their utterances during campaigns.”

 Ray of hope     

Although politicians in the past got away with a legion of unfulfilled promises they made, a youth leader in the All Progressives Congress, Haruna Abdullahi, believes there is a growing conviction among voters that the 2023 elections will throw up a number of interesting questions bordering on candidates’ personal integrity, preparedness for the job and antecedents.

Arguing that the inescapable consequences of change will make the electorate demand more from their elective office seekers in 2023, Abdullahi had this to say, “There is an awakening in Nigeria and perhaps throughout the African continent that citizens now understand the need to participate in politics. If you observe, many are now calling for issue-based campaigns and politics and this is a clear sign that, for at least, among a substantial percentage of the people, ‘stomach infrastructure’ won’t count in next year’s general elections.

“We must all commit to voting for candidates who align with our values and principles. That is the only way to get it right. Otherwise, we risk plunging this country further into crisis. We are all responsible for ensuring that democracy works in Nigeria. You don’t need promises to decide who you vote for. Political parties usually set templates for governance by tabulating their manifesto and what they are expected to do, not candidates as it were. This is because politicians will usually want to make promises during campaigns because it is part of a subtle way of luring people to vote for them. So, it is not out of place.”

Giving his opinion on the issue, the Executive Director, Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria, Emmanuel Onwubiko, urged voters to arm themselves with sufficient information on candidates’ capacity for performance, rather than their sweet utterances on campaign grounds.

He said, “The average Nigerian voter needs to know the politicians they are to vote for and should not be swayed by any sweet talks or propaganda. What should be the selling point and marketing edge of the candidates and their political parties is their vast knowledge of the intricacies of governance that can result in good governance.

“The backgrounds of candidates are key to ascertaining if they can be trusted and this knowledge should flow from their past records of selfless services to Nigerians. The politicians who should win the trust of Nigerians must be persons with impeccable records of competence and not people connected with hard drugs, advanced fee fraud, money laundering and what have you.”

For Joe Okei-Odumakin, President, Women Arise, the poverty in the land is largely responsible for politicians returning at every election cycle to make empty promises, without any reckoning with their conscience.

She said, “It is almost impossible to ask a poor and hungry person to resist a hand, which stretches food to him or her even if it is the devil’s hand. We, who are fortunate enough to be filled, should not lay further burden on the conscience of the hungry Nigerian. We are the ones who should brace and resist vote-buying and selling, and go the extra length to hold elective officers accountable to their promises.”

Taking a completely different stand on the conversation was Anthony Sani, former Secretary General of the Arewa Consultative Forum, who said it was not entirely the fault of politicians to renege on promises made, arguing that resource scarcity, most times, counted for leaders’ inability to deliver on promises made.

“Campaign promises are about what will hopefully happen in future, which nobody is prescient enough to be certain of. Some promises are realistic while some are surreal. In developed climes, campaign promises as proposed by informed public commentators are subjected to critical analysis as to whether such promises are feasible or attainable. This is for the express purpose of enlightening the electorate so they could make informed judgement during voting,” he stated

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