Elections offer voters the platform to make vital choices. Irrespective of its scope, whether local or national, elections give voters the chance to reflect on the issues which really matter to them and make a decision on which candidate to support. In a democracy, election campaigns, where candidates make attempts to persuade voters to support them, precede most elections. Campaigns present a windowpane for voters to study, discover and choose the candidates that truly represent their positions on critical issues that affect their future. Ideally, campaigns are always very critical to the final outcome of elections. In advanced democracies, voters’ preferences at polls are usually influenced by the performances of candidates during campaigns.
But do campaigns really sway voters in our nation? Historically, electioneering campaigns in Nigeria do not usually address major issues that bother on the interests, welfare and security of the people. Rather than addressing very germane issues, campaigns in our climes, more often than not, are characterized by name callings, mudslinging, thuggery, hooliganisms, maiming and killing. Even when the contestants choose to address issues, they often limit the scope of discourse to the usually divisive lines of religion, ethnicity and tribal sentiments.
Characteristically, as the all important electioneering year 2015 approaches, it is evident that nothing has really changed in terms of the style and pattern of political parties towards political campaigns. The incessant clamour by the media, civil society organisations, the academia, electoral monitoring groups, NGOs and other related bodies for aspirants and political parties to run issue based campaigns, seems to be yielding very little or no result. On the contrary, what pervades the polity is the usually needless acrimony that unnecessarily heats up the political atmosphere. It beats one’s imagination that those that aspire to lead us often resort to tussles rather than concentrating on salient national issues that would engender socio-political and economic growth. Why, for instance in the 21st century, should maiming and killing become campaign strategies? Why should arson be a technique for political advocacy?
Turning electioneering campaigns into a tug of war is a slap in the face of the electorate. The voters deserve much more respect. They deserve more than the blabbing, that lacks substance which are most often erroneously taken for electioneering campaigns by the contestants. It is this aberration that is partly responsible for the predominance of voters’ apathy in the country. Most voters, rightly or wrongly, usually conclude that since the major issues that directly have significant bearing on their daily livings are not often extensively discussed by politicians during campaigns, they would rather stay away from the polls.
It is, therefore, imperative for all stakeholders in the electoral process to put in place a system that encourages dialogue, among aspirants, on relevant issues during political campaigns. There is need to put in place a structure that promotes healthy debates on burning national issues among aspirants.
This would afford voters the opportunity to appraise the personality, character and other qualities of the respective aspirants. It is important that the electorates have a platform through which they could accurately gauge the preparedness, intellectual ability and emotional frame of these men before deciding on whom is most deserving of their precious votes.
For instance, on the national stage, the electorates need to know the position of candidates on the state of our refineries and what they hope to do (scientifically, technically and pragmatically) to turn them around. They, equally, need to know, from those aspiring for the presidency why we have continued to import fuel as an oil producing nation and how they would reverse the trend.
Also, the various aspirants must furnish voters with their vision for the power sector. Without a doubt, the power sector remains a major driver of the economy. With a stable power supply, there would be more jobs and the economy would become more prosperous. Therefore, considering the centrality of power to the economic well-being of the people, presidential aspirants must intimate the electorates with a comprehensive and realistic blueprint on how they hope to transform the power sector. The electorates also deserve to know the precise mega watts of power that the country requires for the citizenry to enjoy constant power supply. They need to know what mega watts we currently generate and how they (the candidates) wish to bridge the evident short-fall.
Education, security, public health, job creation, infrastructure development and the stabilization of the economy, among others, are some of the critical issues that those aspiring for public offices at the national level need to dwell on during their electoral campaigns.
The electorate ought to have a better understanding of the official positions of respective aspirants on these vital areas. For instance, it is not enough to keep blabbing about the deteriorating security situation in the country, it behooves on those aspiring to lead us to make available, for the voting public, a broad- plan that outline how they intend to deal with the situation.
This process is not restricted to those seeking political offices at the national level. It should go for those aspiring to lead at the other tiers of government. In view of the dwindling oil revenue, it is important, for instance, for governorship aspirants to explain to the electorates how they hope to generate the needed fund to execute their programmes. It is not enough for a governorship aspirant, whose state’s total monthly expenditure surpasses total monthly income, to promise heaven on earth without making available his funding strategy. Most often than not, such aspirants, having secured electoral victory, usually turn around to justify their inability to deliver on electoral promises on lack of fund.
Having practiced democracy for fourteen unbroken years, it is time to focus on getting it right. We should no longer hide under the usual pretext of a ‘nascent democracy’ to do things in crude fashion. This is the time to get it right.
As we march towards 2015 general elections, all stakeholders must insist on getting the various political aspirants and political parties do things correctly. It is criminal to stand by and watch while a significant few continues to hold the nation to ransom through unethical political conduct. In the words of African-American human right activist, Martins Luther King Jr.: “Our lives begin to end, the day we become silent on things that matter”
•Ogunbiyi writes from Alausa, Ikeja.