By Ngala Killian Chimtom, Africa Correspondent
ABUJA, Nigeria (Crux) — In February 2023, Nigerians will go to the polls to elect a president. Some 15-odd candidates will be competing for the top job in Africa’s most populous nation — a nation bedeviled by crippling insecurity, lawlessness, a floundering economy, poor social service delivery, and lingering hopelessness.
In an exclusive interview with Crux, a top Nigerian cleric puts the election into perspective. The Archbishop of Abuja, Ignatius Kaigama, expresses concern over the lack of depth in the proposals coming from the candidates and challenges them to prove their worth.
“Politicians who aspire for office must prove their worth and convince us that they are well equipped to deliver the goods,” Archbishop Kaigama said.
The following are excerpts of that conversation.
Crux: When you look at the proposals of the candidates, do you think they are addressing the key concerns of the Nigerian people?
Well, so far, we have seen little in the conduct and disposition of a greater majority of the candidates to inspire confidence. A few of them have been forthright in addressing some of the major issues or concerns bedeviling our polity. Others have not fared well at all, presuming, maybe, on the privileges of incumbency to see them through to victory.
At this point, we must all subscribe to the politics of the socio-economic reconstruction and development of Nigeria. Politicians who aspire for office must prove their worth and convince us that they are well equipped to deliver the goods. The attempt to rely on questionable antecedents, be it religious, ethnic, or regional, must be rejected.
The manifestos and programs of those seeking elective office should be credible and relevant. They should be talking about education, housing, employment, health, agriculture, security, the youth, and what have you.
President Muhammadu Buhari has promised a free, fair, and transparent election. Do you believe he will live up to that promise?
The President is a devout Muslim who should be a man of his words. He should also be aware that the whole world will be watching to see how the elections unfold. What is more, he has to make up his mind whether he wants to belong on the wrong or right side of history.
However, the conduct of the elections does not depend entirely on the president. It is the duty and right of all citizens to ensure that the elections are free, fair, and credible. The masses must be allowed to exercise responsibly their franchise or voting powers and monitor closely the events that will shape their future.
A US-based magazine, Foreign Policy, has raised concerns over the age of the candidates, saying that the choices of the parties “ended the possibility that the next president of Africa’s most populous nation would be someone belonging to an emerging-rather than a dying generation.”
Are you concerned that the age of the next president could be an issue?
The age factor should definitely be an issue in the next elections. A good percentage of the population of Africa belongs to the youth bracket. The youth have stamina and the capacity to endure rigors of the office on their side.
At this point in our history, Nigeria needs an agile and dynamic personality who is able to steer the ship of state, especially in difficult times. If our democracy is a borrowed one, it should also not be out of place to borrow a leaf from many of the countries in Europe and America who have no qualms surrendering the running of the country to the younger generation. It is always disheartening to see candidates who are aging and not enjoying the best of health vying for political office.
Despite the track record of the older generation, Nigerian politics is fast becoming the exclusive preserve of older politicians, as seen from the constant recycling of government officials, especially those in their 70s. For many years, particularly after the country’s return to democratic governance in 1999, youths were at best seen as supporters, mobilizers or political foot soldiers hired to instigate violence, manipulate elections, and intimidate opposing parties.
While this image is not completely the fault of the older generation, these groups enjoyed the idea of youths as political mercenaries rather than competitors.
The election is coming at a time that Nigeria’s young people seem more inclined to seek greener pastures elsewhere. In 2010, only 32 percent of Nigerians were willing to leave the country, now the number has increased to 7 out of 10. What is the danger for Nigeria if this trend continues, and how should the next president address this problem?
The migration of Nigerians seeking greener pastures abroad is no longer news. The rate at which they are leaving poses a cause for concern, as they play vital roles in the socio-economic development of the nation.
The high rate of poverty in the country has made people more miserable than they were a few years ago. Insufficient jobs have left the youth unemployment rate verging on an all-time high. The challenges in the education sector, especially in the public one, such as access, quality, funding, strikes, cultism, and instability of the academic calendar, have led to a steady rise in the outflow of Nigerian students seeking post-secondary education abroad.
Over the last few years, Nigeria has recorded further deteriorations in peace and security with the attendant effects on the economy and quality of life. These issues should be addressed frontally by the government if we must stem the tide of migration out of the country.
Despite growing evidence of youth activism and mobilization, Nigerian youths have yet to achieve the level of inclusion required to gain representation in politics. Leadership deficits, money politics, poor internal democracy among the older parties, and an absence of a strategic political agenda pose ongoing barriers to young people playing a role in national development.
In a February 23 statement, the bishops’ conference stated that “many ethnic champions are loudly beating the drums of war, calling not only for greater autonomy but even for outright opting out of a nation in which they have lost all trust and sense of belonging.”
Is Nigeria on the verge of collapse, and how should the new government address this?
Nigeria has not become a failed state in the true sense of the word. But all the indices are there that it has now become a very fragile polity.
There are two strands of opinion on the matter of imminent collapse or disintegration of the nation. There are extremists opting for secession, on the one side, and there are those who seek to rekindle hope in Nigeria, whose future may still be bright, if those in authority can reflect on the looming danger and begin to do the right and decent thing.
In politics, the larger consideration should be the stability of the Nigerian state and the welfare and security of the people. Nigeria should be conceived in terms of the people and not some regional, tribal, or religious consideration.
As Nigerians, we should have confidence in and commitment to our country as a nation. We should take cognizance of our historical circumstances, for history cannot be denied, and instead of dreaming of disintegration, resolve to come together and dialogue maturely on the way to a better future.
The Catholic bishops have called for restructuring Nigeria. How should that be done?
Firstly, the National Assembly should summon the courage to amend the 1999 Constitution to reflect true and proper federalism. If this is done without let or hindrance, separatist agitations will fizzle out, and there will be peace in Nigeria.
Secondly, in order to promote national unity and make all ethnic groups, including the so-called minority groups feel they belong, elections should be arranged in such a way that it is not monopolized by one or two ethnic groups.
Thirdly, some of the cogent recommendations of the National Conference held in 2014, should be considered with a view to actually implementing them.
Please describe the situation of Nigeria’s Christians in the face of terrorist attacks and attacks by Fulani herdsmen.
In recent times, there have been attacks allegedly by Fulani herdsmen, particularly on churches and the killing of priests, with a resultant increase in population displacement, especially in the affected areas. The population displacement has worsened the social and economic situation for the generality of the populace.
Christians are bearing the brunt of insecurity and violence as bandits attack homes, villages, and churches, killing Christians and kidnapping others for ransom. In these clashes, both Christian and Muslim communities have been targeted, with homes and places of worship destroyed.
The situation is further complicated by the ongoing conflict between herders and farmers for resources such as land. The federal government, instead of making promises, should take convincing actions to stem the mayhem.
We call on President Muhammadu Buhari to make true his pledge that he belongs to everybody and to nobody by using the power of his office to put to an end this incessant harassment, kidnapping, and killing of Christians and others in Nigeria.
Why do you think the Buhari government failed to address these problems?
The primary responsibility of government, as enshrined in the constitution, is the protection of life and property of its citizens irrespective of ethnic and/or religious persuasion. Any breach of this fundamental principle of social contract contravenes the very reason for which government exists. When a government loses the capacity to protect the life and property of its citizens, it loses credibility, and anarchy beckons.
The failure to protect the people is put squarely at the doorstep of the federal government that has lost the capacity to rein in sundry cartels of gunmen who now terrorize different places, particularly in the North, without let or hindrance. At this point, it should be clear to the authorities that the existing strategy to stem insecurity and foster peace is not working and should either be looked into, improved, or, at best, redesigned.
Obviously, the government has failed to do what’s needed in ensuring that terrorists are checkmated, criminals rounded up, bandits dismantled, and kidnappers put out of business. This is the very least the citizens expect from their leaders. The rise and proliferation of many forms of “self-help” security organizations is a loud attestation to a vote of no confidence, as it were, on the authorities.