BusinessDay

2023: Nigerians looking for a president that can run the country better than it is today – Ihua

Professor Bell Ihua, executive director, Africa Polling Institute (API), spoke with select journalists on a number of national issues and areas the government should focus its attention in 2022 and qualities that Nigerians would like to see from potential presidential candidates seeking to contest in 2023. JAMES KWEN brings the excerpts:

What is your general outlook for the year, and what expectations would you say Nigerians have for the year?

In terms of general outlook for the year from a citizen’s perspective, I believe citizens would be looking forward to accessing more dividends of democracy from the government that they elected into power, especially as it relates to human and infrastructural development. I believe there is so much expectation from Nigerians regarding improved citizens’ welfare and living conditions. You know COVID-19 took its toll on the country, with attendant effects on citizens and they would be looking to see how the government would weather the storm to improve security, economy, and general wellbeing of citizens.

Are there specific sectors or areas you think the government should focus attention on this year?

Yes, I believe there are some sectors government should focus its attention on. The first is security. Only a few days ago we learnt of bandits attacking communities in Zamfara and killing over 200 innocent unarmed citizens. It should be unheard of in the 21st century. It appears human life no longer means anything to us, that people can be slaughtered at will. One of the core responsibilities of government is security, and it is worrisome that we are still getting these sorts of stories in the news. Citizens need the government and security forces to step up their efforts in the area of providing security to citizens.

The second area is the economy. 2021 was a tough year for citizens, especially those in the lower rung of the social class. I say this because I travelled across the country and interviewed citizens in every single state I visited. I even led a national poverty profile survey and personally interacted with poor citizens. The poverty and unemployment rates are still pretty high, and citizens would like to see government policies that would alleviate widespread poverty and bolster the economy to create more jobs. We have a bulging youth population, with about 35percent or a third of whom are unemployed and too many graduates fighting for too few jobs. This is a recipe for chaos, and we saw a bit of this during the October 2020 #EndSARS protests. We must be thinking of how to create jobs for our unemployed young people.

The third area I would like the government to focus its attention on is the area of food security. The just-concluded festive season witnessed a drastic spike in the cost of food items across the county, despite the low disposable income of citizens. Although this is not surprising, as we had seen this coming from the results and findings of our past polls and surveys. I have also listened to anecdotes from citizens on the field, and they told me that a lot of farmers could not maximise the planting season due to insecurity or what is often referred to as farmers-herders or bandit crises. In fact, it should simply be called ‘attacks on farmers’, because in most cases, the farmers are the ones being attacked by the criminal herders and bandits.

Please get my point right. I am not saying that all herders are bad. What I’m simply saying is that there are criminal elements amongst them who make a vocation of attacking farmers to ravage their farms or steal from them. It is not as if there is always a situation of crisis between farmers and bandits. For instance, how do you explain the invasion of farming communities and the sporadic shooting and killings of unarmed citizens? Do you call that crisis between two groups? This is how it often occurs.

Talking about General Election coming up next year, what sort of presidential candidate do you think Nigerians are looking for?

Thanks for this question. Incidentally, I ran a poll along this line last year and there are some qualities that Nigerians would be looking for in the next leader of the country. To start with, Nigerians want a credible election, where their votes will count, and they can cast those votes without fear or intimidation. Nigerians want a credible and competent leader, who is God-fearing, kind-hearted, and can tackle insecurity head-on. These were the top qualities I can remember. In other words, Nigerians are looking for a leader who knows that we can be much better than we are today as a country, and is willing to work with his or her team to lay the vision to make this country great again, one that every citizen would be proud of and glad to contribute their quota to her development.

Some pundits have said that Nigerians would be willing to vote for any candidate; what role do you believe religion and ethnicity would play in the General Election next year?

From my experience, I believe religion and ethnicity would play a role in the elections. Unfortunately, that is where we currently are as a nation. Religion and ethnicity have become intertwined into our politics; so, much as anyone would talk about the credentials and qualities of an incoming leader when the chips are down, religion and ethnicity would still play a role.

Read also: 2023 presidency: A season of self-presentation in Aso Rock

However, this is not to despair because credible and competent candidates can be found from across the major religious affiliations and ethnic groupings in the country. So, it behooves on the political parties to put their best foot forward.

What is your take on zoning? Should it be considered in the coming election?

From the standpoint of a pollster, one who has polled Nigerians on this issue, the predominant view of Nigerians is that zoning has come to stay in our system of politics for now. For instance, the president is about serving out his 8-year tenure, it has become accepted in the minds of Nigerians that for the sake of equity since the president is from the northern extraction of the country, the next president should come from the southern extraction; and possibly since the current president is a Muslim, that the next president should be a Christian. These are modern-day realities of the Nigeria of today; however, we know politicians have their ways and often disagree to agree over these matters.

We have heard some politicians say that Nigerians would be willing to vote for credible candidates from any part of the country, even if it’s a Muslim-Muslim or Christian-Christian ticket, what’s your take on this?

Again, as I said earlier, I can only speak from my perspective as a pollster, someone who has actively been involved in conducting over 500 national public opinion polls and surveys in Nigeria over the last decade. To that extent, I can say that you are correct because Nigeria is in dire need of credible and competent leaders in every sector and level of governance today.

However, when you talk about a Muslim-Muslim or Christian-Christian ticket, I can tell you it is dead on arrival. Any politician who speaks this way either lacks understanding of the current socio-political interplay in the country or is simply wicked and mischievous. You must understand that the Nigeria of 2022 isn’t the same Nigeria of 1993.

Events have occurred, the tides have changed, politicians have not helped matters, there has been a deepening of the fault lines over the last 20 to 23 years. This country is much more divided today compared to 1993 than you can imagine, and the dynamics are different. Data from our social cohesion survey provides evidence to substantiate this. In 2019, 45 percent of Nigerians said the country was more divided than the preceding 4 years. But by 2021 that proportion had jumped up to 65 percent of Nigerians who thought that the country was much more divided. So, for anybody to tell you that the same religion ticket will work in Nigeria at a time like this is simply living in wonderland. He or she isn’t on ground.

Can you take a wild guess on who would be Nigeria’s president come 2023?

My friend, I am neither a magician nor a necromancer, I am only a pollster, and that means I can only speak as it pertains to what citizens have said or are going to say about the country, and that would be after I have polled citizens to glean their opinions. I do not make wild guesses; it is not my forte. Political parties have not even conducted their presidential primaries and do not even have candidates. It is rather premature to be asking this question at this point. Maybe, you should come back to ask me this question when the parties have conducted their presidential primaries, and when we have conducted a nationwide poll to ask Nigerians who they would vote for. That is when I would be able to answer you.

But from your polls, are there some names on the lips of Nigerians that they hope would emerge as viable candidates to lead Nigeria into the next phase?

I cannot tell at the moment, if anyone needs to know that, they can come and consult us to run some polls for them to ask Nigerians these questions. Polls of this nature have to be commissioned; and if anyone is interested, we would be glad to run a poll, but you must understand they do not come cheap. Good polls are not cheap.

What role do you think data would play for Nigeria in 2022?

Well I believe data would play an increasing role in terms of promoting better development outcomes for the nation. Of course, it is the year preceding a general election, so we would soon start seeing all manner of fly-by-night pollsters and survey researchers, who are only active during election seasons, and would start churning out all manner of survey and poll results, just as a way of positioning one candidate or another. That is our clime and we are used to it. Nonetheless, Africa Polling Institute remains steadfast in our mandate of championing opinion research to support both state and non-state actors for policy, practice, and advocacy.

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