Why Presidential candidates’ manifestos do not excite us, by OAL

Since Wednesday, November 28, 2022, when the presidential electioneering campaign kicked off in line with the timetable of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) for the 2023 general election, there have been variegated observations.

While some observers keep to themselves their own observations, some others verbalise what they have seen; yet, some decide to scream aloud to cause the candidates make amends when it is not too late.

Olisa Agbakoba Legal (OAL) belongs to the last group. Not satisfied with the quality of the campaign and the manifestos being reeled out, the organisation decided to come out with a Policy Report on ‘Big Issues for the 2023 General Election.’

In a 23-page document, the Public Sector Practice Group of OAL noted the myriads of challenges that Nigeria is currently grappling with, which will confront the next president that will be voted into power next year.

OAL strongly believes that the next president of Nigeria must, not only know the depth and breadth of the challenges, but must spell out in practical terms how to get the country back from the precipice.

In a country with 133 million citizens living in multi-dimensional poverty, according to the recent report released by the Nigeria Bureau of Statistics (NBS), the legal firm strongly believes that it must not be business as usual.

Speaking at a media event Tuesday on the essence of the report, Olisa Agbakoba, senior advocate of Nigeria (SAN), said it was the company’s little contribution because Nigeria was in a critical position and that “we all need to put our heads together to solve the problems.”

According to him, “OAL’s Policy Report 2022 reviews a few of the big issues that should engage the Presidential candidates. This report suggests policy issues to address, matters on National Unity, the Economy, Insecurity, etc. It is our hope that this report will contribute to the political and economic transformation of Nigeria.”

Agbakoba pointed out that the first big issue confronting a new President would be disunity, disorder, and insecurity. He said that if it is not resolved, there would be no peace and the President cannot deliver on his mandate.

“This is an issue all Presidential candidates correctly identify as an existential threat but are not quite clear on how to resolve it. Nigeria has never been this disunited and disordered. The International Index of failed states says Nigeria is in a low-grade civil war. There is insecurity, conflict, and agitation everywhere. The southwest of Nigeria is plagued by a surge in cybercrime, armed robbery, kidnapping, domestic crime, extrajudicial killings, herder-farmer conflicts, and banditry. The southeast is a haven for killings, commercial crime, secessionist agitation, kidnapping, herder-farmer clashes, attacks by unknown gunmen, and banditry. The south-south remains threatened by militancy, kidnapping, and environmental agitation. The northeast has been subject to a humanitarian crisis lasting over a decade and caused by the Boko Haram insurgency and the Islamic State in West Africa Province. Meanwhile, the northwest is enmeshed in illegal mining, ethno-religious killings, and banditry. How will the Presidential candidates address this issue?”

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He also noted that another big issue to engage all Presidential candidates was the economic challenges. “The Nigerian economy is in a technical recession. This is complicated by high-interest rates, lending and exchange rates, unemployment, poverty, structural defects caused by budget deficit, debt crisis, and shrinking revenue. Apart from disunity, disorder, and insecurity, a weak economy must challenge all Presidential candidates. Unfortunately, whilst most Presidential candidates refer to issues relating to the economy generally, there are no specifics. The new President will be confronted with a massive debt burden of close to N80 trillion. This includes a current debt stock of N41.6trillion in March 2022, Ways and Means borrowing at over N19.9 trillion, FGN debt Bonds at N5.1 trillion issued since April 2022, and a projected deficit of over N11trillion to finance the budget of 2023. This excludes the bonds to be raised before 2022 runs out. Already the country is at risk of borrowing to pay interest on its debt obligations. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has predicted that Nigeria’s debt service-to-revenue ratio would jump to 92 percent in 2022 from 76 percent in 2021. Added to all this is the admission of the Debt Management Office that the country was unable to secure any foreign loan in the second quarter of 2022, leaving very little room for maneuvering by the new government,” he said.

OAL also believes that unemployment is serious enough to receive the presidential candidates’ attention.

Agbakoba said: “This is another big issue confronting all Presidential candidates. All the Presidential candidates recognise the alarming unemployment figures in Nigeria but have yet to make specific recommendations on how to tackle the massive unemployment. Available data shows the number of unemployed Nigerians is over 20 Million. The Nigerian Bureau of Statistics (NBS) defines unemployment as the number of Nigerians that either did nothing or worked for less than 20 hours per week.”

On poverty, he said: “This is the single biggest issue confronting the Presidential candidates. Apart from general statements, most Presidential candidates have not said how they intend to reverse Nigeria’s alarming poverty. The National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) has disclosed that 133 million Nigerians are multi-dimensionally poor. This represents 63 percent of the nation’s population. According to the NBS, half of this poor population cook with dung, wood, or charcoal, rather than clean energy. Deprivations are apparent in sanitation, time to healthcare, food insecurity, and housing. Sokoto, Bayelsa, Gombe, Jigawa, and Plateau are the top poorest states. Sokoto leads with 90.5 percent of people in the state being poor. It is followed by Bayelsa with 88.5 percent poor people. Gombe with 86percent; Jigawa with 84.3percent, and Plateau with 84 percent.”

Other areas that OAL listed as crucial issues that should receive concrete plans by the candidates on how to tackle them include weak and inefficient judicial, legal, institutional and regulatory framework; International relations/Foreign policy; Corruption, lack of transparency, and accountability, and Energy crisis.

He also proffered solutions to the identified challenges and pointed the candidates to things they could do to achieve a desirable result.

Since September 28th, the presidential candidates of the four leading political parties have been speaking to Nigerians, appealing for votes. However, only about three of them have made public their manifestos, which though identified the nation’s problems, but fell.short on how they can be addressed.