In the last couple of weeks two of the presidential campaign spokesmen have launched their verbal missiles at each other indicating their preparedness for the rofo rofo fight that lies ahead. Mr Festus Keyamo, a senior lawyer who worked under the tutelage of the irrepressible Gani Fawehinmi is speaking for the Tinubu campaign organisation. He was also a certified National Democratic Coalition (NADECO) activist and is by all accounts a tested warrior. He is the Minister of State for Labour and Productivity and that Ministry has been in the eye of the storm for several months since the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) closed down federal universities with a long strike.
Mr Keyamo, his boss, Minister of Labour and Productivity, Dr Chris Ngige and the Minister of Education, Mr Adamu Adamu have not been able to get the lecturers back to their classrooms for six months now. The students were for sometime on the streets of Abuja with pots and pans but this has yielded no lessons for the combatants.
Sorry for the digression. The other major party, PDP has as its presidential candidate’s spokesman, Senator Dino Melaye. Melaye is a veteran politician who is no stranger to rough political terrains. He knows a thing or two about trouble and trouble knows a thing or two about him. He is as combative as they come and I have no intention of listing his fellow combatants except the man who defeated him in the last Kogi West Senatorial election, Mr Smart Adeyemi. Melaye had boasted that Mr Adeyemi was his wife and he would do to him what husbands do to their spouses in the other room. Adeyemi, a tested trade union warrior, bested Melaye in the election and took Melaye’s seat in the red chamber. Sorry for the digression.
Now the two presidential spokesmen have already crossed swords. Keyamo fired the first shot when he said a couple of weeks ago that “Atiku Abubakar, the PDP presidential candidate has never held any government position where he makes the final call. He was Vice President; he was not the Chief Executive Officer. He was never a governor. He was never anything. Even Peter Obi is ahead of Atiku Abubakar.” Melaye responded by saying that anyone who has served as the Vice President is fit for the number one position. He then launched his assault on Keyamo thus: “Ask Nigerians today what portfolio Keyamo is holding. Many will tell you that they do not even know the Ministry. He is redundant, inactive and not visible because he is not known as a Minister. He is mistaking his office as Minister of State for the office of the Vice President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. No
Nigerian who is educated and intellectually okay will abuse the office of the Vice President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, the number two office in this country.”
Now that the brawl is just starting we must tell these spokesmen and those of the other parties that we have very serious problems that need very urgent solutions. We are not interested in fruitless yabis and nonsensical bickering. Those they work for ought to caution them that we are more interested in problem solving ideas than in loose-lipped loquaciousness. The challenges we face are many and complex and we would prefer that the candidates and their spokesmen tell us how they will solve these problems.
Mr Keyamo gives the impression that since the former Vice President Atiku was never a State Governor he is not suitable for the presidential contest. That is misleading. A Vice President attends meetings of the Federal Executive Council (FEC), chairs the National Economic Council meetings. America’s former President, Mr Barack Obama, never governed a state before becoming president. The present American President, Mr Joe Biden, was Obama’s Vice President. The only other thing he did was serve in the Senate for many years. Now he runs America as its President. Mr Donald Trump never even served in any public office before he became America’s President.
But Atiku is an established businessman where he always made the final call. He established a university that is efficiently run without strikes. In any case, making the final call does not necessarily mean that the call maker is so brilliant as to be regarded as infallible, Buhari makes the final call but Nigeria has gone down. Final calls are made from inputs by other persons who do the groundwork. So Atiku is qualified to contest. The only problem he has is the squabbling within his party.
Atiku Abubakar has said that Asiwaju Bola Tinubu cannot sit down for one hour to grant an interview because he is unwell. What the public knows is that Tinubu had a knee surgery a few months ago in the United Kingdom. He has been moving around without a walking stick, which means he has fully recovered. If Tinubu has a terminal illness he will not be able to undertake the rigorous campaign that lies ahead. For now we know that he is fit to run. Anyone who has any evidence to the contrary can do his duty to the nation by revealing it.
For now Tinubu has proved Atiku wrong about sitting down to do a one-hour interview. On August 8 this year, the Vanguard published a two-page interview granted to Jide Ajani, General Editor of the paper by Tinubu. The title was “How my training, experience, knowledge can rescue Nigeria.” With that interview which must have lasted up to an hour Tinubu has passed the test set by Atiku. For me the real test that all the presidential candidates must pass is framed by the word, how? How will each of them solve the lingering problems that are threatening to bring the country to its knees? Such problems include but are not limited to extreme insecurity, a failing economy, growing poverty, oil theft, corruption, disunity, ethno-religious crisis, disharmony in education and health, high debt burden etc. These problems need practical, workable solutions, which we have not had.
And as the Buhari government goes into its lame duck phase because of the campaign and elections these problems will remain unresolved and may increasingly become worse for lack of adequate attention. It will then be the responsibility of the incoming president to solve them. So we need to know as the presidential candidates are about to step out for campaigns how each of them will solve these problems.
The inability of the Buhari government to solve most of these problems should alert us about the smooth tongues of those who manage the information portfolio of the various parties.
Mr Lai Mohammed was a very smooth operator and hoodwinked Nigerians into voting for Buhari. He claimed that the government was ready for change from the old, corrupt and clueless order into a new corruption-free and efficient order. Now we know better. We bought into those lies and today we are stranded. And not only our present but our future is already mortgaged, thanks to the bombardment of our senses with misinformation and disinformation. We should have known that trees that look straight may have crooked roots. We swallowed the intoxicating nectar of smooth mouthed propagandists and gave them our votes.
Now my appeal to journalists is to ensure that the motor-mouthed spin doctors do not succeed this time around in the game of public deception. We must be ready to shoot down their cacophony of old wives tales by doing serious fact-checking on every information that they give out to the public. We must subject to severe scrutiny every bit of information that the spokesmen give about their candidates. We must also verify whatever information the candidates themselves give about themselves or their solutions to the country’s many problems by strict fact-checking.
We must adopt the position that since we have been once bitten we ought to be twice shy. Once we are strict in assessing the information we receive we can be reasonably sure that the spokesmen will not take us for a jolly ride. We must be ready like a coil, to spring to action whenever we feel that the propagandists representing the various candidates are trying to take the public, especially the voters, for a jolly ride. Once we shoot down the information that is intended to mislead the public the spokesmen will learn their lessons and adjust their strategies. We expect them to choose their words carefully, decently with appropriate respect for the intelligence of the voters and respect for other candidates and respect for propriety.
Today there is a refreshing attempt by the youths to be involved in the 2023 elections. They call it “taking their country back” from those who have mismanaged it for years. In the past elections there was serious voter apathy. This new awakening is a bonus for our democracy. We hope that the frenzy does not start and stop with social media ranting. We hope they actually got registered as voters and have picked up their permanent voters cards and will actually go out to vote. This will be their greatest contribution towards watering the tree of our democracy.