The 2023 general election has witnessed marked improvement toward issues-based campaigns. We are witnessing a gradual departure from the usual campaign methodology of empty rhetoric, festive rallies, divisive propaganda, attacks on personality, and godfather horse-trading to that of public dialogues and debates on governance and developmental issues by candidates.
Unprecedentedly, in Kaduna State, a number of the candidates have made public their blueprints and are using them as a basis for engaging stakeholders and the electorates in general. Concurrently, civil society organizations have also contributed to this shift in campaign focus by setting #TheAgenda and dialoguing with Governorship candidates.
Among many other efforts, the Partnership for Issues-Based Campaign in Nigeria (PICaN) and Legal Awareness for Nigeria Women (LAWN) supported by Partnership to Engage, Reform & Learn (PERL) and ActionAid Nigeria as well as Procyon News Radio/TV and Invicta FM initiated #TheAgenda policy dialogue and media engagements with candidates and other stakeholders in Kaduna State.
The governorship candidates of the NNPP, PRP, APGA, LP, APC, PDP, and ADP have been engaged as a group and individually on these platforms. During the engagements, the candidates were engaged by non-state actors on the issues of security, fiscal sustainability, health, education, agriculture, social protection, environment, infrastructure development, gender, and social inclusion, reforms such as the Open Government Partnership (OGP), among others.
The civil society organizations under different accountability mechanisms also used the platforms to submit citizens’ demand charters to each of the candidates for consideration in their blueprints. Interestingly and commendably so, as of today, the candidates of the PDP, LP, and APC have publicly released blueprints. Recently, PERL supported PICaN to facilitate a post-mortem to track the influence of the submitted citizens’ demand charters in the blueprints of the above-mentioned three candidates.
Excitedly, the evidence shows that some recommendations in the citizens’ demand charters are reflected in the blueprints made public by the candidates. Under the education sector, the blueprint of the APC reflected two, while that of the LP and PDP each had three. In the health sector, LP reflected six, while the PDP had seven and APC had four. As regards local government reforms, the LP reflected two, APC had one and the PDP had none. Lastly, on social protection, the PDP reflected two, while both LP and APC had five.
Indeed, while we are not where we want to be in terms of issues-based campaigns, at least we are not where we used to be. This fact is also reinforced by the number of media debates that have taken place and the resultant revelations. As part of the public debate, a former Governor made public audited reports, hitherto not publicly available for close to twenty years, in response to an open challenge by the incumbent Governor.
We have also seen the candidates publicly challenge each other’s capacity, credibility, character, and track records. Likewise, they have taken on each other on issues of downsizing civil servants (especially teachers), school fees hike, upgrade of the 255 Primary Healthcare Centres, persistent insecurity, urban renewal, demolition of shops and rebuilding of markets, debt increase, and utilization, same faith ticket, etc. The big win is that these campaign dialogues and debates have led to increased political awareness and consciousness of the electorates in the State.
Granted a lot of the voters will still be voting based on the ongoing propaganda of divisive sentiments and enticement in cash and kind, however, many of them will be doing it with the basic understanding of what the issues are – that whoever wins will have to address. If one considers that nation-building is a process, then despite the persistent mundane ways of campaigning, progress has been made. It is also time for civil society organizations to re-strategize for post-election engagement to ensure that the social contract is delivered by whoever wins.
Let’s engage, ask the right questions, and hold the government accountable.
Goje is an Active Citizen and Co-Convener, Partnership for Issues-Based Campaign in Nigeria (PICaN)