by Ogbu A. Ameh
When one looks in retrospect, the odds were stacked against the just concluded general elections. There were predictions of disintegration, uncertainties, terrorism, instability, economic meltdown and the deliberate heating of the polity. However, the reality was, in most places palpable calm. The majority of poor people, for almost the very first time, unequivocally spoke in one voice. Many factors culminated in this resolution of the people’s yearnings.
Prominent among the factors is the resolve of the mass of poor people to collectively demonstrate their demand for change. The majority of poor people are the real stake holders in the democracy and electoral process. When these people shunned ethnic patriotism and religious sentiment, they reclaimed their rights as owners of sovereignty. They now need to fight to ensure that the changes they voted for are delivered.
The journey to political maturity has just begun. The critical objective now is to hold the political leaders accountable. This is what we need at this point of our existence as we disrobe our triple heritage. The praise and credits of this emerging change go to the vast majority of working and poor, especially those who are organised in trade unions and other civil society groups. They painstakingly convened political debates and dialogue conferences on several topics of note, relating to the elections.
These included themes like: enthroning an issue based political culture and towards an issue based electioneering campaign. These collective efforts are politically important as agenda-setting mechanisms from below, for subsequently assessing traditional politicians in power..
This time our votes counted; because we dared to make them count. It is perhaps the dawn of a new era to reposition our society – if we collectively act to ensure that the promises of the new governments are kept. Buhari and the new APC state governors promised great changes – we now have to ensure that they deliver. Buhari put a great emphasis on the fight against corruption. We have to ensure that the wealth of the country benefit the poor and working people and is not restricted to the elite supporters of the APC. The promise to require asset declarations by all politicians and senior public servants when they take office and when they leave is a good start.
Buhari also promised to increase the proportion of government budgets spent on education to 15%. This would significantly increase the resources available to make quality education available to all our children. We have to ensure that the excuse of austerity is not used to forget this promise. Members of the Nigerian Union of Teachers need to actively campaign with parents to ensure that the government makes good on this promise. We can then significantly increase the resources available in schools and the salaries of all our teachers.
The APC manifesto promised to increase the amount spent on public health services from N10,000 per person to N50,000 per person per year. This would make a huge difference to the lives of most poor and working people. We would no longer have to fear the financial costs of illness in our families. We could be confident that public health services were delivered properly and the necessary drugs and procedures would not cripple us financially. The health unions have shown great resilience in fighting against austerity in recent years. This fight will have to continue to make the government provide the necessary resources for public health services.
Buhari promised to provide a social welfare program of at least five thousand naira (N5,000) for the 25 million poorest and most vulnerable citizens. Experience in other countries has shown that this is an effective way to reduce poverty. It is especially suitable if paid as a social wage to all citizens. This would ensure that all poor people benefit from the oil wealth and begin to be able to organise their own lives. However, such a promise could easily be postponed using the drop in the price of oil as an excuse. We have to ensure that this does not happen.
The mass of working and poor people voted for change that would greatly improve our lives. But this is only the first step. We need to work together in our trade unions and other organisations to ensure that the government is required to provide the services it promised so easily. These promises will not be cheap to implement, but if oil bunkering and other blatant corruption is reduced then more than enough resources will be available.