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To say that politics and politicking have taken over the Nigerian landscape is stating the obvious. With a few months before the 2019 general elections, the din and drama of the contest for public office has assumed deafening proportions. And this can only get louder and more consuming.

And heavily distracting too. There is no question that issues around governance and the economy have already taken a back seat and when even brought forward, they tend to get mired in the murky waters of politics. Those currently on the saddle are scheming to either retain their seats or working hard to impose preferred aspirants as successors (or in some situations, preventing those marked as unworthy to succeed them). Those seeking to replace incumbents are wont to colour every step (no matter how good intentioned or noble) with the tar of politics in a bid to gain advantage over rivals. An immediate outcome of this is that in this cacophony of campaigns (even though the electoral management body is yet to declare that phase of the 2019 transition process open) and political posturing, citizens easily get carried away and pay less attention to the germane issues of governance. The risk here is that we may end up without a thorough scrutiny of the individuals throwing themselves up for public office and suffer the consequences thereafter. The political system is unfortunately structured to produce this kind of outcome. But this has to change. And I dare say it should be one of the most fundamental ‘restructuring’ of the polity and political discourse that citizens must enthrone in this dizzying build up to 2019. Nigerians must consciously and conscientiously move to alter this skewed system that prioritises drama over substance; embraces the glitter and neglects the grit of politicians; and elevates rhetoric above the real substance of manifestoes. I submit that the social contract between leaders and the led fails mostly due to the faulty foundations on which it is often laid. And this defect in the transition process is one of those fundamental defaults that must be cured urgently.

This is why the Development Dialogue Series initiative by OrderPaper, a policy advocacy, is worthy of serious engagement of Nigerians who desire a change in the unpleasant status quo. The Development Dialogue Series (DDS) is conceived to draw attention to and deepen conversations around key development themes in the ongoing transition process. It is worthy of note and indeed commendable that the media and some civil society groups have been involved in interrogating candidates for election via debates. The way these debates have been organised however do not allow for exhaustive engagements with aspirants, most of who end up escaping probing questions that could have been thrown at them due to time constraints or other considerations. My take is that the debate should begin ahead of time and be designed to be as exhaustive as possible. In this way, aspirants can be probed in detail on a sector-by-sector basis, so citizens can fully grasp the depth of their promises or otherwise. This indeed, is the idea behind the Development Dialogue Series – a platform for thematic engagements of aspirants that ensures robust and detailed submissions and exchanges between candidates and citizens.

The Series is being inaugurated with a focus event on the oil sector of the economy and presidential aspirants have been invited to share their perspectives and promises for Nigeria’s economic mainstay. The high profile event will hold at the prestigious Eko Hotel in Lagos on Wednesday, September 26, 2018 and will attract leading presidential aspirants across party lines. These include the governor of Gombe State, Ibrahim Dankwambo, former Kano State governor and incumbent senator, Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso, and Professor (Mrs.) Funmilayo Adesanya-Davies, all of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). Others are Mr. ‘Tope Fasua of the Abundant Nigeria Renewal Party (ARNP), Fela Durotoye of the Alliance for New Nigeria (ANN), Professor (Mrs.) Remi Sonaiya and Adeshina Fagbenro-Byron of KOWA party, Dr. Yunusa Tanko of the National Conscience Party (NCP); and Comrade Jaye Gaskia of the Sustainable National Party (SNP). Also expected are Dr. Baba Datti-Ahmed (PDP); Omoyele Sowore of the Africa Action Congress (AAC) and Professor Kingsley Moghalu of the Young Peoples Party (YPP).

The forum provides a good opportunity for these aspirants to ventilate on their plans for the sector. As governor of Kano State for eight years, former minister, and incumbent senator, how much does the public know about Kwankwaso’s position on the oil economy of Nigeria? Does he believe in subsidy and how would he tackle the issue, for instance? How will he tackle corruption in the Nigerian National Petroleum COrporation (NNPC)? In what ways did he use his previous and current official positions to advance the cause of oil sector reforms? What is his position on the Petroleum Industry Bill and the Host Community Development Bill? What are his positions regarding resource control and environmental justice for the Niger Delta? Does he believe the National Assembly should veto the President on the PIGB? These are some of the key issues that should be of interest to Nigerians when he addresses the dialogue. Ditto for Ibrahim Dankwambo, who has been so taciturn for eight years as governor that very little is known of him beyond Gombe State and maybe the North-East? As former accountant general of the federation who had a firsthand view of the nation’s revenue and expenditure streams, how would he deal with the revenue question and stabilisation? What have been his roles in seeking or pursuing reforms in the NNPC especially against the backdrop of the recent cold war between the corporation and the Nigeria Governors’ Forum? For the new breed like Fasua and Durotoye, the dialogue offers a chance to interrogate just how much they truly understand and can deal with the multifarious issues bedeviling the oil industry. Expectations are high that the dialogue should offer fresh perspectives on the solutions for Nigeria’s troubled oil and gas sector. As to possible concerns about a dozen or so other presidential hopefuls not included in this event, the point is worth restating that this is the first in the series – so the plan is to give others a chance to articulate on this critical sector of national life.

Notably, this particular dialogue is coming at an auspicious time when legislative reforms appear to have been stalled by the decision of President Muhammadu Buhari to decline assent to the Petroleum Industry Governance Bill (PIGB) passed by the National Assembly earlier in the year. As indicated in a statement on the event, “the situation with the PIGB indicates the need for deep reflection, introspection and fresh perspectives on the fate of both the reforms contemplated by the PIGB and indeed the entire oil and gas industry of the country.” It states further that “given the impending general elections and the inevitable opportunities it provides to rethink, reconsider and offer options for national development, those aspiring for the office of President should convince Nigerians that they have sufficient understanding of the oil and gas sector and have clearly thought out ideas of how to make the enormous wealth of the country work for the overall benefit of citizens.”

Put together by OrderPaper Advocacy Initiative, a development think-tank intervening on policy-related issues, especially legislative engagements that expand the frontiers of good governance and the deepening of democratic practice in Nigeria, the dialogue on the oil and gas sector is certainly full of expectations as to the critical outcome of exposing the imaginations and rigours of thought of those who seek to occupy the office of president of Nigeria in 2019. With programmes like these, the days of insufficient debates and engagements of politicians may be over for good.