President Buhari’s 2015 message was a loud call to the country to focus on what mattered, to prioritise anti-corruption so the elite would stop using the backs of ordinary Nigerians as their dinner tables. Nigerians agreed and gave their mantle to him. As his administration remained on message to fight corruption even when corruption fought back, the economy slipped into a recession. Poverty and unemployment rates rose, and now Nigerians find themselves at another crossroad.
Corruption is important, but in 2015, Nigerians may not have demanded enough from candidates. The field of vision was arguably narrow and shortsighted. Politicians signed campaign checks without manifestoes to cash them. Buhari infamously promised $1=₦1 and wasn't tasked on how he would achieve it. He even blatantly refused to debate former President Goodluck Jonathan.
In 2019, politicians will resurrect these promises because the challenges haven't "changed". However, there are more significant problems that lie at bay for Nigeria. The rapidly changing world means problems that successive Nigerian governments have failed to tackle are now ticking time bombs, and voters must force the 2019 candidates to focus and prove their ability in dealing with them.
Population and Poverty
Despite having a fraction of India's population, Nigeria has overtaken the South Asian country as the poverty capital of the world. While there are no serious plans to deal with this, Nigeria’s population is expected to continue growing and overtake the United States in the next 30 years.
As it stands, Nigeria is not growing fast enough to provide more capital for the new population to work with. The economy may not be healthy enough to create enough opportunities for social and economic mobility, and with such a young population, people will need as many opportunities as they can get to escape poverty. If not, they and their children will be trapped, starting new poverty cycles. Not only that, many idle youths is a recipe for insecurity.
It was reported that the government's answer to this issue was to limit the number of children a mother can have. The government has now rejected such claims. In 2019, Nigerians must vote for someone who has a plan for poverty.
Information Technology, Artificial Intelligence and Automation
Mechanised agriculture left Nigeria behind, and technology has since moved beyond agricultural disruption. Technologies like GPS brought entire industries like Uber and Taxify to Nigeria, and social media changed how brands operate. The internet also changed entertainment consumption and eradicated the home video industry. Artificial Intelligence (AI) and automation will be even more disruptive. Self-driving cars, robot administrators and service providers, smarter computers, personalised medicine, gene editing, the possibilities are endless.
Nigerians are not strangers to adopting new technology. The mobile phone industry changed lives in Nigeria and across the continent. With our large population, a lot of technologies become even more viable. But we need to plan ahead. What happens to Buhari's excessive focus on agriculture when developing countries adopt technologies that automate most agricultural processes? What happens to all the labour, including the doctors the health minister said should work on farms?
The answer to technological disruptions in Nigeria will be lose-lose if we are not able to bring digital skill training like programming, machine learning, big data analysis, product management and design from the fringes of selective summer camps and online courses to our syllabus and classrooms. We will have a generation of students paying school fees but no jobs or compatible skills to compete as a nation.
Environmental Pollution, Climate Change and The Green Economy
The biggest employer of Nigeria's labour is agriculture. Combined with forestry and fishery, they are responsible for 38% of current employment in Nigeria. Climate change poses a mortal threat to their way of life. The UN has said global leaders have only 12 years to avert catastrophic consequences.
Think of increased flooding and erosion around the country, rising heat levels in major and northern states, more severe drought periods for farmers. In the Niger Delta, the blatant misadventures of the oil companies, private citizens and the government have already made lives challenging for residents and fishers.
The knock-on effects are already showing and could get worse if something isn’t done. Just like pests have led to shortages and severe price rises in vital foods like tomatoes, so can floods and droughts. Yet there is no solid plan to deal with them.
The world is also finding oil alternatives, which will hit the government's pockets hard. More and more countries are imposing 15-20 year deadlines to phase out petrol and diesel cars completely. Even Saudi Arabia has set solid plans in motion to move beyond oil. Again, Nigerians should end 2019 with a President who will join the world and set into motion a long-term plan to diversify the economy before it is too late.
The good news is that Buhari's tenure has taught electorates a lot of lessons. Not only can we remove incumbents, but we should also do better at holding candidates to account. What is essential is for Nigerians to know the issues the country faces in the short and long-term and insist that anyone asking for their vote should show how they will tackle these issues. In the final analysis, if Nigerians fail to elect the right leaders in 2019, those leaders will most likely fail them in return.