The 2015 presidential election in Nigeria has been concluded; the winner has emerged and the loser has conceded defeat. What is left is for the nation to pick up the pieces of the brutally-prosecuted electoral war, and move on.
It is that simple, right?
The truth is that the real work has only just begun.
The victorious party, the All Progressives Congress (APC), and the President-elect, Major General Muhammadu Buhari, will soon realise that dislodging the humongous Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and sweeping its elephantine feet off power, was actually the easiest part. Now is the time for the big job of fulfilling electoral promises.
That was one department in which the APC was fully equipped during the campaigns. Many of the promises were obviously motivated by noble intentions: a meal a day for pupils, one-year post-NYSC allowances for unemployed graduates, social security for the elderly, free education, free health and so on.
The challenge is that the electorate believed those promises – they were made by the man of integrity, remember? It does not matter that fulfilling those pledges requires cash, a large cache of it, in a shrinking economy.
And that is where the problem lies.
For far too long, Nigerians have been made to believe in effect without cause. They have not been told the bitter truth that free education is not free; that it is paid for, one way or the other. The same goes for free health and public housing.
Many Nigerians have for donkey years been fed with stories of how education is totally free in the United Kingdom, ditto for health; how nursing mothers get regular social security payments; how the unemployed are given weekly allowances and council flats at rock-bottom rents, or no rent at all; and so on.
The stories are not false, but they are also not true; at least not in the fashion that Nigerians have been made to believe.
The massive support that the APC got, I strongly suspect, was because it was the closest approximation to the idyllic life in Europe that they have been made to believe.
In the Buhari brand, Nigerians have clear expectations: Corruption will be stamped out, those who have fed on the tears of the citizens will be made to face the wrath of law. And there will be free education, free health; petrol price will be reduced to N40 per litre, the Naira will be at par with the dollar, and so on.
The question is: How can the people be told that all these promises can be fulfilled only if there is enough funding, and that oil wealth on which much of Nigeria’s economy depends, is fast dwindling?
Nigerians need to be told that in the UK, many parts of Europe and in the United States, tertiary education is funded through a National Insurance or tax scheme. They need to be reminded that when Obafemi Awolowo introduced free education in the First Republic, he also introduced the Head Tax, which was very strange to the South West people and led to the farmers’ uprising.
Like Nigeria, the United Kingdom also has crude oil in Scotland, but its economy is run on tax. Public officials do not gather every month to share oil proceeds to enable them pay civil servants, build roads, fund free education and health, and so on.
When any Nigerians complain that none of the country’s universities is in the world’s first 500 list, kindly ask them to take a second look at the list and point at any of them that is run for free or on a tuition fee of N17,000 like some federal universities in Nigeria.
If tuition fees for home and European Union students in UK universities are about N1.2 million per session and about N3 million for foreign students, and if it goes for as high as N5 million and N7 million in the United States and Canada, why should we expect Nigerian universities to compete favourably with those of UK, US and Canada?
Under the UK National Insurance scheme, working adults make regular contributions into a pool which then provides education loans to students, as well as social security to nursing mothers, the elderly, the infirm and the unemployed.
The US tax scheme also creates the in-state and out-of-state dichotomy in tuition fees regime. Similar programmes fund the education and health schemes in several European states.
Broadly put, a scheme by which Nigerians may pay, say, N1,000 monthly will in a short while create such a large pool of funds that education and health will be removed from Chapter Two of the Nigerian constitution and become fundamental rights of the citizens. That way, nobody will complain if Nigerian public universities charge as high as N1 million, since the money to pay will come from the scheme and not from parents. That way, strikes by members of the academic community will end, since they will be properly funded through realistic tuition fees.
Those who fear that such a scheme could be abused by thieving public officials should remember that the incoming government will be headed by a no-nonsense corruption fighter. His name: General Muhammadu Buhari.