As the 2023 elections approach and political campaigns begin in earnest, the electorate faces the problem of separating truth from fiction. In order not to heat up the polity it’s proper to give politicians leeway to excuse the fact that they are being untruthful. Rather than call them liars it’s advisable to use statements such as “he is evidently unaware of all the facts”; or “he has obviously been misinformed”; or at worst if the intention is to be derisive, simply to smile and laughingly say “I don’t think even he believes what he is saying”!
In response to questions posed to him by Bloomberg News, President MUhammadu Buhari said he believes he is leaving Nigeria in a far better place than he found it! He is entitled to his beliefs. Even as he showered unrestrained praise on himself, it should be clear that history will be the final judge of the truth or otherwise of his personal assessment of his tenure. The duty of writing history doesn’t belong to the politicians who wield power but to impartial observers, because when political office holders write their own history, they routinely indulge in self-adulation. It’s not a matter of disagreeing with them; it’s a matter of determining the truth by looking at the facts. The problem isn’t so much that the All Progressives Congress (APC) has failed the nation; it’s that they consistently score themselves high when the facts don’t support such claims.
As far as the overwhelming majority of commentators are concerned it’s evident that our president has been misinformed and is obviously unaware of the pertinent facts. The facts are that under his watch, there has been extremely poor management of the economy and a failed anti-corruption war. It’s a fact that despite the posturing of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), senior government officials have found it relatively easy to loot stupendous sums. It’s a fact that the fiscal deficit which stood at N800 billion in 2015 disastrously climbed to N7.3 trillion by 2021. Available World Bank statistics also verify that in Nigeria poverty is surging as is the number of school children out of school. It’s also a fact that insecurity has taken over the majority of states in the federation. However, of far more importance than truth about what has transpired since 2015, is the truth about the state of Nigerian democracy and the nation’s hopes for the future. Sophie Rosenfeld, an American Professor of History, has posed the question, “Does democratic politics really need truth to do its business well?” In her answer, she claimed that voters inherently distrust politicians and there has never really been any democracy dominated by agreed truths. She concluded that if there are no agreed truths and facts in the public sphere then a healthy democracy and wise electorate is not possible. It’s increasingly evident that Nigerian political actors have only a fleeting romance with truthfulness. They get away with it because people have a bias towards believing that what they hear in public is true, even when they are told that it is a lie. In his 1984 book entitled “God Knows” Joseph Heller said “the truth is what people believe…” There is undoubtedly a place for combative truth claims in democratic debate, but when it becomes obvious, as it is in Nigeria, that political actors intentionally tell lies and exhibit a clear inability to accept truths even when they stare them in the face, then apathy sets in and people stop caring about the truth. This is where the nation stands today. As elections approach, what is the truth about allegations that Atiku Abubakar abused his office as vice-president? What is the truth about allegations that Bola Ahmed Tinubu has falsified his name and age? What is the truth about allegations that Peter Obi enriched his companies as Governor of Anambra State? What is the truth about all sorts of allegations being made against practically every candidate for every position nationwide? Philosophers identify two types of truths; objective and subjective. The former are quantifiable and verifiable matters of fact such as age, height and weight, and the latter are simply matters of opinion. Quantifiable truths are supposed to be accepted, but this isn’t the case in Nigeria. The non-functional Freedom of Information Act under which government hides so much information from the general public means Nigerians have no real ability to verify anything. As a result everything from population statistics to elections results, budget figures, and “audited” government accounts are all disputed and with good reason.
As far as 2023 presidential election campaigning goes, Nigerians are sceptical about promises made by candidates because in Nigeria electoral success isn’t based upon living up to campaign promises. These days empty promises, false information and unverified beliefs have taken over from telling the truth. Fact-checking isn’t very effective in Nigeria because it cannot persuade people who have been primed to disbelieve the truth. Even when a lie is so obvious, a politician’s supporters will deplorably say that the truth doesn’t matter!
Even as campaigns gather momentum, the vast majority of Nigerians are confused as to whom to vote for to liberate them from mass unemployment, incessant attacks, a collapsed economy and a corrupt parasitic political class. As such, truths about the performance of the outgoing Buhari administration; as well as truths concerning the character and record of candidates should not be hidden.