Let The Real Contenders Stand Up


Dedicated to Nigeria's socio-political issues




October 3, 2007 - December 2, 2007



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Let The Real Contenders Stand Up




Olusegun Adeniyi




culled from THISDAY, June 8, 2006



Citizens of United States, according to CNN Political Analyst Bill Schneider, choose their presidents like spoiled kids do Christmas presents. "Americans usually get what they want in a president, but then after a while they discover they want something else," Schneider said. Most Nigerians would count the Americans lucky. In our clime, as Christmas presents go, parents who do the pickings are not as benevolent as to consider the preference of their kids. That is also the way it goes for the choice of president in Nigeria.

Here, the election of our number one citizen has become the prerogative of a few power brokers who would have done all the permutations after which the electorate would be left to give the seal of approval to their choice. And since the choice is made more to satisfy the godfathers, they are also the first to discover they would have preferred someone else while the people are left to pick the pieces of the inevitable power struggle that usually follow as we have seen in the last seven years.

Regardless of what may have happened in the past, however, the year 2007 presents a golden opportunity for Nigerians to actively participate in the choice of who leads the nation at such an epochal moment as this. But perhaps because we are dealing with a political tradition that inverts many of the basic assumptions of liberal democracy, it would seem all that it takes to be a presidential candidate in Nigeria today is to print a thousand posters and erect a dozen billboard across the nation. The whole exercise is so ridiculous that most of these 'presidential aspirants' are behaving as if they do not even need a political platform yet the constitution does not recognise independent candidature.
Less than one year to the end of the present administration, the question of successor has become a perplexing one and the situation is not helped by the fact that primordial considerations rather than issues dominate political engagements at all levels.

Yet, in the present socio-economic landscape strewn with half-finished buildings and ruins, it is not enough for anybody to just say he wants to be president. The claim of such a person for the presidency would have to be evaluated against the background of previous experience in either the private sector or in government as well as on such other criteria as: integrity, wisdom,  tolerance, education, charisma, competence, honesty,   fairness, responsibility, courage, and reliability.
In the bid to intervene and set the right tone for the political discourse as we move towards the crucial 2007 elections, THISDAY last Tuesday night organised a Townhall Meeting in Abuja. But in the contributions, not many of the participants, in my estimation, understand the enormity of the challenge ahead as well as the prospects for success if we have the right person based on the present foundation already laid. That essentially was what the Finance Minister, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, who turned out the star of the event, made very clear to the audience.
It was interesting watching some of the speakers, including those who had been in government at varying levels, as they expressed disenchantment with the way things have worked out in our country today simply on account of the fact that they have lost out of the current political equation. In a way, it would seem as if we provided a platform for some politicians to grandstand. But that is not the issue for today.

Last week, I began a series on The President We Don't Want.
The idea was borne out of the fact that since majority of those who want to be president still lack the courage of their conviction, assuming they have any, it would be more beneficial to begin a profile of what the next president should not look like. Using that inverted method, I had hoped we would be able to clearly identify from the crowd someone with the capacity to place the common good above his personal interests and give him our mandate to rule. That is assuming that this time we would have the right to elect our leader and not that some people would arrogate such prerogative to themselves as they always do.

Unfortunately, it would seem that some readers might have misunderstood my intention given the mails I have been receiving most of which are suggestive that I am opposed to some aspirants seeking the presidency. Nothing can be farther from the truth. Interestingly, people put different names to the aspirants I am supposed to be up against and for that reason, I would discontinue the series in the way I have started it. I had initially come up with ten points written with anecdotes, trying to imitate Robert Greene. But these are dangerous times and I would not like to be seen as working against anybody's political aspiration. For that reason, I would conclude the series with a general remark on the state of our polity and how we should elect the right president. There are, however, more problems on ground today which will, no doubt, impact negatively on whatever choice we eventually make.

In his column yesterday, my colleague, Kayode Komolafe, lamented the absence of credible political platforms to engage the public by politicians seeking to govern us but my main worry is that it is so because that is the way the gladiators want it. Today, ideas do not define leadership and that is the tragedy of our politics and that also explains why many of the people seeking presidency would prefer to be anointed by one person or geo-political zone or a caucus rather than go out to seek popular mandate based on what they can offer. With what is happening today, it is glaring only few would want to run a serious and issues-based campaign perhaps so as not to offend anybody in a nation where, as stated earlier, a few people most often determine where the pendulum of power swings. But the problem transcends the leadership to the followership giving effect to the saying that a people gets the kind of leader it deserves.

Whether we want to admit it or not, Nigeria has become a nation where citizens are aroused only at intervals of four years or thereabouts to elect leaders after which they go back again to a life of political passivity, waiting for the next election. In the intervening period, the political mobilization of the masses remain neglected and this has produced all manner of infirmities and has given rise to alienation of the people from the political system.

To worsen matters, since most of those who get to public offices may not have won popular mandate, there is this predilection to act in ways that suggest that the consent of the people is not necessarily the basis of democratic government. That explains why people elected into office have now deemed it their right to also elect for us their successors and Nigerians do not see anything wrong in this anomaly. 

While I discontinue the series started last week, I still want to stress that it is incumbent on us all to be wary of making mistakes of electing politicians who have become adept at perpetuating the beggars mentality, I mean those who are so bereft of ideas that they would rather throw cash at every problem. For 2007 presidency, we need men and women who would come up with policies that stimulate growth rather than dash out public funds as handouts which in most cases end up in the hands of the undeserving. We need someone who can use the machinery of the state to create a society founded on the principles of social justice and eradication of poverty. 

 Among other characteristics, the ideal candidate should defend with deeds--- not only with words -- our democracy; evince foolproof integrity and honesty and show the desire to deepen the on-going economic reforms. Finally, we also need a president who is compassionate and credible; not someone who would  alter his views according to the circumstances of the moment.
The reality of our experience is that a majority of the aspirants who are on the prowl now, seeking the presidency do not, as yet, offer us the much desired hope. At a time we most desperately need to make a choice between oranges and lemons most of what we can see so far are ordinary oranges and rotten oranges and that is a bit disturbing for most Nigerians.
Will the real presidential contenders come out please!


Criminality in Niger Delta


Anybody who has been in the Niger Delta region where the oil wealth that sustains the nation comes from cannot but feel for the people. And as I have canvassed on this page, as most other commentators have done, there will be no peace in the country until the plight of the people is taken into consideration and properly addressed by all tiers of government. Notwithstanding that situation, however, nothing can justify the tendency towards criminality that is now euphemistically called 'youth restiveness' in the region with the current spate of kidnappings and killings.
While I am for real interventionist policies that would commit enormous resources to the development of the region, I do not know how the cause of the people of the Niger Delta will be served if innocent citizens and soldiers are wantonly killed as happened yesterday. All these acts of criminality can only make them lose the support of other Nigerians who are ordinarily sympathetic to their plight. I hope some people will have the common sense to realise that and stop the current madness that will, in the long run, be counterproductive. But like the president would say, where are the leaders of the Niger Delta to tell these 'restive youths', enough is enough!




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