Let The Real
Contenders Stand Up
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
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
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
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