It is not hard to know the mood of the nation, the feeling of the people. Nigeria right now is at its worst moment in decades. Despair and disillusionment have supplanted hope. Frustration is tearing at the heart and soul of the citizens. There’s no doubt that Nigeria needs a new direction, a change of course, from the present live-for-the-moment, here today, gone tomorrow government. It’s time to talk about purposeful leadership, the character of our country and a new vision of the future. That chance officially begins tomorrow when the campaigns for 2023 general elections begin.
If people are to take the trouble to vote next year, they expect something from the person they want to elect as their President. At a minimum, the people expect the candidate to have a programme of action, short-term, medium and long-term that will address the central problems that concern them and the country, not necessarily one with all the answers, but at least a philosophy and an approach that give promise of succeeding. Second, that the candidate, if elected, can then proceed to accomplish his programmes that will give the public a sense of progress toward the goals projected in the campaign.
That’s why political campaigns matter. In other words, campaigning for the presidency, to borrow the words of Bill Clinton, the 42nd President of the United States, “requires great care and discipline in crafting and presenting a message and programme that will give people the confidence to change course”. For sure, politics provides a good platform for candidates vying for high offices such as the presidency to present their agenda, showcase themselves, and reasons why they want to be president. Undoubtedly, it’s the hardest job anyone can give his brain, and the greatest service to one’s country. It’s not a job for a weakling. It’s for the hale and hearty.
I like Clinton’s note of caution for those aspiring to be the President and Commander in Chief of their nations. “Ambition “, he said, “is a powerful force, and the ambition to be President, has led many a candidate to ignore his own limitations and the responsibilities of the office he currently holds”. I find Clinton’s advice timely for all the presidential candidates. Today, our country suffers from a crisis that strikes at the very heart and soul of our national will. We can see this crisis in the growing doubt about the meaning of our own lives, and in the loss of a unity of purpose for the nation. It’s not in doubt that the erosion of our confidence in the future is threatening to destroy the social and political fabric of the country. That’s what happens when responsibilities abandoned today return as a more acute crises tomorrow.
The truth is that our present leadership does not measure up on the scale of purposeful leadership. That’s why, across the land, pessimism has supplanted hope. The assessment of our political leadership is grim and despairing. The citizens are traumatized; they are disillusioned and cynical about the performance of its political leaders, especially at the mediocre performance of the incumbent President. There’s no denying the fact that a nation runs aground when a Presidential candidate confuses his own destiny with that of the country. What shall we be looking for in the candidates? That’s the big question. Character and competence are crucial attributes, but we must not ignore other essential virtues such as ability to lead the country and rescue it from the myriad problems inflicted by poor leadership.
The lesson in all of this for 2023 presidency is not to repeat the mistakes of the past. There should be no mistake about competence, trust and ability to govern. This is why every president can only infuse democracy with a new intensity of participation if he shows competence. Competence is one issue that can give a leader a genuine self-awareness and self-confidence. Trust is the key of competence. Trust, to paraphrase the words of Gerald R. Ford (38th President of USA), is not being all things to all people, but being the same thing to all people. It’s not about shading words so that each separate audience can hear. It means saying plainly and simply what you mean- and meaning what you say. In Nigeria, our politicians have repeatedly lied to us, just to win our votes. For them, it’s all part of the game, and nobody holds them to account.
In my view, the central theme in the campaign is simple: Are you better off today than you were when the Buhari presidency came to power? I guess only a minority few will answer in the affirmative. Nigeria is currently like a company in bankruptcy, under receivership. Our national debt is at all-time high at N42.6trn, and projected to reach N65trn with other liabilities before the next President is sworn in. Inflation rate is currently at 20.4 percent, the highest since 2005. Unemployment and poverty are soaring like never before. Desiring to be president is more nuanced than having a heavy war chest or enough troops in the battlefield. It’s more than saying, ‘I have been a kingmaker and now, I want to be King’. That sounds very arrogant, even egoistical. It amounts to playing loose with facts.
Nigeria needs a formidable candidate for the office of the presidency, someone with an appeal that can reach beyond his immediate natural constituency, someone larger than the sum of his parts, a president who can bring us together, a uniter, not a divider, someone who can end insecurity, bring our economy back to life, create jobs, reduce poverty and replace national frown with a national smile. Time is gone when Presidential candidates are packaged and sold to the voters on the basis of concocted images. Now candidates are sold to the electorate on the basis of real issues. Each of the candidates should go directly to the people, sell his programme of action. It should not be through proxies. Nigerians want to see and feel every candidate in person and assess his message, his articulation of the challenges facing the country and his solutions to the problems. We need to see on display the talent, the drive, the imagination and leadership ability of each candidate. Nothing less will do. That is why politics requires that those who aspire to public offices, particularly the presidency, should define themselves and where they stand on critical issues affecting the country and the citizens. There’s no doubt that hope is fast fading in Nigeria. Nigeria is at a crossroads of uncommon nature. Everywhere you look, anguish is what you see. And every sector of the economy is bleeding. The national currency is at its lowest exchange rate in the history of the country. Our education and health sectors are in ruins. The experts are leaving the country in droves (“Japa”), the Yoruba call it. It’s frightening and frustrating.
Never have we seen such economic crisis in our history. It’s all about poor leadership. But that’s what you see when a candidate seeks power just for the sake of power, not using power to accomplish great purposes. As historian Robert A. Caro says in ‘Lesson in Power’, many people want to be Leaders or Presidents, but “very few are leaders in the sense of using great power for great purposes”. That Nigeria is in this sorry state today has a great deal to do with electing leaders who power means being able to bend people to their will. In other words, they have no agenda but to dominate other people. The next election must be able stop candidate whose drive for power is inseparable from what he wants power for all along. Truth is, without a vision beyond one’s own selfish advancement, such a leader is paralyzed once the goal has been achieved. Is that the case with the present administration? You answer! If the next election changes that, our democracy must have come to stay.