By Daniel Onwukwe
As we welcome the New Year, it is not hard to know the mood of the nation, the feeling of the people. Nigeria today, is at its worst moment in decades. Despair has supplanted hope. Frustration is tearing at the heart and soul of the citizens. There’s no doubt that Nigeria needs a new direction, a realistic change from the present live-for-the-moment, gone tomorrow government. It’s time to talk about purposeful leadership, and a new vision of the future. That is why the forthcoming elections will be very consequential, a make-or-break for Nigeria.
Truth is that hope is fading very fast in Nigeria and among Nigerians. Anger and frustration are eating deep in the people like acid. Today, the loss of confidence in the future of the country is unparalleled. Every sector of the economy is bleeding. Insecurity, rate of poverty and unemployment are unprecedented. Going into the elections, the assessment of our politics and political leadership is despairing. Desiring to be President is more nuanced than having a heavy war chest or a sense of entitlement (Emi lokan). Indeed, if people are to take the trouble to vote in February and March, they expect something from the person they want to elect as the next President.
At a minimum, voters expect the candidate to have a programme of action 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, the expectation is 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. Whether the promises made will translate to realities is a different matter. The truth is that our politicians once elected abandon the promises they make. The outgoing President and his party are sad reminders not to trust politicians and political parties in Nigeria.
That is why 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 why they want to be president. Undoubtedly, the office of the President is the hardest job anyone can give his brain. It’s the greatest service to one’s country. It’s not a job for a weakling. I like Clinton’s note of caution for those aspiring to be the President of their nations. “Ambition “, he said, “is a powerful force, and the ambition to be President, he cautioned, has led many candidates to ignore his own limitations and the responsibilities of the office he currently holds”. Clinton’s advice is timely for all the presidential candidates Currently, Nigeria 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 loss of confidence in the future is destroying the social and political fabric of the country. That’s what happens when responsibilities abandoned today return as more acute crises tomorrow. Our present leadership does not measure up on the scale of purposeful leadership. That’s why, across the country, pessimism has supplanted hope. The assessment of our political leadership is grim and despairing. Nigerians are traumatized, disillusioned and cynical about the performance of our political leaders.
What shall we be looking for in the candidates? Solid 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 many 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 of the next President to govern. Competence is one issue that can give a leader a genuine self-awareness and confidence. Trust is the key of competence. It means saying plainly and simply what you mean- and meaning what you say. 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. As the campaigns enter the homestretch, the question every voter should ask is: Am I better off today than I was when President Buhari came to power?
Only few will answer in the affirmative. Nigeria is currently like a company under receivership. Our national debt is at all-time high, and the Buhari government is still borrowing five months to leave office. Ways and Means, which represent loans by the federal government from the CBN to meet national expenditure requirements stand at over N23trn.. Which is why the Senate’s rejection of the president’s request for fresh loans makes economic sense. Inflation rate is currently at 21.04 percent, the highest since 2005. Unemployment and poverty are soaring like never before. Recent data from the National Bureau of Statistics showed that 133 million have been pushed to extreme poverty.
Nigeria needs a formidable, knowledgeable President to run the affairs of the country for the next four years, 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 unifier, 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. In today’s politics, presidential candidates are sold to the electorate on the basis of real issues.
That is why the point has been made that every presidential candidate should go directly to the people and sell his programme. 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’s why it is unacceptable that the APC presidential candidate, Bola Tinubu has refused to participate in any debate or Townhall meeting with other candidates except meetings organised by his party. His background, education, health, and source of wealth, remain matters of public concern.
Did you notice what is happening in America regarding George Santos? The sad tales of George Santos, a Republican from New York elected in the midterm elections last year to represent New York 3rd Congressional District began last week when he acknowledged lying about his education, employment history. This is the same allegation against the APC presidential candidate, and the relevant enforcement agencies have refused to take it up. 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.
Time is gone when candidates seek power just for the sake of it rather than using power to accomplish great purposes. That Nigeria is in this sorry state today has a great deal to do with electing leaders who understand power to mean nothing but being able to bend people to their will. Such people have no agenda but to dominate other people. The forthcoming elections, beginning with the presidential poll, should be able to stop any 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.