It is said that in politics, no less than war, the lessons of the last campaigns are prized beyond their application to the present one. Interpretation: Each political campaign, like every battle, is dependent upon the experience of past campaigns but is itself unique. For sure, politics provides a good platform to choose who governs the country. That’s why the race for the presidency is a noble adventure that stirs a larger-than-life chord in the populace.
And it is for obvious reasons. First, if people are to take the trouble to vote, they expect something from the man or woman they want to elect as their President. At a minimum, the people expect the aspirants 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 this programme we call manifesto, again, not in every detail, or all at once, but with enough actual achievement that will give the public a sense of progress toward the goals projected in the campaign.
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 gives people the confidence to change course”. For sure, politics provides a good platform for aspirants for the presidency to present their agenda, showcase themselves, and reasons why they want to be president. It’s the hardest job anyone can give his brain, and the greatest service to one’s country. Not a surprise that some presidential aspirants have emerged. In the weeks and months ahead, more are likely to declare their interest. That’s welcome. Nigeria needs a new direction, a president with character, a president who can meet the definition of competence and trust. As former United States President Gerald R.Ford said in his Autobiography titled: A TIME TO HEAL, the presidency “is not a prize to be won, it’s a job to be done”. Clinton also had a 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 the aspirants jostling to be Nigeria’s next President in 2023. 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 despiriting, 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 at all 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 former and present leaders/Presidents never measured up on the scale of leadership test. Almost all of them became the fulfilment of prophet Ezekiel’s prophesy that our ‘leaders have used oppression, and exercised robbery, they have vexed the poor and needy, …they have even oppressed the stranger wrongfully’(Ezekiel 22:29). What a sad commentary. 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 performances of our presidents, past and president. For me, that’s why no one should sit idly by in who becomes the next president. “Sit-don- look” is no longer an option. All the aspirants should be thoroughly scrutinized. We need to set the agenda, the criteria that will guide the selection process, and ultimately, who becomes the next president.
You know why this time round should be different from the past? This is why: Politics as a tool for understanding power; how it’s acquired and how it’s used, is like a bikini: power reveals. Many people want to be president, but as political historian,Robert A. Caro says, very few are leaders in the true sense of it: using great power for great purposes. You see, for some of them, their eyes are on the ball: to get power by all means. Once they get it, there’s nothing else but the desire for more power for themselves and their families, no agenda but to dominate others. We saw that in Olusegun Obasanjo as President. We have seen even worse in Buhari presidency. There’s a common denominator: seeking power not to accomplish goals for collective good. There drive is inseparable from what they want power for: using power to bend people to their will.
A nation runs aground when a President confuses his own destiny with that of the country. What should be looking for in the aspirants? 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. When this column made its debut on October 28, 2008, it began by probing why Nigeria was proving hard for President Umaru Yar’Adua(now dead). Then, the state of despair and disillusionment in the country was high. It was a torrid ppresidency. Yar’Adua was handicapped by chronic ill-health. He was good man, no doubt. And I guessed, he meant well for Nigeria. But good intention is not enough to be a good president. He was foisted on us by Obasanjo. He was not fully prepared for the tough job. No wonder why, he exhibited too much fear and timidity. He didn’t know when to invoke the prestige of the presidency and when to hold it in reserve. He behaved and truly acted like a stranger in the seat of power. He maintained imperturbable calmness when urgent action was needed on crucial matters. This is not a sinking sticker on the late president, just that what he became was the outcome of lack of preparation before you ascend an important office. Dr Goodluck Jonathan presidency wasn’t different. He was a president of necessity, more or less, and seen by some people as ‘illegitimate’ in his first term in office. President Buhari is the deficit of the two put together. As a veiled reference to the All Progressives Congress(APC), Jonathan said in his memoir, MY TRANSITION HOURS, “if you embark on digging a hole for your enemy, you better make it shallow, because you might end up in the hole yourself”. That sums up the hubris of the present administration.
The lesson in all of this for 2023 presidency is not to repeat the mistakes of the past. No margin for error for competence, trust and ability to govern. 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-awarenes and self-confidence. Trust is the key of competence. Gerald Ford defined trust as “not having to guess what a presidential aspirant means….it is leveling with the people about what you are going to do after election. Trust 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.
Nigeria is currently like a company in bankruptcy, and under receivership. Our national debt is at all-time high. This has resulted in a lingering hard-to-define uneasiness about the leadership qualities of some of the presidential aspirants that have come forward. Except very few like Sen. Anyim Pius Anyim, and Mazi Sam Ohuabunwa, how many have looked into their soul and said with certainty what it takes to be President. Desiring to be president is more nuanced than having a heavy war chest or enough troops in the battle field. It’s more than saying, ‘I have been a kingmaker and now, I want to be King’. That sounds very arrogant, even egoistical.