Nigerians are gearing up for the next general election and, in a way, aspirants are being traumatised unnecessarily, especially to discourage willing candidates either as traitors betraying their presumed benefactors or they are rendered laughable for exercising their rights under Nigeria’s Constitution to contest. On display is also the cheap and convenient blackmail of allegedly being too old to contest the presidential election. These observations are being made without prejudice to the prospects of the chances or failure of any willing aspirant.
It is, for example, ridiculous to blackmail a vice president (specifically, Yemi Osinbajo) as being unfit to contest a presidential election on the funny ground of being complicit to unpopular policies of the outgoing administration. Which complicity? Being vice president in a controversial administration? First of all, which administration in any part of the world is not controversial for its weaknesses or excessive strength? Any critic who does not appreciate the position of a vice president is not a worthy critic. These critics operate from the same wagon. Otherwise, the simple truth is that being a member of a team is not the same as being the leader of a team. Note the major difference. What is the proof that a vice president necessarily agreed with decisions of a sitting president? Even if the vice president occasionally disagreed, that would never be fought in the public nor is a vice president expected to resign on that account. The man with the mandate is the president.
On the other hand, a vice president anywhere in the world, even if initially a total novice (and Osinbajo was not a novice) would have acquired adequate tutelage in negative and positive policies at the end of his tenure as second-in-command. That is the beauty and advantage of a vice president. And, if lucky to succeed his boss, a vice president will discover to his chagrin that he is just commencing fresh learning. The first shock for the new president is that what might have appeared to him (when vice president) as populist policies are impracticable for a substantive president. The purpose of governance is the taking of unpleasant decisions and not taking seeming popular decisions as occasions may demand, all in national interest.
For example, President Muhammadu Buhari was still self-glorifying with the lamentation that all unexplained wealth and property he confiscated from dismissed politicians after assuming office as military ruler in December 1983 were returned to the same politicians by those who overthrew him (Buhari) in 1985. Yet, President Buhari, about the time he was self-glorifying, was also returning unexplained property confiscated by Murtala-Obasanjo in 1975. Such property was returned to Edwin Clark and Tony Enahoro. Realities of office forced President Buhari to repeat what he rebuked others for only yesterday.
Another intimidation is against any idea that today’s vice president might be vying for the presidency tomorrow with a state governor under whom he served only yesterday. Who is more important or more respectable, yesterday’s benefactor or a man’s natural father? We were in this country in 1953 when the late S.G. Ikoku contested on the platform of a rival party and defeated his father, Alvan Ikoku, in the election to the Eastern House of Assembly. Was Sam Ikoku necessarily being ungrateful to his father who brought him into the world?
So far, the only old man (according to his opponents) aspiring to the Nigerian presidency in 2023 is Atiku Abubakar, who is even dismissed as a non-starter by the desperados merely on grounds of old age. There is and can never be such a law in Nigeria, or our Constitution would be of no value. Nobody is challenging the man’s competence, the very quality expected of any presidential aspirant. The only other issue raised against him is that he is contesting for the third, if not the fourth, time. That should not be a crime or ground for disqualification.
The purpose of life is to make a mark. The fact of contesting the presidency (that is, Nigeria’s leadership) several times is not limited to him. Others before him were Nnamdi Azikiwe and Obafemi Awolowo, each of whom unsuccessfully tried three times. Both men contested the 1959 federal elections to the House of Representatives in Lagos but Tafawa Balewa won with the highest number of seats to remain prime minister at independence in 1960. Again, in 1979 and 1983, Zik and Awo unsuccessfully contested the presidential election. In 1983, Zik was 79 years old against Awo’s 75. There was never any excuse that the two men should be disqualified because they were old or that they lost because they were old. There had never been any proof that looters of public treasury were the oldies, even under the military. The worst period has been under young governors, from 1999 to date, the very bracket of those clamouring for a ban.
Recycling of old politicians? Nigerian Constitution already takes care of that with the term limit placed on the President and state governors to allow freshers, be they old or young, to have their chance. Only voters at parties’ primaries or the general election proper have the power to halt any aspirant. We must not deny voters that essential power. Only in Nigeria, owing to desperation and opportunistic tendencies of the agitators, can society ever think of allowing a section to render themselves important through crooked means. See later in this piece the more honourable path taken on this issue by Dele Momodu.
Age? This should be an asset. The Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, is over 80 years old and is reported to be contesting mid-term elections in 2024. Wilburr Ross, American Commerce Secretary under President Donald Trump, was appointed at the age of 82. Incumbent American President Joe Biden was elected at the age of 78. Mahathir Mohamed was prime minister of Malaysia from 1981 to 2003. Witnessing Malaysia’s wrong direction under the successor younger elements, Mahathir angrily returned to public life and contested election on a different party’s platform but served for two years and returned to retirement after handing over to his trusted candidate in 2020, at the age of 95.
Why then must Nigerians without any criminal record be banned from aspiring to public office on grounds of old age, whatever the age? Also, what is the record of younger or new elements who served as state governors, ministers or chief executives of parastatals? Many of them are on criminal trial since 2003. On the other hand, how many old ones are on trial or ran away with public funds? The difference in the number of suspects/accused in the two categories of ex-public officers shows that the older ones are more responsible or trustworthy.
And the boisterous publisher of OVATION magazine, Dele Momodu. If critics blackmail some for convenient purposes and more with the aim of dislodging them to create cheap opportunities for themselves (the young ones), what is their the reason for running down fellow young ones bold enough to vie for the presidency? Here is a man daring the older ones within the same party, unlike the lazy ones waiting for the government to commit illegality by banning the old ones. Dele Momodu has adopted the proper method of joining a political party to commence democratic weeding out of whoever, especially on grounds of old age, any spent forces, wherever they may exist.
This is the second time Dele Momodu would be venturing for Nigerian presidency. Most critics of government in Nigeria are journalists. There ends their naive, self-imposed task. If public office holders are criticised, run down and defamed by journalists, should it not be ideal if, at least, one journalist is bold enough to throw his hat into the ring in an effort to assume the position of righting the wrongs? We had better appreciate ourselves. The record speaks. Herbert Macaulay, Ernest Ikoli, Azikiwe, Awolowo, Ladoke Akintola, Lateef Jakande, Bisi Onabanjo and Segun Osoba. Can any of these critics, especially the ignorant ones among journalists, discuss Nigeria of the past, present and the future without conceding the major contributions of these great men? Indeed, delete their contributions and cope with development deficit, especially where such national deficit is attributable to other professionals, Another young journalist steps forward for a second attempt, yet he is deliberately discouraged.
There is this Yoruba proverb: “A man is taxed to contribute today’s fifty naira and he proudly offers to contribute five hundred naira. Asked for the contribution, he promises end of the year.” Who listens to or bothers about such a useless fellow? He surely has nothing to offer. That is why critics among journalists should embrace Dele Momodu’s efforts. Any genuine journalist running him down should enter the presidential race and display what he (fellow journalist) offers as better alternative.
Do all presidential candidates all over the world have to adorn themselves with distinctions? Today, the President of Ukraine is forcing an international showdown with his country’s former overlord, Russia, led by President Vladimir Putin. Who is President of Ukraine? Velodymyr Zelensky. He was his country’s Basketmouth who shocked even himself and the world with his victory at the election in 2019. Whoever anticipated such an electoral miracle? If that could happen in Ukraine, it was because fellow comedians never wrote off one of their own. Compared to the misdemeanor of politicians, Nigerian journalists listed above carved a reputation for themselves and the profession. That is a testimony for any Nigerian journalist bidding for Nigerian presidency in 2023.
Other willing journalists should join Dele Momodu for the 2023 elections. It may be convenient to be critical of the man but he should be admired for his guts. Possible low votes in the primary election or general election? So it was with the late Gani Fawehinmi and Femi Falana. Who bears the hardship today? The same poor voters who did not recognise their genuine saviours.