For a government, and a President, confronted with uncommon challenges of a more immediate sort, caught between threats of unprecedented insecurity/ Revolution Now, and Change, it’s not unkind to say that the ruling All Progressives Congress(APC) has its fingers bitten to its skin. But the President is not without a sycophantic saloon of admirers. Last week, one of such servile flatterers that go by the name ‘Progressive in Academics’(Pro-Acad) visited President Muhammadu Buhari at the Presidential Villa, Abuja.
The members came with what they considered an important and urgent message for the President. Led by one Dr. Bolarenwa Bolaji, the group urged President Buhari to begin now to groom a successor, possibly, a youth who will take over from him when his second and last tenure expires in 2023. With eyes fixed on the President for his response to its solemn request, the group was somewhat shocked it didn’t get the sort of positive answer it had expected. Rather, the President’s response was noncommittal. According to the President, naming a successor now will create a problem for that person, and indeed, those making such calls at this time. Besides, Buhari noted that becoming a president “is not an overnight job”, but a painstaking process that requires extreme hard work on the part of aspirants to the high office.
Also, the President recalled, for the umpteenth time, how he almost became a perpetual tourist in the greasy pole and alien land of national politics. He was referring to his three previous failed attempts at the presidency before he was able to clinch it the fourth time. What the President was saying to this group is that: First, the office of the presidency is not a prize to be won, it’s a duty to do. Second, it’s not a free lunch. It’s not given. It’s taken through the utmost preparation of a lifetime. More important, and perhaps most crucial of all, the highest measure of leadership is that it creates circumstances under which great things happen without heroics. Beyond this, picking or grooming a successor creates a hefty problems of its own that defeats the essence of democracy in which the people reserve the right to choose who governs them. Nigerians have gone through this painful road of grooming a successor before and we know the outcome. In all of this, one thing is clear: politics does not favour subtlety.
But to be fair to the Pro-Acad members, it is not unusual when an incumbent President is running his last lap in office for some interest groups to express uncertainty about who succeeds the President, especially if they feel the President has been their “star performer”(which for me Buhari is not) . In a situation such as that, there may be intense pressure from all manner of people, including talebearers, urging the President to take a long, hard look at who might succeed him. Most often, the President is asked these questions : ‘who is your likely successor?’ ‘Aren’t you grooming one like you?’. ‘And who is your most favourite?’ Sometimes, some politicians sent such servile flatterers to gauge the feeling of the President.
For such groups and their sponsors, it’s not good for the President to sit on the fence on such important matter, or say, “it’s none of my business, after all, “all politics is local”,(a famous phrase coined by Tip O’Neal, a former Speaker of the US House of Representatives). But this is where the Pro-Acad group missed the point. What works in corporate world doesn’t work in politics. That’s why politics is not given to simple theorising. It doesn’t favour subtlety. Even in corporate organisations, succession process is the most important responsibility of the Board of Directors. It’s also one of the most difficult tasks. It also has its inherent, unforeseen dangers. That’s why poor succession planning could explain why CEOs don’t stay in office as long as they once did.
Part of the problem is that boards typically don’t get started on succession until the last year or two of sitting CEOs’ terms. In politics, it’s more intriguing and complex to groom or foist someone on the people, at whatever level, state or national. In organisations, criteria for selecting a CEO could include: character, values and integrity, proven track record, business, financial and organisational performance, capacity, an institutional builder, a visionary and strategic leader, calm, cool, and resilience person in the face of conflict and criticism.
In politics, most of these qualities are useless. If they are criteria for choosing our leaders, none will be suitable for President, from Olusegun Obasanjo to the current President. The truth however is that getting a good successor at every level of government is much more nuanced than many people contemplate, including the President. Our political process for choosing leaders, including governorship and presidential candidates, doesn’t give room for the best to emerge. The only option perhaps, is to follow the cobblestone paths that Buhari said he went through, hoping that, as he said, “God dey”. You see, that is why Nigeria is not measuring up on the leadership scale, or rather, seems jinxed on that scale. That’s why the presidents we have had so far seemed not to know exactly when to invoke the prestige of the presidency and when to hold it in reserve. The welfare and security of the people mean little to them.
The practical reality of this troubling scenario is that as my pastor once put it, “no matter how you train(groom) a monkey or a chimpanzee to act like a human, it can never be human, because it doesn’t have the human nature”. Recall the Bible account of the seven sons of Sceva, who attempted to copy apostle Paul, by casting out devils, even though they were not born again. As recorded in Acts 19:16, “And the man in whom the evil spirit was leaped on them, and overcame them, and prevailed against them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded”. Truth, plainly spoken, is that you can’t give what you don’t have.
The gritty truth is that the so-called grooming of successors has left Nigeria critically wounded and even the mentors with a bucket of tears of regrets. Nothing serves better than history. Take a few examples: Part of the problem we are facing today could be traced to Obasanjo’s costly error of judgment in picking Umaru Yar’Adua as his successor. It was not that Yar’Adua lacked the EQ, the self-awareness, intrinsic motivation, empathy and commonsense that go with IQ, the enormity and demandingness of the office was beyond what he prepared for. As Tip O’Neal captures it in his autobiography, “Man of the House “, sometimes, tremendous moral strength and talent are not enough in such an important office of the presidency.
Also, Mr. Peter Obi, and Senators Orji Uzor Kalu, and Chimaroke Nnamani, former governors of Anambra, Abia and Enugu states, respectively had in the past, expressed their deep regrets about their successors who they practically railroaded to office, and how the godsons turned against their godfathers. In fact, grooming a successor is not a guarantee that he or she will do better than you or preserve your legacy. So, what’s the best way to go? Reform our parties’ processes of selecting people for high office, with an eye on getting exceptional talents, tempered by experience, maturity and training to go with Intelligent Quotient, the ability to connect and collaborate, real courage and impeccable judgment.
Therefore, President Buhari’s response to the question of grooming his successor should be seen within the context of circumspection of a shared identity of purpose that Nigeria has failed on the leadership scale because the process is skewed to favour people based on primordial criteria and acclamation. We want to believe that as his tenure begins to wind down, he won’t double down, either publicly or sub rosa, on his statement not to ‘anoint ‘ a successor.