Valentine Tobechukwu Achum
“In a democracy people get the kind of leaders they deserve”
– Joseph de Maistre (Correspondance diplomatique, 1860)
There is no gainsaying the fact that Nigeria has suffered bungled leadership. Since Independence in 1960, the country has had to contend with generations of leadership miscarriage and misadventure.
This has been the sole reason the country has not been able to find its way out of the unsalutary status of a peripheral state which most of its hitherto equals such as Brazil, Malaysia and even India exited long ago. Indeed, to reiterate Professor Chinua Achebe’s position, “there is basically nothing wrong with the Nigerian land or climate or water or air, or anything else’’. He poignantly insists that the trouble with Nigeria is “simply and squarely failure of leadership’’.
However, at the root of this problem is what I call a recurring leadership denial syndrome, which makes us always suppress our best men during periods of transition. At every transition period, there are always unique individuals who are capable of changing the fortunes of our country for the better, but we choose to blindfold our conscience by choosing leaders we do not deserve. The deserving ones are being circumvented and sacrificed on the altar of prebendalism, zoning, party interest and ethnic irredentism, which for me are nothing but hare-brained concerns.
These talented individuals are only being remembered for their abilities which would have made them good presidents long after they join their ancestors, or at best when they have lost the pathfinding spring in their footsteps to age.
Described as the “best president Nigeria never had”, Obafemi Awolowo was a victim of this leadership denial syndrome, as he was no doubt one of the best minds that could have helped change Nigeria’s history if given the opportunity of becoming president. Though, he was Federal Commissioner for Finance under Gen. Yakubu Gowon, and was said to have performed his duty excellently, many agree that he would have been better fit to be President. This is because he was known to have a lot of quality ideas that were generational in scope, and may have best found expression only if he was President.
On another note, M.K.O Abiola was another leader of colour and candour that many people believed would have been an excellent President. Though, he actually went as far as winning the presidential election of 1993, he was denied the opportunity of exercising his mandate due to the annulment of the election by the then military government led by Gen. Ibrahim Babangida. The number of reforms that could have taken place under an M.K.O administration could at best, be only imagined.
Another ‘victim’ of this denial syndrome is our current president, Gen. Muhammadu Buhari. Though he became President in 1986 through a military coup, his approach to governance was a kick-against-indiscipline-and-double-standard approach, so much so that even after he was removed from office by a counter coup, he had already won the hearts of so many Nigerians who believed in his no-nonsense approach to governance. However, he was ‘denied’, back-to-back, his quest to become President in 2003, 2007 and 2011. By the time he finally got the chance of becoming president in 2015, he was already in his 70s and had lost the gait he was known for in the 80s. His ideas are now being overtaken by time, hence antediluvian. With this in mind, we can say that we lost another best man- this time to age.
Pleasingly (and without quid pro quo), I can say for sure that another best man Nigeria needs, who is thankfully alive, and still has age on his side is no other person than Donald Duke. I am sure there are still others, but based on the general perception of Nigerians about the kind of person he is, his demeanour and platinum performance as former governor of Cross River State from 1999-2007, his name is certainly in the hearts of many Nigerians as the kind of person they would like to be their President. But for the sake of these narrow minded factors such as zoning, party politics and ethnic chauvinism, it seems we are about to witness another slanderous repetition of history.
Although, Duke is ‘Efik’- a minority tribe in Nigeria, there is no doubt that he is one of the superior minds which our country needs to bring back her beauty and greatness. It would be unfortunate if we wait for him to be called “best President Nigeria never had” just like Pa Awolowo, when we still have the opportunity of giving him a chance to prove his worth in this current era. Coincidentally, his countrymen in Calabar refer to him as Dawn-of-the-new-era due to his track records of always unleashing positive new changes, as well as his promising posture of doing even better than his past record.
Just the way Raul Gonzalez was being celebrated as the crown Prince of Barnabeau during his glory days at Real Madrid, due to his personal relationship with the opponent’s goal post, it is the same way Donald Duke is being celebrated in his state due to the many goals he scored for Cross River State during his time as governor. However, unlike Raul, whose name has been overtaken by newer names like Christiano Ronaldo (CR7), Duke’s name still sounds like a new hit song in his state, and is still being celebrated and appreciated there for all the good works he has done, many of which are still there for people to see.
Funny enough, he now spends a lot of his time playing saxophone in musical concerts, even though I’m not quite certain if his mastery of the musical instrument is an added advantage for presidential office.
But, what is more important is that if given the opportunity, he would score a melody that will not just be pleasing to our ears, but will be satisfactory to our national soul. It will be phenomenal if he is given the opportunity to re-write Nigeria’s history in colourful letters, same way he made Calabar and Cross River State a colourful shelter where people of all colours always come to live and be at rest.
It will be great if several years from now, you can read this headline in the newspaper, “Duke: Best President Nigeria ever had”, instead of the one I consider rather pale, “Duke: best president Nigeria never had”. Let us not allow our voice to be suppressed while choosing the kind of leaders we think we deserve, because at the end of the day, we get the kind of leader we deserve.
Valentine writes via [email protected]