President Muhammadu Buhari answered wisely when last week he declined to embrace the task of grooming a successor. The idea was offered by a group known as the ‘Progressive in Academia,’ apparently, one of the numerous groups that admire the president, who came to pay him a courtesy call.
Paying tribute to the president’s stewardship, the group suggested he anoint a successor to carry forward the mantle in 2023 when the president would hand over the baton. The President said thanks, but no thanks. Any aspiring president, President Buhari said, should work as hard as he (Buhari) had done and hope for the best. Besides, he further said, an attempt to anoint a successor might constitute a danger to both the anointed and the anointer.
The President’s answer was insightful and, besides, history is on his side. Since 1999, Nigeria’s political dispensation does not seem to encourage the grooming of successors. The epic struggle of President Olusegun Obasanjo and Vice President Alhaji Atiku Abubakar was a symptom of a rebelliousness in our system, which is not necessarily a bad thing given our society’s complexity. But in other parts of the world, Atiku was expected to be seen not heard.
Even if OBJ was angling or scheming for a third term or a fourth, Atiku was just expected to swallow hard, salute and say ‘yes, sir.’ Even in the United States, the humiliations vice-presidents tolerate are sometimes unbelievable. The fights between state governors and their deputies are numerous and come in different hues. They are sometimes mean-spirited and cruel. The worst cases seem to be in the South-east region where the conflicts once led to many enormities including the kidnapping and the private imprisonment of a state governor in Anambra State. Grooming cannot possibly be compatible with Mafiosi tactics which ought to be prosecuted as felonies, which are now passed up as if accepted practices in politics, which is why our elections are getting worse not better. Even in the South-west there are squabbles, here and there, even in Lagos State.
Yet Nigeria’s best examples of political grooming and apprenticeship were in the South-west from the late 1940s, 1950s and 1960s when Chief Obafemi Awolowo, founder of the Action Group (AG) of the First Republic, organized, trained, nurtured, mentored enough young and ambitious educated men who eventually founded what they branded ‘Awoism,’ that is, the political ideas of Awolowo, as their guiding principles. There was the Zikist Movement at the time, founded on 16th February 1946 by Kolawole Balogun, its first president, with Abiodun Aloba, Nduka Eze and M.C.K. Ajuluchukwu, its first Secretary General. The Zikists, though they did much of the heavy-lifting during the colonial struggle, ironically didn’t take roots as profoundly as Awoists.
Although Awo’s effort to groom his deputy, Chief Samuel Akintola, was a dismal failure, he succeeded with many others for two reasons. He set down governing principles, socialist principles, which he unabashedly embraced and persuaded his followers of their virtues. He thus set down the roots for progressivism which now thrives. He also tried to enforce discipline within the party. It worked for him due to the regional structure of the country at the time.
It would indeed have been a good thing to give young leaders the kind of grooming that Chief Awolowo gave the Awoists – they served their people well, they were not corrupt, and were loyal to the progressive manifesto and ideology. But the country has changed profoundly. Our new democratic setting creates a competitive political field which votes for only popular candidates. The groomed candidate may turn out to be autocratic or incompetent.
In a multi-party democracy the electoral field is an open one which offers the voter a lot of choices. There is also the risk of corruption for groomed candidates who may decide to cover the misdeeds of their predecessors who groomed them. In a multi-party environment, the groomed candidate may win only if he has popular appeal.
The temptation to impose groomed candidates from above is always high which often defeats the aim of democracy and the popular choice of the people. The qualifications for leadership are always known to the voter and it is the duty of the candidate to prepare for public office without depending on godfathers, groomers and mentors.