Let us assume that the elections will hold in Nigeria next month. Let us assume that no one will arrest, detain or sack Professor Mahmood Yakubu. Let us assume that INEC can replace what has been damaged in its offices by nihilists. Let us assume that there will be no more damage to INEC’s infrastructure and election assets. Let us assume that the policemen and armed forces personnel involved in the elections will be apolitical and professional as they have been advised by President Muhammadu Buhari and their ogas at the top. If all these assumptions are correct, then Nigeria may have elections that are free, fair and credible. But they can only be free, fair and credible if our votes actually count in the choice of Nigeria’s leadership in 2023.
Before you get to the point of casting your vote, let me ask you a pertinent question: what will you vote for? Take note that I did not ask who you would be voting for but what you would vote for. I know that you will be voting for somebody but that decision will be based on some factors, which will drive you to make a choice from among 18 presidential candidates. Most of the presidential candidates are just there to enrich their curriculum vitae by inserting in it “former presidential candidate” at the end of the day. They belong to the class called the “also ran.” They are not vigorously campaigning or marketing their potential to the voters but they remain candidates in INEC’s books, even though most voters do not know the names of their parties or their party symbols.
However, what has dominated political discussion in the recent past is Chief Olusegun Obasanjo’s letter to Nigerian youths recommending the presidential candidate of the Labour Party, Mr. Peter Obi, as someone they should vote for in the election. As expected, this has generated some heat. While some commentators have praised him for his choice, some have condemned him for even daring to make a choice at all. In their weird type of democracy, Obasanjo, a former Head of State and former President, has had his time, he should just keep his mouth shut and not tell anyone who they should vote for. For them, having ruled the country disqualifies him from saying anything about the candidates or the elections. He should simply behave like some of the other leaders who have chosen to remain apolitical and not make their preferences known. But that is their choice, the choice to be apolitical. No one has compelled them to choose that path because there is nothing in our laws or in the rules of engagement in a democracy that bars a former ruler of his country from expressing his views on any subject under the sun. The truth of the matter is that those who are opposed or hostile to Obasanjo’s endorsement of Peter Obi are those who would have preferred him to endorse their own candidate. That is the meat of the matter. But the man has to have a choice and he has made his choice known to Nigerians.
Reading his letter to the youths, I can decipher three reasons for which he has chosen Obi. They are age, competence and fairness. Obi has not yet reached three score and ten, which is the proverbial age of the old. But not all societies regard old age as some incurable disease. The American President Joe Biden is in his late seventies and the Americans are not complaining because he is doing his job efficiently. When age actually becomes a problem is when it is compounded by illness. Old age has its advantage too: experience and to assume that it is a disadvantage without an advantage is to be dishonest. Where old age becomes a disadvantage is when it is accompanied by debilitating, terminal ailment. Buhari has just turned 80 but he has been travelling abroad for the past few years for medical attention at public expense. This has generated a lot of debate about the state of his health and the state of Nigeria’s health facilities. If our health facilities were adequate and our Presidents did not have to travel abroad for medical attention regularly then there would not have been much focus on the issue of age/health of our rulers.
Obi was the Governor of Anambra State for two terms and he seems to have run the state reasonably well without piling up a lot of debt for his successor. As an economist who has run a bank and other businesses in the private sector, he seems to understand the basics of prudent management of resources. Some people think that he is stingy and in Nigerian politics stinginess is not regarded as a virtue even though it may mean that public resources will be prudently managed. Profligacy seems to be the acceptable mode of governance by some people who have given it the street name of “stomach infrastructure.”
The other factor that Obasanjo considered in his love letter to Nigerian youths as compelling him to go for Obi is fairness. Since the return of democracy in 1999, no Igbo leader has been President of the country. The rotation of the presidency between North and South was started by the PDP with Obasanjo from the South-West taking the first shot. When he ended his tenure, Obasanjo ensured that it went to the North and by some unexpected circumstance it also went to the South-South. So, after eight years of the Buhari presidency, it was expected by fair-minded people that, if it was the turn of the South, it would be the turn of the South-East. But politics is not a game of morality or even of fairness. It is a winner-takes-all affair. If it was a morality or fairness game, you would not have an Atiku or a Kwankwaso from the North or a Tinubu from the South-West contesting. Even though all the 17 southern governors decided at a meeting in Asaba that the 2023 presidency should come to the South, there are divergent voices among some of them because of some peculiar interests. But this matter of rotation of the presidency will remain controversial except it is enshrined in the Constitution. No one can bar any Nigerian who wants to be President of Nigeria from any part of Nigeria from contesting an election for that office. It is his right once his ambition does not offend any part of the Constitution.
I notice that Obasanjo specifically directed his letter to Nigerian youths. He did so apparently because he knows that the youths are more in number than the older folks and can influence the vote in their favour, if they choose to. He knows too that Nigeria of the future belongs to today’s youths and that what is being done today by those who run our affairs will affect the shape of our world tomorrow. For example, we have been informed that by current statistics it is likely that the Buhari government will hand over a debt portfolio of about N77 trillion to its successor. A debt portfolio of that magnitude is scary but the country has the potential to manage it efficiently, if its vast resources are well harnessed. We have vast arable land suitable for agriculture and industrialisation but it remains largely untapped. We have solid minerals that include gold in six states that are largely tapped by illegal miners. We have the second largest deposit of bitumen in the world but we have done little or nothing with it. Our roads are some of the worst in the world. There are lots of other solid minerals that have remained untapped. Recently, crude oil has been discovered in Gombe and Bauchi states, while there are also prospects of more discoveries in other parts of the country. But the problem is that we have not been able to manage these resources efficiently for the benefit of Nigerians. How would Nigerians be queuing for petrol for hours in various parts of the country, if we had managed our refineries efficiently?
Obasanjo’s endorsement is his own view of what he thinks Nigerians need. There are other Nigerians who have their own views, which are different from Obasanjo’s. It depends on what one wants to vote for. Will you vote for geography, that is, for the state or zone from which you come? That is what one governor called demographics. But that on its own is not enough. Will you vote for religion? That too is not enough because you have good and bad men and women in every religion and some of those who pretend to be good Christians and Moslems do turn a different leaf and ignore the virtues of fairness, inclusiveness and diversity when they actually get into office.
Some potential voters do not even bother to study the documents that the parties are putting in the public domain because they know that they will throw them away as soon as the elections are over. That is a way of saying that Nigerian politicians are largely interested in putting together documents that are very attractive even if they are very unimplementable. So it is difficult for the Nigerian voter to know what to vote for. The campaign strategy has changed. Now the vogue is rallies, gathering a large crowd to give the impression of an impressive support base even if the crowd is rented. So how do you know that the crowd is not rented or is not there for the dollars, wrappers, umbrellas, bags of rice and the sweet promise to tar your roads or give your children scholarships?
I see that in the coming election there is a lot of emphasis on youths. Every serious campaigner is talking to youths among other potential voter groups. They are right. Youths are in the majority. Youths are the most badly affected by the poor management of our patrimony. Youths think it is the oldies who are running and ruining their country. But that is a lie. This country has always been run by young people. Buhari is the only seventy-something-year-old man who got elected. All the past leaders elected or appointed were below 70. In the First Republic, all our leaders, Ahmadu Bello, Tafawa Balewa, Obafemi Awolowo, etc, were in their 30s. It was only Nnamdi Azikiwe who was in his early 40s. Nigeria’s Minister of External Affairs M.T. Mbu was 23 years old. How old was Gowon as Head of State? Thirty-two years. Since 1999, we have had no ruler whose age was anywhere near 70, except Buhari. Most of the governors we have had have been in their 40s and 50s. So, if the country has been badly run, the youths are not faultless. Were the youths not in the APC when it took Buhari six months to select his cabinet? What did they do? And when he came up with the list, there were no fresh names, no significant scientists, no technology wizards, no economic gurus. Even Donald Trump put a Nigerian technology expert in his team. Now Joe Biden has chosen about four Nigerian experts to work for his government. Technology has solved a lot of security problems in the world today, but we have chosen to ignore those who have the expertise in these matters. We only want people who can always say “yes sir” to everything, not people who have knowledge in a knowledge-driven world.
When you choose, choose right because there are consequences for every choice you make.