Tinubu Et Al.: Please Don’t Run! — By Okey Ndibe
A bunch of self-aggrandizing politicians are lining up to jostle for Nigeria’s highest office, the presidency. Among them: former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, and former Governors Ahmed Bola Tinubu, Rochas Okorocha, and Orji Uzor Kalu. On paper, these men – and several others of their ilk – are formidable candidates, even frontrunners. Yet, on deeper reflection, each of these men’s most notable credential is a certifiable record of mediocrity in governance.
Nigerians should chafe at the prospect of falling under the sway of any one of these aspirants. Why, do you ask? Let’s think about a few reasons.
Since Independence in 1960, Nigeria has been particularly luckless in its leaders. And this has been the case regardless of whether the leadership was military or civilian. With a few exceptions that prove the rule, the country has been led – that is to say, misled – by a coterie of misfits, men (and a smattering of women) deficient in vision, ethics and enlightenment.
In a paradoxical pattern, Nigeria’s crisis of leadership appears to have worsened with time. President Olusegun Obasanjo had a rare opportunity to deepen the roots of democracy and foster goal-oriented leadership. Instead, he turned himself into an imperial president, empowered the most reprehensible actors, and attempted to derail the constitution in order to perpetuate himself in office.
Worse, he helped curate a successor, Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, who was too sick to do anything more significant than checking himself in and out of a Saudi hospital. And he made sure that, once Yar’Adua passed, the presidency would fall on the lap of a man who had as much trouble curbing his wife’s excesses as keeping his cabinet in check.
But it was President Muhammadu Buhari who came to embody the tragedy of entrusting a nepotistic and lethargic man with the affairs of a nation. Buhari has snoozed as Nigeria burned. He had impressed some voters with his pledge to jail corrupt people. In reality, he has done zilch to combat corruption. If he gets credit at all, it is a negative one: for consistently looking the other way when members of his inner circle were accused – often credibly – of illicit enrichment. And far from handling rampant sectarian violence, he has – through inaction – encouraged herdsmen to raze whole communities and seize their land.
Here’s the point: Nigeria is in dismal shape. After more than sixty years of terrible leadership, culminating in the seven years (and counting) of the Buhari disaster, Nigerians desperately deserve a break. They cannot afford another four or – God forbid – eight years of ho-hum, anything-goes leadership. Sadly, that’s what the “prominent” candidates angling to be president in 2023 can offer.
None of the men is qualified to untie the shoe straps of an Obafemi Awolowo, Nnamdi Azikiwe, Tafawa Balewa, or Anthony Enahoro. Compared to the latter cohort, the present crop of candidates is colorless, inarticulate, and bankrupt of ideas.
The Tinubus, Atikus, Okorochas and Kalus of present-day Nigerian politics have little or no understanding of the nature and depth of Nigeria’s woes. Their capacity for envisioning effective solutions to the country’s perennial maladies is even more wretched.
In fact, some of the fellows strutting about, auditioning for the presidency, appear blissfully ignorant of the shambolic material conditions in the country they’ve ruined in the past – and seek to ruin anew.
These so-called political giants are, in reality, made of straw. They are bereft of the kind of vision that powers the transformation of society.
Some years ago, I encountered an example of that vision on “60 Minutes,” a popular American TV news program on the CBS network. In one segment, the program highlighted Dubai’s dramatic rise as a hub of international finance, entertainment, and commerce. The segment in question featured a revealing interview with Dubai’s ruler, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum. A former commercial pilot, he’s depicted as a hands-on, energetic, and visionary leader. Steve Kroft, who anchored the “60 Minutes” report, disclosed that those closest to the sheikh described him “as a workaholic” who was “always in motion.” The sheikh was seen walking about, with no security detail in sight. When he wasn’t walking, said Mr. Kroft, he often drove himself to inspect construction and other projects.
Once they sat down, the US journalist asked the sheik, “What are you trying to do here?” Without mincing words, the sheikh answered: “I want [Dubai] to be Number One – not in the region, but in the world.” The reporter asked a follow-up question: “What do you mean by Number One?” The sheikh replied, “In everything: higher education, health, housing, just [giving] my people the highest way of living.”
When the journalist remarked that some other leader might have chosen to transform their society in the span of a generation, rather than a mere few years, the sheikh had a decisive comeback: “I want my people to live [a] better life now, to go to the highest schools now, to get good healthcare now – not after twenty years.”
Nigeria needs her version of that kind of leader! But folks like Atiku, Tinubu, Okorocha and Kalu are too puny to grasp what it means to play in the sheik’s league of leadership. Their claim to fame has nothing to do with the loftiness of their ideas. It is entirely founded on their obscene wealth. And much of their wealth, truth be told, is often shadowy, arising from their occupation of public office.
It is no wonder that our men base their presidential ambitions on jejune grounds and gestures. Atiku has argued, correctly, that the Nigerian constitution does not provide for presidential zoning. Even so, he has not made a remotely convincing case why he is an impressive candidate. If anything, his body language suggests a belief that he should be enthroned president on the strength, alone, of the ardor and persistence of his quest for the office.
Tinubu has traversed Nigeria “consulting” past and present wreckers of Nigeria, notifying them of his intention to become wrecker-in-chief come 2023. He has not cared to address the generality of Nigerians, to sell us a vision of his statecraft. It makes sense that he has not unfurled a program, for a man does not offer what he doesn’t have.
How about Okorocha? Quoting the Quran, he invokes the idea of “justice.” It all boils down to: he should become president because he is Igbo, the only one of Nigeria’s three major ethnic groups that has yet to produce an elected national leader. Indeed, Nigeria would give a good account of its commitment to national belonging by electing a president of Igbo extraction. But this consideration is trumped, I suggest, by a profounder goal: the election of Nigeria’s first visionary and solid leader, whatever her or his ethnicity
And then there’s Kalu, a man whose improbable profile in Nigeria’s public life speaks volumes about standards in the country. Having failed as a state governor, Kalu now seeks our permission to foul up on a grander scale and larger space!
Here’s my modest proposal to these would-be presidents: please, don’t run! Nigeria is too bedeviled by economic and social crises to abide another tenure under a namby-pamby president.