by Tunji Ariyomo
The position of the president of a nation is no joke. Nigeria got it wrong this far because that position has been treated as a huge joke.
For the title of this article, I decided to partly ride piggyback on that famous question by Sonala Olumhense – Your Mumu Don Do? My class Teacher, Mr. Femi Oluwateru on the first school day after the 1979 election asked us (his impressionable young pupils) – “who won the presidential election?” Mind you, just a few days earlier, the Federal Electoral Commission (FEDECO) had declared Alhaji Shehu Shagari of the National Party of Nigeria (NPN) winner. The entire class, bar two pupils who kept quiet, said “Shehu Shagari”. Even though any talk of partisan politics was forbidden in my house, my father, like most of his contemporaries could hardly overcome the temptation of espousing the rare leadership attributes of Obafemi Awolowo and why he was best suited as president of “awon eniyan dudu” (difficult to govern black people – within usage context) and why Shagari though a gentleman never had it in him what it would require to be a successful president of “awon eniyan dudu”.
I was one of the two pupils who kept quiet. So it was that Mr. Oluwateru prodded us and till date I remember 3 things: We stood up in defiance and spoke in Yoruba as if it was rehearsed “Shagari ni president t’awon, Awolowo ni president t’awa” – meaning that Shehu Shagari would be president of the remaining pupils who earlier responded while Awolowo would be our president; The second thing I remember vaguely was what I can now describe as the hilarious laughter of our teacher in reaction to our naivety while the third was that I spent several days afterward drawing both Shagari and Awolowo and while I would give Awolowo a beautiful appearance, I would deliberately distort Shagari’s impression and assign him a disproportionate neck that was extremely long, as well as stretching his hat in imitation of his caricature that I saw in some of the newspapers at home. Those infantile sketches were powerful enough to attract roars of laughter. It was my personal revenge against a man whom through means unknown to me at the time, I believed, cornered for himself, a position suitable only for men of the calibre of Awolowo.
Later in life, I came to understand the concept of fitness. First, every single person is important. In 1979, Shehu Shagari was an important personality that was already matured and fit for certain purposes in Nigeria. Being a person of immense calm and comportment, he would have made an excellent see no evil hear no evil first class traditional ruler, a magistrate of repute or a member of an honorary advisory team saddled with specific tasks – such as mediation, alternative dispute resolution etc, among arrays of options – but not the role of the President of Nigeria. In a competitive modern world, as far as fitness is concerned, the role of a President and the Commander-in-Chief (C-in-C) of the Armed Forces at the time was beyond his capacity. It is like the case of the human body – with various parts – mouth, nose, eyes, brain, hands, legs etc. The ear would be a misfit if it were assigned the duty of the mouth. Ditto if the head were to usurp the role of the leg! Apart from the fact that the treasury was stolen dry under his watch, the country’s economy became comatose while it took a personal initiative of a young Muhammadu Buhari some years later to keep Chadian invaders at bay while Shagari dozed off as C-in-C!
The position of the president of a nation is no joke. Nigeria got it wrong this far because that position has been treated as a huge joke. The general consensus amongst Nigerian elite politicians is that anybody can be president. It is a lie. That is why rather than bare-knuckle traversing of the length and breadth of the nation to convince Nigerians of candidate’s capability and fitness before being frontloaded as flag bearers of political parties, the norm is for a few to chorography events and throw up their lackeys for that exalted position (some parties will insult you further with sham primary elections). Their aim is that such persons would remain pliable – to be controlled the way they like. Of course, while a political puppet will always remain a puppet, there is no guarantee that other people would not snatch control of that puppet. A political puppet is like the Etch A Sketch, anyone with access to it can take control and scribble his own notes.
Since 1914 till date, particularly since 1960, the choices that have emerged as leaders have been of three broad categories; the accidental leader or leader by default (those who became Head of State or president because the incumbent was killed or died), the leader by coup d’état (those who either shot their way to the seat of power or surreptitiously manipulated others to do the shooting while they bid their time) or the leader by anointing (those who were handpicked because godfathers believed them weak and pliable). Even under a democratic setting, the political elites continue to dodge the critical need for the people to be the decider-in-chief of their leader’s fate. On both left and right of the political divides today, this is the only subject, apart from corruption, upon which they have consensus – denying the people the opportunity to decide who should lead them. Voting for a bunch of godfather-handpicked individuals on Election Day is no democracy. Your Mumu ends the day you realise that if you did not have a say or elect him at the primary election, he cannot be a democratic candidate of your choice at a general election!
For 99 years, the experiment never worked. Nigeria remains a pariah of a state and an example of what a country must never be. While peers like Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia have risen to become competitive economies, and while nations like Ghana continue to record street measurable indices of growth (the distinction is deliberately being made here between growth that the people can see and experience versus clerical pronouncements of people in government), the various past leaders of Nigeria would rather provide excuse upon excuse while the nation is incapable of greatness – of course, such excuses would not apply to their personal fortune! It is also not uncommon that while it is expected that they lack what it takes to confront the critical issues that make development near impossible, they nonetheless pander to senior puppeteers in the form of notable world commerce organizations by forcing pain upon their people the more in order to appear as tough reforming leaders to those puppeteers – examples of SAP and the January 2012 removal of fuel subsidy come to mind. Of course capable leaders would have frontally confronted the question of whether subsidy even existed! Or whether devaluing Naira to shore up production and trade was even sensible in a country where institutional framework to support innovation was never in place thereby undermining capacity for global competitiveness! When he went against all superior advice to implement SAP in July 1986, Ibrahim Babangida’s illogic popped inflation from 5.4% that year to 40.9% in 1989.
Why focus on the office of the president first?
At the federal level, there are 109 senators and 360 members of House of Representatives (MHR). In embarking upon any major change, it is sensible to start from somewhere. Attempting to confront everything at once may be quite daunting – especially without executive authority. The position of the President of Nigeria is a very important one. The body language of a good president alone will positively influence the attitude of a multitude of legislators and members of the judiciary. He signs legislators’ bills into laws and put effect to decisions of the judiciary. He possesses the coercive authority of the state and his actions can inspire many to fall inline. Also, the Nigerian President is singularly responsible for the appointment of those that are in charge of the policy direction of governance in Nigeria and the implementation of such policies. Such appointees include hundreds of individuals whether directly or indirectly (i.e., people appointed by those who draw their authority from him). The President is even able to appoint some within the judiciary! Relative to the legislature and the Judiciary, the President stands primus inter pares. He or his appointees are responsible for executing the tenets and dictates of the Nigerian constitution. They are responsible for the state of the nation’s stock of critical social and physical infrastructure – the hospitals, the roads, the water systems, the electricity systems, communication systems, education system, security systems etc.
So what do we do?
An adage in Isikan says “es’oni gbon ju’lu” meaning that no matter how smart a person is, he cannot be wiser than an entire town. This basically emphasises the primacy of collective wisdom. While a reform of the political process is compulsory in order to eliminate the current capacity of a few to pre-determine leaders (top-to-bottom) for Nigerians, it may only be feasible under a leader that has the acumen to appreciate its mighty significance – a patriotic mind that knows that leaders can only owe allegiance primarily to the people if they owe their emergence to those people (bottom-to-top). The tendency would be for leaders so produced to strive hard to deliver so as to continue to earn the respect of the people. This is however a huge challenge because beneficiaries of such anointing will resist attempts to change what gave them their undeserved status. So what can we do? A group of Nigerians which include people like Tunde Fagbenle, Okey Ndibe, Safiyah Musa, Ndubuisi Victor Ogwuda, Pius Adesanmi, Zainab Usman, Modupe Debbie Ariyo (OBE), Soni Akoji, Kingsley Ewetuya, Anozie Ebirim, Yommi Oni and yours truly, as well as others that are teaming up across ethnic divides, age-groups and religious affiliations are pushing for an early head start for the candidate of the Nigerian people, a capable candidate that can unite North and South, that can unite religious sentiments and that can deliver 21st century leadership aimed at reshaping the destiny of Nigeria and place the country on the path to true competitive growth where every kobo of tax payers’ money would count in a quantifiable way – as assets for mitigating critical challenges, meeting pressing needs of the people and building a robust foundation for generations yet unborn – and not as ‘awoof’ to be squandered on vain and non essential items that seem to rank highest in the fantasies of leadership misfits.
By the grace of God, in 2015, the candidate of the Nigerian people will stand shoulder higher than any candidate who believes in the powers of a few strongmen or godfathers. But this is only possible if Nigerians are able to arise. Under the banner of the KickOut Siddon Look (KOSiL) political movement, Nigerian intellectuals, professionals, students, teachers, lecturers, farmers, market women, entrepreneurs, drivers, mechanics, painters, unemployed youths, underemployed folks etc should no longer stand by and watch as a few well-connected unpatriotic elements destroy the glorious future of Nigeria and plunder her resources. Sign up at http://tinyurl.com/ab6pmzv and volunteer. Danjuma Musa, Chidozie Odogwudozilla Nnachor, Busuyi Oloye, Aminu Muhammad, Gbenga Musa, Ebuka Enekwe and many too numerous to mention by names are professionals and youthful leaders standing up for a greater country – Our mumu don do, we say.
Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.