by Emma Ikumeh
Former INEC chief, Professor Attahiru Jega recently made a case for competent leadership over strongman leadership. The latter was one of the major pivots on which Muhammadu Buhari achieved victory in 2015, bearing in mind the alleged 2 million controversial votes awarded to the APC and Buhari in Kano. Many felt strongman leadership was needed due to indiscipline and widespread corruption endemic in Nigeria. Jega noted that a strong man would destroy institutions whereas “competence of leadership is a very important variable in bringing about stable political transition, good governance and deepening of democracy.”
There is a consensus that President Buhari’s administration has failed but what bothers the minds of millions of dissatisfied Nigerian citizens remain which politician can displace Buhari given his political base (though this is depreciating due to defections of key members of his party), backed by a populist movement and a cult of personality cemented by the power of incumbency?
Inadvertently, failure to improve the fortunes of the country has left many in distress stemming from a failure of leadership which has beleaguered Africa’s sleeping giant. In an editorial by The Guardian on the visit of PM Theresa May to Nigeria, the foremost UK daily noted, “Many Nigerians are disillusioned by a lack of progress made by Buhari’s administration. Promises to fight corruption and restore security have not been fully met.” In fact, The Guardian was quite conservative in expressing the sangfroid of disaffected citizens most of whom voted for him with high hopes.
There is no gainsaying that Buhari is incompetent. It is pertinent to note that at the celebrated meeting of Buhari with President Trump of the United States, he was reportedly dismissed as lifeless by Trump, a reference which is a bitter truth which summarizes the entire leadership of his administration. If the president of the United States, the leader of the free world and most powerful man in the world adjudged the president of Nigeria as lifeless, it calls for deep introspection and sober reflection.
Herein lies the conundrum, the chasm between what Nigeria lacks and what it requires at this epoch in its development. The crux of the matter is the dearth of political leadership needed to situate Nigeria as a dominant emerging power in the world and improve the lot of the over 87 million Nigerians that live in abject poverty. Theresa May reminded Nigeria that it has become the poverty capital of the world while speaking in South Africa on her African tour. Nigeria as a country needs redemption.
Consequently, the two major political parties that would most likely produce the next president of Nigeria – the anchor point for political leadership – are Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) and the All Progressive Congress (APC). The APC being the party of Mr Buhari is set to give him the 2019 presidential ticket unopposed. However, as things stand, the APC has failed to deliver on its campaign promises consequent on the leadership failure of Buhari. In effect, except the APC rescinds it decision and prevails on Mr Buhari to jettison his ambition, the party stands a big chance of losing out to the PDP which remains Africa’s largest party and the last hope of the common man to rise from growing poverty.
In recent times, the PDP has had its political fortunes enhanced by the defection of prominent members of the APC who moved from the PDP prior to the 2015 elections. Comparatively, it has a pool of candidates who possess the leadership acumen to unseat Mr Buhari and has gone into a coalition known as the Coalition of Coalition of United Political Parties (CUPP) to wrestle power from the APC. It is no gainsaying to unambiguously propose that PDP has a better chance of winning the presidential election in 2019 than APC but its choice of presidential candidate is a crucial variable in this political permutation.
Up until Dr Bukola Saraki, the Senate president hinted to Bloomberg News that he is considering running for president, former VP Atiku Abubakar had been the touted choice for the PDP ticket. Mr Atiku is very vocal and audacious on national issues and has successfully deployed social media especially on Twitter to criticise the present government. But the emergence of Dr Saraki in permutations has taken political watchers by surprise as many expected him to seek reprieve from the constant attacks on his person and office of the Senate President by the APC who saw him as its main adversary because of his growing political profile. His political dexterity awes the politically savvy as they long to have a man of his pedigree and sagacity take a shot at the presidency. He officially declared and threw the hat into the ring to contest the 2019 presidential primary of the PDP when he addressed the #NotTooYoungToRun advocacy group in a political parley with youth aspirants of the PDP.
Without a doubt, in the PDP, the battle is between Saraki and Atiku; and for the PDP and APC, it is Saraki or Atiku versus Buhari. However, the Senate president embodies a fresh perspective to leadership, which is imperative at this juncture in the journey for the development of Nigeria and set it on the path of progress. He has tagged his campaign #GrowNigeria. And I intend to advance the premise on which I believe Saraki appears most likely to be at the helm of affairs of Nigeria in 2019 with a victory in the presidential elections provided the PDP gives him the ticket.
At the level of state government politics, as a politician with a conscience, who was reluctant to join politics, he opposed his father’s decision for his sister Gbemisola to succeed him as governor. That singular act endeared him to the people of his state who rewarded him with their votes as he was elected a senator after serving two terms as governor. Dr Saraki is accorded recognition as the father of modern governance in Kwara given his type of politics which is devoid of rancour and acrimony; focused on the good, development and advancement of the people of his state and Nigeria. His political prowess is visible on how he has galvanised Kwara politically; as governor of Kwara for eight years, as he started a revolution to tackle the problem of food security and pragmatically implemented diversification of the economy, which has remained lip service at national level because of over-dependence on crude oil as the major revenue earner.
Based on a PPP model with 13 Zimbabwean farmers, the Shonga Farms project was initiated and today is a major supplier of cassava to Nigerian Starch Mills Limited and fresh milk to WAMCO to produce Peak, Three Crowns milk, Nutricima and many other companies. It is also a major supplier of chicken to most restaurants in the country, including Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC). Replicating the Shonga Farms model and empowering farmers across Nigeria requires a person who has led such a groundbreaking transformation in the agricultural sector.
On education, Saraki established Kwara State University (KWASU) a state-owned university which did not exist despite Kwara being one of the oldest states in Nigeria. Saraki’s leadership envisioned an egalitarian Kwara where citizens are educated to the highest level. In furtherance of that grand goal, the Ilorin Aviation School is one of the laudable projects initiated and completed by his administration which afforded indigenes of the state to acquire high tech knowledge in aviation. To be vindicated in his area of education as a medical doctor, he established Kwara Advanced Ultramodern Diagnosis Centre. On the nagging issue of electricity, the Ganmo Power Generation Plant, hundreds of ordinary power substations and some injection Substations were built. These are just a few of the accomplishments of Saraki as a governor. Massive road and infrastructural projects were initiated and completed. In terms of state government administration, Saraki stands out. He was the chairman of the Nigerian Governor’s forum and his good leadership as governor was felt nationally.
On the national scene, the victory of the APC in the National Assembly and presidency brought yet another era of insight to the political enigma and colossus Saraki is. The election of the opposition to the presidency instead of unifying the opposition threw up a leadership tussle, which required a great deal of wisdom and maturity to handle. The first point of consternation was the election of the principal officers of the NASS. The leadership of the APC had its preferred candidates leaving out the nPDP headed by Saraki which was strategic in delivering the partnership which gave APC victory in the polls. The APC till date embodies lack of internal democracy, which negates equity and fairness.
The writer being a keen curator of the polity desired that the APC leave the NASS leadership open to internal democracy post-victory in 2015, which was imperative for deepening democracy in the larger polity. But the APC, which mistook its victory as isolated from the nPDP that joined their fold schemed to shortchange some consequential members of the party. Saraki delivered a political masterstroke which remains an important epoch in the annals of political history of Nigeria, a subject for political scientists and students to study. He brought coalition politics into the Senate where he made a concession to the opposition party PDP, garnered their block votes, with some loyal APC senators, he was elected the Senate president. Nigerians were relieved. The PDP which was wallowing in bitter election defeat heaved a sigh of relief while the South East which was almost schemed out in this dispensation got a top position in Senator Ike Ekweremadu as Deputy Senate President and it helped quell dissenting voices. It is no gainsaying to call Saraki the unifier, a bridge builder and a man who radiates the true meaning of one Nigeria.
The 8th Senate under Saraki has been the most successful of the Fourth Republic with groundbreaking bills and amendments passed while working harmoniously with all and sundry to ensure that our democracy is protected. The Senate under Saraki has passed over 200 bills in all facets of Nigeria as a country such as the Petroleum Industry Governance Bill (PIGB) and Electoral Amendment Bill. Specifically, at its third anniversary, on June 9, 2015, it passed 213 bills, cleared 138 petitions from members of the public. It is noteworthy that factions opposed to Saraki within his former party the APC have continuously sort to scuttle his good works through scheming of impeachment and outright siege on the national assembly but in all the travails, he has been the peacemaker making entreaties severally to the APC hierarchy which remains adamant in their bid to wrestle power from him. Restraint has been his disposition always seeking to quench any fire raging to consume the country. In all the consternation, which have simmered in recent times, he has emerged as the face of democracy recognised by world powers most recently, UK and European Union during the recent siege by Nigeria’s Secret Service on the National Assembly. After the recent siege on the Senate, he addressed a world press conference to assure the rest of the world that Nigeria is still committed to democracy and rule of law despite cynical forces that are bent on torpedoing progress.
Dr Saraki is the link between the old foes and the new generation. He best captures the aspirations of millennials and is an embodiment of modern governance. Nigerians are disillusioned with the current administration but what is missing is the linkage who will harness and galvanise the dreams on how to actualise a progressive country. He was instrumental in ensuring the #NotTooYoungToRun bill which lowers the age for several elective positions was passed into law. He is youth eccentric, one of his major trademarks. The other two leading candidates, Atiku, PDP (71) and Buhari, APC (75) are septuagenarians and the desire for a paradigm shift for fresh leadership has never been more than today. Saraki will be 56 in 2019 and fits into the picture Nigerians desire. A man so accomplished, being a governor for 8 years, Senator for 8 years, Senate president for 3.5 years and counting, and has the requisite experience to lead Nigeria on the path of progress and prosperity. One argument President Buhari’s supporters advance is Buhari’s experience but that experience is tainted by involvement in military juntas one of which he headed in the 80s which affected his views of democracy. He clearly identified as a converted democrat and recent events have cast him in a bad light. He shocked the country by placing national security and national interest over Rule of Law. Dr Saraki is his direct opposite who has continued to uphold the Rule of Law and advocates deepening democracy. Dr Saraki’s sterling leadership at the NASS gives credence.
Dr Saraki’s acceptability across the length and breadth of Nigeria, across geopolitical zones and ethnic groups, is seen in his consultations with prominent personalities and visits to several states where the masses have trooped out to welcome him. Despite the barrage of attacks on his personality, ordinary Nigerians are aware of his contribution to advancing democracy and progress of the country.
If the election is conducted today, he is sure of clinching the South South, South East, and North Central. He will get half of the votes of South West. But would need to make inroads into North East and North West to usurp Buhari. The likes of Senator Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso and Sokoto Governor, Aminu Tambuwal have the clout to bring the PDP and Saraki victory in the North West. And a few states (Taraba, Gombe and Adamawa) in the North East make his chances of getting 25 percent of the votes in two-thirds of the country a possibility. Consequently, Saraki is the best choice for the PDP and the right choice, the odds are on his side, in his party and the country to mount the saddle of leadership and bring succour to the long-suffering people of Nigeria.
Op–ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija
Emma Ikumeh is a political analyst living and working out of in Abuja. He can be reached on Twitter at @emmaikumeh