[By Oluseun Onigbinde]
2023 is upon us with the elections happening early next year. It feels like another year’s sporting event with suspense, breathtaking moments and power plays. However, this is not your regular entertainment. This is real life. This is about how the weak and vulnerable need a competent government that secures them. This is about economic growth and policy choices that expand opportunities for young people. I am very wary of being over excited about elections in Nigeria. Politicians will offer themselves as miserable and lowly persons, promising high heavens. Only for them to bask in public office like a pre-revolution monarch, denouncing any element of accountability.
The last time I tried in 2015, it ended with huge lamentations and a failure of expectations. Let me even judge by the micro-analysis of the manifesto called Security, Economy and Anti-corruption. Would anyone say that we are more secure with the anguish from Anka to Dansadau? How about escalating food prices and weak economic indices? Is anti-corruption no longer a waning rhetoric without energy? Nigeria has not been well served in the last few years but a nation must not be in short supply of hope — a belief that we are primed for better days even if all looks gloomy. Let me bathe in faith on five things that would matter in our choices for the next President.
1) Energy: Please look at the scale of the crisis in the country and the challenges that abound, do we really need another person running from Riyadh to London seeking medical attention? I know we would likely get a President older than the nation’s life expectancy age but at least let’s get one that has full strength for the role. I know how being President can seem like an infallible prophetic utterance for some people but really there’s a country that is in dire straits and needs urgency. In the last three Presidential cycles of the country, the health of the President has been a major factor twice. We have flirted with hearsays of cabals and a small clan taking over the vacuum. Nigeria can’t afford the costs and the uncertainty that it creates for a country begging for answers.
2) Political Acumen: You can accept or not, a President must be a top politician. There are plenty of interests ranging from regional, tribal to traditional ones that will either hinder or advance the agenda. Being able to balance such interests and still advance your development agenda is ever important to a leader’s legacy. How would a President relate to the National Assembly? How would he/she engage the Governors? How does he/she court respect despite being a public servant in the eyes of the public? There’s a lot of wisdom required for the position than we acknowledge with the cacophony that democracy offers us. A top-notch politician with a wide network, incredible courage and infectious charisma is very important to the office.
3) Federalist in Thinking: I assume expensively that a candidate prospecting for public office would have a high degree of patriotism and ability to see us all as Nigerians with equal opportunity to thrive. However, this is not enough. The idea of Nigeria as an entity without investing and supporting its subnational entities to grow is unsustainable. This also means that we can’t make our diversity and differing worldviews a cool talking point, we need to understand it. We need a President that advances federalism, the center will sink with reforms on the horizon. However, it’s a journey for me. We can’t have it all at once. However, if it means that we review the exclusive list, fund state policing with constitutional provisions to check abuse or give more autonomy to states for taxation, those would be giant steps ahead. A long-term view of Nigeria is not in its central government — it’s barely surviving on debt and CBN handouts — it’s taking power to the regions/states and getting the creative geniuses to appear. Is the candidate willing to shrink the gargantuan powers of the President? This is why I would pay more attention to who’s the next Governor than the President. You should too.
4) Media Accountability: Nigerian leaders care about the media to varying degrees, and I am just tired of a government run by spokesmen. The presidential dialogue that didn’t transcend Jonathan was a beautiful way to listen directly to the President. I am saying the President should speak in his or her voice daily like the US President mounted the box or the UK Prime Minister is ‘eyeballed’ in the Parliament. I don’t think a ‘media-shy’ President that acts in silence, feigns ignorance and throws his/her ‘spox’ at us is right for our state of democracy. I usually feel its arrogance mixed with gross disrespect. We need someone who’s willing to engage Nigerians from a position of personal accountability. There is so much royalty — in language, design and in action — wrapped around Nigeria’s President that I seriously detest.
5) The Company They Keep: You would possibly understand the trajectory of a candidate by paying attention to his/her close associates. What are their motivations? What do they seek? They miss the public treasury so much? Is this a sort of revenge to capitulate the institutions? We are learning that from Shagari to Buhari (isn’t life full circle), a leader can choose to sell himself as above board, but we are better off if we fully learn more about those promoting them with fervor or those silently in their corners who have held their trust over the years.
There are still issues around competence, worldviews, character, patriotism and the ideas of the candidate but I have left you with some starters as you x-ray the candidates from Tinubu, Saraki, Osinbajo, Obi, Fayemi, Tambuwal, Khadijah Okunnu-Lamidi to Moghalu. Possibly, you need to get a sheet and award points on the basis of this before you move to other advanced metrics. I am not sure we will fully get it right, but it is our choice to make it better. We have to score better so that we can truly manage our expectations.
Oluseun Onigbinde is the co-founder of BudgIT and also author of “The Existential Questions”