Even by the sheer reason of venture, the number and quality of aspirations to Nigeria’s Presidency in the 2019 elections should excite and give a sense of satisfaction that democracy is gradually taking roots in the country.
Democracy is after all a mark of liberalisation of political power, the ability of every constitutionally-enabled national to aspire to rule their country regardless of their situation in life. There are at least 31 persons, some of whom have never been in politics, currently vying for Nigeria’s top job next year and that is unprecedented.
But it is not just about the numbers. In the crowd of these contenders is a significant quantum of youthfulness that Nigeria has been unable to boast of since the First Republic. There is the 35-year-old United States of America based Chike Ukaegbu; the 47-year-old motivational speaker, Fela Durotoye; 46-year-old publisher of Sahara Reporters, Omoyele Sowore, and a number of 50-year-olds including former Vice President of the World Bank, Oby Ezekwesili; a former Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Kingsley Moghalu and a host of others.
Now, for a country with over 60% of its population between the ages of 18 and 35, the idea of a generational shift in governance is surely desirable. That is even by the acquiesce of the incumbent septuagenarian who, earlier this year, assented to a law that gives people of Ukaegbu’s age grade the leeway to the contest.
There is this seemingly everlasting, albeit valid argument, about Nigeria’s queer yet unwritten gerontocratic order and the irony that those leading the country into the future are essentially bereft of even a working knowledge of the issues and ideas that currently drive the world. And as a result, they can, predictably, only deliver a stunted future to generations to come. So, even if just by the need to avoid the looming misnomer, the current generational awakening is welcome.
But far beyond the issue of age, which, when the strict requirements of effective leadership are discussed, is really extraneous to effectiveness, is the fact that a substantial number of these youthful aspirants come to the table with verifiable if not already tested qualification and competence. Quite a number of them have played influential roles in the Nigerian project over the past few decades and are quite conversant with the most urgent challenges the country faces.
On their individual steam, these gentlemen and ladies are full of ideas on how to reverse the increasingly diminishing prospect that Nigeria will ever be a country of pride. Ezekwesili and Moghalu have not surprisingly displayed a consoling grasp of the issues that cripple the Nigerian economy and the possible solutions. Virtually all these contestants have spoken about the need for the fundamentals of unifying the people of Nigeria to the extent that there is a general idea of what a Nigerian is, the urgency for a revolution in the education and health sectors as well as the challenges of human capital development. It is therefore possible to say that if any of these members of this “fresh blood” group is voted into power, Nigeria could finally be on its way out of its legendary failures.
A very important question to ask however is how many of these contestants do plan to win an election that is barely 100 days away when they clearly lack the structure and resources that deliver victory in the circumstance? How many of their political parties can boast of membership in a quarter of the 8,809 wards in the 774 Local Government Areas of the 36 states that constitute Nigeria? If their parties are not represented in these remote but critical electoral posts, how do they intend to win elections as they have confidently boasted? Is it possible that this is a strategy to test the waters by each of these contestants and launch more serious campaigns in the future?
But what worries more about this new crop of purposeful politicians is not so much the immediately unrealistic nature of their aspirations but the fact that each of them seems to have been caught up in some of the tendencies that make Nigerian politicians notoriously unique.
The most discernible of these unhelpful inclinations is the incurable inability to collaborate for the common good. The Nigerian politician likes to do it alone and even when they seem to value co-operation, it is merely to attain the ends they desire, thereafter, they dump their collaborators while, the winner takes it all.
Sometimes, when the motive is not so patently selfish and pecuniary as for the one who wins in the circumstance to mainly appropriate the plunder of war to himself and his cronies, leaders are gripped by a deluding messianic sense that makes them see themselves as the only ones sent to deliver the country from its travails. When leaders, especially in government, are bound by the error of a distrust for the ability of others to sharpen and execute their visions, what you have is a strangulating environment where creativity is stifled, where attainment is meagre and where leaders are disconnected from reality. A tragedy that Nigeria, even if its leaders deny it, is currently saddled with. It is the same danger that Nigerians should forbid in the individual smoothness of the eminently qualified patriots aspiring to lead from 2019 through 2023.
One question to ask is whether these aspirants see any urgent need to deliver Nigeria from their publicly stated unanimous conclusion that none of the ruling All Progressives Congress and the opposition Peoples Democratic Party has the potential to change the country in the required way, why has it been impossible for a number of them to form a critical mass, which might give them a fighting chance in the upcoming election?
It is obvious that ego and personal aggrandisement are not too distant from each of this new group of politicians. It is evident in the way the Presidential Aspirants Coming Together alliance they proposed collapsed like a pack of cards. Although Durotoye was said to have emerged as a consensus candidate at an election held at the end of August, those who signed on to the mission of the platform including Moghalu, Sowore, Thomas-Wilson Ikubese, Ahmed Buhari, Tope Fasua, Sina Fagbenro-Byron, Eragbe Anslem, Jaye Gaskia, Mathias Tsado, Victor Ani-Laju, Alistair Soyode, Godstime Sidney Iroabuchi, Clement Jimbo, and Elishama Ideh failed to respect the outcome for various reasons which ultimately boil down to not having emerged. The comedy of it all is that Ezekwesili, who was an observer at the PACT consensus meeting, has thereafter realised that she may lead Nigeria better than any of the aspirants who subscribed to PACT and has gone on to declare and pursue her own ambition.
The truth is that beyond the essential ingredients of competence and integrity, which many of these candidates evidently possess and have continued to flaunt as time permits, an equally irreducible pre-requisite for the high office they are gunning for is the ability to sacrifice everything, including that overwhelming ambition for office for the common good. If none of them is willing to do that at the moment, you can wonder how much they would be willing to sacrifice for Nigeria in the event of an unlikely election. How does any of them hope to win this election when the votes of the demography of youths, the young at heart and women whom they may claim to have a hold on, will be split between all of them?
Nothing summarises the need for caution in the hope placed on any of these candidates by the following quote attributed to Ezekwesili on her assessment of the others: “When we were asked by a group of aspirants to monitor their process for agreeing amongst them through the PACT initiative who they would all rally behind and I have to say it was one of the most depressing things that I ever saw. You saw a situation where young people also were reflecting the behaviour of the old that we want to take out.” This disappointing failure apparently inspired her own aspiration for office but then you wonder, how is it possible that anyone of these people who cannot agree on a consensus candidate can, entirely by themselves, be the messiah Nigeria needs?