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For our sake, they seek our mandate

By Dan Agbese

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The arena is crowded with presidential aspirants, all in pursuit of what matters most in life – political power. We expected it. We welcome the crowd. We expected serious-minded people and we expected jokers. It is the nature of power to attract all sorts of men and women, each of whom is confident he has what it takes to lead his country aright. 

Power matters all the time but, in our own case, the chance to grab it comes only once in four years. For some of the aspirants, this would be their last chance to make it. They need no one to tell them they have to give it all they have got to receive the keys to Aso Rock Villa from President Buhari on May 29 next year. The prospects offer a beguiling promise of possibilities. The pursuit of political power is a huge gamble won by a few and missed by the many.

The teaming crowd of aspirants must be taken as evidence that Nigerians take the movement of their country from being potentially great to being actually great as a matter of patriotic duty incumbent on them. Nigeria has teaming presidential materials. Each of them sees himself as the Messiah our country has been praying for and waiting for. To keep hope alive, we must accept that one of them will emerge with divine anointing and lead our country through the desert of failed promises, failed national aspirations, a plethora of hopes raised and hopes dashed, frustrations, disappointments, and monumental embarrassments for a country this endowed with human and natural resources to descend to the nadir and pick up the pieces from the pavements of global development as the poverty capital of the world. 

The time of national elections is a time for the renewal of hope for the emergence of a new crop of leadership, driven, not entirely by their ambition for power but driven more by the aspirations to make a new nation out of this 62-year-old nation that has grown sclerotic long before its time. If your knees are down in prayers, please keep them there. The devil takes delight in being a negative influence in the leadership recruitment process. It may divert us from electing the right person we need to bravely lead us through the thick and thin of national progress and development. And instead impose on us through the ballot box a man with two left hands. Don’t say pox on the devil; not yet anyway.

Three groups of aspirants have emerged among this teaming crowd. The first group consists of men who have been in the system since General Abdulsalami Abubakar gave the coveted key to Aso Rock Villa to Chief Olusegun Obasanjo on May 29, 1999. These are the men who have been this and that and everything else in our political system cynically polluted by them to benefit them and keep them for ever relevant in our national politics. They have done it all as state governors, legislators, and ministers. They have changed political parties and deserted the parties that provided them with the platform to become what they became. And they have moved back to the party they destroyed in a sickening case of toeing and froing in a political system without an ideology and, therefore, the parties can never count on all their members not to seek greener pastures when the lush green grass of new promises beckon across the party divide.

If the system is a failure, then they are not just part of it, they had a hand in how it fared.  They have all been in a good position to help solve our many problems. As governors, ministers, or national legislators, they had the authority to collectively turn our country from the sunset back to the sunrise. But they did not quite do this because they were staff officers, taking and executing orders like the Nazi officials, from their principal. You have to be at the head to do the things you dream for the country. As a minister, you have a limited horizon and a limited capacity to effect the changes you know the country verily needs. 

Let us call it the reincarnation of our permanent public officers. Their recycling is the mark of our national political progress. They are offering us promises we cannot reject. After all, they intend to bring to bear on their presidency the quantum of experiences as governors, ministers, and senators. You cannot find a group as practically experienced as this group.

The second group of aspirants consists of those who are nursing their ambition in pursuit of tribal or sectional rights within the ambits of the fairness doctrine which posits that the locus of power at electoral intervals is, to sound lawyerly, a sine qua non for national peace and unity. They are the champions of power shift for the sake of their tribes or sections. To be sure, their qualification for leadership at the highest level is indisputable. They too have been part of the system but in the nature of our national politics, the reconfiguration of power put them out in the cold where they clutch the wind of powerlessness. 

The third group of aspirants consists of the great dreamers whose dreams for a better, more united, and more prosperous nation have been arrested by lack of opportunity, for which, red money. In throwing their hats in the ring, they do not seek to provide comic relief; they seek to remind the nation and its leaders that a country that continues to marginalise men and women with good brains, good hearts, and the patriotic zeal to make a fundamental difference in how it is governed and how its development ambitions are prosecuted, condemns itself to trading with jaded ideas.

In each of these groups are men pushed forward by groups of men who want them to run for the top political office. “My people want me to run for president,” is a familiar mantra by those who believe it makes sense for them to mask their ambition in faux modesty. Of course, it is nonsense. It throws up a fundamental issue in our leadership recruitment process. A man who is prepared for leadership needs no one to persuade him to seek ways and means of realising his ambition. Anyone who allows himself to be so persuaded does not deserve the mandate of the people because he is merely obeying the dictates of others. Mental and emotional preparation is the key.

In 1979, the late President Shehu Shagari set his eyes on the senate until he was persuaded to set them higher for Dodan Barracks. He did – and won. But it showed in the early months of his presidency. He did not hit the ground running because he had to first search for a firmer ground. He grew into the office and became a statesman. Still, his casting about in the early months of his administration left a sour taste in the mouth that dogged his time in office. It might have been unfair but when preparation does not meet opportunity, luck becomes inconsistent in bestowing its favours.

Had Chief Obafemi Awolowo won the 1979 presidential election, we would have seen the difference between a man who did not hide his ambition and persuaded himself he was the right man for the job and a man who was persuaded to set his sights higher. He wanted to be president. He had no reasons to be modest about this. He was always ready. Had he won, he would have hit the ground running even before he formally received the baton from General Obasanjo. 

When Obasanjo, in a surprise move by the generals, returned to power 20 years after he voluntarily gave it up and marched the soldiers back to the barracks, he hit the ground running. In Gashua correctional centre, he must have given a lot of thoughts to where the nation was and where it ought to be. He was ready in case mother luck set him on the path from prison to Aso Rock.

In 2015, President Buhari preferred the go-slow approach in constituting his cabinet. He wanted to put round pegs in round holes and square pegs in square holes. He slowed the momentum of his much-heralded administration. It haunts him still because a man who sought the office four times, ought to be four times prepared. In less than a year from now, the electorate will be called upon to use their political power inherent in the ballot papers to decide who receives the baton from Buhari as our next president. Watch out for the aspirants who seek to mask their burning ambition with false modesty. The next president must show he is prepared to lead, not rule the country. For our sake, they seek our mandate; for our sake, let us not accept the available as merely the desirable. Recycling is not strange to politics, but a time comes when it is deleterious to the health and progress of the polity.

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