January 26, 2015
As a member of the Nigerian-American community, a community that provides upwards of $21 Billion Dollars in material support to the Nigerian nation annually; I have carefully observed the cacophony of Nigeria’s presidential electioneering of 2015, in Sub-Saharan Africa’s most populous and influential nation, and largest economy. I find the signs troubling, per Nigeria’s ability to join the ranks of the most influential, and important countries in the world post-2015.
I’ll preface this article by stating that to whom more is given, more will be expected. Therefore, for majority of the world’s black population, Nigeria remains that beacon of hope that someday, Africa may truly emerge as a significant world player, given the regions vast resources.
However, for Nigeria to truly emerge, Nigeria needs the right kind of selfless leadership. A leadership with vision, not surrounded by praise-singing mediocrity, and a leadership that actually recognizes corruption as an impediment to growth, and not as a minor headache that will go away on its own.
The world expects plenty from Nigeria and its leaders, especially, given that Nigerians already compete very well in other more sophisticated environments outside Nigeria.
The current campaign between Goodluck Jonathan, and Muhammadu Buhari for Nigeria’s top-job, leaves plenty to be desired, and it is not the panacea for Nigeria’s emergence in the world stage.
The Limits of “Goodluck” Jonathan
First, let’s start with Goodluck Jonathan as the candidate to lead Nigeria. If there’s any lingering proof that education can be overrated, then one should take a look at former president of Brazil, President Lula da Silva (2003-2011). Lula as he was popularly called, left school at the 5th Grade (primary or elementary 5), and went to work fulltime at the age of 12, because of his family’s poverty.
Lula went through various political tutelage and eventually became a powerful orator, served in the Brazilian Congress, won presidential elections for 2 terms, and became one of Brazil’s best presidents ever. Lula left office with a 90 percent approval rating. Lula performed most of his feats in his first term, earning respect worldwide, and raising Brazil’s profile to enviable heights. Fellow Nigerians and Nigerian-Americans, Jonathan is no Lula.
Second, a president does not have to be the smartest person in any country; he just has to have good judgment, so that he will surround himself with competence and not mediocrity. After-all, a president still takes credit for his team’s work-if he makes the right judgment call, and can decipher between good advice and bad advice.
Jonathan may be a humble fellow, even a good person. However, that Nigeria has faltered in every category, under Jonathan’s watch, is clearly a manifestation of nothing but lack of the right judgment call, in at a minimum, picking the “right team” that would help solve Nigeria’s myriad problems.
Jonathan has been in power for about 6 years, a lengthy time in any democracy. If Jonathan cannot make appreciable difference in 6 years with his 1st eleven “team” in place; then another 4 years with the same kind of leadership, will actually make the next 4 years worse; because Jonathan has nothing to prove any more.
Granted that Nigeria’s constitution gives room for mediocrity, by requiring a minister from each of the 36 states, however the president could have found himself a crack team of special advisers that could work closely with him, to put the puzzles together; and deliver impactful governance in every agency.
Any under-performing minister could have been assisted by presidential initiatives, coming directly from the presidency, where the president is on top of his game. Jonathan did not possess the right gravitas to make these judgment calls.
I realize that many Nigerian’s have dug in on ethnic or regional grounds, per supporting a particular candidate. However, all these petty politics aside, votes cast based on ethnicity or regionalism, without careful forethought; is like getting your accident-prone cousin to drive you for 4 years; that cousin’s inability to make the right decisions, as he drives you, might be the difference between your surviving that journey, or whether you’ll become a statistic on the highway.
Similarly, not many Nigerians will enter an airplane, knowing that it will be flown by a half-baked Pilot, even if the Pilot is their cousin. Why then should anyone put their fate and their children’s fate in the hands of mediocrity, in the name of politics? The choice is entirely ours, regardless of how geographically close we are to any given candidate.
Buhari’s Antecedents and Limitations
Buhari’s background as a retired military officer is not necessarily an automatic qualification for competent leadership, in Africa’s most complex country.
First, Buhari’s antecedents evoke mixed reactions from Nigerians; on one hand, as a highly disciplined officer, with a disdain for corruption. And on the other hand, as an autocratic rigid officer, who at one time, bent the rules to favor persons he perceived as worthy of soft treatment; while been unduly harsh with persons he alone played judge and jury with.
A good example was when Buhari, upon seizing power via a coup, locked up a vice president (Alex Ekwueme) who had limited authority, in a dungeon called Kirikiri; while placing a president (Shehu Shagari) with full authority as commander-in-chief, on a comfortable house arrest in an apparent show of double standards.
Buhari must address whether the above action (among others) was a one-off poor judgment call, for which he owes Nigerians an explanation and apology; or whether that is classic Buhari 101, a lover of his own kind, at the detriment of others.
Secondly, in most other contemporary climes, a man of 72 years, is approaching his retirement from public life; and settling into the role of a statesman, with sufficient respect in the polity, to proffer advice to current leaders. However, Buhari may yet win this election, because of the exasperation of Nigerians (especially in certain regions), with the lackluster performance of the incumbent government under Jonathan.
Nigerian needs a change in leadership, in order to begin to manifest its true destiny, as the leading nation in Africa. However, neither of these two gentlemen presents a panacea, which will enable Africa’s giant to rise to its challenges. Nigeria needs a better candidate, in order to rise to a 21st century economy; neither of these two candidates has demonstrated that they can perform the required surgery.
In the absence of a 3rd candidate, with world-class exposure, who meets 21st century standards, and readiness for the complexity of this office, Nigerians must look very closely and make a choice that will at least not lead them to political slaughter.
Do not be afraid of persons who threaten fire and brimstone, or who threaten to breakaway, or assert their right to “rule”, or assert their right to keep the resources on their land. Nigerians must vote their conscience, and as the great seal of New Hampshire proclaims they must “live free or die.” The stakes are huge.
S. Okey Mbonu, is Executive Director of Nigerian-American Leadership Council (NALC), Washington, DC. Mbonu obtained his legal training in Washington, and previously served as Commissioner in Maryland, US. He appears regularly as a subject-matter expert on “Nigerian-American relations, and Nigerian governance issues”, on various US and International media. Mbonu has been cited in multiple media reports, including: MSNBC, NBC, VOA, Afripol, Euroasia Review, Guardian International, and others, in the US, Europe, Asia, the America’s and Africa. This is the first of a series on the 2015 Nigerian national elections.