Into 2007…..

Nigeria needs a President that will confidently lead us into our next half-century.


Nigerian-Presidential-Seal1While deconstructing the third term mantra in a previous commentary, I complained about the absence of quality contenders to Nigeria’s soon-to-be vacant presidential seat. The terminal date for President Obasanjo’s second term remains May 29, 2007 and despite all the hoo-hah about a third term for him, there is nothing I can see in the horizon that will change that date. In a normal country, high-value presidential aspirants would have emerged with concrete, testable ideas and programmes for Nigeria going forward into 2007. I also alluded that this vacuum fuels the fire of the third term inferno because given the current president’s testimonial in socio-economic reforms, it seems that ‘third termers’ now believe themselves when they postulate that he is the only man who can do the job, even as it has become virtually impossible to make any convincing argument in support of a third term for Obasanjo.

Notwithstanding the widespread detestation of this third term by Nigerians, there is a convergence of opinions that we cannot afford to allow the country to slip back into the dark days of grope. As a nation, the present scenario offers us an opportunity to tackle the often conflicting themes of managing democratic transition, regime change and the need to sustain structural reforms in a post-democratic Nigeria. This is the contemporary transition quagmire of development orthodoxy. We can therefore commence a rigorous analytical treatment – within this context of reforms and transition – to energise the Nigerian polity with workable options for a post-democratic era from 2007. My use of the phrase ‘post-democratic’ does not explicitly suggest that the system in place now is not democratic: I leave that decipherment to the caretakers of political science and history. But since this government is a product of a vicarious decision by the then ruling shamans and clothed with the fashionable attire of democracy, I can only expect (naively?) that come 2007 the Nigerian people will institute a government of the people, for the people and by the people.

The allure of a post-democratic Nigeria should therefore entice reasonable people to design a governance template for transiting and sustaining needed reforms or else be condemned to helplessness and an Obasanjo third term. But before resorting to such fatalism, we have to displace this third term conjuration.

Third term and its discontents

A spectre is haunting Nigeria – the spectre of a third term for President Obasanjo. The spectre looms over our national consciousness: in politics, the media, workplaces, shops, commentary as well as in our cabs and molues.

I still believe that the concept of tenure addition (or even the abolition of term limits) is harmless but the farcical procedure adopted to implant what has become a ‘leprous’ idea of a third term into our constitution has detracted the legitimacy of a national consensus from it. Such national consensus is at the core of evolving a democratic culture needed in amending a constitution for national development. The shamness of the National Assembly’s public hearings, the seeming desperation of the third term legionnaires (‘political ex-servicemen’ from previous battles for tenure continuation) and the vitriol derision of contrarian voices all adorn the hallowed hallways of constitutional amendment with the ragged clothes of dubiety. It has also demeaned the propriety of constitutional amendment (to insert an additional term of office) whereas the impeccability of the Brazilian example in 1996 to amend their constitution and include an unprecedented second term provision remains a magnum opus in the museum of constitutional democracy.

A constitution is, in and of itself, a sacred institution of democracy and amending it must have the legitimacy of a national consensus usually expressed in a plebiscite. To just assume that the end will justify the means and thus ignore the need for a national consensus is folly and will be self-defeating as President Obasanjo will realise if he jumps into this third term. In my mind’s eyes, an Obasanjo third term (achieved through this process) will ride against a wave of the society’s discontents and this will ultimately make it difficult for him to implement his reforms because it is very important to protect the fabric of legitimacy that binds governance with the people. In the final analysis, only a legitimate government can truly lay claim to be a constitutional one and, as Fareed Zakaria wrote, “a constitutional government is in fact the key to a successful economic reform policy”.

What we really need in 2007 is a renewed democracy and a legitimate government. It is our only path to a post-democratic Nigeria and will provide us with the platform to find the right answers on transiting and sustaining needed reforms and continuing successful policies.

A way forward?

In my commentary, I acknowledged that we have very good presidential choices to replace Obasanjo in 2007 and (drawing from my study of leadership models in democracies across the world as well as a local knowledge and understanding of the Nigerian terrain) I offered to identify some of these presidentialistas in the hope that I can challenge them out of their inertia. Nelson Mandela, Václav Havel, Mikhail Gorbachev, Fernando Cardoso, John Kufuor, Abdoulaye Wadé and many others like them have proved in their various countries that political nonchalance is not an option in nation-building. We need one of such people at the helm in 2007 to take on the core issues that will address the unity of Nigeria; reforms; the concept and workings of a development economy; corruption; sustaining and promoting democratic values; unemployment; the elusive quest to eradicate poverty and inequality; globalisation; HIV/AIDS; security; and the Niger-Delta question.

Nigeria’s past history as a totalitarian state shackled our opportunities to breed transformational political leaders for the democratic age but I believe that these presidentialistas possess – within the permissible margins of human imperfections – the mosaic of four qualities required for the job at hand, albeit with each quality in varying but reasonably acceptable levels.

First, they have various core attributes of leadership. There is no particular definition for leadership but we know a good leader when we see one. Good leaders possess ‘the vision thing’ which Professor Pat Utomi describes as the ability to “see a tomorrow that today cannot see”. To lead a people is to chart a course from vision to reality and make them believe in you enough to follow you. Good leadership also comes with sacrifice, selflessness, integrity, courage, conviction, compassion, a sense of purpose, accountability, knowledge and transparency. It awakens the potentialities of the society. A good leader grooms successors and not just supporters; commands respect and not just fear; wields influence and not just power; demands consent and not just compliance; has a following and not just an entourage; and is surrounded by imitators and not just subordinates. A good leader avoids the inherent delusions of power by recognising, appreciating and accepting the desirability and inevitability of dissent and opposition while exhibiting the capacity for persuasion in order to win the consent of the governed. That is why Lord Bryce believes that “perhaps no form of government needs great leaders as democracy”.

Second, they will be reformists. Government still retains an enormous capability and capacity to institute change through bold reforms. A reformist understands that policies are designed and implemented to ensure that all citizens of the state have access to the basic necessities of life like food, clean water, shelter, clothing, medical care, education, social welfare and gainful employment. Put simply, the functional principle of governance (and government) should be to keep the people above the poverty line and maintain a good standard of living. Presently, only the putative power of reforms can lead us out of the current state of poverty prevalent in Nigeria. With the successes recorded in economic reforms that has brought macroeconomic stability, only a reformer (with an eye on results) can lead us into the next round of reforms by mainstreaming the ongoing reforms with employment and wealth creation and, ultimately, income redistribution and equality thereby putting us on track to eradicating poverty and meeting the Millennium Development Goals. This is the democracy dividend that Nigerians are waiting for.

Third, they can wade through the vagaries of politics. A successful president needs to understand realpolitik since democracy is impossible without politics. But that does not mean playing politics the way we know it in Nigeria. What type of politics do I mean? Former Czech president Václav Havel describes it as “anti-political politics” – “politics not as the technology of power and manipulation, of cybernetic rule over humans or as the art of the utilitarian, but politics as one of the ways of seeking and achieving meaningful lives, of protecting them and setting them. I favour politics as practical morality, as service to the truth, as essentially human and humanly measured care for our fellow humans. It is, I presume, an approach which, in this world, is extremely impractical and difficult to apply in daily life. Still, I know no better alternative.” In Nigeria, it is possible to implement resolute reforms, achieve national goals and move the country in the right direction without resorting to the destructive tactics and trickery of defunct political devices but by applying the famous sixth sense in order to balance the competing and oftentimes confronting demands of pragmatism with conviction and altruism, and communicating with clarity in such a way that the motives and ultimate objectives for the good of the people are not in doubt.

Finally, they are public intellectuals. A public intellectual is “someone who has shown distinction in their own field along with the ability to communicate ideas and influence debate outside of it”. The panoply of challenges that we face today – reforms, democracy, globalisation, development, international affairs – requires a reasonable level of intellectuality to grasp the chaotic flow and, according to former Brazilian president Fernando Cardoso, “sift out what matters, to see what fits with what, what springs from what, and what leads to what. It is a sense for what is qualitative rather than quantitative, a proven capacity for synthesis rather than analysis”. The presidency is a decision machine and even though a president can hire the best advisers, at some point he or she must (as all presidents always do) be confronted with a piece of advice which should be recognised for what it is: bad advice. An intellectual goes beyond the cordon of his natural habitat of interests to understand the deeper and broader dimensions and impacts of the other subjects that shape the society.

In this roaring millennium, the presidency of Nigeria is a serious matter and if we elect a leader, a reformist, a politician and an intellectual as president in 2007, our visions of Pax Nigeriana would not seem so distant after all. The good news is that there are Nigerians that fit the bill. The onus is now on them and all Nigerians to act now or just keep waiting for ‘the right time’ in that ‘bright future’ and for this I will end, as I must, with a quote from Václav Havel: “For the real question is whether the brighter future is really always so distant. What if, on the contrary, it has been here for a long time already, and only our own blindness and weakness has prevented us from seeing it around us and within us, and kept us from developing it?”