Opinion: Three ways to assess presidential candidates By -AYISHA OSORI
The current state of affairs of our nation – to keep it short, simple and understated – is not satisfactory. We can and must do better. It is the understanding that we can do better that resulted in a certain six-letter word doing so well as a campaign slogan in 2015 but now we know a little better. What do we know? At least, two things. We know that if you dress a goat in a lion’s mane, the goat still won’t pounce on and kill a buffalo. In fact, it will have a zero desire to do so. Some of us are beginning to understand that if you have a sausage-making factory, everything that goes in will come out shaped like a sausage, so tinkering with what the factory is designed to produce is important. The latter is not the focus today. The focus is on how to differentiate the goats from the lions – for those interested in identifying lions (not necessarily just weeding out goats).
By my count, there are 20 people who are or might be aspiring to be President of Nigeria in 2019. I admit that some of these 20 have not shown their hands but their names are being circulated – maybe, as part of a ruse or to test the waters. Rumours play an important role in feeding the political economy and helping with the, let’s call it, negotiating possibilities and so we discount rumours at our peril.
So, at least, 13 of these 20 are seasoned politicians. The type which have marinated in the juices of government positions for years – the ones for whom when you read their resumes you are tempted to say “Was government created for you?” They have been governors, legislators, ministers, ex this ex that, and do not discriminate between civilian and military governments – they are loyal to all. The remaining seven are newbies. Some have never contested political office before and some have but have not succeeded. They are outside the favoured generation of 70-year-olds who have been in power since they were in their 30s and if reactions on social media platforms are anything to go by, these seven (and the ones to come who will fall into this category) face the most resistance from voters or internet warriors who have strong opinions about everything but might not vote.
The first step in the lion-identifying process is to be open. Do not dismiss candidates because they do not have a history of being government children used to sucking on the feeding bottle of a government designed to keep the cream for government officers while the citizens get zero per cent fat milk. In other words, to continue to use food examples that will resonate – our governments (executive, legislative and judiciary) keep the drumsticks, thighs, gizzard, breasts and sometimes even the wings of the chicken and give us the neck, head and claws to share. It should not be a good thing at this point in our collective underdevelopment that a person has been around for a long time. The expertise we need to move the country forward is in books, development agencies and even the experiences of average human beings doing extraordinary things in a society where, again to put it simply, little works the way it should. The only advantage of a long career in politics and governance is knowing how things are done in a way that has not benefitted the majority and being vested in political practices that should make us question the legitimacy of our electoral process.
Two, instead of focusing solely on individuals, let’s begin to talk about qualities. What does Nigeria need in a president today – in the present times, with our current challenges and opportunities? In a world where by 2020, 1.7 megabytes (equal to two small novels) of new information is being created every second for every human being and where climate change is affecting lifestyles and productivity, what type of leadership qualities should the President have? Do we need a President who is the strong silent type or a President with a wide, diverse network of talented people? When you have your three or five qualities that are most important for the person who will lead Nigeria between 2019 and 2023, don’t stop there. Ask why these qualities are important and how they will contribute to improving our lives meaningfully. Now, you have something concrete to assess all the aspirants – both fresh and stale and you can sound a bit more thoughtful when you defend your choice.
Third, don’t spare the rod. Put those you are supporting under the microscope. The hard work of listing the qualities that are most important to you has been done; now engage with the aspirants to ensure that they are clear on how they are going to deliver on the things that are important to you. With the right type of engagement and constructive criticism, aspirants and eventually candidates will be forced to think through their strategy and their plans for improving Nigeria. We want to encourage those who have spent time reflecting deeply about our serious, complex challenges and how best to get us to catch up with our peers in Africa and around the world.
Finally, do not be distracted by those who will tell you “this is not what wins elections” and that only the stomach infrastructure adherents matter. This is not true. Every worthy aspirant to the Presidency will know that the Nigerian voter reflects the full range of diversity and is a mix of what is awesome and discouraging about being Nigerian and as such the communication cannot all be throwing rice around. A serious candidate who knows what is at stake will render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s and unto God the things that are God’s: which means as far as communication is concerned, the audience is segmented and the messages designed to resonate which different groups. If you are reading this, then it is unlikely you will be swayed by N500 and if any candidate focuses only on a dog whistling to his or her base, that’s a sign that this person is a goat, dressed up as a lion. Here is a comforting bit of information that I know courtesy of the 67 million Initiative – that there are “approximately 67 million people in Nigeria currently between the ages of 18 and 40, this accounts for more than half the population of the voting demographic.” This is a number larger than any of the combined numbers who have voted in any of the presidential elections since 1999. If enough of us want to vote on issues and for the candidates who are “fresh” or who have fresh ideas…there are enough of us. Stay focused. Punch
Ms Osori, author and lawyer, wrote in from Abuja