Can unclean environment produce clean president?

By Tonnie Iredia

Several political aspirants seeking to become Nigeria’s president in 2023, along with many other citizens hold the view that all the country needs now is good leadership.

The strength of the argument is that a good leader with great visionary capacity is best positioned to show the nation, by personal example, the appropriate direction to sustainable development.

The limitation to the theory however, is that leadership is not an independent variable; it does not function on its own. It is instead subject to other variables such as followership, situations and circumstances. The contention is that good leadership is more likely to flourish with good followership.

Personal virtues alone may not be enough. As one analyst aptly put it the other day, the Pope cannot successfully lead a congregation of thieves. That is why it is said that a society deserves the leadership it gets.

Nigerian politicians should therefore tune down their claims of having a monopoly of the required capacity to lead Nigeria aright because an unclean environment can distort the acclaimed capacity of a clean leader.

They should talk less of their so-called qualifications and experiences and emphasize how they intend to use such credentials to overcome the myriad of factors which make their country unclean.

It was for this reason that this column last week, called for strong societal institutions and not just strong leaders. On account of the nature of the Nigerian society, many political leaders often generate several eloquent narratives supposedly for nation building when in reality they have very little motivation to go beyond the subsisting penchant for greed and nepotism that can only serve the self and its acquaintances.

When properly condensed, that inclination is common to many presidential aspirants. Otherwise, how come our expected Messiahs are always general and peripheral but hardly specific about the issues of the moment that are calling for action?

For over a decade, the issue of insecurity has hit the country hard making it perhaps the foremost item presidential aspirants should focus upon. Last week, insecurity in the form of mob action recurred on a large scale in at least 3 locations – Sokoto, Lagos and Abuja.

Those who had to deal with the trend were as expected Governors Tambuwal and Sanwo-Olu of Sokoto and Lagos respectively as well as Mohammed Bello, Minister of the Federal capital territory.

The best story teller would have very little to say about the reactions of our presidential aspirants. While an insignificant few made some tangential references to the subject, many went mute. Instructively, it was an opportunity for aspirants to leave in the hearts of compatriots, their commitment to an end to insecurity.

If the number one Muslim in the country, his eminence, the Sultan of Sokoto was able to condemn mob action on religious issues, political aspirants should have at least issued soothing statements to calm frayed nerves.  

It would appear that having failed to say anything about the Sokoto episode, it became difficult to react to the bizarre killings by Okada riders in Lagos and Dei-Dei in Abuja which occurred sequentially at about the same time.

As a result, many aspirants missed the opportunity to transit to agents of national unity. Yet, they are suggesting daily that because the nation has never been this divided, one of their immediate objectives is to unify the country.

One can only hope that Nigeria is not headed to worse days if those whose mission is to unify the country fail to find their voice at the appropriate junction. Indeed, bearing in mind that some of the aspirants have accused the present administration of insufficient capacity to unify the country, how are we sure that the nation’s post 2023 era is likely to be better? 

One thing that is certain is that events leading to 2023 are not in any way cleaner than those of previous general elections. First, there is saturated attention of stakeholders to the presidential election; its aspirants who are in search of becoming the flagbearers of their political parties are all over Nigeria overshadowing every other thing.

If such aspirants are everywhere visiting different opinion leaders especially traditional rulers while looking for the party ticket, what they would do when they become candidates for the election proper would be unimaginable. 

Meanwhile, the presence of over 40 presidential aspirants who have for the same reason appeared now and again in Ekiti and Osun states whose governorship elections are a few weeks away has become confusing.

In addition, the environment in those states have been quite volatile. In Ekiti State for example, one of the leading governorship candidates, Segun Oni of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and his running mate have more than once cried out for help over assassination attempts allegedly by state actors.

At the same time, campaigns for party primaries have taken over governance throughout the country. Unfortunately, the preoccupation has been how to play one aspirant against the other. Reports of the old culture of conducting delegates elections while hoarding the official result-sheets have resurfaced.

The party officials are themselves unable to prepare their members for a clean contest as they have both eyes on what other parties are doing. This has resulted in hurried packaging of the requirements in the electoral act. In the circumstance, all political parties are on the same page, making passionate appeals to the electoral body to review the already published timetable to provide more room for concluding party arrangements which diligent handling could have dispensed with before now.

INEC deserves commendation for rejecting the request which could open the door for more demands to the detriment of credible elections. At the last count, the list of delegates of the parties have remained uncertain especially as last minute amendments made to the electoral act so close to the contests are still awaiting presidential assent.

The above scenario represents the unclean environment to which political parties are hoping to deliver clean office-holders. For such dirty environment not to overwhelm future leaders, we dare say so much has to be done.

First, Nigerian politicians need to learn to contribute to the progress of the nation irrespective of whatever party they belong to. Although it is not only presidential aspirants that should make such contributions, they happen to be the focus of this piece. Consequently, it would have been exciting if any of them had rescheduled his campaign train and returned to Kaduna to make substantive statements on insecurity and support Governor Nasir El Rufai who has of recent had several security challenges.

Apart from another attack a few days ago on the Abuja-Kaduna road, the governor has raised an alarm that insurgents had begun incursion into his state. Considering that where, when and how a statement is made can be strategic, any aspirant who seized such opportunity would have involuntarily but markedly projected himself as one who would not give insecurity a chance anywhere in the country if elected our next president.

The point to be made is that although Nigeria has many competent presidential aspirants, they need to know that it’s not everything they are harping on right now that Nigerians are anxious to hear.

I know for certain that many people would easily buy the idea that our next president must be ready to move the nation away from consumption to production. Nigerians must eat what they grow and grow what they eat. Such a campaign message is attractive as an obvious solution to a major challenge of the nation. 

It is hoped that the media would assist the nation to place emphasis on such messages. It is also necessary to correct wrong narratives, a good example being the credit taken away from former Minister Chukwuemeka Nwajiuba. Whereas Nwajiuba unlike his colleagues resigned before the Presidential ultimatum to do so, Nigerians were erroneously made to believe that he was one of those directed to resign. Placing this story in the correct perspective would put on record that there are still some Nigerians who are honourable enough to quit when it is due. 

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