By Dirisu Yakubu
Ahead of the 2023 election cycle, Nigerians must build an alliance to produce an enlightened President desirous and competent to make the country a better place.
This was the submission earlier in the week, of Professor Okey Ndibe, a seasoned columnist and novelist, on the Arise Television breakfast programme, The Morning Show.
The don who decried the role of poverty in every election cycle in the country in the past, also urged Nigerians to see their country as a building project rather than as a cake that needs to be shared as it were.
According to him, politics of identity has time and again, proved to be Nigeria’s greatest undoing, adding that in developed nations across the world, the political recruitment process is premised on what will make society better as against the ethnic origin of candidates for sundry elective offices.
Though an intellectual powerhouse of Igbo extraction, the Shearing Fellow, Black Mountain Institute, University of Nevada, Las Vegas, United States of America argued that faced with a choice between a “mediocre” Igbo President and a Fulani leader with capacity to perform; he would pitch tent with the latter, even as he urged Nigerians to get involved as a matter of urgency in the 2023 conversation.
He said: “A lot of people say it is the turn of the Igbo to produce the President. It will be wonderful to have an Igbo President but it is even better to have an excellent President. If you give me a choice of an Igbo person who will be a mediocre President and a Fulani leader who will be enlightened to transform the Nigerian space including Igbo land; I will vote the Fulani candidate. The idea that a Yoruba President will be good for Yoruba people is a disaster.”
How Nigerians see Nigeria
According to the author of the widely read “Never Look an American in the Eye,” a good number of Nigerians see their country as food fit for consumption; hence the quest by ethnic and religious champions to have one of their own mount the plum seat of the President and Commander-in-Chief of Africa’s largest nation at every election cycle.
His words: “Nigerians don’t talk about baking the cake; they talk about sharing the cake. The assumption is that Nigeria is food that we consume. So, the more of it we get for ourselves whether as Igbo, Yoruba or Hausa, the better for us. But we have to see Nigeria as a project that we are developing or building and there are enough Nigerians from every sector of the country who are enlightened enough to embrace that vision of Nigeria. Their voices need to be more felt. I thought it was a lost opportunity when two enlightened candidates in the last election ran for the Presidency at once. They should have coalesced against one of their numbers to perhaps create a better impact.”
Lessons from America
Prof. Ndibe also bared his mind on happenings in his host country where Senator Joe Biden and Kamala Harris were recently sworn-in as President and Vice President of the United States of America, respectively. He stressed of wise choice, adding that unless a people arise and demand an end to impunity as recently demonstrated with the fall of Donald Trump; the society will continue to crawl rather than fly, developmentally.
“The lesson here for Nigerians particularly is the need for vigilance in the political choices that we make. We came out of elections two years ago and I think there is a general consensus now that that political development in our country is going in a rather disastrous direction. I hope that in a couple of years when Nigerians have the opportunity to make a different choice, they will be a little more discerning in the kind of politicians they choose to run their affairs at every level of society,” he added.
Why democracy remains experimental
Going memory lane to recall a conversation he had with the late Professor Chinua Achebe, the University of Massachusetts alumnus said it is wrong for western nations to see Africa as a wasteful continent that has thrown away the gains of imperialism. For him, colonialism and democracy are two opposites, two parallel lines not fated to meet at any point at all. He therefore labelled the claim as nothing but a fallacy.
“Colonialism was not a democratic system but the worst form of imposition that you could have. So the very nature of the composition of African countries- the fact that you have Muslims co-existing with Christians, Igbo, Yoruba, Fulfulde, Ijaw and so on, we have come to identify sadly our political fortune to a desire to have somebody from our own particular area holding political office.
Education is key because it takes enlightened Nigerians cum Africans from every sector to begin to deconstruct this idea that a Christian is better than a Muslim candidate or vice versa or that an Igbo President is good for Igbo people or that a Yoruba President is good for Yoruba people. What we should do is to seek alliances across the religious and ethnic divides in this country and ultimately, I think that is where these struggles collapse,” he said.
Poverty and politics
“If you look at the EndSARS protests, some young people lent themselves to this nefarious project of objecting to the legitimate struggle of fellow young people to achieve a better country where human rights are respected. So, you had a horde of thugs that perhaps were recruited and unleashed by the government to counteract a legitimate cry for justice in our country. We have to create a more enlightened citizenry.
“Poverty is another key factor. The fact that in any election cycle, you have some poor men and women who will go and receive the sum of N500 or small bag of rice from politicians and they will say ‘this other candidate who may be much better has given me nothing; I am going to vote for the guy who gave me something,’ is worrisome.
“I was particularly moved by the EndSARS movement which was energized by young people. They showed in a sense that the future must be seized by them and I hope to see a lot more principled young people come out to participate in politics in the next round of elections,” he further noted.
Enlightened politicians mustn’t lose steam
“Part of the problems is that the visionary political candidates in Nigeria seem to go to sleep after an election cycle. They need to begin to work the day after an election is decided, to begin to reshape the future. Our hope is that we will have enlightened Nigerians who will begin to shape the conversations before the next elections. We have to start early and we should all be involved in this challenge,” he stressed.
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