2023: What Nigerians expect from the next President
By Segun Dipe
The time we are in Nigeria calls for saner minds to lead us, otherwise we would lose all that we have laboured to build.
Many Nigerians are mad as hell at our political leaders — both Progressive and Conservative — and are giving voice to their anger. The anger is understandable. The federal government, through no fault of anyone in particular, is paralyzed, unable to tackle any of the major problems facing our country or even accomplish basic functions. Our politicians, except few, are more concerned with getting elected or re-elected than with the nation’s future.
The next president will certainly face major domestic problems, especially the challenges of the menace of insecuity. So, what kind of qualities should we be looking for in a new chief executive? Here are some takes:
We need a president who understands the system of government bequeathed to us by our founding fathers — and grasps the reality that with power divided among three branches of government, building coalitions and making compromises are the only ways anything lasting can get done. Democracy pays if it’s allowed to work. Primal screaming may be good therapy, but it is a poor substitute for practical politics. Arch-conservatives may want little government and arch-liberals may want a lot, but many functions of government are critical to our well-being, and they can be carried out effectively only if the parliament and the president work together in all sincerity. Those who believe that compromise is synonymous with selling out or giving up one’s principles need to retake their primary school leaving certificate exam. The next president needs to have a core philosophy and set of principles, but he or she also needs to be a pragmatic and skilled political leader.
Millennials for instance would like the next president to be a young, political insider with experience in government and law. They want a President who would listen to them and understand their yearnings. One who is capable of opening his mind and communicating with them as millennials. That, to them, is the change Nigeria needs from government.
Certainly, our next President needs to speak truthfully to the Nigerian people. His language and mannerisms must be sober, yet presidential. “Spinning” has been a part of the political process since the ancient Greece, but as mistrustful as most Nigerians are today of political leaders, the new President must speak candidly and honestly to the people. One reason so many Nigerians reminiscence our First Republic leaders, is that they were good at telling it like it is. People love brutal candour, but that candour is too often detached from reality and responsibility; too many candidates demagogically use divisive rhetoric and make grandiose promises that would be impossible to fulfill. Their rhetoric appeals because so many established politicians are viewed as speaking in platitudes and euphemisms, if not being deceptive or even lying. Yet too many candidates are being just as deceptive and dishonest. We have a lot of problems, and the next President has to be honest with Nigerians about their seriousness and complexity — and how to tackle them effectively.
The next President must be resolute. He or she must be very cautious about drawing red lines among the ethnic groups that form Nigeria. He must know that crossing a red line drawn by some selfish politicians will have serious — even fatal — consequences. Everyone must be carried along and convinced that the president’s word is his or her bond, and that promises and commitments will be kept and threats will be carried out. The next President must hold people in government accountable; when programmes or initiatives are bungled, senior appointees should be fired for sloppy performance. He or she needs to have the courage to act in defiance of public opinion when the national interest requires it.
Our next President must be a problem-solver. In the next election, we will not look for one whose agenda is just making things work. This is a tall order at a time when most of the candidates are highly ideological, on both the left and the right. But the paralysis of platitudes has been harming the country and putting our future at risk. No wonder so many Nigerians are pessimistic about the direction of the country. We desperately need a bridge-builder who will strive tirelessly to identify and work with members of all political parties and interested in finding practical solutions to our manifold problems. We need a President who understands that those problems are so complex and so big, yet they are man made and overcoming them will require non-partisan support through multiple approaches.
Terrorism is our Number One security bane today. It is at the heart of our government-governed frosty relationship. But the next President must understand that it is first and foremost a political tactic. The basic goal of terrorist violence is to provoke a violent response. Because terrorists hide within larger populations of people, governments that respond to terrorist acts often do so to the detriment of large subsets of those populations. The effect is to cause people in those populations to start viewing the governments in question as their enemies. It enables the terrorists to say, “Well, we’re the ones who have been fighting this dangerous enemy of yours all along.”
So what must the next President do that terrorists would truly hate? The answer is to build up political alternatives to them. And the way to do that is to develop a balanced sharing of power between national, state, and local governments.
We need a president who is restrained. Restrained to respect the prerogatives of the other branches of government. Restrained in rhetoric, avoiding unrealistic promises, exaggerated claims of success and dire consequences if his or her initiatives are not adopted exactly as proposed. Restrained in expanding government when so much of what we have works so poorly. Restrained from unnecessary adventures and from using military force as a first option rather than a last resort. Restrained from questioning the motives of those who disagree and treating them as enemies with no redeeming qualities.
Finally, the most important quality for our next leader at this juncture in our history: The next President must be a true unifier of Nigerians. The nation is divided over how to deal with the various challenges confronting us, too many politicians are working overtime to deepen our divisions, to turn us against one another, to play to our fears. They are prepared to place all that holds us together as one people, as Nigerians, at risk for their own ambitions. The next president must lead in restoring civility to our political process. We must hope that the president we elect come 2023 will again and again remind all Nigerians of our common destiny, and that our fate as a nation and as a people is bound up with one another. Our new leader should appeal to “the better angels of our nature.”
Less government is better than more. Nigerians today complain of being over-regulated. Governments, they say, regulate everything, at the federal, state, and local government levels, and they think it is choking the economy. It’s choking business formation, and it’s choking everything. Well, that exactly is a perception, which the next President must not fail to address.
Dipe writes from Ado Ekiti as a political analyst