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Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Pope or President? Choose One

Simon Kolawole Live!: Email:

One of my favourite pastimes, if you care, is listening to Nigerians discuss their leaders. It is always interesting. It has become more interesting with the advent of internet blogsites where people say whatever they want—whether or not it is true, whether or not it makes sense. Just write whatever you like. It’s a free world. Abuse anybody. Insult a whole ethnic group and call them a bunch of parasites or scammers or cowards. Have fun. All is fair. Some blogsites are so negative you can never read any positive comments there. If you try to make reasonable contributions, the way others would swoop on you would make you realise you don’t belong to that community. 

As Dr. Wale Adebanwi wrote many years ago, “it is treasonable to be reasonable in an unreasonable society”. Those bloggers want blood and it is only blood that can satisfy them. If you live outside Nigeria and rely on this platform to make up your mind, you will conclude that there is no hope for this country. Everybody in Nigeria is a thief. Everybody is incompetent. Everybody is hopeless. No governor is doing well. No minister is doing well. No commissioner is doing well. Everybody is a rogue from head to toe. Nothing is working in Nigeria. It is Armageddon everywhere. Nothing good can ever come out of this country. These would be your conclusions.
As we get closer to the presidential election—which is considered to be the most critical—I have taken time to observe the comments being passed on the candidates by the various segments of the society, both on internet and non-internet platforms. I find those comments quite amusing. At the end of the day, nobody is fit to be president of Nigeria! Maybe we would have to go and plead for the Pope to take over—that is if the Pope himself is good enough! Nigerians take the candidates one after the other and tear them to pieces. What exactly do we want?

President Goodluck Jonathan, they say, is too soft, too humble. I heard people criticise him for allowing governors in his party, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), to hold him to ransom in the days before the presidential primary. He should have insisted on having his way on the order of primaries! He should have used the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to deal with them! This was the same reason President Olusegun Obasanjo was vilified—for using the EFCC against his political opponents. So what exactly do we want? Jonathan is also accused of not solving all of Nigeria’s problems since he became president last year. We expect him to, in one year, build all the roads that were not built in 50 years, magically turn around the education sector that collapsed systematically for decades, provide uninterrupted power supply that has been our headache for decades and so on and so forth. Because he has not done these, then he is not qualified to
be president. Don’t vote for him!

On the other hand, Major General Muhammadu Buhari, the presidential candidate of the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), is guilty of being too straightforward! He is not a politician! He is too rigid! He is a dictator! He belongs to the past! His ideas are archaic! So don’t vote for Buhari! Malam Ibrahim Shekarau of the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) has not achieved anything in his life! He is a religious extremist! He is just a smooth talker because of his teaching background! Don’t vote for Shekarau! What exactly do we want?
Malam Nuhu Ribadu of the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) is too inexperienced to rule Nigeria! He has never contested for any political office before so he has no chance! He was Obasanjo’s attack dog with which the former president whipped his political opponents! He’s an associate of corrupt politicians! Don’t vote for Ribadu! We also dismiss Professor Pat Utomi, the candidate of Social Democratic Mega Party (SDMP), with a wave of the hand. Let him go and contest as a senator first! He is wasting his time! He can only speak good English! He has nothing more to offer! Nigerians, what exactly do we want?

To be honest, I myself also say some of these things once in a while, but at the back of my mind, I always recognise the absolute reality of life that we can never get a perfect person to rule Nigeria. We can never have a designer president. There is no perfect candidate anywhere. But I also accept that some of these questions and issues being raised are legitimate and should actually be raised in a democratic setting, for the sake of getting quality leaders to pilot our affairs. However, I believe we are so negative that we hardly see anything good in others. We must accept the undeniable fact that whoever emerges president will have one weakness or the other, one fault or the other.

My resolve, which I would love to recommend to Nigerians, is that we have to constructively engage whoever wins the presidential election. We have to devise ways, in our various corners, to help in the governance process, so that our dear country can progress. If our real interest is the development of Nigeria, it shouldn’t matter to us if our preferred candidate wins or not. Somebody must win and somebody must lose. Rather, we should be concerned with how we can make sure good governance is delivered to Nigerians within the realities we find ourselves. We must pursue our aspirations for Nigeria within this natural fact: that we would never produce a perfect president. Such is life.

Thumbs up for MM Foundation
Amid the hullabaloo on presidential debates, a landmark event took place in Abuja early this month which might have escaped the attention of many Nigerians. It was the “Policy Dialogue with Presidential Candidates” organised by the Murtala Muhammed Foundation at the Musa Yar’Adua Centre, Abuja. The chief executive of the foundation, Mrs Aisha Oyebode (Muhammed’s daughter, in case you’ve forgotten), explained her dream thus: the objective was to get the presidential candidates and Nigerians to address issues rather than personalities in the run-up to the 2011 presidential poll. She said the Foundation believes it is time Nigerians paid more attention to critical national issues bordering on infrastructure, education, health and poor quality of governance rather than the perennial resort to primordial and personality politics. Well said.

In a country where the people lack the basic things of life, we seem to have concluded that the tribal marks of the president should take precedent over anything else. The direct implication is that the serious issues to be debated are often relegated to the background. It was therefore refreshing and encouraging to see that the non-governmental sector has taken it upon itself to engage the politicians in a dialogue rather than diatribe, asking them questions one by one on critical areas. Delegates to the two-day event included members of the diplomatic corps, academics, representatives of civil society organisations, government officials and civil servants, politicians, members of the National Youth Service Corps, undergraduates, serving and retired military personnel, international organisations, campaign organisations and the media.

Three presidential candidates participated: Malam Ibrahim Shekarau of the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP), Malam Nuhu Ribadu of the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) and Professor Pat Utomi of the Social Democratic Mega Party (SDMP). President Jonathan (PDP) and Buhari (CPC) were absent. One by one the candidates were taken to task by the panel. The key issues discussed were Economic Growth, Infrastructure & Homeland Security; Governance; Education & Health; Food Security & Environment; and International Relations. I have gone through the report again and I can confidently say their contributions were mainly impressive. Since nobody has monopoly of ideas, I suggest that the report be made available to whoever is going to form the next government. The most important thing is for Nigeria to be great—it doesn’t matter whose ideas are adopted!

Once again, congratulations to the Murtala Muhammed Foundation. It’s a good beginning. Hopefully, by the next election, politicians in particular and Nigerians in general would have got used to the idea of multiple platforms for candidates to ventilate their views and market their ideas to the various communities in Nigeria—youth, NGO, organised private sector and the popular media.

And Four Other Things...
Tit for Tat
Not surprisingly, three presidential candidates have pulled out of Tuesday’s TV debate with President Goodluck Jonathan in what you can describe as tit-for-tat. Major General Muhammadu Buhari (rtd), Malam Nuhu Ribadu and Malam Ibrahim Shekarau, who all participated in the NN24 debate, were miffed that Jonathan stayed away on the excuse that his campaign schedule was too tight. The three presidential candidates said two things that you cannot fault: one, they too had a tight schedule but had to create the time to attend the debate; two, the president did not as much as offer a word of apology for not attending. It’s a shame that for the fourth general election in a row, Nigerians will not be privileged to watch their top presidential candidates debate. In 1999, Chief Olu Falae did it alone. In 2003, President Olusegun Obasanjo boycotted again. In 2007, Alhaji Umaru Musa Yar’Adua also boycotted. Shame, really.

Shekarau and Kano
Space constraint meant I had to skip certain aspects of the presidential debate in my overview last week. The most unpardonable omission was Malam Ibrahim Shekarau’s take on the disappearance of ethno-religious riots in Kano State since 2003 when he became governor. Kano used to be the hotbed. Any little riot in any state was always replied in kind in Kano. Isn’t it amazing then that all the Jos killings of the last two years have not had any ripple effect on Kano? The secret, Shekarau said, is that he runs an all-inclusive government where you will find people from other parts of the country, including a Christian, in his cabinet. So everyone has a sense of belonging. This creates room for integration and understanding. As someone who is really interested in national integration, I find Shekarau’s explanation very encouraging. I have always believed that we can live in “peace and unity” in Nigeria if we find the right formula. Nigerians
don’t hate one another despite our obvious differences. This I know very well. It is the wrong application of politics that revs up tension all the time.

Gaffe Galore
In an attempt to point out the gaffes during the NN24 TV debate, I committed my own in more than equal measure. One, I misquoted Ribadu as saying the North-west had not produced a president. He actually said North-east. But the other fact is correct: Alhaji Abubakar Tafawa Balewa—from the North-east—was the first chief executive of Nigeria (1960 to 1966). Two, the minimum age for governors is 35, not 40 as I claimed. Finally, as a matter of clarification, when Ribadu said he was not a one-state person, he was referring to Shekarau, who is believed to be limited to only Kano State, and not Buhari, who, at least in my own calculation, has large following in quite an impressive number of states. Thank God I’m not a presidential candidate—my own gaffes would be uncountable! (Don’t laugh).

NFF Again
Is anybody surprised that the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) almost got Nigeria involved in another mess with FIFA this weekend? NFF invited Victor Moses, a gifted footballer who has dual British-Nigerian nationality, to play for the Super Eagles against Ethiopia today, without going through the due process. Minus the fact that the application for Moses to switch “football nationality” was late (he has already represented England in age-group competitions), FIFA needs a letter from the English FA confirming that Moses never played for them at senior level as well as a consent letter from Moses himself. NFF provided none of these. We would have been docked three points if we had gone ahead to field him. And nobody seemed to know this at NFF! Incredible

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