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The presidency as a tough call

Nick Dazang On Saturday, 25th February 2023, Nigerians will elect a president and members of the National Assembly. The following Saturday, 11th March, 2023, they…

Nick Dazang

On Saturday, 25th February 2023, Nigerians will elect a president and members of the National Assembly. The following Saturday, 11th March, 2023, they will elect governors and members of State Houses of Assembly across the thirty six states of the federation.

The presidency is the cynosure of all Nigerians and members of the international community. This is because the presidential election is pre-eminent. The Nigerian presidency is pivotal and crucial because it sets the tone and direction of governance at the highest level. And given its huge population of over 230 million people, Nigeria holds the key to Africa’s development. Little wonder, Nelson Mandela, the world acclaimed statesman, once asserted that Africa’s progress was contingent on Nigeria’s rising up to the true meaning of its greatness and facing up to its God-given responsibility as the continent’s leader.

The 2023 general elections are taking place at a time when the country, and indeed the African continent, enjoys a youthful population bulge. A deft and judicious harnessing and deployment of the energies of these youths should unleash their potentials and engender growth. 

But even more significant, the 2023 general elections are coming at a watershed moment – a moment when the country is in a terrible place; a moment when the country is suffused with the grimmest statistics in all departments and facets of our lives; and a moment when it is keeping the rear in areas that matter. Never before in our annals have we had it this bad: inflation, youth unemployment and grinding poverty are at all time high. The country is burrowed deep in debt peonage. Insecurity dogs the country and constricts Foreign Direct Investments (FDIs).The economic headwinds are so formidable that the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) has projected that the Naira will exchange, officially, at 470 to the U.S. Dollar this year.  Despair stalks the Nigerian firmament like a ghoul.

Against these unflattering and sorrowful backdrops, Nigerians must reflect deeply and vote prudently. They must vote for the candidate who has the stamina (mental and physical), intellectual acumen and the verve to deliver good governance and to do so timeously. No doubt, the challenges are a legion and they are uphill. But a leader who knows his onions and is possessed of the vision, savvy and gravitas should be able to point the country to a direction of hope and progress.

We are in a turbulent and tempestuous time. What the country needs at such a moment is a candidate who exudes calm and confidence. Such a placid disposition should imbue his compatriots with confidence, calm their frayed nerves and assuage their anxieties. 

Colin Powell, the military statesman and a Republican, endorsed Barack Obama, a Democrat, over John McCain, a Republican in 2008 because of his (Obama’s) calm carriage during the electioneering campaign. Our sundry challenges call for a president with a Sphinx-like calmness; the type of rock-like calmness and sangfroid for which the former French leader, Francois Mitterrand, was renowned.

Voters, in my humble reckoning, should go for a candidate who is focused like the laser beam on good governance and is keen on delivering it in the shortest time possible. To accomplish this, such a candidate must be positively disposed to identifying and working with men and women of excellence and proven ability.

These should be persons with track records and hard earned reputations that will not trifle with the good names they have made. As iron sharpens iron and as the deep calls to the deep, such a candidate must be able to summon the country’s “best and the brightest” to the country’s challenges. John F. Kennedy’s short lived but memorable New Frontier is said to have achieved so much because it was star-studded. Mercifully, Nigeria boasts of a galaxy of stars from each of its six geo political zones.

In addition to rooting for a president who lays premium on excellence and results, Nigerians should be enamoured of a candidate who possesses technical ability and is prepared to sponge on sublime and progressive ideas. That way, he will inspire the confidence of his immediate subordinates and he will be on top of things. Besides, mischievous aides cannot run circles around a president who knows his stuff and is on top of his game. As we have seen in recent times, lack of executive capacity creates a vacuum. And minions take advantage of this vacuum to advance their dubious agenda(s) to the detriment of the country. 

Apart from having technical ability and discernment, the president must show a sense of order and organisation. Once the presidency projects a sense of order and pro-activity, it sends a clear and unmistakable message to foes and friends alike: It says eloquently that Nigeria is in good and steady hands. It is widely speculated that it was the chaotic withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan that emboldened Vladmir Putin to attack Ukraine.

Every nation has its highs and lows. It oscillates between ebbs and flows and goes through tragedies and triumphs. The president must seize each of these moments either to comfort the country in its grief or to bask in its glow. The president must be someone who connects with the nation at all times, depending on the currents that serve it. Nigerians should not vote for someone so bereft of compassion and fellow-feeling.

Above all these, Nigerians should go for someone who appreciates that the presidency is a tough call and is serious business. Rather than see the presidency as a mere addition to his resume or a vocation to be outsourced to opportunistic hirelings. The president must understand that his position calls for self-sacrifice and inordinate man-hours.

We should thus go for a candidate who is determined to add value to his country; ameliorate the sufferings of his people and do exalting things that will etch him positively in the consciousness of the people. 

The president we deserve must put in long hours of work and read beyond executive summaries. He must insist on the details and munitiae to enable him take informed decisions. In the reckoning of the pundits, running an ambitious country like Nigeria, with its size, population and gifted people, requires at least an eighteen-hour daily schedule. Such a disposition and work ethic enables the leader to be fully briefed, demand and have the bigger picture and take decisions based on intelligence and not sentiment.

A reading of Michelle Obama’s well received book, BECOMING, gives a hint of the man hours a modern United States President puts on the job. The diligence and commitment which Margaret Thatcher once brought to statecraft and which was recently recalled with nostalgia by David Dimbleby, a former BBC presenter, on Stephen Sackur’s HARD TALK, should give us further inkling. So indeed are the long suffering and hardwork which Angela Merkel brought to bear on Germany for eighteen years. Merkel transformed her country into an economic power house and responded valiantly to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Our daunting challenges call for even more. They require the bulldog tenacity of Winston Churchill and the steadfastness which Theodore Roosevelt once canvassed passionately in his famous speech, THE MAN IN THE ARENA. Our presidency is surely not suited for hedonists, the entitled or the clueless who excel in issuing incantations and mumbo jumbos in the manner of the Oracle of Delphi.

Nick Dazang is a former Director at the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC)