Nigerians and the 2023 elections.

Chimazuru (Oblong) Nnadi-Oforgu

After a chaotic early period after the starter’s gun was fired, things have settled and the picture of the choice of potential or prospective candidates has now emerged. But what exactly do Nigerians want from their elected leaders? Nigerians, like any other people, want what they have always wanted: consistent electricity supply, adequate safety and security, good health service and education, properly functioning institutions, and decent infrastructure all of which make for human flourishing.

Each election cycle promises change which never happens. What many do not realise is that democracy is not really about the government of the people, even of the people or indeed by the people. It is about improving the lives of the citizens. It is about change for the better. With the current situation in the country, this is the time when change is most needed. But will change happens? Hard to tell. No doubt the worst possible outcome of the next election is more of the same, business as usual.

Election fever has gripped the Nigerian nation. Many are animated and indeed convulsed by the winds currently blowing in the country. Candidates are busy canvassing for the office of the presidency. Who would be the next Nigerian president and what is to be expected of the prospective leader?

The first thing to note is that no single Nigerian or a few collections of Nigerians can resolve the country’s many problems. Dare I say it, not even God can solve the problem that is Nigeria. This is not to impugn the power of God but to point at the stubborn intransigence of Nigerian psychology that defies God’s many attempts to save it from itself. In any case, God has provided Nigerians with all the tools required to build a successful nation. He gave them a mind and vast natural resources the kind that many countries of the world lack. The utilisation of both human and natural resources should have propelled that nation into the first rank of progressive nations in the world. In over half a century since independence, no such thing has occurred. Instead, Nigeria languishes in the last place as one of the poorest nations in the world while ranking in the first rank as one of the most corrupt. Something no doubt has gone badly wrong in that country.

Secondly, most Nigerians have little say in a process that touts itself as a democracy. Of course, Nigeria’s political system is not democratic, it is rather an oligarchic system. Power resides not in the hands of the people but in the hands of the few, some of whom are the very people running for president.

The third point is that in Nigeria, money talks and when money talks people listen. Yes, money talks in every society but in Nigeria, despite that country’s unrivalled religiosity, money is the God that many worship. In Nigeria, money is God. The God that many claim to serve and worship comes a distant third. In second place are men, either the so-called men of God or political leaders. Money and personalities are the gods of Nigerian politics. They may not hear what is being said but you have their attention when you dangle money in their faces. To repeat: Nigeria’s politics is moneybag politics. This is a place where a man can literally buy anything; human, animal or thing and the Nigerian presidency is no exception. Those who aid and abet and connive to trade the presidency in this way include the electoral commission. When the registration forms cost N100,000,000, then you literally have a presidency up for an auction; where the prize goes to the highest bidder is the one rich enough to outbid the other.

This itself is not the fault. Elections in any country require considerable expenditure. What is problematic in the Nigerian case is that this is the entry fee into a contest where the winner is the one with a war chest that stretches into the billions of naira. Thus, the most important qualifications for the highest office in the land are relegated down to the lower level of the scale. Questions such as how this magnitude of wealth has been made, what policy agenda, vision, philosophy and so on, serve as a motive for candidacy hardly enter the reckoning. But that is merely an aside.

The point I really want to make is that for the past 60 years since independence, four main factions have been responsible for the current state of the Nigerian state. There are the progressives, the conservatives, the regressives and the monarchists. The progressives are the ones that are genuinely interested in the progress of the Nigerian nation. They have a vision of the country as a modern nation that should take its place among the developing nations of the world. The conservatives are sceptical of modernity and see progress as robbing Nigeria of its authentic cultural identity. They desire progress but progress is defined in traditional and ethnoreligious terms.

The regressives are not interested in progress at all and indeed are not even conservatives. Their desire is to swing a wrecking ball at the entire system so that anarchy and chaos are the order of the system. The monarchists, on the other hand, have little interest in the nation or in development. Their sole interest is in preserving the status quo so they can be installed as sovereign rulers. Their only ambition is to become president for the sake of becoming president because, for them, the presidency is a form of coronation. It is the power and prestige of office that are sought, and serve as motivation for their candidacy rather than the opportunity to serve and drive change. This faction is peopled by corrupt and egoistically driven individuals, who lack knowledge, vision and any understanding of the Nigerian problems and how to solve it.

Now if we line up Nigerian leaders of the past half a century you might be able to tell which leader belongs to which camp. My own view is that Murtala Mohammed, Olusegun Obasanjo, and the much-maligned Ibrahim Babangida – whom history would look upon more favourably than many contemporary Nigerians believe – will fall within the progressive faction. The civilian Buhari is no doubt a conservative ruler, while his former incarnation would have put him in the progressive camp. It is difficult to know where to situate Sani Abacha since he straddles the different camps in his autocratic despotism. Shehu Shagari and Goodluck Jonathan were mere managers, technocrats even; good, decent and personable men but who lacked vision or direction. They meant well but somehow lacked the radical nous necessary for change. They were not progressives, and nor were they regressives. These facts about them do not necessarily indicate a fault; many good leaders are not blessed with vision or a radical turn of mind. But the nation stabilised somewhat under their leadership, even though it veiled deep simmering problems.

This brings me to the monarchists. The monarchists are now emerging as the next batch of leaders aspiring to be president and this camp is represented by the former governor of Lagos state, Bola Tinubu and the former vice president under Obasanjo, Abubakar Atiku. To reiterate: the monarchists are not progressive; they are not radically regressive; they are not conservative; they are not technocrats. Their interest is first and foremost about the self. For them, the presidency represents the apotheosis of political life, the sum of their entire public service. They have conquered the illicit business world; they have amassed wealth beyond compare; they have climbed up the tree of politics but have reached only the branches. The top of the tree is to which they now aspire. It is the next big office to conquer without which their existence would remain incomplete.

Each of these factions and its leaders has its constituencies which are sizeable. Each of these constituencies is committed to differing and opposing agendas. The clash of agenda, beliefs and ideologies has stymied progress and impaled the nation on the horns of a dilemma: Where do we go from here? The progressives are held back by the regressives and conservatives, while the monarchists are self-interested in pursuit of a dream that they dreamed of long ago to become president. They have no idea what the problems are and no clue on how to solve them. But they really do not care. They will swing with the winds wherever it blows. Occasionally they may come up with something eye-catching like some policy announcement, but that will be all. Thus, they are certain to preside over the continuing deterioration of an already declining state. They have nothing to offer the nation only more of the same.

As already mentioned, money is everything for the monarchists; the ace up the sleeves. They throw it freely around in order to secure the top job. They have consistently plunged or held many people in a state of poverty so they can ride into town on their high horses with wads of cash as conquering heroes that have come to save them. But of course, they care little about the Nigerian nation, not even their own constituency. They recognise that the effort that is needed to lift people out of poverty entails serious policy commitment and hard work which they can ill-afford. The money that they dole out is meant to secure their praise and adoration while keeping the people in perpetual poverty. They offer them crumbs from the master’s table sufficient only to see the poor through a day and no more. Once they ride off into the sunset of the presidency, they hardly look back as the poor return to their drudgery, their penury and deal with their ever-increasing woes. They create a crowd that morphs into a mob that will do their bidding, indeed kill or die for the cause, a cause for which their reward is a bag of rice or as little as a few thousand naira. But as someone once pointed out to me: a few thousand naira is a lot of money to someone in desperate straits. No wonder some are prepared to sell their votes for as little as N5,000. How low the democratic bar has been lowered.

However, there is a group, constituted by a silent majority yearning for change. This group is led or represented by the likes of Peter Obi and his chosen presidential running mate, Datti Baba-Ahmed. These men appear to be utterly fed up, like most Nigerians, with the state of the nation. They are driven by the need for change and consider themselves new brooms that would sweep away the old order. They are pragmatic, yet have vision, foresight and high hopes. They are aware that the nation cannot continue like this, sliding into the abyss. They are true republicans, fervently anti-monarchy and anti-oligarchy. For them, the presidency is not a throne upon which to sit or a place of retirement after an uneventful political life, but an office of work for the propagation of benefit to the Nigerian people. Their watchword is duty. Their method is role-up-the-sleeve and work. But importantly, they are non-ideological, which explains their pragmatism. Now, I have never met Mr Obi, but I have met Baba-Ahmed and in conversation found him a thoroughly dedicated man committed to resolving Nigeria’s problems.

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As regards 2023, two factions are now pitted against one another: the moneyed monarchist oligarchy of Tinubu and Atiku and the faction of change that Nigerians can believe in, represented by Peter Obi (wan Kenobi) and Datti Baba-Ahmed (his Luke Skywalker). Together they are intent on slaying the various dragons and vested interests of the many Darth Vaders that have waged too many wars against the Nigerian state. Who should Nigerians choose? Well, it depends on what Nigerians want. If they want more of the same, then they have the choice of Tinubu or Atiku – which is no choice at all. But if they want change and progress and the possibility at least of glimpsing a better Nigeria then there is no contest. The difference is clear. Your men are Obi and Baba- Ahmed.

Should they plump for the former; then it will be further evidence that the country is not ready for change and is resigned to the declination of that country’s fortunes. No single Nigeria or a few collections of Nigerians can resolve Nigeria’s many problems. But some are better than others. Some can begin to fulfil and unlock the country’s potential.

For these reasons, I will urge Nigerians to look beyond the here and now and their vested interest and try something radically different. Move away from the failed political parties of APC and PDP. To Obi and Baba-Ahmed, I can only say: May the force be with you. May the winds of change which you bring sweep through the nation.

Chimazuru (Oblong) Nnadi-Oforgu

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