Who should be president in 2023


Niran Adedokun

To balk under pressure and again avoid the planned removal of the subsidy on petrol, as the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), did on Tuesday, is one reason Nigerians must understand what they need in a future president.

Someone said that the difference between a politician and a statesman is that while the former considers the next election, the latter thinks about the next generation. It is true that the removal of subsidy was bound to momentarily impose more economic hardship on Nigerians but did the government count the cost before beginning to sell this project to Nigerians? More importantly, does the removal of subsidy have any ultimate benefits for the country? Does the Petroleum Industry Act (2021)—signed by the president 13 years after it was first presented to the National Assembly—whose implementation would require the cessation of subsidy, hold prospects for more investments in Nigeria’s oil and gas industry, ending the opacity that makes that industry a haven for corruption and making Nigerians benefit more from this God-given resource? If the answers to the questions are in the affirmative, why then postpone the day of reckoning?

For most Nigerians, the immediate contemplation would be that, rather than act like a statesman, Buhari has, by deciding to postpone this subsidy withdrawal, chosen to prioritise the next elections over the future of the country. Those who argue so would justifiably identify the choice of 18 months, when he would have left office, as the commencement date for the implementation of the Act as escapist.

As persuasive and probably valid as this argument may be, however, it is not all to it!

Consider that in 2015, when Buhari was first sworn in, the need to remove subsidy on petrol was almost as exigent as it is now. Buhari would have gotten away with removing subsidy, given the level of acceptance that accompanied his revolutionary victory in that year’s election. Although there were no upcoming elections then, the president refused to tackle the bull by the horns, despite counsel from experts. And because of that inaction, smuggling, corruption, and other malfeasances inherent in the industry continued to worsen until they became a huge albatross on the country and its economy. Had he chosen to bell the cat at that time, Nigeria would not be talking about subsidy removal at this moment. And the economic conundrum, which the government is struggling to paper over, would most likely not be as bad.

What does this then tell us about whom to vote for as the next president? In my opinion, it suggests that competence and know-how should be the most important consideration. While politicians are tearing at each other over which part of the country or which religion should produce the next president, the ordinary Nigerian must concern himself with the capacity of aspirants to positively affect their lives in the immediate. An indication of this is the capacity of prospective candidates to understand and discuss roadmaps to tackle the country’s multifaceted socio-economic challenges. Nigerians must not just be content with the assumption that a politician means well. The demand this time must be meaning well and being able to do well. Those who desire to be voted into that office must be visionary. They must have clear goals for each of the country’s most important challenges and timelines for accomplishing them. The ideal president must be clear in his mind as to the quality of human resources he will need around him to deliver on his mission. He must also be able to guide, monitor, and evaluate their performance on a regular basis as well as inject new blood when necessary.

The next president of Nigeria must also be courageous. This involves the ability to make the best decisions in the interest of the country without fear or favour. It involves being single-minded in the pursuit of already set goals without allowing derailments that may be orchestrated by a herd of opposition or detractors. This does not mean that the leaders should be non-receptive to the opinions of citizens but rather that Nigeria needs a leader who, convinced of being on the right path, must defy all odds and doggedly pursue the goal. Another case in point is President Goodluck Jonathan’s immature handling of—and eventual capitulation on—this vexed subsidy issue in 2012. If he dared to see it through, Buhari would, in fact, not have to contend with any subsidy issues.

It’s also clear that there are vested interests to which leaders pander every now and then. Nigerians should consider a leader who, while recognising the right of sectional leaders, interests, and pressure groups to have their say, understands that the final buck for the development of the country stops at his desk and that posterity lurks in the corner to pass judgement on his conduct. The capitulation of this administration on implementing the PIA does not only indicate an absence of the courage to face the immediate backlash that might follow it but also a more disheartening lack of consciousness of the dividends and glory that it might bring the administration in the future. It is reminiscent of Buhari’s failure to act against his military colleagues who were planning to overthrow his government when the information came to his knowledge in 1984. The president, then, claimed that he did not want to shed blood, which is noble. However, coup plotters who get exposed before the fact do not need to be killed. Sending the likes of Ibrahim Babangida and others out of the military at that point would probably have saved the country a lot of trouble. Sadly, the then head of state chose to lie back until enemies swarmed on his regime like a flood, sent him out of office into detention and held Nigeria captive for the next eight years.

Nigeria’s next president must be compassionate.  Leadership is essentially about serving the people and making their lives worthy of living. A leader must therefore be able to put himself in the shoes of his citizens and give his all to ensure that they have the best possible quality of life. The next president must place a premium on the security and happiness of his people. This leader must be capable of being genuinely empathetic with citizens from across the country. And here, we must be able and willing to distinguish between compassion and populism. It is possible, for instance, to suggest that the government’s decision to suspend the implementation of the PIA is an act of compassion. But it is not. While compassion is a genuine concern for the state of the people, populism is a kind of tentative reprieve, only meant to win the love of the people for a period of time. It is ultimately to the benefit of the leaders, without a little or no enduring benefit to the generality of the people. Nigeria needs a leader who will remain down to earth and can continue to imagine where the shoes pinch and how to ameliorate the people’s deprivations.

Most importantly, Nigeria’s next president must be a nationalist, one who has a large heart and will not be bound by any parochial interest. Sixty-two years after political independence, it is still difficult to come to a consensus about what it means to be a Nigerian. Nigeria’s president from 2023 must be one who sees the whole country as his territory. Nigeria needs a leader who can recreate a society that made it possible for Umaru Altine, a Fulani man from Sifawa in the heart of the caliphate, to become the first elected Mayor of Enugu in 1956 and make Nnamdi Azikiwe’s National Council for Nigeria and the Cameroons,  a dominant political figure in Western Nigeria. The next president must be a detribalised person who is ready to give everyone their due and save Nigeria from remaining an ethnic cocoon where a majority of the people are strangers in their own country.

– Twitter@niranadedokun.


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