The 2023 presidential election cannot afford to follow the trajectory of being influenced by religious, ethnic, and partisan affiliation or sentiment, for that will be our bane.
By Dakuku Peterside
We are in a deep national crisis, particularly in the economic and security domains, and there is no easy way out. The choice we make in 2023 will largely determine the future of our country and the next generation. So much is at stake! I warn everyone that there is no messiah in sight. Anyone elected will have limits, but at least we are looking for that man or woman who can think, inspire action, mobilize and harness our diverse talents, roll up their sleeves to work and radiate hope – the audacity of hope for a better Nigeria that will satisfy the aspirations of present and future generations.
It is a fact that the outcome of the 2023 elections in terms of the quality of presidential candidates is already predetermined. The party leadership selection process has already narrowed the options. The challenge for discernment is, who among the saints or sinners offered to us by political parties meets the criteria of what our country needs right now?
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Unfortunately, but it’s true, democracy does not always give the best. To paraphrase a statement attributed to Thomas Jefferson, “A democracy is nothing more than popular rule, where 51% of the people can take away the rights of the other 49”. History is full of nations that elected leaders who plunged them into crisis.
Adolf Hitler, the famous motivational speaker, was elected at a time of widespread economic misery, fear, perceptions of worse trouble to come as well as anger at the government in power at the time. Muqtada Al-Sadr rode off the back of religious sentiment and was elected in post-Saddam Iraq. Nicolas Maduro and Hugo Chavez from Venezuela, and Mauricio Macri from Argentina were all elected by their people.
What I mean is that nations, both in advanced and emerging democracies, can elect bad leaders. When democracy rejects bad leaders, it has a significant detrimental effect on the political system. This is manifested in a lack of foresight and ideas to create an enabling environment that will foster national development, an upsurge in corruption, human rights abuses and the stifling of socio-economic space.
The existential situation in Nigeria is such that we cannot afford to elect bad leaders in 2023. Despite our apparent challenges, which can be terminal if not handled well, why would Nigerians elect the wrong leaders in 2023, which is a decisive election?
I deliberately interviewed 100 people whom I consider enlightened and knowledgeable about the political economy of Nigeria, and I will gladly share my findings. From my investigation, there are a few reasons why we may elect the wrong people with no vision, capacity and character to lead us. These issues are individually capable of derailing the quest to elect good leaders. However, in the Nigerian context, these issues come together to form a cohesive, watery and complex form that creates an inevitable political inevitability capable of derailing our quest for good leaders by 2023.
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The first factor is the significant relationship between personal economic well-being and political behavior in the Nigerian political milieu. In our political culture, the electorate often prefers the immediate self-serving benefit during elections as an incentive to determine their vote choice than the long-term considerations of leadership’s impact on the country. No wonder people are buying and selling votes reminiscent of open market transactions where many are willing to sell their franchise for a measly N2,000 to N10,000.
This problem is compounded by the impact of economic hardship on most voters living below the poverty line and in a short-term survival mood. Money to survive for a day or two can influence their choice of political vote because economic hardship will cause them to vote as dictated by their stomach and not their head. When juxtaposed with educated predictions of the possible economic landscape next year when more Nigerians will be pushed below the poverty line, it becomes clear that economic deprivation will be a determining factor in the choices among Nigeria’s poorest. between us and they constitute 70% of the electorate.
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The problem of vote buying is not just about poverty, as seen in the recent primaries of major political parties for various political candidates. Even among the political elite, it is a function of greed and the insatiable desire for primitive accumulation. Our society rewards those who cheat and engage in corrupt practices as long as they are willing to pay. They are the ones who have ready and free money. They are amassing a large financial war chest to hold elections to buy power at all costs. And they loot our community when they are in power to compensate their financial sponsors, take advantage of their financial investment in the power struggle and steal more money to be ready for the next elections and the power struggle and it becomes cyclic. Power is magnetic to corrupt people. They have monetized the system which has become accepted by the majority that elections cost colossal money and are not for people who earn their own money.
This has unintended consequences. Nigerians with good leadership qualities and abilities – those who can manage Nigeria out of our distress, are being left behind as they have not amassed much money “to share”.
The second factor is that power in Nigeria is relational and often an emotional transaction. The build-up to the 2023 elections has seen a drama based on people deciding that power should go to one person or group because of what section of the country they come from, their ethnicity, religion, network and their relationships. The hubbub of the South/North divide over producing the next president, the Southeast hustle and bustle to produce the next president on the basis of fairness, justice and fairness, the Muslim ticket saga/ Muslims and the strong reactions of Muslims and Christians, and agism propaganda for specific candidates testify to the importance of these emotive issues for the Nigerian electorate.
Issues of leadership ability, morality, principles and a demonstration of their ability to create a new vision for Nigeria and bring Nigeria to realize that vision while solving myriad problems of Nigeria, are placed second. in the emerging narrative of the 2023 elections. It will be assumed that however bad the situation in Nigeria is, many people will be looking for leaders who have what it takes to change things in Nigeria for the better. But this is not the case. The three-way perennial emotional influences of ethnicity, religion and party affiliation are always important considerations for voting and part of the reason for our national albatross.
Nigeria and Nigerians need good leadership and push the overriding feelings to the background if we are to move forward. The effect of poor leadership and poor governance affects everyone, regardless of ethnic group, religious affiliations or social class.
The 2023 presidential election cannot afford to follow the trajectory of being influenced by religious, ethnic, and partisan affiliation or sentiment, for that will be our bane. There must be proper interrogation of the candidate’s ability to play the role of president of a country undergoing the worst security, economic and social crises in a generation. The crucial question that the electorate must ask themselves is: if Nigeria PLC is my company, which of the candidates will I employ to run their business? The answer to this question will help you reflect on the basis of your choice of candidate.
The third factor is that we lack national consciousness and consensus. We don’t have Nigerians in the proper sense of the word, but Hausa, Fulani, Ibo, Yoruba, Ijaw, etc. This requires us to be responsive to almost all issues and to contextualize all issues from a tribal perspective. We always put our ethnic and religious identity above our “Nigerianness”. Without national consensus, personal and collective interests driven by economic factors, pledges and affiliations (political, social and religious) rule. I propose that we build a national consensus to fix Nigeria and let that sentiment dictate our choice of leaders by 2023.
The final factor is the problem of our collective culture of negativity and cynicism. Many Nigerians have lost hope in Nigeria, and their actions and inactions portray this ugly state. The cynicism is seen in the young and the middle class adopting more and more a “japa” position. They are looking for every opportunity to jump off the sinking ship of Nigeria and settle in countries that they believe will offer them the opportunity to realize their potential.
Furthermore, it shows in voter apathy and the lack of political participation of many people. It is even worse among Nigerian scholars and intellectuals who have relegated everything to do with politics and power struggles to politicians, some of whom have not been productive in any sphere of life. How can they leave the vital question of power and management of national resources in the hands of such people because of their cynicism?
The factors considered above are essential to truncate our collective aspirations to have good leaders, by 2023, who will champion a paradigm shift or we will continue our business as usual, a governance marked by vain rituals. I urge all stakeholders in the Nigerian Project to begin sensitizing the electorate using any available platform on the need to get it right in 2023 by electing leaders not on the basis of overriding sentiment defaulters of the past, but on the new paradigm of foresight, ideas, ability, experience, knowledge and leadership skills. Only then will we not elect the wrong leaders in 2023. When the Nigerian electorate democratically elects leaders like any other country, we get the government we voted for. If we vote for a government that will destroy our economy or make other bad decisions, we have to live with the consequences.