Most of us agree that the unity of Nigeria is held by a tenuous thread, and that by the hands of the current administration old scars have been lacerated to bleed anger and hate. Sleeping dogs awakened and the flames of division stoked ever so tenaciously. Nigeria needs healing. 2023 should be for healing.
Nigeria needs a doctor. Yes, the country needs a carpenter. It also needs a builder and an architect. If we are all desirous of healing from nearly six years of hate-slinging, recriminations and animosity, why are we not having conversations around a ‘’healer president’’ in 2023 – a Nigerian president who will mend the broken and possibly put humpty-dumpty together again? Why are we having conversations on the primordial – ethnic origin and religion? Have we not suffered enough for our poor choices driven by atavistic proclivities?
While we are fixated on ethnic origin and religion as the primary basis for choosing the next president, we lose sight of the fundamental yardsticks of leadership – antecedents, competence, credentials, achievements, verifiable records, and tested abilities. Yes, there are people with these qualities in every ethnic group in Nigeria, but my concern is that these qualities are not emphasised in our electoral process and conversations. Rather the premium is on the ethnic and religious identity of who must be president.
We cannot rise as a country if we do not rise above our ethnic and religious biases. When we go to hospital, do we seek to determine the ethnic origin of the doctor before getting treatment? When we want to have our cars fixed, do we care if the mechanic is Igbo, Hausa or Yoruba? In these instances, we are much more concerned about getting expert solutions to our health and auto challenges. So, why are we fixated on ethnic origin and religion when it comes to the office of the president – a leadership position that can make or ruin our lives and future?
Just as we would not want to compromise our health by seeking ethnicity instead of competence in getting treated, we should not compromise our future by accentuating ethnicity and religion instead of competence, antecedents, and proven records for leadership positions. When the combustible emulsion of ethnicity and religion becomes the benchmark for leadership, then failure is certain. We will fail as a country again and again if we continue on this primrose path.
Why leadership has always failed in Nigeria is largely because of a jaundiced followership. Yes, the overarching aim of selecting or electing people into political office by the archetypal Nigerian is for the pursuit of individual, sectional and religious interest. It is the reason, the Igbo want their man in the seat of power; it is the reason the Yoruba want their person there and it is also the reason the Hausa and the Fulani want their own there. It is not about Nigeria or all Nigerians.
Again, as the general intent for selecting leaders is to fulfil prejudiced interest — there is nothing about the collective or the whole — nepotism reigns. The leadership agenda is skewed in favour of a group or section of the country — an insular way of looking at leadership — and why unity remains a holy grail here. As a matter of fact, this is why leaders are predisposed to promoting sectional interest – because those who elected them did so on the basis of their ethnic origin and religion, and not on the content of their character or the weight of their records, competence level and antecedents.
What we give is what we get. We elect leaders based on their ethnic and religious backgrounds; we get nepotism, favouritism, and state bigotry. As I often say, ‘’turn-by-turn presidency’’ (on the basis of ethnic origin alone) will only yield us ‘’turn-by-turn’’ misery. Really, we will keep chasing the will-o-the-wisp of progress if we persist on this path.
To get it right, we must get down to brass tacks. Again, why does leadership fail in Nigeria? Because the process of political projection is tainted by ethnic and religious prejudices. So, for a change, we must begin to emphasise the basics of leadership and we must have conversations around these themes. We must begin a process of social mobilisation — galvanising consciences on the Nigerian cause and creating the mood for the right electoral projections in our participatory democracy. We need a wholesale shift in our outlook.
The conversation should be on the ‘’Nigerian president’’ in 2023, a leader who is not defined by his ethnic and religious bearing; a healer, unifier, commander-in-chief and consoler-in-chief. Nigeria needs healing. Like the US under Joe Biden – after a very divisive rule by Donald Trump – Nigeria needs a president who will openly declare in words and in deeds – ‘’I am for every Nigerian, regardless of ethnic origin, religion or political affiliation’’.
I believe we can do better.
*Fredrick Nwabufo is a writer and journalist