How We Keep Electing Bad Leaders And How We Can Start Electing Good Ones.
The Headline reads: “A New Presidential Aspirant joins the race” and immediately, the dis-empowering questions start to flow… Which tribe is he from? Is he a Christian or Muslim? Is he from My state? And all other inanities. It is pitiful enough that our idea of democracy is depressingly limited to elections, we also aggravate the situation still by voting the wrong set of people into power because of the sort of questions the electorates ask.
When issues of common significance like elections crop up in Nigeria, what immediately controls most people’s brains are tribal & religious sentiments. To borrow the words of the late Mozambique President, Samora Machel: “Tribalism is the commander-in-chief of Africa’s problems.” If Elections are about choosing the best among the candidates as they canvass solutions to the problems confronting the people, pray tell, why is it more important to identify candidates by primordial sentiments like religion and ethnicity, rather than by the issues they are passionate about? We have substituted rational logic for Primordial sentiments in our leadership recruitment process, and I ask, where has that gotten us?
The most important thing is the progress of our country and If nationhood has not eluded us, our conversation would have moved beyond trivialities like religious and ethnic colouration of an individual to fundamental discourse about our advancement in the global community, and the leader who can set us on the right path. The tendency of the electorates to analyse the chances of a candidate by basically validating traditional yardsticks (religion and region) that have only produced leaders that have held the country’s development back needs to give way. We need to start asking intelligent questions and demanding more from our leaders rather than things that are mere accident of birth. If we are still stuck on these petty sentiments, rather than the policies and programmes of an individual, then we are not ready to have the Nigeria of our dreams. It shouldn’t be enough that he speaks the same language as you do or professes to worship the same God you worship. The most important question is, does he understand what Leadership is all about?
The way I see it is this: if a person wants to travel from one destination to another destination by air and he’s given the rare opportunity to ask questions from the pilot that will be flying the aircraft, what are the pertinent questions he should ask? I reckon it wouldn’t be “pilot, are you a Christian or Muslim?” “Or are you from any of the major tribes in Nigeria?” The questions will necessarily speak to the capacity and skill of the said pilot to take him safely from where he is right now to where he wants to be. The relevance and applicability of this is that Leadership is simply about moving a cause, an organization or a people from their current reality to some better place. It is simply about movement. So, the right question will be who is the most qualified person who can move us from where we are now to a better reality?
Questions are very powerful tools; and the quality of questions one asks determines the quality of answers one gets. I make bold to say that it is the unintelligent questions we have been asking that has been bringing about the quality of leaders we have been having. It is the strange allegiance to person and platform without asking about credentials, charisma and clarity of vision that brought us to this pickle in the first place. And now we are walking right into it with our own words. Can we ask these candidates new, intelligent questions for building a better Nigeria we all desire, rather than the tired, old questions that brought us to this quagmire? The politicians are actually smart! I give that to them. But we the electorates must be smarter. They know Religious and tribal sentiments are our weaknesses, so they exploit that to their advantage. You will hear things like “vote for a fellow Christian or Muslim”, Or ” I’m from your ethnic group, so you have no choice but to vote for me”. These are the kind of sentiments that our leaders whip up and we have been falling for. It is time we changed this. It should no longer be business as usual. “Our mumu don do”.
The benefit of asking intelligent and empowering questions is innumerable. First, if candidates who want to be elected into Leadership positions know for certain that playing the ethnicity or religion card will not fly, they will be forced to come up with blue print and real programmes on how they can move the nation forward. Also, this will dismantle the needlessly divisive “we-northerners-versus-they-southerners” or “we-christians-versus-they-muslims” rhetoric. I have always held the opinion that the people of Nigeria actually want the same thing; economic prosperity, security of lives and property, higher standard of living,quality education and all other indices of National growth. So, why do we keep allowing these politicians divide us along these primitive lines? If Nigeria starts to Enjoy uninterrupted power supply, I won’t really be bothered about the religion of the minister of power. If our nation becomes more safe and secure, does it really matter that the person in charge does not speak my language? When the super eagles of Nigeria play and win, People are not really bothered about the language the guy who put the ball in the back of the net speaks. We just celebrate all the same. This should be the same mentality that guides us when electing our leaders. They are our representatives, therefore, pedigree, substance, proven track record, accomplishments based on merit should be what we look for and champion.
Additionally, instead of applauding politicians making bland statements about what they will do if voted into office, candidates should be pinned down to the specifics of how their manifesto will be achieved. For clarity, knowledge is needed to be able to ask all these intelligent questions. For example, when a candidate says “I’m going to make One Naira equal to One dollar” or “I’m going to create employment opportunities and give us uninterrupted power supply”, we should ask the next logical question which is How? This is the current exchange rate, how do you propose to make the naira equal to the dollar? You say you will create unemployment, what is the current unemployment rate in Nigeria? Which sector are you going to be focusing on to create these jobs you speak of? We currently generate this Mega Watts of electricity, which source of energy are you going to be tapping into to generate more power? By now, it will start to occur to any candidate that he or she will be facing an enlightened electorates and this will force them to sit up.
Finally, the quote by Albert Einstein is apposite here. It says “the significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them”. This simply means that if you are faced with a problem, you need to upgrade your level of thinking and questioning to solve that problem. Doing the same thing and expecting a different result is one of the definitions of insanity. It’s another election season and the politicians have started politicking. But the million dollar question is, are we still going to be asking the same set of questions that brought us to this place or are we going to be asking new breed of questions that will evoke new breed solutions? The choice is ours.
Patrick Emmanuel is a 500 level law student of Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife. He can be reached on PatrickEmmanuel66@gmail.com