Nigeria: Who Must Be President of Nigeria?

Nigeria national flag.
15 January 2022
opinion

Nobody in a democracy has an entitlement to occupy a political office, outside the framework of democratically held elections.

Current seekers of political offices at the highest levels of government need to take a sip from the wisdom cup of history. Their philosophical understanding of power must have as its kernel the ephemerality and vanity of power; and the transience of life itself. They must rid themselves of the assurances of further power elevation that occupancy of, or incumbency in office gives, and banish the confidence of electoral victory that a large volume of political work propels.

A party leader or an incumbent vice-president need not be elected a president. And an incumbent president need not be re-elected as president. In Nigeria, apart from Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, a vice president who became a president, by default, and made a mess of it, Alex Ekwueme, Atiku Abubakar and Namadi Sambo didn't transit to become presidents from the vice presidency. Two of the trio wanted to become president after their vice presidency. One couldn't, before his death. The other hasn't, in spite of his tireless efforts.

In the United States of America, since the presidency of George H. W. Bush, the 41st president of the U.S., a two-term vice president who became the president from 1989 to 1993, no incumbent vice president has transited to becoming a president. Not Dan Quayle, Al Gore, Dick Cheney or Joe Biden. Instructively, George H. W Bush, a one term president, was defeated as an incumbent by Bill Clinton, who became the 42nd president of the United States, from being governor of the State of Arkansas, where he had served for 12 years .

Instructive also is the fact that after losing the presidential election to George W. Bush, who was the 43rd president of the United States in 2000, Albert Gore (a four-term member of House of Representatives, and two-term senator before becoming a two-term vice president under President Bill Clinton) didn't chase the presidency of the United States any further. He found passion in other endeavours, including teaching as a visiting professor in a university and delving into climate change issues, on the path of which he won the Nobel Prize for Peace in 2007. He could have been complaining about his "stolen electoral mandate". He could have been perennially accusing the U.S. Supreme Court of judicial robbery in Bush v. Gore. He could have run for the same office of president, thereafter. He never did. He moved on. He found another productive life after power. Presidential power was not his life.

Joe Biden, the incumbent president of the United States didn't participate in the Democratic Party's primaries as an incumbent vice president, to attempt to succeed Barack Obama, the 44th president of the United States. Hilary Clinton, a former senator and secretary of state, when she ran as aspirant for the second time, and eventually the candidate, was the favourite. Joe Biden ran for office of the president of the United as a former vice president to became the 46th president of the United States.

Obafemi Awolowo and Nnamdi Azikiwe were the leaders of their respective parties, Action Group (AG) and National Council of Nigerian Citizens (NCNC) in the First Republic, and the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) and Nigerian Peoples Party (NPP) in the Second Republic. Both statesmen, unarguably, were more qualified "politically and academically" for the office of president when they ran in 1979 and 1983, than President Alhaji Usman Aliyu Shehu Shagari (May Allah rest his soul ) who became the president. They could not and did not become president.

Chief Awolowo, at different times, wanted to become the prime minister and president of Nigeria. In 1959, he left the Western Region, where he had been head of government business and premier for nine years, for the Federal Parliament. From there, he wanted to become the first (independence) prime minister. He did not succeed. A coalition between the Northern Peoples Congress (NPC) and the NCNC thwarted that ambition. He became the leader of the Opposition. By 1962, he and the Western Region had run into trouble with an intolerant and authoritarian central government. He was house arrested, charged with treasonable felony and jailed for 10 years. His stalwarts and staunch lieutenants were also jailed. His party was infiltrated, subverted and decimated but the party's resistance campaigns made the Western Region ungovernable for his supplanters. He was only released from jail vide a state pardon in 1966. Unfortunately, his key political opponents and traducers were murdered in the January 15, 1966 abortive military coup.

Nobody in a democracy has an entitlement to occupy a political office, outside the framework of democratically held elections. The presidency is not a monarchy, theocracy (papacy), or a hereditary chieftaincy. The dint of hard political work, long partisan sacrifice or occupancy of a political office and alleged brilliant or superlative performance in office are not the critical factors that must perforce bring about a canonisation, coronation and enthronement.

Upon his release, he went into a governing collaboration with the military, becoming a civil war time minister of finance and a civilian vice chairman of the military government's federal executive council. He left the government in 1971. Perhaps, to get prepared for when the military would hand over power to civilians and for the resumption of political activities.

General Yakubu Gowon had promised to hand over power to civilians in 1975. He reneged. In 1974, he said a handover of power, as promised, was no longer feasible and realistic. In the aftermath of that breach of promise, he was shunted out of power in 1975, after nine years at the helm. During the elongated transition to civil rule programme of General Ibrahim Babangida, he wanted to be president. He was an aspirant. He was humbled by the system of party primaries at that time, by which an aspirant must emerge bottom-up, starting from his ward, local government and constituency. It was from his constituency that he, a former military head of state, was humbled in a disgraceful elimination. Since then, he has avoided partisan politics. He has, through his Nigeria Prays ecumenical project, been rousing Nigerians to prayer.

In the Second Republic, Chief Awolowo formed the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN), obviously the best organised "ideological" and cohesive political party of that era. In 1979, at age 70, he contested for the office of the President. He lost. He could not become president. In 1983, at age 74, he contested for the second and last time. He lost. He died four years later at age 78.

Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe, a great nationalist (although his betrayal of the Zikist Movement was a historical blemish on his nationalist credentials) was, at Nigeria's attainment of independence, the governor-general of Nigeria and between 1963 and 1966, the president (and head of state) of Nigeria, under a parliamentary system of government. Before independence, he was the premier of the Eastern Region.

In 1979, at the age of 75, he contested for the office of the president (under the then newly adopted presidential system of government) on the platform of his Nigerian Peoples Party. He lost the election. In 1983, at a ripe age of 79, he contested for the second time and lost. He died in 1996 at the age of 92. If he had won the 1979 election and the 1983 ejection, biologically, he could have served out his two terms, without dying in office.

Mallam Aminu Kano, leader of the Northern Elements Progressive Union (NEPU), in the First Republic and of the Peoples Redemption Party (PRP) in the Second Republic, died in 1983 at age 63. His political movement, ideology, philosophy and activism promoted human rights, political freedoms, social justice and women emancipation issues in a Northern Nigeria then plagued by suffocating vestiges of feudalism. He contested for the office of president in 1979. He lost the election. He died before the 1983 elections.

While the partisan fights over who should be the candidates of the political parties rage, may we leave you with an admonition. "Princes (of the Machiavellian archetype) hardly have friends and supporters. What they do have are instruments." For the instruments fighting on behalf of princes, may you all have a successful internecine combat.

Awo, Zik and Aminu Kano were nationalists and patriots. They served Nigeria in many capacities. They laboured and "suffered" for Nigeria's independence. They wanted to be Nigeria's president in 1979. They did not succeed. Nigeria became poorer because none of them became president. But Nigeria did not collapse because they couldn't become president.

Current seekers of political offices at the highest levels of government need to take a sip from the wisdom cup of history. Their philosophical understanding of power must have as its kernel the ephemerality and vanity of power; and the transience of life itself. They must rid themselves of the assurances of further power elevation that occupancy of, or incumbency in office gives, and banish the confidence of electoral victory that a large volume of political work propels.

Nobody in a democracy has an entitlement to occupy a political office, outside the framework of democratically held elections. The presidency is not a monarchy, theocracy (papacy), or a hereditary chieftaincy. The dint of hard political work, long partisan sacrifice or occupancy of a political office and alleged brilliant or superlative performance in office are not the critical factors that must perforce bring about a canonisation, coronation and enthronement.

In an ideal democracy, political parties are the vehicles which individuals ride to political power. They are the platforms on which programmes, manifestoes and promises are erected for the consideration of the electorates. If a political party came to power and failed to fulfil its promises, the critical question the electorate must ask itself is whether that political party is worthy of being entrusted with another mandate; whether there are no better alternatives or options to displace that political party.

In the dawning presidential election campaigns, while members of a political party can fight to the finish about who amongst their members is the best electable person to be picked as their presidential candidate, the vast majority of our people must focus on who is the best person to be elected as a true leader, who is "faithful, loyal and honest"; a promise keeper, a builder, re-designer, reorganiser, provider, protector, reconstructor, securer, mover, and improver.

The search for a true leader in a nation or country is not the same as the search for a party's candidate.

While the partisan fights over who should be the candidates of the political parties rage, may we leave you with an admonition. "Princes (of the Machiavellian archetype) hardly have friends and supporters. What they do have are instruments." For the instruments fighting on behalf of princes, may you all have a successful internecine combat.

Jiti Ogunye, lawyer, and Principal Counsel, Jiti Ogunye Chambers, is the Legal Adviser to Premium Times.

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