2023: Aren’t we lucky? – Punch Newspapers

2023: Aren’t we lucky? – Punch Newspapers

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This headline is, of course, a reference to the multitude of candidates vying to become Nigeria’s president come 2023. If you interpret it as tongue-in-cheek — even sarcasm — you would be in good company. That is, the company of the vast majority of Nigerians.

A favourite cartoon and a comic video about the election suggest as much. The cartoon depicts a fork on the road, with one direction labelled “2023” and the other “Solutions.” All the politicians took the path of 2023, disregarding the potholed path to solutions. But then in the video, the candidates tried to debunk the idea that they were not about solutions. But each time they made a promise, they were shocked by an invisible ray, causing them to contort in pain. Yet, they soldiered on anyway. These are the pessimistic renditions of 2023.

They contrast markedly with the rosy take of the candidates and their cheerleaders. To them, the cartoon and comic video couldn’t have been more wrong. Nigeria’s problems will be over once they unpack their luggage in Aso Rock.

This may well explain what has long struck me as a paradox: the greater the problems besieging Nigeria, the greater the number of candidates seeking to be president. It has nothing to do with the allure of power and perks; it has everything to do with the zeal to solve the problems. At least so they say.

Some candidates are actually on a divine mission, though they might not have known it until Tuesday. That was when the Igbo Elders Consultative Forum declared that there is a divine imperative to zone the presidency to the South-East. “God knows it and has decreed that the next President of Nigeria will come from Igboland,” said Chief Chukwuemeka Ezeife, the Chairman of the IECF and former governor of Anambra State. “The problem now is how to allow God’s destiny to manifest for Nigeria.”

Ezeife said that Nigeria is taking a giant step backward because of inept and corrupt leadership, and he vowed that an Igbo president would change all that.

“The resources God gave us are not for nothing. It is for us to generate development and become a superpower, and from that make every African proud, and with dignity,” The PUNCH quoted him as saying in Abuja on Tuesday. “For so long, Nigerian man has been messing up the design of the creator, but God is taking over. A new Nigeria is coming and will be led by someone from the South-East. Only an Igbo man will be president after Buhari.”

I have repeatedly made the case for an Igbo president, unaware that I was speaking for God. My arguments have been purely secular, with an eye on the principles of fairness and political necessity.

After Ezeife’s declarations, I suppose I can go one step further to warn God-fearing non-Igbo candidates to please step aside or risk divine retribution. But I doubt that they would heed me — or Ezeife, for that matter. They all probably believe in their own divine mandates. Either that or they would take their chances with divine wrath.

In any case, even in a country of believers, Ezeife’s declaration of a divine mandate has probably set back the cause that Nigerians of various ethnicities have been canvassing for. To the Yoruba, Hausa, Fulani, Ijaw, Edo, etcetera, Ezeife’s assertion of Igbo exceptionalism can only be an insult, a vacuous insult. It is the stuff for backroom banter, not public declaration. And the astute politician must have known that.

In Ezeife’s defence, he was speaking at an emotional event, the reception of an Igbo delegation that had gone to Abuja to commiserate with him following the burial of his wife. It was not the best context to make political pronouncements. Now, Igbo candidates with impressive credentials can only hope that Ezeife’s ethnic chauvinism is not held against them.

Ezeife could have served them well had he stopped at the charge of hypocrisy on the part of several non-Igbo candidates. Former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, Sokoto State Governor, Aminu Tambuwal, and former Senate President, Bukola Saraki, among others, now kick against zoning the presidency. Yet they were advocates of the policy in 2015, when it meant zoning the presidency to the North.

That shows a lack of principles, Ezeife said. And one cannot argue against that. Opportunism and cynicism have been the undoing of Nigerian politics over the years, and that hasn’t changed.

In any case, some Igbo also kick against rotation, aligning with those who emphasize merit. The South-East Destiny Movement for Bola Ahmed Tinubu, for example, has argued that the zone didn’t gain much when the Igbo occupied key positions in the country.

“As a matter of fact, some of the champions of the president from South-East extraction are doing it for selfish reasons,” the group’s convenor, Chief Ekene Enefe, has said. “How have they used their former opportunities to better the lots of the people in their immediate environment?”It is entirely possible that Enefe’s wifi was down when Ezeife received the message of divine imperative.

In any case, understandable cynicism aside, the list of potential presidents is actually an impressive one. Whatever political baggage critics say he brings with him, Bola Tinubu is definitely a proven leader. So is Atiku Abubakar, Peter Obi, Aminu Tambuwal, Bukola Saraki, Yemi Osinbajo, Dave Umahi, Orji Kalu, Kingsley Moghalu, and scores of other candidates vying — or prepping to vie — for the presidency.

So, the headline to this column is not entirely tongue-in-cheek. The competence and ability to lead are there. The ability and resolve to cleanse Nigeria of its many ills are what have repeatedly been found lacking. In some cases, the spirit is willing but the body is weak; in others, both the spirit and the body are weak.

Ensuring that the election is clean and credible will be a good beginning for addressing this ill. And a good indication of the commitment to principles would be whether the parties and electorate see the wisdom of continued zonal rotation — at this time. That is, with or without divine directive.

Copyright PUNCH.

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