THE emergence of Atiku Abubakar as the Northern consensus candidate for the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) presidential primaries has been attended by much controversy. It generated widespread comments from a cross section of the Nigerian pubic. Most of these comments were uncomplimentary, and sometimes, utterly detracting.
He has been denigrated for being too old; that at 64, he should retire from politics and make way for a younger generation of Nigerian leaders. There were remarks about his being very corrupt. And that a case is pending against him in the United States of America, and that as the president of Nigeria, he will not be allowed entry into the United States of America.
While the object of this writing is not to hold brief for Atiku Abubakar, I must categorically state that a 64-year-old man is not too old to be the president of Nigeria. Ronald Reagan was 69 years old when he became the president of the United States of America, and Winston Churchill became the British Prime Minister at 65 years old. While youthfulness is magnificent, it is not a necessary prerequisite for good leadership. Age does not impede leadership capabilities, up until that point when it becomes associated with senility and other forms of incapacitation.
Nigerians keep expecting a power shift from the old to the youth. It is blatant naiveté to expect that this power shift will result from an altruistic hand over of power by the elderly to the young. Nobody can ever dash you power. Mao Zedong once wrote that “power flows from the barrel of a gun”.
His maxim was apt in the strife-riven early 20th century China but not in a democracy where power “flows” from the free expression of the people’s will – through the ballot box. But, even the struggle for power through the ballot box is not for the weak-minded, irresolute and ingenuous. It still demands guts, backbone and guile. A one time president of the United States of America, Richard Nixon was making the same point when he wrote that power is not for everybody.
It is not for the nice guy next door because it takes a unique kind of man to win the struggle for power.
So, a youthful generation of Nigerian leaders will emerge when the Nigerian youths can politically dislodge the old guards and wrest power from them. For example, a young man, Barack Obama emerged the president of the United States of America, not because there was a humane, philanthropic resolution among older American politicians to allow a transfer of power to the younger generation of politicians, but because he triumphed in the slug for power.
In the Democratic Party primaries he defeated politicians who were older than him. And in the presidential election, he also defeated John McCain who was 69 years old.
To accuse a Nigerian of corruption is like accusing an American of eating hamburger. Most Americans eat hamburger and most Nigerians are corrupt. Atiku is corrupt and Goodluck Jonathan, like his political godfathers, Olusegun Obasanjo and Tony Anenih, etc., is corrupt. Can Goodluck Jonathan swear that his wealth derives solely from his legitimate earnings as deputy governor, governor, vice president and now the president?
It is possible for a democratically elected Nigerian president to reform Nigeria into a democracy buttressed by high moral values and ethical standards, rule of law, social justice and efficient and responsive institutions without being a friend of the American government or having any need to travel to America.
Therefore, my issue with the Nigerian presidential candidates in the up coming presidential election is not their acceptability to the American government but what they are bringing to the office of the presidency: knowledge, experience, character, political programs and above all, commitment to public service.
Human behavior is driven by interests, be them personal, group, religious, ideological, etc. And democratic politics is resolution of human interests. Therefore, there is absolutely nothing wrong with the resolution of the conflicting personal political ambitions of four Northern politicians into a Northern consensus candidate.
That successful endeavour at consensus building foreshadows a number of advantages for the Nigerian democratic process. For one, its approach differed significantly from earlier PDP modus operandi. It was not done in the usually PDP military–like fiat, and the candidate was not determined and imposed by a bunch of self- serving godfathers. The internal workings of the PDP are undemocratic and sometimes dictatorial. The method use in choosing the PDP presidential candidate for the 2007 election was lamentably authoritarian.
All the presidential contenders were brow-beaten into withdrawing their candidacies to pave way for the godfathers’ preferred candidate. Refreshingly, the Northern consensus candidacy was determined by consultation, extensive, dispassionate consultation, by a neutral group working for the collective good of the North, and by extension, Nigeria.
Secondly, all the other political interests respected the verdict of the Consensus Candidate Committee. Their willingness to accept the Committee’s decision and subsume their political ambitions to Atiku’s was very impressive. After all, the problems of Nigerian politics have always been selfishness, untrammeled ego and the placing of personal interests above the public good.
The deference to the choice of the Consensus Committee by all contending political interests was excellent; it transcended self-interest, implacable egotism and insensitivity to the collective welfare. It brought to fore that central element that has always been missing in Nigerian politics and public life: the willingness to subordinate personal ambitions and interests to the public good.
In addition, it betokens to dethrone mediocrity in the upcoming PDP primaries. Goodluck Jonathan will go to the primaries with the power of incumbency, but a weak political structure and little personal political clout. Atiku lacks the power of incumbency but has a formidable and efficient political structure, extensive connections and network of friends, and personal political clout.
The political formidability of the two major contenders leaves the party nomination for the president up for grabs. It precludes an easy victory in the primaries by any one candidate. To win, each candidate must put in his best and prove his mettle.
He must deploy every weapon in his political arsenal and exhaust his resources of political maneuvers, skillfulness and adroitness. This inevitable demand for excellence by the primaries constitutes a powerful antidote to political mediocrity.
I am neutral in this yet to fully unfold contest between Goldluck Jonathan and Atiku Abubakar. I remain indifferent to the ultimate victor in the PDP presidential primaries. My only concern is that the process should be democratic; that is, that it reveres the constitution, respects the electoral law and reflects the will of the people.
Mr. Tochukwu EZUKANMA, a commentator on national issues, writes from Lagos.