BY FRED ONYEOZIRI
PRESIDENTIAL candidates are in the habit of promising heaven and earth. We must resist the temptation of choosing the candidates based on the list of promises they make. Rather, a more realistic approach in choosing presidential candidates is to look at the underlying attitudes or qualities which they have because it is these qualities that will determine how they will comport themselves while in office.
It is also these attitudes that will determine what positive impact they will make on the lives of the people and society they govern. There are seven such attitudes or qualities that we can focus on here in this presidential election.
The first is restrained and democratic behaviour. The President is the single most powerful office in the land; it is also the only official who has nationwide mandate to govern. We must never give such a powerful position to someone who is desperate for power. Such a person will abuse the power and we shall be sorry for ourselves because of his excesses. We should therefore prefer a candidate with restrained character and personal behaviour who is also democratic in temperament.
We must reject candidates who are desperate for power and authoritarian in disposition. Desperation for power makes one liable to abuse power and authoritarian instinct makes one liable to dictatorship and intolerance. Unfortunately, those who have been socialized in authoritarian institutions like the military never completely shed their authoritarian habit.
They are always dangerous for democracy. Evidence of this can be seen in former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s creeping authoritarianism even after years of post-military rehabilitation. They are a permanent danger to democracy. Therefore, we are better off with a candidate who is self restrained and a full blown democrat. The power of the President is so enormous that any abuse of that power or intolerance on the part of its incumbent would exert enormous cost on our system or nation.
The second is tested performance. We should insist on a candidate whose performance has been tested by experience because performance is usually helped by consolidated experience. A President who can perform at the highest level of society must be a candidate who has experience of executive performance at some lower levels.
No serious nation will choose as president someone who has not had the practiced experience of exercising executive power at other lower levels of political authority. So much is involved in presidential power that we dare not gamble with a non-tested hand.
The third is popular acceptability. The President exercises a nationwide mandate. His support base to carry this nationwide mandate must be the broadest possible. That is why a candidate whose popularity spread out only to a few states or regional base is not good enough.
A president must draw his support base from a wide spectrum of the national society and preferably across all divides-ethnic, religious, regional, etc. This is, in fact, implied in our constitutional requirement that national spread is a criterion for winning the presidency.
Good education is the fourth quality. A good university education equips one with intellectual discipline and analytical ability. A president needs this analytical ability in an increasingly complex world to understand, analyze, sift advice, and reach policy position on issues. Intellectual discipline, its cognate product and analytical ability are a strategic resource every leader needs to perform effectively. It has, in fact, become a major operational tool for effective governmental performance.
If in the past, we were able to manage with presidents that were not so endowed our current environment for governmental performance, especially in a democracy has become so sophisticated that we can no longer risk a president without a basic university education. The generational change we are making also has its counterpart in the demand for increased basic education as requirement for quality decisions.
There is sheer humility which is the fifth quality. The office of the president is so exalted that the occupant is presumed to lose the common touch; that is, the quality of being human-caring, sympathetic, humble and fellow-feeling. The job of the president is to make binding decisions about his country. These decisions have practical and human consequences for the lives and fortunes of the citizens.
The President cannot do this job well if he cannot bring himself to feel like his people. This human touch and human feeling should guide his decisions. Our President must have in him a large dose of sheer humanity to culture his overall performance.
The sixth quality is gender sensitivity. The President we need is one who recognises that about 50 per cent of our population is of the opposite sex. To refuse to carry this 50 per cent along is to reduce the development potential of this nation by half. Our women are as intellectually endowed as their male counterparts.
There are even some activities in the society where women excel. Involving them fully in running this nation, hooking their underdeveloped energies and talent onto the engine of our national development will give a qualitative boost to our development. We need a president who will deploy his gender sensitivity and equity to the service of our nation. The nation will be better off for this.
The last quality is patriotism. Our president must be very patriotic. Patriotism here refers to love of fatherland, and in this case, we mean love of Nigeria as a composite unit worthy of the greatest sacrifices the leader can make. A nationalism that is buttressed by patriotism disowns ethnicity, tribalism, religious bigotry, and regionalism. It calls for all-Nigerian cosmopolitanism. The patriotism of our preferred presidential candidate will be such that he will not know the North, the South, the East or the West.
In conclusion, of course, nobody has it all tailor-made but what I am asking is for us to vote for a presidential candidate who scores well on these seven qualities; vote for a candidate who is self-restrained and democratic, not one who is desperate for power or authoritarian in disposition; vote for a candidate whose performance is backed by experience, who is popularly acceptable, is well educated and gender sensitive; vote for the candidate who has a large dose of sheer humanity in him and who is supremely patriotic.
Out of the four major presidential candidates, vote for the person who scores highest on these seven dimensional qualities discussed here. He should be the president to save our nation!
Prof. Onyeoziri, a political scientist , wrote from Abuja.