By Muyiwa Adetiba
Professor Bolaji Akinyemi epitomises both professional and personal success. He is a pride to his generation which already has a constellation of competent, accomplished names. Prof was in the news last week doing us proud again by lending his experience and intellect to the affairs of the nation.
He patiently explained to the nation like the teacher he was, the difference between political sovereignty and economic sovereignty. He went on to advise the current actors to avail themselves of necessary expertise before signing agreements. He urged them to be guided by national interests when seeking foreign assistance and not be swayed by propaganda whether from the East or West.
His intervention helped in dousing the rising emotions around the National Rail agreement with China.
He showed what can be when elders speak to the nation on trending issues. Interventions of people like him are important because they shine light to darkened alleys and help avoid pit falls. They are even more important when the elder does not have an ulterior motive or an active interest.
Just about the same time, another elder, another octogenarian, another intellectual, but one whose motive cannot be vouched for, whose interest could be more active than passive, made his own intervention by also shining light into one of our more darkened alleys.
He spoke on leadership, particularly Presidential leadership, which has been the bane of the country. He said quite rightly, that we had tried rotational presidency in the last twenty years and we haven’t gotten it right. Perhaps it was time we went for competence.
Mallam Mamman Daura is a senior colleague who is not given to flippancy. As a journalist, he let his pen do talking. As a prominent member of the famed Kaduna Mafia, he let the mafia’s intervention in national policies do the talking. As an ‘adviser’ to his uncle, he let the direction of government do the talking. But last week, he decided to do the talking.
And on such a weighty matter as our mode for selecting the President. If his utterance immediately gained national prominence and uproar in places,it was not because of the message which is not entirely new, but because of the messenger. Chief Arthur Nzeribe once begged the nation to look at the message and not the messenger.
Unfortunately, the messenger is as important as the message and Mallam Daura, being a journalist, should know. In our profession, what is said is often not as important as who said it. In this case, the messenger by his antecedence, is a promoter and a beneficiary of vested interests; he is a promoter of quota system. His message will unfortunately be assessed along those lines. Neither quota nor vested interest should be against competence. But then, neither elevates competence.
It is easy therefore to understand the furore in the south where some people feel the goal post is about to be shifted. This is especially when another member of the ‘cabal; the late Isa Funtua had hinted on the same issue of a ‘competent’ President in his last interview. It gives the impression of a less than altruistic testing of waters. It gives the impression of an agenda.
But we must not throw the baby away with the bath water because were ally must look at the issue of competence when choosing our leaders, not just at the Federal level, but also at the State levels. The system that threw up Buhari, Jonathan, Yara’dua and Obasanjo and indeed many of the governors, needs to be looked at again. The Godfather syndrome has to be examined going forward.
The syndrome is not in itself bad if the parameters are altruistic; if the Godfathers think of the larger good. The bland nature of our campaign issues has to be jettisoned. Whoever wants to govern must tell us in facts and figures, which arears he wants to focus on and how.
His pronouncement must be weighed against his background; how he has fared in places he has worked before. This is what competence is all about because no one can give what they don’t have. He should publicly declare his medical records along his assets. We wouldn’t want a vegetable on our hands. Or one with cognitive issues. The whole process of selecting candidates should be rigorous with competence and antecedence in mind.
Before we get ahead of ourselves, maybe we should try and understand the meaning of competence. A basic dictionary meaning defines it as the ability to do something successfully or efficiently. So competence is about ability. It is about efficiency. Nothing about its definition says competence and rotation are mutually exclusive.
In fact, we can go purely by the game of numbers or democracy by another name, and still have incompetent leaders. Or we can rotate and still come up with incompetent leaders like we have been doing. What is needed therefore is a concerted focus by all -opinion moulders and electorates- on competence. That is, the ability of a candidate to run the country efficiently.
However, there is a reason the rotation principle was promoted. It is to ensure inclusiveness and avoid alienation. It is to promote equity and unity. It is to ensure that any child can aspire to the highest positions in the land irrespective of the place of birth. It is to ensure that there is no permanent ruling tribe due to population.
All of these need not be sacrificed for competence. Years ago, Arsene Wenger the former manager of Arsenal FC once picked an all- black team with the exception of the goalkeeper on a Saturday. When the British press descended on him, he said he doesn’t look at passports to pick his team; only ability. But the point was made and he never did it again.
In any case, the English FA soon enacted a law which stated that all Premiership Clubs must field a certain number of British players in order to encourage the development of local players. That is inclusiveness. It has not sacrificed competence because the English Premiership is still the most exciting if not the best tournament in the world.
Rotation or zoning is not an anti-thesis to competence. Although I am personally looking forward to the day when competence takes precedence over rotation in choosing people into public offices generally. Until then, we have to stay with the expediency of rotation. This means the presidency should move south in 2023. All hands must therefore be on deck to ensure a competent southerner emerges.