By Obed Awowede
In less than two years from today the clock would be winding down fast on President Muhammadu Buhari’s Administration. As the regime winds down, we are confronted with familiar problems – an economy that is in terrible shape, insecurity, social and ethnic conflicts.
That Nigeria is in a mess does not need anyone’s say-so. The indices, whether social or economic, are not good at all, and do not need a repeat here to make the point. If the country is working for the benefit of the political and business elite, it is clearly not working for the average Nigerian. Take the index of employment for instance, the figures tell the story in the street.
The National Bureau of Statistics’ Fourth Quarter report for 2020 released mid-March 2021, puts Nigeria’s unemployment figure at 33.3 percent as at December 2020, with underemployment at 22.8 percent, which gives a total of 56.1 percent.
What this means is that more than half of the working age population is either without jobs or doing jobs below its training or/and financial needs. This is a social problem that expressed itself in rather graphic terms during the EndSARS protests in October last year, when shops and warehouses were looted and the law gave way to anarchy. The scourge of kidnapping for ransom by bandits, reports of killer-herdsmen in bushes and farms across the country, add to a combustible mix that present us with a clear and present danger.
The current crisis has exposed the failure of leadership at all levels. In its stead, we have disparate interests pushing different agendas. So toxic is the messaging today from all the actors, including the political leadership, that we cannot even have a clear-headed conversation on the issues that need to be addressed. These issues include, but not limited to, our inchoate union, and why Nigeria’s greatness is measured only in its potential, why we have not made the transition from potential to greatness.
The Buhari Administration says it has a handle on some of these issues, especially the spate of kidnappings and banditry across the country. It doesn’t appear so, however. If it does over the next two years before it winds up, that will be a boon indeed! The president sure needs to leave a legacy of good works to his name. But, given that the 2023 national elections are around the corner, Nigerians, however, are looking to what comes after the current administration.
We are at a point where we must carefully and diligently seek out a national leader with the temperament and skills to navigate the ship of State in an inclusive and result-oriented manner. That is because our redemption, if or when it comes, must be through politics. This, I know, does not give rise to optimism considering how broken our politics is today and our tendency to elect the worst of us. But there cannot be any salvation for this country outside a responsible and inclusive leadership with a pan-Nigerian outlook.
As usual, several names will be thrown up as we get closer to the 2023 election, among them the good, the bad, the ugly. Some of the aspirants will burnish their jaded pro-democracy ‘credentials’, others their ‘experience’, and yet others will come with an entitlement mentality.
At a time like this, when we are assailed by ethnic distrust, besetted by social and economic problems, buffeted by threats of secession, we need to focus on leadership because, as we can all relate, it is the key to dousing the tension and redirecting our collective national focus toward development issues. In 2023, we need that person who can reach across social, class and political aisles to create a national conversation of inclusion.
It is perhaps needless to add that the first step to getting Nigerians to speak with one voice again is to get a leader who speaks the language of inclusion, and walks the talk.
For me, over the last few months, Dr.Kayode Fayemi, the Ekiti State Governor, has come across to me as that person. There may be others I don’t know but Dr.Fayemi’s grasp of the issues, his public communication, his mien and his pacifist outlook commends him as an excellent choice. Dr.Fayemi’s appeal is his knowledge base, training, calm, elan, comportment and his capacity to reach across the aisles of the divides that challenge our unity.
I watched Fayemi’s interview on Arise TV and he was non-committal on a run for President. If he does, however, he would be doing the contest a lot of good, in the choices before us, especially as we crave more inclusive leadership at the centre.
Fayemi easily comes across as a temperate politician with a focus, not just on the big picture, but on the little things that are often left unconsidered in the adrenalin-soaked battle for political power. One instance that commands my attention to him is his sense of bipartisanship and moderation, even from as far back as 2013 when as Governor of Ekiti State, he led a solidarity visit of some APC Governors to Rivers State Governor Rotimi Amaechi.
At that time Amaechi and President Goodluck Jonathan had a toxic relationship. It was a time of great political ferment when the APC had just been born and many in the party were making political capital out of sensationalizing conflicts.
Rather than key into this toxic adrenaline, Fayemi focused on tempering the tone of the conversation. I recall that he told reporters after the meeting: “We do feel strongly, having listened to him (Amaechi) that it is quite important for him to actually go and brief Mr. President, who is our leader and the chief security officer of the country on the very challenging security situation here in Rivers.” Yet on another occasion in Port Harcourt on national television, ever the peacemaker that he is, Fayemi advised the governor that “Mr. President is your brother, please sit down and talk as brothers.” It Is no surprise therefore that he was elected Chairman of Nigerian Governors Forum, in which position he has conducted himself with remarkable bipartisanship, given the knife-edge political interests that are the underlying currents in that forum.
No doubt, many names will surface as the rules for the 2023 presidential contest in the parties become clearer, but we can see an understanding that the presidency would shift to the south. That should be sacrosanct, as Katsina State Governor Aminu Masari stated last week, after eight years of the Buhari Presidency.
•Awowede, a journalist and public commentator, lives in Warri, Delta State