By Dakuku Peterside
THERE are masquerades in every culture and the life of every individual. The masquerades wear masks for different reasons – from prevarication, illusion, fantasy, fright, horror, to protection. No matter the reason, masquerades thrive by covering who they are and taking up a persona unique to the image they want to portray.
This image becomes the identity of the masquerade. And the persona behind the masquerade dies for the masquerades persona to live. In most cultures, it is taboo to unmask the masquerade. Even at the threat of losing life, a masquerade will fight to hide the person’s identity behind the mask.
In the past, masquerades were a rarity and often appeared on special occasions and festivities. Nowadays, both literally and metaphorically, we are all masquerades. We wear masks these days as a necessity. Facial mask existed before COVID-19, but COVID, at best, only heightened its usage. Mask during this pandemic era has become a symbol of self-preservation against a deadly viral infection. Aside from literal masks, we wear ‘symbolic masks’ to protect ourselves from emotional and psychological elements that we confront daily – financial secrets, relationship secrets, and privacy of life and family.
As the drumbeat of the 2023 election dance started, we have seen big “political masquerades” coming out to declare their interest in the struggle for power and relevance.
Across party lines, powerful politicians, likened to big masquerades, and their cohorts are showcasing introductory and essential aspects of their election dance and using both old and novel gimmicks to make known their interest in the presidency of Nigeria.
Some have visited the incumbent President to tell him of their ambition; some are still consulting with stakeholders; some are waiting for the call of God and their people to declare their intention publicly, while others have gone ahead to make public their presidential ambition via the mass media.
So far, there are no surprises yet. Those who have declared or those rumoured to be on the verge of announcing their intentions to rule Nigeria are the same old political warhorses and, to a great extent, are known by Nigerians. We expect more to declare in the coming days and weeks.
This is part of the political process, and any Nigerian is free to aspire to become the president and compete for the post through any political platform of his choice. In Nigeria, at least for now, only masquerades wearing the masks of APC or PDP are considered to have realistic chances of winning the presidential elections. But these are early days, and a third force political platform may challenge this status quo. It is about 12 months to the general election for Nigerians to choose the leader of the most populous black nation on earth at a time of significant political, social, and economic turbulence.
Nigeria faces, on all sides, existential threats that will require a highly-skilled, competent and charismatic leader to galvanise all the human and natural resources at our disposal to tackle the vast socio-economic challenges confronting us. Among these “masquerades” declaring their interest, one will emerge as the leader.
This underscores the importance of galvanising Nigerians with outstanding leadership and empathic qualities to step up to the arena and be counted. One must be in the race to win. Nigerians often complain about the same old leaders taking political offices and doing nothing innovative to develop the country but forget that it all starts with the calibre and quality of politicians coming out for the presidency. It is from that group that the president will emerge.
Therefore, I implore all Nigerians to use this opportunity to encourage proven leaders with the proper knowledge and skills to come on board to compete for the presidency. Nigeria now more than ever before needs quality leadership at the highest level. It is a positive for democracy that so many citizens are stepping forward to lead the nation, indicating increasing political participation. However, nothing yet distinguishes one aspirant from another in terms of either ideology or public policy leaning.
For now, we are stuck at the level of personality cults, geopolitical interests, and ethnic entitlement syndrome. Even where aspirants are from different party platforms, their utterances do not yet reflect the broad agenda of those parties. More disturbingly, there is nothing that indicates depth on specific national issues from any aspirant. So far, not less than six “political masquerades” have declared their interest from the two main political parties – APC (Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, David Umahi, and Orji Uzor Kalu) and PDP (Abubarkar Bukola Saraki, Anyim Pius Anyim, and Dele Momodu).
There are other candidates with near unassailable profile in the fringe parties. It is time Nigerians started examining all of them from the prism of our complexities. Let us look at ‘the stuff they are made of’, those who gave them the masquerade and are in their company. We want to know what they are offering and what vision they are selling to Nigerians? How will they solve the multiplicity of Nigerian problems? We should not focus on inanities like what their religion is. What geopolitical zone they represent and what financial muscle they have.
Let the presidential “masquerades” come forth and canvas ideas and proffer solutions. Twelve months is enough time to know which of these political masquerades we want to take seriously or ignore. For the political masquerades that have declared their intention, let us now hear their ideas. However, I acknowledge by trend analysis, that it is not the candidate with the most brilliant takes on issues that will win, as the factors that determine who wins elections in Nigeria do not have much to do with sound policy ideas.
Unlike the previous election period, Nigeria is in a precarious situation; inexperience, vacuity, incompetence, lack of proven service record, absence of ideas to drive positive change among candidates will not be overlooked or tolerated by Nigerians. Between June and August this year, the parties will present masquerades dressed in party attire. Our options will be limited to the masquerades presented to the electorate by the parties. To a certain degree, the party will shield the person behind the masquerade from Nigerians. We may be denied the opportunity of knowing what the one behind the masquerade said as distinct from what the masquerade said.
The party-political machinery takes over immediately after primaries, and all forms of spin doctors and election pundits are engaged to convince the electorate of the rightfulness of the candidates. This powerful party campaign machinery will set out to use unfounded marketing tools, lies, half-truths, innuendoes, and propaganda to convince or confuse the electorate to vote for its candidate even though he/she may have apparent shortcomings that make him unfit for the presidency.
That is why when a president is elected, there are lots of things the electorate assumes he said or stood for or championed that turns out completely different from what the president does. Maybe it is still too early in the day, but I strongly feel that now is the time to engage with the masquerades and try to figure out the man behind the mask.
Our current crisis correlates with the electoral decisions and leadership choices we have collectively made in the past. All elections have serious consequences. This underscores the importance of careful consideration of the masquerades to eliminate the wrong candidates from the presidential race and have people with clarity of vision, proven leadership skills and a good knowledge of the Nigerian context vis a vis the complexity of our religious, social, and ethnic makeup.
The only actual path forward is using the 2023 election to usher in good leadership with a demonstrable capacity to implement a pan-Nigeria agenda. Nigeria is in dire need of positive change. But who will drive this change? More of the same masquerades – Nigeria’s political elite. Unpleasant and scary as today’s Nigeria has become, our present reality should force us to question our prior assumptions about leadership selection. We should not allow primordial sentiments to becloud our judgement in seeking out and choosing a competent and visionary leader as president.
We have a choice now facing all Nigerians: we can make use of the next 12 months to put our acts together and engage in positive politicking to seek out good leaders for the 2023 general elections, or we can decide to play politics as usual without seriously considering post-election governance. Elections are a means to an end and not an end in themselves. If we do not elect good leaders, we will bear the brunt of the consequences – debilitating poverty, insecurity, unemployment, and constant internal crisis and call for secession. We are at the beginning of electing the president of Nigeria.
We must get it right at this stage to have a realistic chance of electing a president that will make a difference. There is no doubt that the flawed election process in Nigeria is probably the cause of failed governance and leadership in the country. I argue that we must reassess that process and start on time to get it right if we must make meaningful progress in getting the right president.
The president derives his power from the people who vote for him and elect him to lead them in a democracy. So, the president rises and falls with the people. A government by the people, as represented by a voted president, contextually assumes responsibility for the success or failure of the people. Democracy affords the people an opportunity to hold the president accountable through periodic elections. 2023 is another opportunity for the people to get it right.
Nigerians must carefully choose a leader with incredible qualities to take Nigeria to a new frontier. What are these qualities we require of the next president? The aspirant must have a clear vision of where he wants to take Nigeria in terms of development and how he will achieve that given our current resource realities. The aspirant must have proven skills and competencies in management and leadership.
He must have empathy for the plights of many Nigerians and must have a burning desire to work to ameliorate the sufferings. Based on association or ideology, the aspirant must be above board – not an ethnic or religious chauvinist, supporter of secession activities, or terrorism.
Furthermore, the aspirant must love Nigeria and have a proven record of having links across the country. He must understand the economy, especially productivity. He must have the strength, ability, knowledge, and intellectual capacity to carry the burden of Nigeria, manage our diversity and deliver dividends of good governance to all Nigeria, not just a section of Nigeria or the elite.
Ultimately, the aspirant must demonstrate a clear understanding of how to tackle insecurity, poverty, unemployment, and a shambolic education system.
After all, is said, 2022 offers all Nigerians the opportunity to choose the kind of country we want by the quality of the President we vote for in the 2023 general elections.
As political masquerades have started declaring their intentions to contest for the presidency of Nigeria, now is the time to engage them to find out the person behind the masquerade.