February 18, 2023

2023 Presidency: The choice before Nigerians

By James Okiti

IN a few weeks, Nigerians will go to the polls to vote for their next president after what has been a calamitous eight years of President Muhammadu Buhari. President Buhari not only dashed the hopes of those who believed in his change agenda, he also betrayed their trust. The fight against corruption has proved to be nothing more than mere political grandstanding, and the economy has hit rock bottom. As a former Army General, many Nigerians hoped that Buhari would tackle the insecurity in the North- East with military dispatch. But the reverse is the case. Under him, insecurity has spread to every part of the country. The manifestations are everywhere – insurgency, banditry, killer herdsmen and incessant kidnapping, often resulting in barbaric loss of lives and property.

Nigeria is hemorrhaging and is in urgent need of a competent, wise and strong leader to pull it back from the precipice. He must be such that can inspire hope and confidence in the citizens; he must be a leader who will uphold the fundamental principles of fairness, equity, and justice. Above all, the next president must have a clear vision for the country that is realistic, measurable, and progressive. So, who among the leading presidential candidates is best suited to lead Nigeria out of its current woes? It is only logical that I begin my analysis with the presidential candidate of the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu. A veteran in the game, Tinubu shot into the national limelight as governor of Lagos State. His political sagacity and resilience in steering the ship of Lagos after President Olusegun Obasanjo unjustly withheld funds meant for Lagos due to political disagreements, despite a Supreme Court order to the contrary, won him the respect and admiration of many Nigerians. 

Of course, to say Tinubu built Lagos is a stretch, but he has made significant contributions to the current state of Nigeria’s megacity. Perhaps Tinubu’s greatest asset is his ability to identify, mentor and raise successors who have turned out to be impressive performers. However, it does appear that Tinubu is late in his bid for the presidency. Fifteen years ago, he would have been a great fit. But as things stand, Tinubu is mentally and physically unfit for the office of the president. Nigeria can ill-afford another eight years of a sick president; Aso Rock is not a sick bay or old people’s home. Also troubling are the many doubts/mysteries surrounding his identity, age, education, and other matters. Besides, APC does not deserve another shot at the presidency given its abysmal failure.

Next is Peter Obi, whose entrance into the presidential contest has radically altered political equations in the country. Instead of the two-horse race that we are used to, it is now a three-horse race. Obi, with his spartan outlook and frequent denunciations of the high cost of governance in Nigeria, has won the hearts of many youths who think the problem of Nigeria begins and ends with corruption. Rightly or wrongly, Obi is perceived to be a departure from the old order. As governor of Anambra State, Obi was known for his prudent, some might say frugal, management of the resources of the state. He was not a standout in his class of governors, but he was certainly among the achievers. Also counting for Obi is the fact that he is from the South-East, the only region in the South yet to produce a President. But there are problems. Obi’s leadership skills are suspect. As a sitting governor and leader of APGA, he was unable to have a firm grip on the party. He even complained of being forced out of the party! The doctors’ strike that lasted for over a year during his tenure also exposed his leadership flaws, as we saw in Buhari’s handling or non-handling of the ASUU strike.

Finally, there is Atiku Abubakar of the PDP, who was vice president under President Olusegun Obasanjo. Another veteran of the political terrain, Atiku has been vying for the office since 1993. As vice president, Atiku distinguished himself with his management of the economy and the privatisation process that opened the economy for business and investment. An ardent believer in a private sector driven economy, Atiku is a successful entrepreneur with investments in real estate, manufacturing, education, oil servicing, and logistics. To his credit, he withstood his boss’ infamous third term, for which OBJ has not forgiven him. Unlike Buhari, Atiku is not a religious bigot; he is a moderate Moslem, and has consistently canvassed for the restructuring of Nigeria. But a Northerner succeeding another Northerner is a sore point with many Southerners. However, Nigerians must think beyond tribe and religion in this pivotal election. For me, the choice is clearly between Obi and Atiku. My problem with Obi is that with him, you do not know where the truth ends and fiction begins. When he said the brewery that he built created jobs for 60 per cent of Anambrarians, I shuddered. Out of a population of six million people? He also tweeted that, as governor, 40 per cent of his cabinet members were women. I cringed. The man says he wants to move Nigeria from consumption to production, but everything about his private and public life tells a completely different story.

To me, Obi seems to be riding on the wave of anger and discontent among the youth, who are, unfortunately, unwilling to interrogate his claims and promises. He eerily reminds me of 2015, and I am bothered. In 2015, many Nigerians, especially youths, believed everything candidate Buhari said without subjecting it to proper scrutiny. Buhari bragged about making the Naira equal to the dollar, and we clapped. He promised to drastically reduce the number of aircraft in the presidential fleet, and we hailed. He thumbed his nose at medical tourism, and we jumped for joy. But alas, it was all a ruse. 

My humble submission is that, like Buhari in 2015, Obi would be too much of an experiment, and a very expensive one at that. As much as I would love an Igbo to be president for political balancing, it is also a fact that this country is on life support and we need someone with a proven track record in governance at the national level, and who understands the complex nature of our problems while possessing the insight, courage, and flexibility to address them, without alienating any section of the country. Removing all sentiments and prejudices, I think Atiku fits the bill. He is a liberal, cosmopolitan, and unifying figure with the requisite composure, experience, and political clout to reach and gain the support of the political establishment, which is crucial for the success of governments anywhere in the world.