Qualities for president
Political pundits and media commentators who in recent weeks have been short-listing candidates for president in next year’s elections in this country might have put the cart way before the horse. For an old teacher like me, this is not unlike marking the exam scripts before drawing up the marking scheme. There is no shortage of people who are angling to be President of Nigeria. Anyone is welcome to assess them but we should first draw up a marking scheme.
What are the qualities required in a man who wishes to be the President of Nigeria? They are many; no one can have all or perhaps even most of them but the more of them a candidate has, the higher his marks should be when we sit down to award marks. Let me list 17 qualities but not necessarily in that order.
Political stature. For starters, an aspirant should already be a household name in Nigeria. If he is not, then he needs a referees’ report [in politics it is called endorsement] from better known politicians. Even a Nigerian school will not admit you and an employer of labour may not employ you unless you produce a good referee’s report, so it cannot be different where power is concerned.
Political and administrative experience. A man wants to head the Federal Government of Nigeria; at least we want to know what he ran before in his life. As this country’s democratic system matures, it will be difficult for anyone who has not been a state governor, a minister, a prominent senator, the head of a large state agency or business corporation to seriously vie for the presidency. But there could be exceptions.
Performance record. Many a Nigerian aspirant thinks he deserves a higher political office simply because he held a high one. It does matter if he acquitted himself well in that previous office. It is not every governor or minister that is presidential material, for instance.
Intellectual aptitude. Nigeria has greatly transformed from a simple people with much attachment to ancient value systems. A modern-day Nigerian president will be in the midst of a push-and-pull by smooth-talking politicians, clever civil servants, data-bamboozling professionals, consultants of great marketing savvy, deceptively earnest businessmen, eloquent union agitators, security-sector Doomsdayists, cunning columnists as well as practised foreign manipulators. He needs above average intellectual aptitude to sift the chaff from the grain.
Knowledge of Nigeria. Certain stories that are told of some Nigerian
leaders’ poor grasp of the country’s history and geography leaves one numb. A serious candidate for president should have a good idea about each of the 36 states; the kind of people that live there, something about their languages, history, economy and cultural outlook, and something about their problems and aspirations. A background in certain professions accelerates knowledge of the country; I mean those trades that entail regular posting or travel to all parts of the country.
Charisma. It is difficult to define charisma, even more difficult to pinpoint a charismatic person. A charismatic person excites a place when he enters; he turns heads around; he commands attention and he generates respect even when you do not agree with what he is saying. It is a very big plus in politics because few people have it.
Cross-regional appeal. To stand any chance of winning the presidency, a man must have cross-regional appeal. There are few people in Nigeria these days that command such an appeal on their own power. One can however achieve crossregional appeal by marshalling the forces of regional power brokers. In 1992 when we asked General Shehu Yar’adua if he would accept Alhaji Lateef Jakande’s invitation to do a popularity test on Lagos streets, Yar’adua said, “LKJ should do that test with Dapo Sarumi and Yomi Edu. The Lagos voters that voted for me in the SDP primaries did so because of Sarumi and Edu.”
A strong political platform. Realistically speaking, the only parties with a chance to win the presidency in next year’s election are PDP and APC. No matter how popular a candidate is personally, he needs party workers in all parts of the country to turn out the vote and to police polling stations and collation centres. Otherwise he cannot even lay his hands on the evidence to prove malpractice should he head for the courts.
Good health and vigour. Considering that two Nigerian rulers fell sick and died in office in the last 16 years, many a voter will be looking for robust health in a prospective president. Nigerian presidents inspire confidence when they are seen to energetically move around. Provided they remain within the country; junketing abroad is a political minus here.
The right age. In African societies, age is usually thought of as directly proportional to wisdom. [Not in all cases; I know some foolish old men]. The flip side of it is that age is inversely proportional to good health and vigour, hence the complaint that some people are
too old to seek the presidency.
Security experience. For the increasing number of Nigerians who feel that insecurity has overtaken corruption as Nigeria’s number one problem, a record of service in the military or police, until recently frowned at, is fast becoming an asset in politics.
Economic literacy. If it is true as recently alleged that Nigeria’s economy is the largest in Africa, then economic literacy will be a very useful quality to look for in the choice of president. This quality is quite rare in Nigerian politics because such persons prefer to be running business corporations. But it is sorely needed to transform the economy from being the largest to being the most developed economy in Africa.
Ideology. Unlike what many Nigerians think, socialism and communism are not the only political ideologies in the world. Suffice it to say that a man without coherent ideological thought can hardly provide a coherent program of rule.
Integrity. Until recently when insecurity shot to the top in many people’s minds, Nigerians thought of corruption as the country’s single biggest problem. It is no small credit in Nigerian politics if a man has a reputation for integrity. The problem with integrity is that while the general voter sees it as a big plus, the working politician secretly sees it as a big minus. People who commit themselves to work for you in the political trenches do so for expected personal reward, not so that you will come and clean up the Augean stables. Sometimes however, political power brokers agree to present a candidate who is an easier sell with the general voters. Sometimes.
Lack of baggage is an extension of
integrity. The problem with this quality is that it is often inversely proportional to political experience. The more public offices a man holds and the longer the period he holds them, the more likely that he was involved in some scandal. Or even, the more likely that he stepped on some powerful toes.
Wisdom. An important question to ponder when choosing the president is, to what extent is good performance as a governor or a minister a good predictor that one can be a good president? The virtues of knowledge, experience, common sense, insight, patience and fairness which together constitute wisdom are important at every level of rule. Sir Bertrand Russell said the central element of wisdom is to have a sense of proportion. It appears to me that while a state could get by with an impatient or intolerant governor who however has technocratic abilities, wisdom is a much more indispensable quality in the presidency. If the president exhibits much intolerance and impatience he could wreck the country. A good record of building roads and bridges cannot compensate for that.
Which brings us to the last factor I want to mention, which is money. Considering all the worthwhile qualities mentioned above, why is it that when most Nigerians hear that a man is gunning for the presidency their first question is, “Does he have enough money?”