What happened to the many presidential, governorship aspirants?

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I have walked that long road to freedom. I have tried not to falter; I have made missteps along the way. But I have discovered the secret that after climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb.” – Nelson Mandela

“You may be disappointed if you fail but you are doomed if you don’t try.” – Beverly Sills


About a year ago, the airwaves and highways were full of political activities leading on to the 2019 elections, the unemployment rate in the country started to drop and there were banners everywhere in many shapes and colours; billboards as well were in almost all villages around the country. There were debates among the aspirants and supporters of different political parties, every Nigerian small or big, rich or poor had something to say in the spirit of free press and freedom of speech, as enshrined in our Constitution, even though, at times, the press, both print, electronic and social media, monitored and sometimes distorted the debates that took place.

I was privileged to have witnessed a few of the debates that occurred everywhere, in town hall meetings, social clubs and beer parlours. It was refreshing and I concluded then that Nigeria had come of age politically once again. Lagos was the most branded, which was understandable because of the population and cosmopolitan’s nature; the photographs of the aspirants on the numerous billboards were most flamboyant and intriguing such that, at a stage, I was no longer able to tell the difference between Hausa, Igbo and Yoruba aspirants. We were all one Nigeria.

The northern aspirants, when in the West, were adorned with Yoruba outfits and the Igbo in the North were seen wearing the Hausa babanriga, whereas the Yoruba in the South East were seen with the typical Igbo chieftaincy attire; they all became very nationalistic and my love for Nigeria suddenly became humbling. I had wanted the carnival to continue because Nigerians and even foreign nationals were inspired. The 73 presidential candidates and hundreds of governorship and legislative aspirants also promised so much and the populace, particularly the young, started to dream of a new Nigeria.

It felt like the good old saying that the young are the leaders of tomorrow may just be true after all. It was a dream of a new Nigeria without nepotism, without corruption and without mismanagement of the resources available. Then the elections ended and one person came out victorious, but since becoming President, Muhammadu Buhari and most of the other political leaders, like our governors from different states and tribes, have not been seen wearing an outfit outside their tribal attire post-election. Instead, it is more common to see some Governors – old and new – clad in the best Italian-made suits and the wonders of the latest Nigerian fashion inventions and craftsmanship.

Then somehow those that attempted to be governors and President but didn’t make it disappeared like a flash, maybe to appear again just before 2023. I don’t see how they can do that without providing the kind of opposition needed now in the democratic system that we operate or have they all decamped to the ruling parties? They should bear in mind that a political structure without opposition may lead to dictatorship. It will take more than a few months of campaign close to the elections to really win over a nation. A quote that comes to mind to capture my thought is that of James Cash Penney, “Long-range goals keep you from being frustrated by short-term failures.” Campaigning should start from the moment an election ends in preparation for the next. Aspirants need to stay relevant and seen.

In a previous column titled “Beyond Buhari and Atiku,” I asked if we had enough time to produce a new generation of leaders after eight years of an administration like this. This is because, contrary to the current style for prospective leaders, emerging happens way before becoming presidential aspirants. Prospective leaders need to travel around the country to be seen and heard and serve in numerous capacities that will build their portfolios of a proven track record both in public and private sectors. I once read a profound statement in an opinion piece of a daily newspaper and it has stuck with me ever since.

The statement goes thus: “Love for one’s country is a primordial affection that does not hinge basically on anything substantial, simply an intangible essence with no physical substance, yet vicariously glorious.” The writer in that article was asking if Nigeria deserved our patriotism, explaining that Nigeria, over the years, has had a deficient and decadent political class and leadership elite that robbed the nation of its well-deserved chance to sport among its peers and superiors as an eminent member of the comity of nations, both in terms of development and prosperity for its citizens. Beyond Muhammadu Buhari and Atiku Abubakar lies our nation’s future, a future we need to seriously prepare for so that it won’t be a replica of the past. Millions of Nigerians are fed up with the status quo that only benefits the same select few over and over. Budding leaders will have a lot to deal with but, sadly, I fear 2019 might not be when they will start to clear this rot.

What these budding leaders need right now are mobilizers who will sensitize the people as well as ignite their passion for a revolution. These budding leaders also need funders that won’t demand kick-backs like the ‘Godfathers’. Funders from the people who would eagerly contribute towards a better nation like was done in America for Bernie Sanders. If these young vibrant people, tired of the rot in the nation, can come together, mobilize themselves and begin to sensitize the people towards thinking of a future without the present leaders, albeit a process that may still take some years, then Nigeria stands a chance of escaping the cycle of corruption and mismanagement that has plagued her for decades. I am aware that many of the aspirants received some heavy punches during the roadshow and were knocked out of the arena in some cases but they must stay around the political marketplace to recover and continue with the fight.

We must all remember that Mr President was knocked out as a military head of state but stayed outside the military for almost 30 years, knocked down so many times, before coming back to win the presidential election after his fourth attempt and now becoming President on his second and final term. If nothing else, we can learn to be persistent from him.

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