Bisi Daniels, Email: email@example.com
As the final presidential aspirants emerge it is perhaps right to ask why anyone would want to become president of Nigeria. Dumb question: of course, they want to loot, some people may say. That may be too simplistic.
In fairness to the aspirants, if the gates of Aso Rock are thrown open to all Nigerians, not everybody would want to lead a crisis-infested country. A former President once said he received reports of dozens of fresh critical issues from across the country every day. I hear my critics ask, “Do the presidents truly care about the issues; how come living conditions have been in the reverse gear for decades?”
Aside from the fact not everybody wants to lead at that level, not all those who desire to do so are naturally wired to be heads of state. Life is about being the best in one’s gift field. Some people are at their best in the background.
Sorry, last week’s piece on the Diaspora Professionals was planned to have a follow-up. Moreso, it appeared to have blown open the thick veil over a silent hostility between home-based and the Diaspora professionals. Unfortunately it has been pushed a week foward by the currency of today’s subject.
I do believe that there are honest politicians who want to lead and are endowed to do so for all the good reasons. At that, I see people throwing my words about poor leadership qualities in Africa back at me, but there are always spikes from averages.
The same continent that produced Robert Mugabe, and Ben Ali of Tunisia, produced Nelson Mandela. And the fact that he may be an exception does not make him less African.
Let me agree with my critics that US President Barack Obama is a Blackman to use his example. Even when Bishop Eddie Long of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church wondered how a Blackman could become a US President in the prevailing circumstances that disfavoured Blacks then, Obama replied that God had said he would win.
Sounds familiar in Nigeria, where every presidential aspirant makes the same claim. For Obama, he also had a clear vision of his presidency right from time. In a letter to his daughters to explain why he was sacrificing his presence with them during the campaigns, President Barack Obama said repeatedly that he wanted every child to have the same chances to learn, to be cared for, to dream and to thrive as his girls have.
On patriotism, President Obama wrote that America was not great because it was perfect but because America could be made better, and that the unfinished work of perfecting America is the responsibility of each and every American. Oh yes, this is applicable to Nigeria too.
In advanced democracies, the job of president is about service and seen as a thankless one. Although no US President is considered poor, on the job they make and wield power and not wealth. They make more money after their term through consultancies, speaking engagements and memoirs.
There, presidents wield so much power and influence across the world, but they age and shrink fast from the constant stress and near impossible schedules they run. They are blamed for nearly every problem in their countries; and they are judged by their looks, their speech and actions that must always be above board. So powerful, yet they are so lonely in bubbles they are kept for their own safety.
They seem to be under constant criticism and attack from the opposition and are butts of daily jokes and cartoons in the media. In effective democracies with high accountability, all that count because perception matters as much as reality.
Yet, in deluge of challenges, they have to be focused and committed to serving their people – ensuring that the people are better off in their living conditions. Failure to do so is punished heavily at the polls.
In Africa, Nigeria inclusive, presidents don’t age or shrink that fast. Rather, they are fattened on the job and have bulging foreign bank accounts. Wielding absolute power and armed with the ability to enrich or impoverish people, they are too big to serve their people, or even care about them – they are served and feared. Of course, they can’t be bothered about elections because they can’t lose, and there is always an army of sycophants and political jobbers to cheer them on.
With that, asking why anyone would want to become a president in Africa truly looks like a dumb question. But in spite of this grim picture of leadership, I want to believe that, there are politicians with sincerity of purpose, to use their popular cliché. Ruling Nigeria well is tough. But even from among the current presidential aspirants, I believe there are some with selfless and virtuous intentions.
The problem is that, it looks like the system was never intended to serve anyone other than those who control it; and no one can succeed if they put the needs of the have-nots before the whims of the haves, or more accurately, the have-mores.
Otherwise with the enormity of the current developmental challenges facing Nigeria, and the poverty rate which has grown progressively over years, only a leader committed to changing the system to favour the people and serving selflessly deserves to rule. If votes are going to count as promised, the choice is for voters to make - by voting right and protecting their votes.
Gabrielle’s Chances in Nigeria
I don’t have much space this week, but I have to write this for reasons that will be obvious presently. Tucson and even the capital of the state, Phoenix, are so remote in global geo-politics that for ease of identification, every location in the state is simply called Arizona. Worse, Tucson is the less popular of the two. So when in 1994 a colleague, Utibe, and I had a four-week US sponsored attachment programme at the Arizona Daily Star in Tucson, we felt we were lost. We were scared when someone whispered during an evening in Washington DC that the place was so remote and uncivilised, there could be cannibals there.
Of course, that was wrong. Although the modest skyline nearly confirmed my fears as our plane approached the airport, Tucson, wasn’t that bad. With a metropolitan population of over one million, it is home to the University of Arizona which, with the Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, drives its development.
In spite of that, the city was too laid back by US standards. That was the city in which U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords was shot through the head at point-blank range on January 8, 2011. I was watching TV when the news broke and I watched every bit of it.
Gabrielle was having a meeting with her constituents when the suspect, a 22-year-old, Jared Lee Loughner, shot her at that close range and proceeded to shoot 18 others, six of them fatally: (A hard lesson for those who incite political violence).
Medical evacuation was almost prompt but initial reports were that Gabrielle had died. In fact when one part of me said she may not have died, I wondered where in Tucson someone shot at close range in the head could be saved. I thought about Phoenix, but I feared it was way too far, 188 kilometres away. It appeared I was only thinking with my Nigeria experience – all serious medical cases must be flown out of the country.
Gabrielle was flown to the University Medical Centre in Tucson, a few minutes away, and she is being treated there. Within 38 minutes, she was put into a chemically-induced coma and underwent emergency surgery where skull bone fragments and a small amount of necrotic brain tissue was extracted by doctors. Part of her skull was removed to prevent further brain damage caused by swelling.
On January 12, President Barack Obama visited Gabrielle at the medical centre and publicly stated in an evening memorial ceremony that she had "opened her eyes for the first time" that day. By last Sunday, she was breathing on her own.
All that is happening in Tucson, which is not even a state capital! Of course, medicare is more advanced in the US, but pray, could the lawmaker have survived in Abuja or Lagos? With all the oil money, it still baffles me why we still don’t have a modern, best-in-class hospital or two in the country. Of course, I am sure to get the defence mechanism that the US is over 200 hundred years old as a nation, but for goodness sake, wheels are not invented anymore. After all Globacom is a Nigerian company in Nigeria. Facilities already abound for accelerated development if we truly need them. We don’t have to manufacture the facilities used to save Gabrielle. They are available in the market.
Now look at this: a Nigerian president is seriously ill, he goes to Saudi Arabia for treatment, only to return worse off. Last November, Saudi King Abdullah was ill and guess where he was treated. The 85-year-old Sultan successfully underwent back surgery at New York Presbyterian Hospital. He underwent surgery at the same hospital in New York in February 2009 for an undisclosed illness and spent nearly a year abroad.