Eke Agbai writes that the country needs a broad-minded leader

We cannot avoid suffering, but we can choose how to cope with it, find meaning in it and move forward with renewed purpose and hope. The victim in a qualified situation of distress, pain, anguish or indeed deprivation, being rational can make a conscious and conscientious decision to walk away from the established cause of misery. These preceding paragraph from Viktor E. Frankl’s “MAN’S SEARCH FOR MEANING“, sets forth both the tone and context of the foregoing discourse.

When in 2015 Buhari asked Nigerians to vote for him and give him a chance to fix the problems which Jonathan failed to do, the issue was not who caused the problems but who can come and fix the problems: of poor governance, corruption, lack of infrastructural development, Boko Haram , cattle herdsmen and the attendant killings, excessive poverty and its concomitant hunger across the land. Nigerians wanted a new leader who could salvage the situation and extricate us from the shackles of poverty. Many commentators reminded us of Buhari’s antecedent when he was Head of State from 1983-1985. Their recollections were not faulty, but I had a different take then. As one who believes in the existence of the Supreme whom we Christians call God, I believe in redemption. My argument then was let’s give Buhari another chance. I thought the passage of time, maturity and spiritual growth could combine to make him a changed man. A man with compassion, love for all Nigerians irrespective of tribe, region, religion and creed. I thought the passage of time gave him the broad-mindedness to be an all-inclusive leader. I thought he would view all of us (Igbo, Yoruba, Hausa, Fulani, Ijaw, Tiv, South-South) from the prism of one Nigeria. I called for his support. I canvassed for him. I recall with sadness my heated debate with former minister of Niger Delta Elder Peter G. Erubebe over Buhari vs. Jonathan. In retrospect, my theory about redemption of Buhari turned out wrong.

To be sure, Buhari as an individual is not corrupt, at least no evidence to the contrary. He is not extravagant, not given to ostentatious lifestyles. But by way of analogy, Buhari’s case has become that of a man who claims not to eat alligator meat but enjoyed the soup cooked with it such that he licked his fingers to the consternation of those sitting around. He may not be an accomplice but benefits from the proceeds. People after his election pointed at those corrupt and evil people around him. I gave him the benefit of doubt, because I felt his association with them was occasioned by political exigencies and doctrine of necessity of coalition as a sine qua non to winning the election. I also thought he would exclude them from governance. After six months without appointing his cabinet, I knew “wahala dey”. As the days progressed, worst still, we now hear his party chairman turning the party into a safe haven for the corrupted where all their sins are forgiven. And indeed, the clarion call was heeded. We saw ex- Governors and government officials alike running to meet our President in London and other locations, where they engaged in total genuflection. Their sins forgiven. Akpabio is not the only person. We saw others on trial for massive looting of states’ funds, their sins not only forgiven but the President’s party even gave them ticket to seek office. I am at pain. My friends look at me derisively. Accomplice or not, he is a beneficiary of the proceeds of corruption if not an accessory.

Let me in passing give this piece of advice to our dear President Buhari: you can still salvage your real or perceived reputation as a dictator before the world. If you lose this election as I predict you will, if it is conducted in free, fair and credible manner, simply announce to the world that you have accepted the outcome and will respect the result of INEC. That singular action if taken, will earn you immediate international recognition and inclusion in the league of world ex-democratic leaders. What you couldn’t achieve through good governance during your tenure, you will get in defeat. Your own accolade will be louder than your predecessor’s. That is wisdom emanating from an abstract strategic thinking.

Today Nigeria is at a cross-road, the rate of killings across the country by the Fulani herdsmen is alarming and we see state security agencies protecting these killers. We now have a divided Nigeria, but we can do better than this. I was born in Lagos, I am a proud Igbo man and I draw many of my friends from the North, South-west and South-South. I thought I was coming to see the end of being called a “Yamiri” and concluding derisively about the Igbos’ quest for money. I thought I was coming to the point where my northern friends will not be dismissed as bad people only because Igbos see them as “Aboki”; where my Yoruba brothers and sisters will not be accused wrongly of hating Igbo people and verse versa. But the division has widened now, fuelled by the inability of this regime to find a resolution to the problem facing us.

So, this 2019 election is not about APC, PDP and any other political parties. For me, this election must be about individuals and their records. I have said it before and even at the risk of repetition, I don’t dislike Buhari as a man, but it is disheartening to see how he has allowed his President’s men to destroy his legacy and a chance to change his image of 1983-1985. I gave him this second chance, it’s obvious he is incapable of changing. Buhari has let me down. I am a victim. He failed me. But I still respect him as our father and president.

The question on the lips is: Who is the alternative now for Nigerians?

Almost three decades ago, I was involved in an academic research on the popular success idea behind leadership culture of Nigerian pioneer leaders, with special focus on Northern leaders. This study was provoked after what Professor Dan Richie (President cum Pro-chancellor) University of Denver- DU, Denver Colorado USA- my alma mater) described as one of the most impressive state visits to the White House by an African leader. Prof Richie was referring to the state visit of Prime Minister Tafawa Balewa of Nigeria. In 1961, Prime Minister Balewa visited President John F. Kennedy, in what many scholars and historians have described as one of the best state visits by any African Head of State, except Nelson Mandela. In brevity, the basic findings of our study were that, what brought the success, popularity, charismatic culture and near mythical profile of old northern leaders was their deliberate focus on formation of character, ethics and development of set principles/values like integrity, fidelity, courage, compassion, responsibility, justice, service, humility, altruism and veracity. These enduring values were the hallmarks of their success. This explains why they enjoyed popular general acceptance and loyalty by their people and high recognition and accolades in terms of how they were regarded by others outside their region. Easterners for example, who lived there in the 40s, 50s and shortly before the infamous Nigeria civil war will attest to this. Even after the war, Igbos relished how their northern neighbours gave them back their abandoned properties. History they say is incomplete when only the bad side is told to the exclusion of the good side. People often choose bad narrative of history. Many of our northern brethren are good.

Today, following many societal forces and the atrophying of our cherished core values, there is a paradigm shift from that character ethics to what I will call the anomie of personality ethics by present day northern leaders, who now focus, like their counterparts in the South, on narrow parochial self-serving pursuits of style, image, posturing, ostentatious indulgence characterized by pronounced interest in excessive self-aggrandizement at the expense of the common man. The noticeable agitation by the downtrodden in the north against their current leaders today which has eroded public confidence in the new progressive of highly educated younger generation is simply because there is emphasis on appearing ‘to be’, rather than ‘to truly be’ by these present-day northern leaders. Imagine how Sadauna, Aminu Kano, Balewa etc will feel if they were alive today. Their legacy appears to have been tainted by their successors in a labyrinth of amnesia leaving their posterity in the doldrums of misery.

This brings me to ATIKU and why we must consider him as the best alternative to replace Buhari. ATIKU is not a puritan by any means. He is not a messiah. He is not holier than thou. He has made his share of mistakes. Let’s get these points out of the way. But I am a strong believer in redemption. I believe in giving people a second chance. I did with Buhari as I stated earlier.

I see ATIKU as a man who has gone through series of political and spiritual tutelages, anchored on core fundamental values and principles. He started his political apprenticeship with late General Shehu Yar’Adua. After that came the great African Legend and one of most intellectually busy and cerebral Nigerian leaders, our venerable President Olusegun Obasanjo. In those encounters, Atiku learned a lot and also made mistakes. He is human, perfection is beyond human attainment. Mistakes help to build character and accumulate experience. What Nigeria and Nigerians need now is a leader who has the broad-mindedness to be all-inclusive and treat us all as one. A leader like Atiku, who will help destroy the prevailing erroneous impression and fear that most Fulani people are about the conquest of other parts of Nigeria and its islamization. And I refuse to embrace this narrative because it is not supported by empirical facts. Now we have another Fulani call Atiku, if he succeeds in uniting us, as I believe he would, history will vindicate those like me who believe in the goodness of all mankind, Fulanis alike.

The first test of a presidential candidate is usually the choice of a running mate. No reasonable person in Nigeria today who is privy to Governor Peter Obi’s governance records and antecedent will argue against his selection. Obi is a man with integrity, character, conservative principles, has astute knowledge of the economy and what it will take to move the nation forward. A man who keeps reading, believes in the acquisition of new ideas and information/knowledge. ATIKU himself understands the imperatives of market forces, capitalist principles in the contemporary concept of globalization and the new world order. ATIKU knows how to grow business, create wealth and jobs. These are not stories. Even with the mistakes he has made, he now knows ‘man shall not live by bread alone’. He has a chance to redeem himself and, in the process, resuscitate our economy in comatose.

Time and reflections have taught Atiku that great men are not remembered because of the wealth they made on earth but how their lives impacted others and humanity. He cannot afford to squander this last chance. He is 70 years. How he wants to be remembered lies in this opportunity to become president and in so doing use the office to correct, amend and write his name on the sands of time. ATIKU must bring Nigeria at par with other comity of nations.

Nigerian foreign policy must be redefined to be dictated by core national economic interest. This paradigm shift is necessary to meet the challenges of unfolding new global alignments. A shift that recognizes yes, we are a regional influencer, but a policy of Nigeria first must take precedent. For too long we have given so much to other African countries and received little in return. We need an ATIKU who sees the inevitability of a strategic investment in human capital development in new areas of study like artificial intelligence, robotic science and entrepreneurship. We are in a knowledge based global economy. Atiku must create an intellectual task force who will travel around the world recruiting conscious future leaders of Nigeria. Bring them together and form a strategic alignment of like minds. Let them think, create/develop and bring forth ideas to solve our problem. The Chinese are doing it. This is no rocket science.

In making a strong case why Atiku should be our next president, I see the presence of three indices that define a modern true leader. These indices are what Aaron Miller call the 3Cs: Crisis, Character and Capacity. It is the presence of these 3Cs that brought the success story of those two great leaders (Shehu Yar’Adua and Olusegun Obasanjo) who mentored Atiku Abubakar. Atiku has imbibed these 3Cs and this explains why he enjoys the popular general acceptance, recognition and support everywhere he goes. It’s this unique humility and acceptance of responsibility for his mistakes that led to that highly celebrated reconciliation between him and Obasanjo; his acceptance by ndi Igbo, his acceptance by the South-South and South-West. More importantly and of significance is the broad acceptance by his own northern people. I listened to Sheikh Dr. Ahmad Abubakar Gumi, one of the few religious leaders I hold in the highest esteem, speak truth to power. He admonished this religiously inspired violence and said, “we can either build this future together or no future to build”. Him like other leaders have called on our dear father and President Buhari to quit at the end of this term. Sheikh Gumi, IBB, Sultan, many northern Governors, northern leaders’ forum and elders are not supporting Atiku because they hate Buhari. On the contrary, they want Buhari to have a chance to depart with honour and dignity because his approach to leadership is not in tandem with what will bring about universal peace, unity and harmony in Nigeria today. The nation is divided. There is so much fear. People are hungry. They take from the needy and give to the greedy. Yet they claim they are fighting corruption. It’s an oxymoron to be fighting corruption and have the nation and people enmeshed in this oasis of poverty.

As Winston Churchill said, “when great forces are on the move in the world, we learn we are spirits … not animals” and he said, “there is something going on in time and space, and beyond time and space, which, whether we like it or not, spells duty”

ATIKU and Nigerians are in a rendezvous with destiny.

The assembly of these forces are not by accident. Even the gods support this cause. Electing this alternative call ATIKU must be seen as a Nigerian PROJECT. It’s not about PDP, it’s not about APC, it’s not Fulanis, it’s not about Igbo, Hausa, Yoruba, Ijaw, Tiv and all other ethnic nationalities, this is about standing up for a true change that is good. This is beyond the NEXT LEVEL. Posterity will not forgive us if we don’t see this and do this collectively as a NIGERIAN PROJECT.

The election of 2019 is going to be won and lost not on party lines. Electorates will vote along individual lines. Nigerians please vote candidates, not parties. If you see a credible and good candidate in APC, PDP, APGA and any party contesting for governor, senate, House of Representatives, state house etc, please vote for that person. But let’s us all be united across all parties to vote for ATIKU ABUBAKAR. He is our best chance to reunite and become one United Nigerian Family again. Together he will lead us with Peter Obi to chart a new progressive course for the Nigeria that can be. And when he wins, he will be making a grievous mistake to think he must govern with all those people following him now. Those who help win elections in developed world are not all those who must help in governance. To be sure, gratitude and loyalty must be shown to those who helped you win. Nigerians are watching. Many of those following him about today have records that are not in reconciliation and alignment with the face of a new governance system Nigerians are yearning.

It is my sense from all the people I have spoken to in Washington the President Trump’s administration is looking favourably forward to having a mutually beneficiary relationship with the Atiku administration if he wins. This is also true with No.10 Downing Street of the Prime Minister May’s administration. As a pathological optimist, I know it is within the prospect of reality to make Nigeria great again because as Rene Descartes reminded us “Cogito ergo sum” – I think, therefore I am. My fellow Nigerians the time is NOW to think.

Dr Agbai, Executive VP, Center for Policy & Foreign Engagement, wrote from USA

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