We are in that season again when all sorts of salacious diagnoses are proffered to chart a way out of our national illness of underdevelopment. The impression is often given that what Nigeria needs is a superman, superimposed from above as a Deus-ex-machina device to wave the magic wand and transform the country to a land of abundance.
I don’t think we need a superman/woman. What we need is an ordinary Nigerian statesman with extraordinary pan-Nigerian vision. Once we manage to get that kind of person elected, the way government business is run will change for good. Even the way we think about each other will change when we see that our common Nigerian-ness is what defines our relationships, not tribe or religion or old school ties.
I have heard it said on social media that newspaper analysts are naive dreamers. But what would the world be without dreamers? While it is true that some dreams transmogrify into nightmares, shall we say we will no longer sleep again for fear of having nightmares? In the same vein, under the excuse that the society is too evil for the contemplation of ‘naive’ analysts who have no blood on their hands, shall we abandon the field to people without dreams, without vision, without ideals?
I have a video clip of a ‘dreamer’ who predicted 45 years ago that in the near future, a telephone and diary would be combined in a device small enough to fit into the pocket of one’s jacket. Many people laughed. Some joked that it was all a science fiction stunt. Today, the mobile phone is not just a phone but also a diary, calendar, postbox, television, telegram, camera, alarm system, stopwatch, calculator, library, dictionary, personal assistant , etc. The possibilities open to the holder of a mobile phone with the requisite apps are so wide that the question can be asked, what is a phone NOT?
We do ourselves incalculable damage when we give the impression that the art of statecraft is alien to our shores. For goodness sake, some of our kingdoms exchanged ambassadors with European countries centuries before insatiable greed turned the white man to a human trafficker. We had the equivalent of statesmen in our various kingdoms and communities who epitomised the Ubuntu philosophy, “I am because you are” — an affirmation of our oneness and common humanity.
If you pay attention to only the rabble-rousers who have been doing the media rounds and fouling the air of political discourse in recent times, you would think that we are a land of perpetually antagonistic tribes trapped between the Middle Ages and modernity. You would think we were incapable of rising above our primordial sentiments to aggregate our collective interests and strive to pursue the same.
If you consider the kind of system bequeathed to us by the military, in which one requires a university degree to join a company at the lowest grade but one may not even have a high school certificate to become president or governor, you would wonder what the drafters of those requirements smoked. But take a trip round this beautiful underachieving country and you’d be amazed at the number of politically perspicacious personages you’ll run into.
It is time for real statesmen to stand up and be counted. Nigeria now requires some of its most gifted children to step up to the plate. We can’t continue with this retrogressive saga of movement without motion. There is enough blame to go round if we want to engage in the blame game. The idea of rotating power between the North and the South is splendid because it will help national cohesion. However, we have reached a stage where we must insist that the door be closed to anyone who wants to villagise the presidency for the benefit of his tribe and cronies.
A statesman is defined as “an important and experienced politician, especially one who is widely known and respected”. He is so trusted that he can be a catalyst for monumental change in his country. He can, if so endowed, build a nation on the platform of his character.
The next president must be truly pan-Nigerian. If we have a president who wants to avenge what he perceives as the narrow-mindedness of his predecessor, on what moral high ground would he be standing? If a president cannot rise above narrow micro-nationalism to prosecute a truly national agenda, what makes him better than the bigoted landlord in the public service TV advert who would never rent his house to “people from Akamata”?
We need a president who will envision the whole of Nigeria as his primary constituency, the way Nelson Mandela, against all odds, fashioned a rainbow country out of an unjust apartheid system. The kind of statesmanship displayed by Mandela in using Rugby, the game identified with the oppressive white minority regime, as a tool to weld together the disparate peoples is the stuff of which legends are made.
Mandela had larger goals in mind when he decided to use Rugby to make a point. Many Blacks were shocked that he could patronise the oppressors’ game. But Mandela had risen above petty bitterness and made up his mind to use his presidency to unite the country rather than revenge the evil done to South African Blacks by the apartheid regime.
“We have adopted these young men as our boys, as our own children, as our own stars,” he told the nation during a visit to the Springbok training camp shortly before the start of the Rugby World Cup. “The country is fully behind them. I have never been so proud of our boys as I am now and I hope that that pride we all share.”
At the final match between South Africa and New Zealand, Mandela was dressed in what a Black critic could have called the hated green jersey of the ‘Springboks’. The effect: “The whole of South Africa erupted in celebration, Blacks as joyful as the whites,” wrote Martin Meredith in his biography, Mandela. “Never before had Blacks had cause to show such pride in the efforts of their white countrymen. It was a moment of national fusion that Mandela had done much to inspire.” No wonder, team captain Pienaar was to say later, “When the final whistle blew, this country changed forever”.
Imagine a Nigerian president who genuinely wants to bring the Nigerian people together through sports. The lowest hanging fruit is soccer. But have we ever mined it properly? Apart from opportunistic calls and promises when our youngsters are on the verge of achieving something beyond our imagination, have we ever devised a systematic set of steps to use the sport to unify the nation as Mandela did with Rugby? Nigerians come together of their own volition when the Super Eagles are playing. If a Statesman President can make them feel that way about him, his job is done.
There is nothing remarkable about the horde of sabre-wielding tribalists hiding under the cloak of region and religion to negotiate a place in the sun for themselves and their families post-2023. Take a look at many of those self-appointed regional loudmouths; they are professional appointees. They need to be sure of the next meal after the current administration. Their noise is but an old trick.
That is the more reason we need statesmen to rise to be counted now. When nations are in crisis, statesmen come together to unselfishly chart a path forward. It doesn’t take too much engineering to get Nigeria united. However, only statesmen can rise to the challenge, not professional politicians who specialise in lobbying or blackmailing their way into juicy appointments.
We are on the march again. This time, we must all be involved, high and low. However, this time around, we insist that real statesmen should take the front stage and run the show. I prefer statesmen consensus to elite consensus, even if both terms appear coterminous. If I may describe the kind of leader we need in prosaic terms, we need a man who believes in living for others.
Such a man will be a hero here and in the hereafter. As Pope Francis’ inspirational lines attest “The rivers donot drink their own water; the trees do not eat their own fruit; the sun does not shine on itself and flowers do not spread their fragrance for themselves. Living for others is a rule of nature. We are all born to help each other”.
I therefore demand: Will the real statesmen stand up, please!
- Wole Olaoye is a public relations consultant and veteran journalist. He can be reached on email@example.com, Twitter: @wole_olaoye; Instagram: woleola2021