By  Jideofor Chukwuemeka

After several years of trials with the democratic order without significant progress in all indices of development, Nigeria is yet at another trajectory. Another general election is around the corner. And the kind of leadership choices the electorate makes will determine whether the country will mark a sharp departure from its sordid past or continue with a dismal and decadent order that is sliding to the brink. Though there appears a wide gamut of consensus that the coming elections yet provide a defining opportunity for this country to get its acts right, those who hitherto profited from the old order seem not keen in having that be.

Before the emergence of the presidential candidates of the political parties, issues of competence in grappling with the worsening economic situation and power rotation had dominated political discourse. There was so much discussion and agitation for power shift. Southern governors across party lines had to convene a forum in which they unambiguously restated the case for power to move to the south at the end of the current regime.With the solidarity formed by the southern governors, it was envisaged that when power is eventually ceded to them by the political parties, they would, using the same criteria, determine which zone in the south most qualifies to take the turn. But that never happened.  When eventually the candidates of the parties emerged, the All Progressives Congress (APC) had Bola Tinubu from the South West as its candidate. The primaries of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) threw up Atiku Abubakar from the North East while Peter Obi from the South East emerged as the candidate of the Labour Party (LP). The New Nigeria Peoples Party (NNPP) threw up Rabiu Kwankwaso from the North West zone.

This is not exhaustive of the list as there are other candidates from other parties also jostling for the number one political office. Somehow, the four are considered top contenders to that political office. Even among the four, the candidates of the APC, PDP and LP in no particular order are rated top on the list of contenders. They have been traversing the country selling themselves to the electorate. All of them have things standing to their advantage. But one among the three, the LP candidate, Peter Obi who withdrew from the PDP presidential race to pitch tent with his new party has become a recurring issue in terms of his suitability for that high political office. The qualities that have been canvassed to his advantage include competence, character and credibility as well as the dictates of power balance and rotation. These attestations can be gleaned from the endorsements of groups and individuals from across the country.

The issue is not as much with the spate of endorsements as with the recurring sterling qualifications central to them all. A cursory appraisal of those making these endorsements highlights selflessness, conviction and great passion in the ability and capacity of the candidate for the nation’s topmost political office. For the purposes of this essay, this group will be labeled soldiers of conscience. And the reason will be self-evident as we progress.

The first group that was guided by the dictates of conscience, truth and equity in backing Obi for the presidency of the country is the foremost pan Yoruba socio-cultural association, the Afenifere. They did this irrespective of the fact that one of their sons, Bola Tinubu is the flag bearer of the party in power, the APC. Giving reasons why the Afenifere is supporting Obi, its leader, Ayo Adebanjo, said the Yoruba had taken the first turn of the zoning of the presidency in 1999 with the emergence of Obasanjo. The current president is a Fulani from the North West and by the zoning arrangement that governed Nigeria since 1999, power is supposed to return to the south. “The South West has produced a president and currently sits as vice president; the South-South has spent six years in the presidency and now power is back to the south, equity demands that it be ceded to the Igbo” He further contended that we “cannot continue to demand that the Igbo people remain in Nigeria while we at the same time continue to brutally marginalize and exclude them from the power dynamics”. That is not all. Adebanjo said Obi is the candidate from Igbo extraction they trust to restructure Nigeria back to federalism. In other words, apart from the issue of balance and equity, the Afenifere also trusts in the competence of Obi to lead the country alright. This also admits the fact that Obi is not the only person from the Igbo extraction in the current presidential race.

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The argument based on equity and balance without sacrificing merit as ably canvassed by the Afenifere leader is clearly unassailable. Adebanjo’s analysis stands as impeccable syllogism in its finest form. The group has made its point and history will record them fairly. The rest is left for the electorate. Enter Olusegun Obasanjo, a former president of this country and by all standards a foremost patriot and statesman. Obasanjo, who always stands to be counted when things are going wrong in this country, also undertook a personal assessment of the presidential candidates of the parties. What did he find?  He came up with a list of qualities which he said a suitable presidential candidate should possess. 

Such a person must have “a track record of ability and performance; a vision that is authentic, honest and realistic; character and attributes of a lady and a gentleman who are children of God” He said none of the contestants is a saint. “But when one compares their character, antecedents, their understanding, knowledge, discipline and vitality that they can bring to bear and the great efforts required to stay focused on the job, particularly looking at where the country is today and with the experience on the job I personally had, Peter Obi as a mentee has an edge” Obasanjo went metaphoric when he likened Peter Obi to a needle with a thread attached to it and called on the Nigerian youths to vote for him. You may not like Obasanjo’s guts but he is undoubtedly one Nigerian that is very passionate for the country to make a sharp break from its sordid leadership pasts. He has become the conscience of this country and Nigeria can afford to ignore his advice at a great risk. He saw danger coming in 2015 and asked the then president Jonathan to dismount from the horse. He came out strongly to work against the ambition of Jonathan because he believed power should return to the north after Jonathan’s regime. But all his entreaties fell on deaf ears. He had wanted Jonathan to support the emergence of a moderate presidential candidate of northern extraction in the PDP.  In apparent frustration, he tore his PDP party card. Had Jonathan listened to him, this country may have been saved from the crass mismanagement of the national economy; mismanagement of our diversities and the scorching insecurity that have combined to severely challenge the authority of the state. Obasanjo saw the future then. He is at it again!

Another relevant position is that of a civil rights activist, Aisha Yesufu. Though she has come to identify with the movement to have Obi as the president, her antecedents make her views still very relevant. In a television interview, she said “When it comes to the issue of competence, character and capacity; there is no contest; Peter Obi has it” Perhaps, the most important issue she raised was that many people in the APC and PDP will vote for Obi in the coming elections. By this, she is referring to card carrying members of the two parties. That assertion cannot be wished away even as most voters are not card carrying members of any political party. She has made her point which is in consonance with the opinions of most Nigerians.

The ball is now in the court of the Nigerian electorate. They are to make a choice having had the credentials of the candidates presented before them. They have a choice between candidates accusing each other of all manner of corruption and one that is free of such allegations. It is time for the youths to show clear understanding of the route to the country’s greatness and what is required to actualize it. They must rise above parochial and selfish attachments to retrieve the country from the rot into which it has been consigned by amateur, uninspiring and recycled leadership. This is the defining moment and the choices we make, will chart the course for the future.

Chukwuemeka writes from Lagos