This is an extract from a longer piece published by The Cable and titled, “2019: Nigeria’s Emerging Political Leaders“. Reuben Abati is a columnist and former Special Adviser on Media and Publicity to President Goodluck Jonathan.
…He [my mechanic] came to see me the other day, full of excitement.
“Oga, it’s you I have come to see oh.” Typical Nigerian manner of speaking: you are right in front of me, and yet you still consider it necessary to announce your presence. Anyhow, I nodded affirmatively, already working out a response to a likely solicitation for money. It is school resumption time, and it is usual for people to go soliciting for help to pay children’s school fees in a country where basic education is so unaffordable.
“Oga, I have come to inform you that I am thinking of running for President.” I thought the guy was talking about the Presidency of the Mechanics Village Association. So, I brightened up. No, he meant President of Nigeria. I removed my eyeglasses and dropped my pen.
“President of Nigeria? How? Look, have you been drinking?”
“Oga, you know I am a Christian. I don’t drink. I am serious oh. I have been thinking about it for a while. I can do a better job. The way these people are running Nigeria, some of us have good ideas about what can be done. If we leave this Nigeria to these politicians, they will finish all of us. Anybody that likes this country should get involved.”
I paid attention to him.
“Oga, look at me, I can do it. We can do it. I have worked it out. By the grace of God, I will be the next President of Nigeria.”
I had known this mechanic for a while, but I never suspected he had very tall ambitions. I had not yet given him my honest opinion; he had already conscripted me. “We can do it”. We? Every Nigerian politician is an optimist, and the most optimistic are often the ones who don’t even stand a chance at the polls.
I pretended to be interested all the same; so he continued with his campaign.
“Oga, you know me. Am I a lazy man? No. I am not.” When people insist on answering their own questions the best you can do in the circumstance is to listen.
“What this country needs now is a mechanic, somebody who can take a look at a vehicle that is having problems, and fix it. We mechanics do that every day. When they bring a car to you, first you diagnose. What is wrong with the car? Why is it not functioning well, and then you go straight to the problem and fix it. Why can’t people fix Nigeria? If we mechanics were to behave like politicians, this whole country will be littered with broken down vehicles. In the hands of these politicians, Nigeria is broken. E be like say Nigeria don knock engine sef. I am the man who will fix that engine.”
“But nobody will give you any chance. Everybody will laugh and think you are joking.”
“I am not joking, Oga. What does it take to be President? I have done my homework. The only thing they are asking for is a WAEC certificate. I have my certificate ready and I can produce it to prove that I completed secondary school.”
“How many credits?”, I asked, trying to humour him.
“INEC does not ask for five credits. Even F9 parallel sef can be President of Nigeria. No be Nigeria?”
“But you don’t have the resources. You’d need a lot of money.”
“Oga, it is not about money. And if it is money, God will provide. Our Pastor in our church has been praying for me and God is speaking to us. When I become President, I will declare free education, free health and there will no lazy youth in Nigeria again!”
“Why don’t you start at a lower level. may be local government chairman, gain some experience.”
“Ha. Oga, Experience has shown that in Nigerian politics you don’t need experience. Who has experience helped? All those former Governors in the National Assembly, what kind of experience do they have? In fact, let me just say a lot of them go there to sleep and collect free money, travel free. I have seen their pictures. They go there to sleep. When some thugs stormed the place to steal the Mace, not one of them could stand up and protect the Mace. Lazy Senators. Only a woman, a sergeant at arms was courageous enough to challenge the Mace thieves. When I am President, nobody will dare steal the Mace. It won’t happen.”
I felt like telling him that there has been too much drama over the significance of the Mace in our legislatures. It is at best a ceremonial symbol. For a session of the legislature to be valid under the 1999 Constitution what is required is a quorum as defined under Section 54, but of course the kind of criminal conduct that was put up at the Senate, last week, is condemnable and should be investigated and all authors of that act of impunity must be sanctioned accordingly.
I didn’t say anything to him along these lines, rather I was more impressed by his passion, his determination to save Nigeria and arrest the drift. I was also struck by the fact that he is not the only Nigerian with such passion. There have been many of his kind, now active on social media, promoting a vision of Nigeria and insisting that they would be better materials for 2019.
The number of these aspiring Presidents keeps increasing everyday and while I consider some of their posters a bit curious and the candidates a bit unusual, taken together, the shared anxiety about the Presidency and who is best fit to lead Nigeria beyond 2019 says a lot about public expectations. There are online, video-tapes of a certain Aunty Monica, for example.
She is based in Europe and she wants to come home to be President, to bring investment and tourism to the country, and she says she has “ideas in her head.” I have also seen such banners as “Vote Iya Bayo for president, Aunti Ramota for Vice President”, and “PFANN: A new refreshing wind blowing over the nation. Get ready. Elishama 2019.”