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Olu Onemola: The Nigerian Presidency and the Unprepared Presidents



By Olu Onemola

“The easiest way to become Nigeria’s President is by not wanting the job in the first place.”

The acquisition of Presidential power in Nigeria has always followed a particular pattern: all Nigerian Presidents have been people that were first chosen by the elite or circumstance — not people that actively campaigned for the job. Additionally, all Nigerian Presidents have been propelled to power by other people’s resources — not their own.

Our current President, Muhammadu Buhari, was chosen by the amalgamated interests and individuals that formed the APC to unseat Jonathan in 2015 — this was after he decided that he would never run again. He was recalled into politics by political interests that knew that he could defeat an incumbent.

Goodluck Jonathan, who served as our President from 2010 to 2015, was ‘chosen’ by the death of President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua. Interesting enough, he too apparently did not want to become Vice-President — as he had just won his election as the Governor of Bayelsa state.

President Yar’Adua was chosen by Obasanjo in 2007 — even though he only wanted to go back into academia and focus on his health after serving as Governor of Katsina State.

President Obasanjo was chosen in 1999 to pacify the Southwest and ‘inherit’ Chief MKO Abiola’s June 12th mandate after Nigeria returned to democracy — although both men never saw eye-to-eye.

Interim President Shonekan was chosen by the self-styled ‘Military President’, Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida (IBB) in 1993 — when IBB was ‘forced’ to resign. We all know how this story ended with General Sani Abacha, who was Shonekan’s Defense Minister, actualizing the “leaving a hungry wolf to guard a naive sheep” analogy.

President Shehu Shagari, the 1st democratically-elected President of Nigeria in 1979, only wanted to become a Senator. However, he was chosen as a sort of ‘consensus’ candidate by the powers in the National Party of Nigeria (NPN) to go up against the notable Yusuf Maitama Sule — who was the clear front runner and people’s favorite.

Sule — who clearly wanted the job, was on track to win the NPN nomination on the night before the primaries, however, the special interests, acting on behalf of Shagari — not necessarily with his consent— told the delegates that Maitama Sule had stepped down. According to a former Secretary of NPN in Kano State, Dahiru Yahaya, the elite special interests moved against the ‘Servants Son,’ Sule, because he was considered too independent and he was not beholden to anyone.

This pattern in Nigeria shows that: presidential power is not earned by antecedents; it is given by the endorsement of a group of elite. We have had leaders that have been ‘forced’ into the Presidency by other interested parties, and Nigeria is yet to elect a President that worked hard to get the job. Furthermore, Nigeria is yet to elect a President that has primarily spent his (or her) resources on becoming the President.

With the special interests always controlling the options — in the dominant parties, our choices for who to vote for as our President has always been limited to the options provided by the inherent special interests. Hence, ordinary Nigerians play with the cards that the special interests deal in general elections.

With this pattern as a guide, the early angling and posturing for 2023 is useless. Our next President most likely does not know that he or she will be called upon to serve.



Olu Onemola is a student of political history and an independent communications consultant. He tweets @OnemolaOlu

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