The emergence of Atiku Abubakar as the northern consensus candidate for the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) presidential primaries has been attended by much controversy. It generated widespread comments from a cross section of the Nigerian pubic. Most of these comments were uncomplimentary, and sometimes, detracting. He has been denigrated for being too old, that at 64, he should retire from politics and make way for a younger generation of leaders. There were remarks about his being very corrupt, and that a case is pending against him in the United States of America, and that as the president of Nigeria, he would not be allowed entry into the United States of America.
While the object of this writing is not to hold briefs for Atiku Abubakar, I must categorically state that a 64-year-old man is not too old to be the president of Nigeria. Ronald Reagan was 69 years old when he became the president of the United States of America, and Winston Churchill became the British Prime Minister at 65 years old. While youthfulness is magnificent, it is not a necessary prerequisite for good leadership. Age does not impede leadership capabilities, up until that point when it becomes associated with senility and other forms of incapacity.
Nigerians keep expecting a power shift from the old to the youth. It is blatant naivetÃ© to expect that this power shift will result from an altruistic handover of power by the elderly to the young. Nobody can give you power freely. Mao Zedong once wrote that â€œpower flows from the barrel of gun.â€ His maxim was apt in the strife-ridden early 20th century China but not in a democracy where power â€œflowsâ€ from the free expression of the peopleâ€™s willâ€“ through the ballot box. But, even the struggle for power through the ballot box is not for the weak-minded, irresolute and ingenuous. It still demands guts, backbone and guile. A onetime president of the United States of America, Richard Nixon, was making the same point when he wrote that power is not for everybody. It is not for the nice guy next door because it takes a unique kind of man to win the struggle for power.
So, a youthful generation of Nigerian leaders will emerge when the Nigerian youth can politically dislodge the old guards and wrest power from them. For example, a young Barack Obama emerged as the president of the United States of America not because there was a humane, philanthropic resolution among older American politicians to allow a transfer of power to the younger generation of politicians, but because he triumphed in the struggle for power. In the Democratic Party primaries, he defeated politicians who were older than him. And in the presidential election, he also defeated John McCain who was 69 years old.
It is possible for a democratically elected Nigerian president to reform Nigeria into a democracy buttressed by high moral values and ethical standards, rule of law, social justice and efficient and responsive institutions without being a friend of the American government or having any need to travel to America. Therefore, my issue with the presidential candidates in the upcoming presidential election is not their acceptability to the American government but what they are bringing to the office of the presidency: knowledge, experience, character, sound political programmes and, above all, commitment to public service.
Human behaviour is driven by interests, be them personal, group, religious, ideological. And democratic politics is resolution of human interests. Therefore, there is absolutely nothing wrong with the resolution of the conflicting personal political ambitions of four northern politicians into a northern consensus candidate.
That successful endeavour at consensus building foreshadows a number of advantages for the Nigerian democratic process. For one, its approach differed significantly from earlier PDP modus operandi. It was not done in the usual PDP militaryâ€“like fiat, and the candidate was not determined and imposed by a bunch of self-serving godfathers. The internal workings of the PDP are undemocratic and sometimes dictatorial. The method used in choosing the PDP presidential candidate for the 2007 election was authoritarian. All the presidential contenders were browbeaten into withdrawing their candidacies to pave way for the godfathersâ€™ preferred candidate. Refreshingly, the northern consensus candidacy was determined by consultation, extensive, dispassionate consultation, by a neutral group working for the collective good of the North, and by extension, Nigeria.