Saturday, May 9, 2009

Dele Momodu and the 'Nigerian Obama'

Following the emergence of Barack Obama as the first US Afro-American President, Nigerians home and abroad are now desperately seeking an Obama who can deliver the much desired change that is needed in our beloved country. The search for the ‘Nigerian Obama’ has also now become a common slogan within the society. Many political commentators and media columnists have also joined the bandwagon in searching for the ‘Nigerian Obama’. But what most of them fail to highlight is the difference in the nature of the system that brought President Barack Obama into stardom, and that of Nigeria.

It was therefore interesting to read Mr Dele Momodu 4-week marathon article in the Pendulum column of Thisday Newspaper titled ‘The Search for Our Own Obama”. Like many people, I followed this article with great interest, trying to understand the perspective Mr Momodu was coming from. For me, the need for a Nigerian Obama is a no brainer, but the question still remains, how this so-called Obama will be able to take over the leadership of a nation with an endemic corrupt system. In arguing the case for the Nigerian Obama, political and social commentators often lose the focus of current discourse.

Mr Momodu’s in his article mentioned several notable names, who he described as a ‘potential’ Obama. He also provided an analysis on the reasons why some of these Obamas may never realise their potentials, even though according to him, they have all it takes to deliver ‘change’ to the Nigerian society. Some of the names mentioned include, Nasir El-Rufai, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Donald Duke, Babatunde Fashola, Fola Adeola, Oby Ezekwesili, Dora Akunyili, Pat Utomi and Buba Marwa.

I agree with Mr Momodu that many of these individuals have been tried and tested in the political scene. Some have also demonstrated good leadership qualities in their chosen profession. However, I believe that the search for the ‘Nigerian Obama’ should not be limited to any individual or group of people. I have no doubt in my mind that in a country of 150 million, whether we have somebody of Barack Obama’s quality is not the issue. I can tell you that for one Dora Akunyili, there are other one million and one other Akunyilis, who will even perform better if given an opportunity.

Rather than been narrow minded and singing the praise of few individuals either because of their success in politics or business, we should be clamouring for a ‘corrupt-free’ system that will encourage the ‘Nigerian Obama’ to come out from the closet. For me to mention the names of few individuals as potential Obama is somewhat patronising. The truth of the matter is most of these people will never venture to contest for political positions because they know quite well that the Nigerian electoral system is as corrupt as it can get. I need not to remind you of how some of these individuals have been hounded out office just because they tried to reform a corrupt system. Can we imagine a political contest that includes all the mentioned names? How interesting will it be to see Raji Fashola, Dora Akunyili, and Pat Utomi all contesting the Presidential elections under different political platforms? I can assure that if the system is fair and transparent, they will be many Obamas seeking political positions across all tiers of government.

We need to remember that Barack Obama was not the first afro-american to seek the post of US President. I’m sure we can all remember Rev. Jesse Jackson’s political adventure. Also, Barack Obama became the fifth black Senator in 2004. If Jesse Jackson was hounded in late 1980’s, which hope will it have given to the likes of Barack Obama. If Barack Obama was rigged out of the Senatorial election in 2004, do you think he would have contested the US Presidential elections? The point I’m making is, western democracies operate a political system that is fair and transparent. An average man on the streets of America or Europe knows that his votes count. He knows that his votes will not be collated at Police Stations. He knows that the election will be conducted by people of integrity, who will not bow to undue pressure from anyone.

Also, Barack Obama did not belong to the group of Washington elites. He did not emerge from the political ruling class, neither was he one of their favourites. He never held political appointment prior contesting for the position of President. However in Nigeria of today, you either have to belong to class of the political elites or have a political godfather in order to win elections. You need have been seen in the corridor of power before seeking leadership positions. You need to align yourself with the ruling party in order to secure political victory, because of the benefit of using the state machinery to rig elections..

For me, it is the system that has failed us in producing our own Obama. For example, how can an Obama emerge within a democratic structure that promotes mediocrity through meaningless principles of federal character? If elections into the White House were based on federal character, I believe Barack Obama will not even smell the streets of Washington. The discussion should be about how the system can be reformed. While I do not have a straight answer for that, I want to believe it will be a huge challenge. It is not surprising that the current political elites are not interested in changing the system. How do you expect someone to change the system from which he has benefitted immensely- albeit in a corrupt manner? This is one of the major fundamental problems with the Yar’Adua government. While President Yar’Adua accepts that the election that brought him into government was fraudulent, it is impossible for him to undertake any sincere electoral reform, as his political party is likely to be biggest casualty of such reforms.

In whatever way this reform is achieved, one is certain. We need a wholesale review of our constitution. The review should not be about meaningless issues such as state creation. We need a constitution that will promote transparency and fairness in our electoral system. We need a constitution that will promote a system of governance that will enhance our democratic values. We need an electoral system that will make every vote count. We need an electoral system that will give confidence to the Nigerian Obama that he will not be rigged out of an electoral contest. Until we realise these facts, we may still be searching for the Obama in 30 years time.

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