Except they have made up somehow, one would hardly be exaggerating to say there is no love lost between President Muhammadu Buhari and Gen. Ibrahim Babangida. It was Babangida who overthrew Buhari in a palace coup on August 27, 1985 and kept him in detention for months. If there has been confusion in the “letters” purportedly written by Babangida, suggesting that Buhari should not seek re-election in 2019, such a confusion might have arisen from Babangida not being too sure what others would make of his motive. There might have been those who would want to know if he was speaking on behalf of the beleaguered people of Nigeria, or just seizing upon an atmosphere of discontent to continue with an historical grudge.
Be that as it may, Babangida’s call for “digital leadership” agitates the mind. Hear the General, “In 2019 and beyond, we should come to a national consensus that we need new breed leadership with requisite capacity to manage our diversities and jumpstart a process of launching the country on the super highway of technology-driven leadership in line with the dynamics of modern governance. It is short of saying enough of this analogue system…”
Babangida seems obsessed, rather rhetorically, with the notion of a new breed leadership. In June 1987, in the process of his failed transition programme, he banned those he considered to be old breed politicians from participating in politics for a period of 10 years, saying “The decision should be seen not as a punitive measure, but as a necessary chance to develop a new culture and leadership”. However, the same Babangida who had ruled Nigeria as military president for eight years between August 27, 1985 and August 27, 1993, would later preoccupy himself with wanting to be an elected President in 2007.
The stark truth is that democracy is not a game where a category of people can be asked to vacate the stage for another. Democracy is a theatre where diverse ambitions compete and contend. Nigeria is not the relatively under-achieving nation it is today because young people have not presided over its affairs. From Tafawa Balewa to Muhammadu Buhari, we have had 15 political leaders with Olusegun Obasanjo and Buhari featuring twice. The average age at ascension into office, based on my rough calculations, is 49 years and 11 months. The youngest Nigerian political leader is Gen. Yakubu Gowon who took over the reins of power at the age of 32, while the oldest person at inauguration is Buhari at the age of 72. In comparison, America has had 45 presidents in its more than 200 years of democracy, with the average age of ascension being 54 years and 11 months. The youngest person to assume office was Theodore Roosevelt who, at the age of 42 years and 322 days, became president following the assassination of William McKinley. However, the youngest President by direct election was John F. Kennedy at 43, while the oldest is Donald Trump at the age of 70.
The “digital leadership” theory is exciting. However, what seems universal is that leadership and governance can hardly be explained outside of democracy and its institutions-the ideological orientation of competing political parties, the ever-changing political issues as well as the stage of development and complexity of the political environment itself. The political leader of Nigeria will not be picked by computer, and neither will its vacancy be advertised on the pages of newspapers. The political leader will continue to be recruited from the ranks of politicians that put themselves forward and are adjudged to be acceptable to their political parties and the voting public.
Leadership style will continue to vary with individuals, informed by their experiences, as well as social outlook and preparation for office. Most of America’s presidents have been former generals, senators and governors. Nigeria seems to be on a similar route.
There have been discussions as to whether or not President Buhari should seek re-election in 2019. The debate has been heightened by the interventions of former President Obasanjo and Babangida who seemed to have suggested to the sitting President not to exercise what is his constitutional right. The rival politicians who should be rooting for an opportunity to take on a vulnerable incumbent have been singing the praises of the duo. It is as if they feared facing Buhari at the polls. However, the democratic position would be that the choice as to whether or not to seek re-election belongs to Buhari and his political party while the ultimate decision as to whether or not he will remain our principal tenant at Aso Rock for another four years, beginning from May 29, 2019, belongs to us, the voting public. Whoever wins in a free and fair election will be the next President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.