Governance & Politics

Road To 2019; Nigeria Needs A Coalition Convener/Builder, Not A Messiah. 

By Century Favour | October 1st, 2018

Its that season in our nation’s leadership cycle again, the season of campaigns, party affiliations, manifestoes and agendas. Its hard to believe the 2019 general elections are literally around the corner, I mean, wasn’t the 2015 elections conducted just yesterday?
And like clockwork, the average Nigerian probably has an idea of how this will pan out. So I have been thinking about the defining characteristic of the electoral process in Nigeria in the last couple of elections and it seems to me like the thrust of most political campaign messaging is powered by something I call the “Messiah complex.”

What’s the Messiah Complex?

The Messiah complex is synonymous to a saviour complex and is descriptive of an individual who perceives himself as the saviour of a situation or as one who is solely capable of delivering people from what ails them. Its a tale of “I alone can fix them” or “I am the one Nigeria needs to fix her.

If you look at the political discourse going on right now, especially from the angle of political communication, the common thread reflected in the campaign of most candidates vying for political office presents them as the solution to the woes and challenges we are fraught with as a country. This in itself, is not a bad premise but if you consider the way nations run and function, it’s a synthesis of multiple factors and factions, especially in a democracy and so you can’t control or fix everything alone.

What reinforces the Messiah complex is akin to what happens when watching a football match at a viewing center, where fans are yelling what that one defender or striker is not doing right or what he can do better when the focus should be on team dynamics or the synergy between the players on the pitch and how it contributes to the win or loss of the team. We are all on one team, Nigeria, therefore the focus should not be on the performance of one striker determining our win or loss but on the cohesion and effectiveness of all the team players.

At every turn of a new election cycle, the mindset or standpoint that is expressed by most politicians who want to run is that of one who has the solution to the current issues facing the country.  The focus is on their promise and not the ability to build coalitions that can bring the vision to life.

Secondly, people need simple answers to complex problems. More like seeking the easy way out, most individuals are interested in the solution without the hassle of tackling issues analytically and preventing a repeat of the situation. So we feel that this one Messiah with the profound campaign message is the solution to the nation’s challenges.

In another vein, we are wired to look to our leaders for direction rather than contributing actively to the drive for change. For a people who have experienced military rule, it feels like the concept of leadership fueled by citizen involvement is only an ideal that cannot be translated to reality.

 

Why the Messiah Complex Is Not The Answer.

There are a number of current Nigerian realities that negate the efficacy of the messiah solution for the problems of Nigeria and I’d like to share a few;

  • Nigeria is a diverse nation with multiple sectional interests:

These interests are constituted of ethnic, religious and political affiliations that need to be united in order to deliver sustainable development. Nigeria has 6 geopolitical zones and about 250 ethnic groups. Wikipedia reports the percentage as follows; Hausa and Fulani 29%, Yoruba 21%, Igbo (Ibo) 18%, Ijaw 10%, Kanuri 4%, Ibibio 3.5%, Tiv 2.5% with over 500 additional indigenous languages.
It also culls an 18th December 2012 report on religion and public life by the Pew Research Center that posits the fact that in 2010, 48.3% of Nigeria’s population was Christian, 48.9% was Muslim, and 2.8% were followers of indigenous and other religions, or unaffiliated.
Pray tell, how does one person alone tackle this diversity and garner support from all of them?

 

  • The nation is plagued by difficult challenges that surpass the best of minds:

Why is it that the brightest of our human capital end up with brain drain? The issues we face in the nation are complex and deeply entrenched in the fabric of our social, economic and political existence, from poverty to education to corruption to security, you name it. It is certainly not for lack of a drive or solutions that we are still struggling with these problems today in spite of the efforts of past governments, democratic and military rule alike.

 

  • Real power to drive change is spread out across several power brokers:

Comprising the Senate, religious leaders, the judiciary, the civil service, grassroots defence agencies like the labour congress and even the executive arm of government, these constitute a formidable force with diverse group or personal interests that needs to be won over and united in a common goal if one desires a fairly smooth sail in office.

 

  • Laws and Policies are nothing without the buy-in of the people:

The citizenry is the major stakeholder affected by laws and policies and so if the citizenry is not actively carried along or sold in the design, formulation, monitoring and evaluation of these laws and policies, the government loses touch with the realities of the people which results in the formulation of policies or passing of bills that either worsen the plight of the average citizen or fails in its adoption or implementation because it is not understood or accepted. The government cannot have a monopoly of matters concerning policy reforms.

Nigeria has a plethora of failed policies and laws over the years and as tools for change and development, this characteristic failure owing to factors such as the lack of sustainable mechanisms to drive the policies or lack of continuity when governments change ultimately hampers development outcomes.

The Role Of A Coalition Convener/Builder

You can only succeed in government if you are able to build strong, mutually beneficial coalitions. You can have the best of intentions but if you don’t have support, even from the people in government or your party, ruling the country becomes an arduous task.

Some of the qualities of a strong coalition builder/convener include:

  • Brings people together and is not divisive. Nips negative, sectional voices in the bud.
  • Constantly engages and listens to the different point of views with an open mind.
  • Rises above his religious, ethnic and ideological biases and pushes for common ground. Avoids nepotism.
  • A good negotiator.
  • Builds trust with action
  • Knows his people and what they want.
  • Has a strong grasp of the issues from different perspectives.
  • Has a thick skin for criticism and feedback.
  • Passionate about delivering results and can mobilize the right people and resources.
  •  Can inspire, motivate and empower interest groups to go against their basic selfish instincts.
  • Attacks ideas, not people.

The main job of a president is to actually convene and lead coalitions by expressing the aforementioned qualities.

I’d like to highlight a few leaders whose leadership serve as examples in this regard. One such remarkable leader was Barack Obama.

Barack Obama
Photo: Getty Images

An article authored by Evelyn M. Simien, an associate professor of Political science and African studies on theconversation.com website (https://theconversation.com/how-obamas-presidential-campaign-changed-how-americans-view-black-candidates-71455) posited that Obama’s campaign experience reflects an adaptation to the political environment that recognised key voting constituencies. She stated that Obama pulled together the type of coalition that his African-American predecessors, Chisholm and Jackson had aspired to lead, composed of college students, hard-core progressives, organized labour and independents.

In her words, “He gained legitimacy as a political actor and easily mobilized white voters because he was less interested in challenging “the system,” and more ideologically liberal than his predecessors.” He focused on quality-of-life issues, such as universal health care, equal educational opportunities and full employment for the lower and middle classes. Doing so increased the likelihood that more Americans would support his campaign. He was less interested in race-specific overtures that directly appealed to African-American voters.

I also recall he once noted that contrary to popular opinion, he didn’t have all the power as Mr President, rather he had to work with Congress and stakeholders in both the public and private sector. He also had to work with the UN if he wanted to contribute to addressing a challenge that affects other world countries.

This goes to show that to succeed as a president, you have to be the kind of individual that people can coalesce to, and not just the people in government but the citizens as well. It sends home the strong message that of citizen engagement and goes beyond the image of an independent president fixing things from the top to bottom. So its not a one-sided coalition backed support from only your party but from the Senate, House of Rep., States and very importantly, the citizenry as well. Partisan politics thrives when you are unable to either hold the support of your party base or win over the support of opposing voters in your quest for effecting enduring changes as a president.

Looking at leaders who have been successful, regardless of their leadership style, there is a common thread of citizen-involvement in fixing issues. Leadership becomes effective when you carry the citizenry along. That way, the average Nigerian citizen has a sense of ownership of the affairs of the country and there’s free rein for citizen-led ideas and change initiatives.

The Emmanuel Macron presidency is another case in point.

Emmanuel Macron
Photo: BBC.com

In what is globally reported to be the most surprising election win in Modern France, he beat his opponent, Marine Le Pen in a wider than expected margin of 66 to 34 and swept to power on a campaign whose globalist and liberal thrust took a stand against both the traditional socialist and conservative republican party ideologies.
Millions responded to his campaign that focused heavily on strategic economic reforms plans to address the economic and industrial problems of France, constituent parts of government that affect the citizenry. These millions responded to him because his message of hope and change not only brought a breath of fresh air, but because he was able to appeal to more than one demographic bracket. Being the youngest in a country of mostly older politicians, the former Economy minister and investment banker was unique for his reactionary & revolutionary approach (he formed his own party, En Marche!) challenging the leadership system in France and his passionate drive to succeed where his predecessors failed. And his coalition doesn’t seek to alienate the support or experience of the seasoned and older generation politicians that he defeated.

Even after his win, Macron was clearly understanding of the challenges he was likely to face in building a coalition of support from parliament, government and the people and is on a determined march to surmount those challenges and succeed in his quest for lasting reforms in France.

 

Some governments, however, make the mistake of initially running for office with the citizen-engagement wagon and then they abandon ship when they get into power. The wagon must be fueled sustainably for optimum results in governance.

Donald Trump
Photo: YouTube

Donald Trump’s presidency is a very clear-cut example of this. Although he may not be the most likeable or affable president the Oval office has seen, he can’t be faulted for his deliberate and dogged citizen engagement. The same can be said for his relationship with the Republicans, when he faced some challenges, he went on a campaign spree as it were. Also, when he was driving the plan to repeal the Obama care act in favour of the GOP tax bill, he held street rallies to convince the American people of its merits and gain their support. The repeal mission wasn’t entirely successful but a primary element in the individual mandate of the Obama law that requires all Americans to obtain health insurance was removed while keeping the rest of the affordable care act intact.

Bringing this home, we see the power of uniting different coalitions to achieve a common goal in Nigeria’s struggle for independence from her colonial master, a status we are celebrating today, 58 years after.

Photo: Premium Times

The nationalist movement under the influence of individuals like Herbert Macaulay, Nnamdi Azikiwe, Obafemi Awolowo and a few others, from as far back as the 1930’s pushed for the unity of the ethnic groups and protectorates that made up the Nigerian nation as the strategy to challenge Britain’s colonial rule and achieve the status of an independent, sovereign state which we gained in 1960.

In light of this, one can posit that ruling and driving development in political office is all about balance. On one hand, you sell your self as the man who can get it done and on the other hand, communicate your eagerness to work with the different people and interest groups.

In the end, we all know what happens to Messiahs, don’t we? They get killed.

Don’t just have a good laugh, let’s hear your thoughts in the comment section.