How do you become president of Nigeria? That was the question asked by a 10-year old boy during a career talk. I had been invited along with other parents to give a talk to kids in primary school about career choices and paths that lead them there. The mother who was speaking before me was rounding off and taking questions. Someone had asked her what subjects she needed to take interests in if she were going to become a lawyer and then this bright boy asked what he needed to do to become president of Nigeria. The question threw her off guard for a second and she quickly recovered and said the usuals – hard work, diligence, responsibility, etc.
This young boy’s question got me thinking and inspired this write up. How does one become president of Nigeria? I reframed the question and asked what kind of person should become president of Nigeria? If one looks at advanced democracies, say the United Kingdom or United States, what kind of people become number one citizens there.
I did a small research on previous presidents of the United States. Many had gone to Ivy League schools, served in the military; some had thriving professional careers as lawyers, had run their businesses successfully or had served as governors and senators. All of them had had the opportunity to lead in small and large capacities. The paths travelled by these leaders before they attained the heights of their dreams were tortuous ones. Their previous works, words and intents are scrutinised and checked for consistency. Previous standings on national and social matters are checked and evaluated. The process of landing the party nomination is sometimes as tough as the main election itself.
How have previous number one citizens in Nigeria fared? Some landed the job by accident, none had such high hopes or dreams of becoming president ten or fifteen years before they got the job. Many had never managed beyond a dismal amount of people and resources. Their understanding and definition of leadership is loop-sided. The major difference between our number one citizen and those of advanced countries comes down to preparation. How do you think you will perform at the 100-m Olympic Finals if you learned you were going to represent your country just two weeks before the competition? Your opponents, however, had been training for four years.
There is a program in United States where teenagers who have shown interests to lead in the public space are brought from all over the country to the white house and senate to interact with policy makers. These acts reinforce the dreams in these youngsters and give hope to their aspirations.
Back to the kid’s question, how does one become president of Nigeria? It starts with teaching the history of our country. It starts with making Nigeria look like a really big deal because it is really a big deal. The country’s value must be instilled into the young minds both in and out of classroom. Deliberate efforts must be made to bring the positives about Nigeria and Nigerians to their attention. They should hear less of a Nigerian caught trafficking drugs in Far East Asia and more of Nigerians bagging academic excellence awards and recognitions in innovation across Europe and United States. This is so the kids grow up with the right perceptions about their country. At that young age and even as adults, perception plays a major role in shaping our realties.
Leadership boot camps should be created for the kids during long holidays where the curriculum covers nation building and national development. Discussions should hold around factors and policies that created large scale changes in countries such as Singapore and China. These kids should be given opportunities to lead people and manage resources. They should be made to write essays with topics such as “The Nigeria of my dreams” or “What I will do when I become president”.
These young minds should be nurtured and given scholarships into universities. They should, while in the university, be given opportunities to intern in government agencies and houses of assembly. They should be encouraged to become card carrying members of political parties. It won’t matter the party they join as they would have been prepared and indoctrinated with the right values. They would have imbibed the right attitudes and understanding of leadership.
The current crop of political leaders cannot rescue Nigeria from the political dungeon she finds herself. They lack the capacity and morality to do so. While wailing about it is an option, I would rather switch my attention to the generation coming after us to ensure they get it right as even my own generation is not without its compromises.
We can begin to build to a new generation that believes in political leadership, not for personal gains but for the liberation and improvement of the quality of life, dreams and aspirations of the people they are called to serve.