Rumours about some people’s presidential ambition towards 2023 have been doing the rounds. The credit should go to the hecklers who help in spreading them. They, the hecklers, have been prickling innocent Nigerians with the noise of who wears the presidential cap of the country next. They have been egging them towards a particular direction, warts and all. Ordinarily, such rumours should be too early to make meaning, especially when the last election is still unfurling. But trust Nigerians, the end of one election is the beginning of jostle for another.
And the reason is simple: Nigeria is an election-obsessed country. This perhaps explains why the country appears hexed in its choice of who rules over its affairs with the general parameter for assessing who a potential presidential material is revolving around three qualities, viz: a deep pocket, having been around for too long and being politically sagacious. Other qualities are pushed to the back-burner.
According to Joseph de Maistre, every nation gets the government it deserves. This lawyer, diplomat, writer, and philosopher may be right to the extent that the people, particularly those who should know better, are always passive and non-challant towards the selection process. They allow those who know next to nothing to fanatically and frenetically foist their benefactors’ desire on them. And so, whatever they see is what they get.
While the situation may still not be totally different today in terms of dominance and prestige, the terms of political success needs to be reset. Even if unuttered in clear words, every president Nigeria has produced to date would acknowledge that they underestimated the difficulty of the job. The country now deserves more than a consensus president; it needs a president who is wired to fix the office itself.
As the nation approaches 2023, the pattern must not be such that the president feels a sense of entitlement from the country and from the people for favours, real or imagined, that he may have done them in the past. Rather, such person must have a sense of indebtedness towards the country and the people. He must see himself as coming to serve and pay his dues; somebody thrown up by circumstances.
The reason for the above truism is not farfetched: The office of a president has grown beyond what it used to be, in power, scope, complexity and degree of difficulty. Now, more than ever before, it requires someone who is futuristic and highly dynamic. The emotional burden of the responsibilities is even something else. The president must be ready to operate like a computer, which is the only way he can endure the relentless scrutiny of the digital age.
The next Nigerian president must have a clairvoyant brain. That is, he must have the faculty capable of perceiving things or events in future or beyond sensory contact. In other words, Nigeria towards 2023 should look beyond a president whose only claim to power is being a political heavyweight. Unlike in the past, oration or political sagacity would not just be good enough. Even the foisted role of Commander in Chief is becoming weightier than ever before. Natural security is today being threatened by stateless terror groups. Rare is the day when in Nigeria, one or more of those enemies don’t present an imminent danger, requiring the president’s utmost attention.
Throughout history, crises have been the breeding ground for individuals we later describe as great leaders, and in many instances when time makes the leader, such leader would emerge from unlikely places.
With the Covid-19 pandemic ravaging the world and no one can say with specifics when it will abate, Nigeria, like elsewhere, seriously deserves a leader that can model the behaviours of its people clearly now and in the post-pandemic era. We can have the best strategy in the world, but without the kind of leader that can execute the strategies now and in the future, the culture of getting the leader we deserve would certainly eat up the strategy for breakfast.
We must also not forget to take cognizance of the body language of our would-be president. I took the time to study a recent research by a team of Canadian psychologists published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. It is a good reference material when talking about the two qualities of dominance and prestige, which our politicians love to flaunt. The research was built on a simple observation: There are two ways to get ahead. You can dominate people by making them fear you or you can win their loyalty with your intelligence and kindness.
Whether such commonsense model of leadership holds up under scientific scrutiny is another point of argument entirely. But anyone who is educated enough or has voted in a presidential election before must have probably observed that the first type of leader tended to adopt a stereotypical power pose, intimidating people into following them, while the second doesn’t look down with a scowl, but would rather look up with a smile of humility. The non-dominant leaders don’t flaunt what they know. They take up less space, yet they attract people to their care and competence rather than dominating. They gain followers through prestige, which they developed by demonstrating their expertise and helping people to solve knotty problems.
So, when scouting for a president towards post-pandemic 2023, Nigerians should think of what the new normal holds in stock for them. Rather than looking for those who flaunt the credential of having risen through dominating of others, who physically take up a lot of space and often wear a fierce facial expression, they should consider those who rely on prestige of what they are capable of doing, not fear. They can be easily spotted by their less expansive yet resilient posture.
Talking about resilience as a leadership virtue, Nigerians should look for those who have showed that they are resilient enough to lead them without excuses. This is the antithesis of hunkering down and operating conservatively. Resilience is about pushing out boldly, knowing that something somewhere is going to kick you in the teeth, and you need to be ready before it happens: The three traits that characterize the mind of resilient leaders are: Challenge, personal control and commitment.
Resilient people have a habit of looking at stress as a challenge to overcome, and this motivates them to address the causes of their stress in positive ways. This active approach can be contrasted with a more common approach, where stress is viewed as an unfortunate or even paralyzing force that overwhelms rather than motivates.
In general, resilient people tend to accept challenges and work to overcome and even master them. Even when a situation is not possible to control, resilient people work to find what possibilities do exist and pursue these.
Part of the reason resilient people persist in their coping efforts is because they are committed to an active, engaged outlook toward challenges, which motivates them to actively attempt to influence their surroundings and to persevere even when their attempts don’t seem to be working out. Resilient people are dedicated to finding that meaning — toward taking an active, problem-solving approach to situations.
Armed with all of these, Nigerians should then relax and be ready to pick a desirable leader without being hexed to doing so. They should not give in to just anyone in the name of political heavyweight and who gets sold in subterranean way. Rather they should be ready to counterpoint virtually every message spewed at them. That is the revolution Nigerians need to take up now.
*** Segun Dipe writes as a Political Analyst.