Preparing our Political Leaders Properly for Power

by Sheyi Oriade

One advantage – and a critical one to boot – the existence of which highlights some of the key proficiencies in the workings of the advanced democracies of the world, but the absence of which, from the workings of the fledgling and often stuttering democracies of the developing world, underscores their key systemic deficiencies; is that in the case of the more practiced democracies there is to be found – as an integral feature of their political systems – well tended pools of talent in which prospective and putative political candidates thrive, having been nurtured for sustained periods of time; with the principal aim being, to fish them out of these pools for electoral selection and political leadership at periodic intervals in their electoral cycles.

Closely aligned to this critical advantage is an additional one, one in which, it matters not what the relative experience or inexperience of the prospective and putative candidates fished from these pools is. Once elected to office they can rest secure in the knowledge that, whatever their shortcomings, they can count on for support, certain specific Institutions of State and their mandarins to guide them in the administration and leadership of their nations.

An eloquent example of this fact was in full display in the aftermath of the recent British, and relatively recent American, general elections. In each of these elections, the victorious candidates turned out to be men of relative inexperience buoyed in their roles by the workings and solidity of their political systems.

Going by this tradition, I expect that even now these well practiced democracies are proactively, as part of their ongoing preparatory processes, seeking to identify, select, and groom candidates for future office. Indeed, it will come as no surprise if the operators of these democracies already have a fair idea of those whom they expect to hold political office, a quarter of a century hence. Such is the range of planning within these political systems.

We have no such advantages in our own political system, particularly, in its current phase of development. There are no such preparatory pools, from which to pool suitable future political leaders. Thus, it is no surprise that more often than not, those who present themselves for executive political office in our nation are not of the required or desired quality.

But we need not despair. The absence of such well tended talent pools need not deprive us of the presence of mind to think through this issue. Neither should it debar us from taking action to address it. Indeed, if the thinking ones in our political, and (higher) educational, system, begin to exercise their minds constructively and convert the resultant output into action, then going forward we may be in a position to develop the necessary preparatory systems which will ensure that in the future only competent candidates emerge to compete for electoral office.

As part of this process, I propose the following course of action to the relevant authorities:

• Establish Schools of Government within one or two key universities in each of the different geo-political zones to school aspiring politicians, public servants, and others about the intricacies and mechanics of government;

• Recruit to the faculties of these Schools of Government former Heads of State; distinguished retired senior civil servants; distinguished retired judges; university dons in relevant disciplines – retired and serving; distinguished and retired senior officers of the armed forces and police force; retired senior members of the diplomatic corps; distinguished former government ministers and legislators; and other individuals of relevance and distinction as appropriate;

• Mandate senior civil servants to spend a sabbatical year teaching/studying at these Schools of Government;

• Revitalise the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs as the nation’s premier foreign policy think tank dedicated to foreign policy formulation and scenario planning and projection;

• Revitalise the Administrative Staff College of Nigeria to train middle ranking officials with career prospects for senior positions; and where possible ensure that this body works in tandem with the Civil Service College to achieve beneficial synergies in curriculum development and teaching resources;

• Expand the intake of the Nigerian Institute of Policy and Strategic Studies to include the participation of aspiring politicians of the required aptitude and attitude;

• Establish area specific think tanks to generate broad policy ideas to assist ministers in their leadership of government departments; and as a general point

• Establish an association of professors emeritus across a range of disciplines in order to reap the benefit of their vast and diverse knowledge; documenting the same for posterity.

In addition to the above, we should incorporate as an essential feature of the workings of our political system, processes which subject people aspiring to elective and appointive executive political office, to a rigorous regime of scrutiny in order to determine the extent of their aptitudes in the following key areas:

• Communication and presentational skills;
• Leadership skills;
• Problem Solving skills;
• Knowledge skills;
• Prioritisation skills;
• Interpersonal skills;
• Integration skills (the ability to relate to all people groups in Nigeria without prejudice);
• Broad financial/economic management skills; and the provision of
• Testimonials as to their integrity/transparency (a key prerequisite).

By subjecting aspiring political candidates to such a process of scrutiny/competence, it will ensure that those not up to the required standard, fall by the wayside and leave only the best candidates in contention for elective and appointive office.

It is simply not enough for the different geo-political zones within the nation to clamour for occupation of high political office, by their representatives, merely on the basis of federal character alone. Each zone must invest in the development of their preferred candidates and ensure that they are ready for selection and eventual election to political office on a state and national level.

We have to, as a matter of urgency, begin to take corrective steps to rescue our political system from the mediocrity which threatens it. We must improve the calibre of candidates by adopting a much more methodological and intelligent approach in this area. We can no longer afford to squander the future by being ill-prepared to meet its challenges.

We may have wasted more than one generation of people by not properly identifying their talents or preparing them for elective and appointive office. There is no reason why we should lose any other generation. Let us join forces together to rediscover who we are, what we want to be, and where we want to get to as a progressive nation.

Indeed, if we are to have a future worth looking forward to as a nation, then it is imperative that we begin to prepare our politicians properly for power.

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