‘The Apprentice’ as a Model for Nigerian Presidential Selection

Judging from the content and tenor of much of the commentary analysing President Yar’adua’s first year in office, the consensus of opinion of various commentators, appears to be that his inaugural year performance has been less than stellar. In particular, his style of governance has come up for pointed criticism; with many observers adjudging it to be plodding, dithering, and lacking in dynamism; with his pace of action being more pedestrian than motorised. The president himself acknowledges that he has not fostered the most energetic of leadership styles upon the nation.

But while much of the focus and analyses of the past month has been directed – and rightly so – at the president’s widely perceived underperformance; the time has now come, I think, for commentators to shift some of the focus elsewhere. Rather than focusing entirely on presidential performance or underperformance, as the case may be; the analyses may be better served by shifting the spotlight of focus to the political system that produced his type of presidency.

It would not be far fetched, I think, to suggest, that in view of the repeated and demonstrable ineptitude of our political elite to identify/select candidates of proven competence for presidential office within the bounds of the current system; it is time that we began to think outside the box of our traditional ideas; if we are to ensure, that in the future only the most able and credible candidates attain to high political office.

I am driven to this conclusion, by reason of the current drift besetting our national government, and by virtue of the overwhelming preponderance of inept rulers that have dominated our national fortunes since independence. Things have got to change, if we are to have any hope of arresting the endemic decline afflicting almost every area of our national life.

Whilst I am not advocating that we jettison our current system in its entirety, I am of the view, however, that a number of fundamental changes need to be made to it, if it is to become fit for purpose. In this regard, I am minded to recommend some changes that will ensure, at the very least, that the Nigerian people have a better understanding and appreciation of the abilities and aptitudes of those seeking high political office before they are asked to vote for them.

I make the admission from the outset, that what I am about to propose is not in any way original to me, and I lay no claims whatsoever to its origination. However, I believe that wherever ideas exist that can be of benefit to our collective political experience; we should be quick to examine and adopt them where appropriate for our benefit. In fact, the idea which I am about to advance, is one which many readers may already be familiar with, albeit in an entirely different setting. I am referring here to the ‘The Apprentice’ format created for television by Mark Burnett.

It occurred to me recently, while watching the finale of the current series of the programme on BBC television that an adoption/adaptation of certain aspects of ‘The Apprentice’ may be of benefit to the Nigerian presidential selection /electoral process.

But before I proceed any further in developing this proposition, I recognise that there may be some readers who are not familiar with the concept of ‘The Apprentice’; perhaps having never watched or read about it. And so for the benefit of such people, I provide an overview below.

In ‘The Apprentice’ a number of candidates are chosen from a wide pool of applicants, to compete for the opportunity to become an apprentice to a CEO of a group of successful companies. The candidates are often divided into teams (usually two), and each week the teams are set different tasks to undertake in competition against one another. The winning team is rewarded for its successful performance, while the losing team suffers the loss of one of its members. And so the process goes on, until eventually one candidate emerges victorious to become the apprentice for one year on a six figure salary.

A key attraction of ‘The Apprentice’ – quite apart from its obvious entertainment value – is that it provides television viewers with an opportunity to assess the aptitudes/abilities of the participating candidates as they undertake their assigned tasks.

You may be wondering, what any of this, has to do with the Nigerian political process; I think a fair bit. I believe that if certain aspects of ‘The Apprentice’ are engrafted onto our political system; the Nigerian electorate will be better informed about the abilities of their presidential/political candidates before going to the ballot box to make their choices.

For the benefit of our political process, I propose the following changes to ‘The Apprentice’ format, in order to ensure its utility for/in our system.

* Appoint an international statesman (preferably a non Nigerian) of repute to oversee the process. Someone of the calibre of Nelson Mandela, Kofi Annan, Desmond Tutu or even Jimmy Carter;

* Representatives (of proven repute and integrity) from the following sectors: the media; business; the armed forces; and the public service; to act as assessors. In this regard, I have in mind, the likes of Mr. Gamaliel Onosode, Dr. Stanley Macebuh, General Ishola Williams, and Alhaji Shehu Musa, and others to be identified.

* The process should run for a period of no more than one year, and should occur a whole year before national elections are due;

* Broadcasting rights should be awarded to both public and private television stations.

* Tasks should be set on an individual basis, rather than on a team basis. This will allow Nigerian viewers to assess the particular abilities/aptitudes of the different candidates on their own merit;

* Tasks should test candidates abilities in the following areas:

1. Problem Solving Skills: Candidates should be tasked with developing/presenting proposals on how best to resolve the crisis in the Niger Delta; and to prevent a reoccurrence of it;
2. Communication Skills: Candidates should prepare/deliver a speech before a group of eminent Nigerians on their respective visions for Nigeria;
3. Knowledge Skills: Candidates should be asked to develop/present high level summaries of their foreign policy considerations for Nigeria’s relations with other nations;
4. Financial/Economic Skills: Candidates should be asked to develop/present what they consider to be an equitable revenue sharing formula for the nation;
5. Prioritisation Skills: Candidates should be tasked to demonstrate their prioritisation skills in the area of infrastructural development/renewal needs. For example, which two of the following areas would they consider to be of key priority to the exclusion of other areas, in the face of budgetary constraints and competing demands? Candidates should be required to give reasons in support of their choices.

* National Road Construction;
* Resuscitating the National Health Sector;
* Reviving/Revamping the Federal Education Sector;
* Building affordable homes;
* Building new military barracks;
* Reviving the National Air Carrier; and
* Reviving/Revamping the Power Sector;

I believe that putting prospective presidential candidates through the rigours of this type of process, will very quickly separate the ‘wheat from the chaff’ leaving the nation’s electorate with a field of competent candidates from which their choice of president can be made. This process, I think, would be much more rewarding and revealing than the current process. I think it is also a much better process than the ‘presidential debate’ format favoured by the American political system.

Imagine for a moment, if you will, perennial presidential candidates like: Ibrahim Babangida; Muhammadu Buhari; Abubakar Atiku; Orji Kalu; Chris Okotie; Abubakar Rimi; Olu Falae; Pat Utomi; and others like Peter Odili and Bola Tinubu; and others being subjected to such a rigorous process of selection? How many of them do you think will be left standing at the end of such a process? Your guess is as good as mine.

Going forward, whatever we do decide to do as a nation, to improve our current political process, I think, the above approach is worth a try. I acknowledge that it is not in any way fool-proof and I recognise that all manner of niceties may require working out. But if we are to move forward as a progressive nation, we must have the courage to think outside the box of our traditional ideas that have so often failed us.

As the popular adage goes, ‘It is better to light a candle, than curse the darkness.’ But much better still, it is; to curse the darkness of ignorance, and light a candle of knowledge.

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