When the news came through that the Nigerian law-makers had rejected the constitutional amendment aimed at allowing President Olusegun Obasanjo and other executives to seek a third term in office, Nigerians across the world rejoiced and jubilated. Regardless of Obasanjo’s achievements or failures, many people saw the third-term bid as an attempt to breach the contract between the elected and electors, a violation of the rules of engagement by the executives. Even those of us who had identified and defended some of the present administration’s accomplishments feared that the third-term agenda risked relegating Obasanjo to being merely one of those Third World rulers who cling to power and simply refuse to go. Many more of us were anxious for Nigeria. The concern was that, far from being perceived as a growing democracy, Nigeria risked being definitely categorised as a “banana republic” run according to the whim of a small self-serving monetarily wealthy, but morally famished and intellectually lacking, corrupt clique. With the abortion of the third-term plot, Nigeria — through its media, its civil society at large and its law-makers — has shown that it still has some of the decorum and self-respect necessary for a prosperous, dignified future. Or, as a senior London, City-based lawyer put it to me, “This shows there is still hope.”
As one might expect, what has followed has been a rush and search for candidates and nominations but the news on these activities has not excited us. Rather, the quest for new leaders in the country has generated nothing but monolithic, mind-numbing petty news unworthy of a great country like Nigeria. The same people, the same party, the same lack of ideas — all are moving the same conflicts towards a pettier and duller Nigeria. Reactions have been understandable apathy, cynicism and scepticism among the people. The general comment amongst Nigerians all over the world seems to be, “Here they go again… No point in trying… Only God can help us… I have given up.” All these reactions become even more worrying when even those who (by virtue of their age, achievements and experience) should be automatically politically, or at least socially, engaged are engulfed by apathy.
To all those who care about the future of Nigeria, I bring good tidings. Something exciting has happened again in Nigeria. Pat Utomi has declared his intention to contest next year’s presidential polls. Most people reading here will certainly know who Pat Utomi is. For the uninitiated, Utomi is — among many other things — a university professor, founder of the Centre for Values In Leadership, chairman of the Platinum Bank, director of the Centre for Applied Economics and Lagos Business School, was CEO of Volkswagen, Nigeria.
In his declaration to contest for the highest public office in Nigerian politics, Utomi identified the fast-developing economies of the so-called Asian Tigers as his economic models for emulation. We will urge and guide him to look towards the West for models in liberty and democracy, but this will come later. Utomi’s main vision for Nigeria can be safely summed up as creating jobs and wealth and to transform the country from a state of underdevelopment to a fast-developing country. To achieve these goals, Pat Utomi has rightly identified natural allies for this project in the youths, organised labour and the middle class. To this list I will include all men and women of goodwill and quickly add here that, for anybody who fits into these categories, not supporting Utomi’s bid can only be put down to omissions due to social pathologies such as political myopia or total blindness to self-interest or pure masochism and proclivity for self-destruction.
Those who know Pat Utomi will describe him as a political and economically sound, cultured, informed, motivational and charismatic leader in tune with the Nigeria of today. This is certainly more true of Utomi than for most other aspiring candidates, and this is good for the many Nigerians who need inspiration and charisma. We have been on the block too long to believe in, and to invest our emotions in, a superhero for Nigeria; we have been disappointed too many times to believe in a political messiah; we are too conscious of the magnitude of Nigeria’s problems to rely on charisma. Our support for Utomi’s bid is rational and pragmatic. It goes beyond the man himself. For us, the Utomi bid is an embodiment of ideas, strategies and tactics that can turn Nigeria into free, prosperous and safe country where people from any background can realistically dream, strive and achieve.
For all those interested in the progress of Nigeria, the advantages of supporting Utomi’s bid are many — they are concrete, immediate and measurable. In this forum, the advantages and effects of the Utomi bid will be grouped in two phases.
The first phase is that of the candidacy, and this period will be from now till April 2007 just before elections take place. In this period, the main advantages of the Utomi bid will include a raise in the level of the Nigerian political debate, a modernisation of the rules of engagement, appearance and intervention of fresh dynamic ideas and people in the political arena. Pat Utomi’s campaign and canvassing, it is hoped, will be all about programmes, ideas, ideals and policies. Utomi has no recent political baggage to justify or defend. He is not known as anybody’s boy or godfather. All we will have to discuss with him will be Nigeria’s business. Citizens and journalists will be asking what plans an eventual Utomi administration has in stock for Nigeria. They will want to know how these plans will be achieved, and the man will be seen giving answers to these questions. It will then become inevitable for other aspiring contestants and candidates to be faced with the same questions. Even when they leave home with the intention of flaunting their Babariga, and their wives’ and mistresses’ headgear, Nigerian citizens and journalists will now expect them — and even force them, if necessary — to think and talk about Nigeria’s business in a reasonable and fruitful manner. Due to the Utomi effect, everybody aspiring to rule Nigeria will have to talk in detail, and clearly, about inflati
on, unemployment, tax, interest rates, infrastructure, education, investment, GNP, etc. Nigerians are creative people and the political class has a remarkable capacity for adaptation and transformation. Many will copy Utomi’s ideas, get people to prepare speeches aping or reacting to Utomi’s initiative. Although these might appear to be personally unfair to Pat Utomi because he will not be able to copyright his ideas, it will be great for Nigeria.
It will confirm our theory that Utomi’s bid is an asset for the whole of Nigeria and, as such, everybody will benefit from it — even those who will not vote for him. In phase one, anybody who has the interests of Nigeria at heart should support Utomi’s bid. I am appealing for tactical support here. Regardless of our voting intention or pattern, all those who care about the future of Nigeria will have to treasure this asset. We will need to support his bid, make sure it gets the right relevance, and commit and engage ourselves to make sure Utomi is perceived as a credible candidate. The media and everyone that cares for Nigeria will be useful in making sure that (with all due respect to them) Utomi’s bid does not end up like Tunji Braithwaite, M. D. Yusuf or Chris Okotie’s attempts. The second phase of Utomi’s bid will be fully discussed in a later stage. For now, let us just note that it will start from the voting and last till the post-election period.
In this first phase, my invitation to all men and women who care about the future of Nigeria is to do everything we can to treasure Utomi’s bid. We have to make sure that he becomes a prime candidate in the 2007 race. Let us talk about the Utomi bid, write about it, tell people about it, and do everything in our means to make sure that this precious asset we have in our hands is not wasted.