• Tuesday, July 23, 2024
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BusinessDay

American gerontocracy: Nigeria must not be governed by old, senile leaders

UK general election: British democracy puts Nigerian ineptocracy to shame

Two significant events hit the world from America recently. One is positive, the other negative. The positive is the criminal convictions of former President Donald Trump and Hunter Biden, President Joe Biden’s son. Both are unprecedented: Trump is the first former US president to be convicted of a felony, and Biden Jnr is the first son of a sitting president to be convicted of a crime. That suggests, at least prima facie, that no one is above the law in America, which is a positive thing. However, the negative one is the disastrous presidential debate between President Biden and former President Trump. Both the positive and negative events have relevance for Nigeria. That relevance is worth exploring. But my focus here is the second event: the nerve-racking debate.

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There is no human being who watched the presidential debate on Thursday, June 25, who will not weep for President Biden and shed tears for America. That Biden is so frail, physically and mentally, and yet in total denial is disheartening, and that Trump, a convicted felon, is now likely to become president again is saddening. At some moments during the debate, I feared Biden might collapse and faint, and the permanent smirk on Trump’s face betrayed vengefulness and the absence of a moral compass. Yet, Trump is backed to the hilt by his party, while Biden has adamantly refused to withdraw from the race. Politicians are the most selfish and self-deluded people on earth, yet they always have self-serving people who urge them on and who tell them they are God’s greatest gifts to humanity.

We had that experience in Nigeria in 2015 and 2023, didn’t we? In 2015, every right-thinking and perceptive person knew that General Muhammadu Buhari was mentally and physically unfit to be president; that he would be an unmitigated calamity. Yet Bola Tinubu self-interestedly foisted Buhari on this country, saying he was Nigeria’s General Eisenhower and General de Gaule. But now, as president, Tinubu is saying that his administration inherited “a totally ruined economy” from Buhari. We are told that Buhari, whose presidency was also dogged by his prolonged undisclosed illness, “bankrupted” Nigeria and left behind a “dead economy.” In a country where there is no accountability for failure or misjudgement, Tinubu is brazenly dissociating himself from Buhari’s government, and some shallow-minded people are buying the deception.

“Politicians are the most selfish and self-deluded people on earth, yet they always have self-serving people who urge them on and who tell them they are God’s greatest gifts to humanity.”

Recently, Vice President Kashim Shettima condemned those who mocked Tinubu when he fell and had to be helped to get back to his feet during this year’s “Democracy Day” event. Well, it was wrong to mock Tinubu for falling. But it also misses the point to say that he is human and elderly. Of course, he is. But he schemed and muscled his way into the presidency. Now that he is president, there should be no excuses: he must do the job with the physical fitness and mental fecundity it demands.

Let’s be clear: it is utterly selfish and unpatriotic for any individual to ignore his physical and mental frailties and insist on running for president. But that’s what President Biden is doing by insisting on running for a second term against wise advice to quit the race. “I know I’m not a young man, to state the obvious. I don’t walk as easily as I used to. I don’t debate as much as I used to,” Biden said after his disastrous debate performance. “But I know what I do know; I know how to do the job.” Really? Even if he slips and falls all the time, even if he rambles and stumbles over his words, even if he often loses his train of thought, It is classic self-interested politics, putting oneself above the nation.

In June 2015, a month after he became president, Buhari said he wished he was younger. “I wish I became president when I was governor, a few years ago, as a young man,” he said. Then, he added factually, “Now, at 72, there is a limit to what I can do.” But did Buhari not know that before he ran for president? Of course, he did. And did he talk about the limitations of his age during the campaign? Of course, not. Why would he? He wanted power at all costs, even if he knew there was a limit to what he could do. In the end, it wasn’t just a limit; he performed woefully, disastrously!

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But what about Tinubu? For a start, his age is shrouded in a miasma of dubiety. Here is a president whose true age most Nigerians don’t know. An interview published in The Guardian in October 1998 started thus: “Senator Bola Tinubu, 52, returned from self-exile recently.” Unless the newspaper erred, if Tinubu was 52 in 1998, he would be 78 now. But he says he is 72. Everyone who knows him intimately says he is well above that age and looks so. But let’s stick with the “official” age. Would Tinubu publicly admit, like Buhari did, that there’s a limit to what he can do given his age and his health?

Of course not. Tinubu won’t publicly say that. He will keep saying he is as fit as a fiddle. Indeed, some praise singers are already saying that he MUST do a second term, regardless of his performance and his physical and mental health, as if a second term is for the asking.

Recently, Shehu Sani, a former senator, said some Northerners were planning to unseat Tinubu in 2027 and warned that if Tinubu wasn’t allowed a second term, “it could destroy the unity of Nigeria.” Really? Between 1999 and 2023, the North produced a president for 11 years, the South-West for eight years, and the South-South for five years. The Igbos in the south-east produced none. Surely, for the sake of Nigeria’s unity, the Igbos should have produced the president in 2023. But Tinubu said it was his and the Yoruba’s turn. Did he think about Nigeria’s unity? No! Did his Muslim-Muslim ticket promote unity? No! By the way, if denying President Jonathan a second term in 2015 did not destroy Nigeria’s unity, why should unseating Tinubu in 2027 do so?

Anyone who has read Jason Weeden and Robert Kurzban’s book, The Hidden Agenda of the Political Mind, would not take Shehu Sani seriously. He’s not a disinterested commentator. He decamped from the APC to the PDP and probably didn’t vote for Tinubu in 2023. So, what changed? Well, Tinubu has fallen out with Nasir El-Rufai, who is Sani’s archenemy. So, El-Rufai’s enemy has suddenly become Sani’s friend. But those who abuse their public profile to make misguided interventions undermine their own credibility.

But let’s return to the overarching point. The gerontocracy is failing America. And Nigeria must shun it. Nigeria needs a new generation of leaders, not old, senile men.