People & Money

The Next Nigerian President: The Desirable but Unviable

2023 should be when the lunatics return to the straitjackets and the adults take over the asylum once again

On May 31, former CBN Deputy-Governor Kingsley Moghalu issued a statement containing what was perhaps the worst kept secret in Nigerian politics – he intended to run again for president in 2023.

In an emotively-worded press release, Moghalu outlined his motivations for running for office – a desperate desire to stop Nigeria from sinking into violent chaos, a strong belief in Nigeria’s economic potential and a deep respect for Nigeria’s diversity and pluralism. Over the course of 16 paragraphs, the nicely-worded announcement delivered an unstated but clear message – 2023 should be when the lunatics return to the straitjackets and the adults take over the asylum once again.

It was fantastic except for one thing – no matter what, Kingsley Moghalu will almost certainly not come close to being president in 2023. Assuming it holds, the 2023 election promises to be unlike any other before it. Without fear of exaggeration, it promises to be a defining point in Nigeria’s history on a scale to dwarf even the 2015 election.

Under these circumstances, it is extremely important to know the candidates, have an idea of what they are about, and thus make an informed choice at the polling booths in 21 months’ time. Or at least that was how this paragraph read in the first two parts of this series. This third part is quite different to the first two for one simple reason – the candidates analysed here, do not stand any realistic chance in 2023.

The first two parts of this series focused on the electorally viable but generally uninspiring or downright undesirable candidates. Bola Tinubu, Rotimi Amaechi, Nasir El-Rufai and Peter Obi have been combed over, analysed and graded for overall electability.

This calculation was achieved by using their records as state governors and regional politicians to make projections for what their prospective presidential policies would look like in the areas of security policy, youth policy, economic policy, respect for rule of law and civil freedoms, and popular support. This article will analyse prior and present candidates who are generally considered to be far too competent to be electable in Nigeria – Kingsley Moghalu, Pat Utomi and Oby Ezekwesili.

The Ambitious Dark Horse – Kingsley Moghalu

Before launching into any kind of analysis of Kingsley Moghalu or anyone else in this part of the series, I must point out that by Nigerian standards, every single one of them would make an excellent president. It is not necessarily so much that Moghalu and his co-travellers are so brilliant, as it is the case that the bar for what constitutes good governance in this part of the world, is lower than in your average professional limbo dancing contest in Bermuda.

Kingsley Moghalu would probably not shut Nigeria’s busiest trade border inexplicably for 17 months and in the process antagonise the entire ECOWAS subregion with some of Nigeria’s most important allies like Ghana. He would very likely not throttle the economy’s best performing sector with an arbitrary decree barked at telecoms companies with zero regard for wider economic impact. And he would definitely not send armed goons to shoot 99 unarmed civilian protesters dead at Lekki Toll Gate. Utopia.

Also Read: Nigeria 2023: President Bola Tinubu or President Nasir El-Rufai?

The problem in fact, is that as laid out in his announcement, Kingsley Moghalu is almost delusionally focused on possibilities and ideas and initiatives and principles and aspirations. In low quality societies like Nigeria, populations default to the lowest common denominator instead of the highest common factor. Apart from other factors, the simple fact of a positive candidacy focused on what the candidate plans to do, as against who the candidate plans to oppose, is pretty much lost on a good percentage of Nigeria’s voting population.

And then there is the inconveniently intractable elephant in the room – his ethnicity. On paper, according to the unwritten zoning arrangement that underpins Nigerian politics, he is from the geographical region whose ‘turn’ is in 2023, which should ordinarily help his candidacy.

In practise, without the weight of a federal support structure behind him – such as that which Rotimi Amaechi is counting on for his own 2023 run – the possibility of mustering any kind of support outside the southeastern intelligentsia is remote. Nigeria’s post-civil war toxicity makes it such that only so-called “federal might” could realistically thumb the scale enough to put someone like Kingsley Moghalu into Aso Rock.

Running for president might be a visually spectacular and emotionally satisfying symbol of his willingness and probable ability to save Nigeria from the abyss – but it is a fruitless endeavour. The alternative political effort that could be used to better focus his undeniable expertise, energies and passions is encapsulated by the life and times of the next person to be profiled in this article. But first before we get there, here is a set of policy and electoral scores that have been extrapolated from his prior utterances and his performance in the 2019 election.

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Popular Support: E

Economic policy: A

Security policy: B

Policy on youth: A

Respect for rule of law and civil freedoms: A*

Overall Electability: D

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The Lone Voice in the Wilderness – Pat Utomi

In my many off-screen conversations while filming ‘Patito’s Gang’ with Professor Pat Utomi, one conversation with him stands out in particular. I was making a point about the dishonesty of framing the IMF and World Bank as the nemesis of African states, when it is African countries in fact who engage in reckless financial behaviour which leads them to insolvency and the situation where no other creditors on the planet other than those two will touch them. Professor Utomi laughed and recounted a story from the 1980s.

At the time, financial recklessness born out of the “oil rich” misconception had led Nigeria to the brink of an IMF-prescribed structural adjustment program. Unwilling to be the leader who forced Nigeria to swallow the pill it obviously had to swallow, military Head of State Ibrahim Babangida convened a televised national debate on the subject.

Arguing against the structural adjustment were pretty much the entire country’s intelligentsia in all their anti-colonialist, pan-Africanist rhetorical fervour. On the other side were the Minister of Budget and Planning, Kalu Idika Kalu and a young Pat Utomi, fresh off his honeymoon.

With a wry smile on his face, Utomi recalled that he was all but the only economist in Nigeria who correctly identified the SAP as a necessary economic reset, and was brave enough to express such a thought on national TV.

In the subsequent few weeks, he would get loudly reviled and cursed at by taxi drivers, street urchins, market traders and anyone else who recognised this yellow economist from TV. Oloriburuku this, and Ko ni da fun e that, he recalled as his body shook with the kind of laughter that comes from looking back on an event from 31 years ago and knowing you were right.

That is Pat Utomi to a T. He is the prophet who has never been honoured in his metaphorical hometown. For more than 30 years, he has consistently created and expressed viable economic and social solutions that successive governments have ignored or only applied halfway. After all these decades in the public eye, Pat Utomi is unlikely to announce a run for presidency again anytime soon. Apart from his age, there is something in his native Delta State that goes to the heart of what Kingsley Moghalu’s political energy should be right now.

SBM Intelligence co-founder Cheta Nwanze, is responsible for introducing me to this school of thought, which interestingly he once shared with Moghalu. This school of thought has it that the “intellectual” or obviously well-educated and cerebral Nigerian politician must prove to Nigerians that he is “one of them” if he wishes to have a successful career. In other words, men like Pat Utomi would have been even more valuable to Nigeria if they got an electoral hold within the post-1998 political grassroots before the thugs and thieves did so. This unfortunately, did not happen.

Instead of running for governor in a zombie state and hopefully capturing and rebuilding it in the image of Professor Utomi, he instead chose to run for president. The rest is history, as they say. The big lesson to come out of this is that Nigeria’s electorally unviable candidates could perhaps become a bit more viable by, you know, leaving Abuja alone.

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Popular Support: E

Economic policy: A

Security policy: B

Policy on youth: A

Respect for rule of law and civil freedoms: A*

Overall Electability: C

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Respected but Unloved – Oby Ezekwesili

Famously known as “Madam Due Process” during her stint as head of the Budget Monitoring and Price Intelligence Unit, Oby Ezekwesili arguably has the best CV in this article. Not that you would know it, because the comments under this article are almost certain to be combative and angry when she is the topic of conversation. Different people have different versions of the same basic story archetype once her name comes up. It almost always boils down to a disagreement with something she said, which for some reason becomes a very big deal.

Also Read: Nigeria 2023: Rotimi Amaechi Versus Peter Obi

In addition to being a federal minister, she was also a Vice President at the World Bank – objective knowledge and prospective qualification for the big job are not in doubt. So why is ‘Madam Oby’ so unloved in Nigeria’s political space? The simple answer is – because she expresses herself often. Perhaps way too often for some people, which is hardly her fault. From her stint in government to the #BringBackOurGirls movement to her current #FixPolitics initiative, she has never been afraid to loudly and unapologetically adopt a position.

For the purpose of winning an election in Nigeria, her route is slightly different to the aforementioned two however. Having already achieved high office at federal level, it is perhaps not realistic to expect to see a “vote Madam Oby” billboard relating to an Anambra State gubernatorial election. In fact, I would argue that running for president is a wrong move to make even if it were possible right now. Somewhere in between the #FixPolitics initiative and continued citizen activism, there is a sweet spot that can someday be mined for its rich electoral potential.

If anyone can figure out how to do this, she can.

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Popular Support: C

Economic policy: A

Security policy: B

Policy on youth: A

Respect for rule of law and civil freedoms: A

Overall Electability: B

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