By Sen Babafemi Ojudu
Every now and then, there comes a critical point in the life of a nation where the train of national progress need to course correct or negotiate tactical bends, though deleterious yet necessary. During these uncommon times, ordinary leaders are not sufficient. Leaders that speak well, talk a good game, have room full of certificates or command fair share of loyal followers are not by themselves sufficient.
Critical periods require symbolic leaders.
Such was the case with South Africa when the curtains of Apartheid was being drawn, and the transition to become the most liberal multi-racial democracy not just in Africa but in the world- became not only apparent but necessary. Nelson Mandela taking the mantle after age and suffering had taken its toll at a rich age of seventy-six until he was eighty-one, provided a rich symbolism for the new era of freedom. That symbolism kept reactionary forces even within his own party at bay, as the foundations of a reconciled instead of a bitter society was laid under the steady and studious philosophical leadership of Nelson Mandela.
Of course, not without the consternation of younger and headier forces whose subsequent leadership we all now question. Yes, Mandela was old. Yes, he was not energetic. Yes, he was not vengeful. Yes he was not your best of economist and administrator. He didn’t exude theories of development and the path to constitutional architecture like an Obafemi Awolowo.
But he provided South Africa the right dosage of symbolism and guardianship in that delicate period.
Is that perhaps what President Buhari is providing?
In places farther ashore, examples of symbolic leadership existed and are equally profound. In the United States, older and much more frail Ronald Reagan was at the helm in the 80s especially after he was shot merely two years into his Presidency. We now learn he was even losing his memory. He once referred to the late Liberian President, Samuel Doe as Samuel Moe. He once slipped, he once tripped climbing or descending stairs. How many people of that age could work with a gait similar to a forty year old.
Yet, the Reagan Revolution proceeded under the steady guardianship of the Actor turned President. Despite his memory loses, one could count on the gentle resoluteness and sunniness of Ronald Reagan that “America’s best days are ahead of her” and that “It is a new morning in America!”. He once made that statement that signal the collapse of authoritarian Soviet Union: “ Mr Gobarchev , tear down this wall. “ That was during a visit to then West Germany when he looked at the wall separating the West from the East and proclaimed enough was enough. No one could have said that better , no one could have made that reverberate that loudly and effectively across the world like Reagan memory loss or no memory loss.
He is our symbol of integrity, contentedness, an uncommon patriotism. This , his arch enemies , will not deny.
When we hear Buhari say, “I cannot be frustrated”, we hear resoluteness and determination of symbolic leadership that harkens back to the same!
Symbolic Leadership requires a towering leader of unquestionable character and determination, whom despite the cross of age and experience – God has imbued with the rare privilege of leadership at a relatively old age to steer the ship of state at delicate times. Do we really think we need sweet talkers to fix Nigeria after the treasury was looted dry by the same folks in sixteen years? Who sweet talk epp?, to use a local jingo.
Buhari, after this onerous assignment will be consecrated into the pantheon of Mahatma Ghandi, Pandit Nehru, and Mrs Ghandi. He will be ranked among like Abdel Nasser of Egybt, Kwame Nkruhmah of Ghana, Charles de Gaule of France , General Ataturk of Italy, Josip Bros Tito of Yugoslavia,and Trudeau of Canada. This is a class of honor, of individuals who lived in the heart of their country men and women not for their wealth, not for their oratory not because they are saints but because the majority see them as one .
What Nigeria needed, needs and desires is a symbolic leadership to point us to the next trajectory of growth and progress, not sweet talk us to the path of perdition!
In the next few weeks, Nigerians will head to the polls to make a choice. That choice will be broad, deep and all-encompassing. There will be seventy two candidates to choose from, to assume the mantle of leading the nation: not as a commander or ruler, but as a father/mother and leader. Leadership first and foremost is about symbolism. Would we choose the symbols of the past filled with looting and kleptomaniac craze, or will Nigerians vote to keep the symbol of probity, steady performance and spartan pragmatism in place?
The future for Nigerians will be up to us much as the future was up to Malaysians when they chose their own symbol last year. That symbol was a Ninety Two year old Dr. Mahathir Mohamad in May, 2018. Shock as it might have been, Malaysians decidedly voted to install a symbol of pragmatic performance – the erstwhile hallmark of their beautiful country- over the effigy of corrupt present.
Nigerians would too. They understand the Symbolism of Buhari’s presidency. And if it has not dawned on the opposition, a President that leads with resoluteness and probity, symbolizes the future Nigerians desire and such is the future that they will elect come February 16, 2019.
Ojudu is Special Adviser to the President on Political Matters.