Lincoln is the greatest American president of all time. Obviously, there are many things to learn from him. I’ll mention one. But first, a couple of things. One, Nigeria’s presidential system is modelled after the United States’ presidentialism. So, it won’t be out of place to learn a thing or two from American history.
Two, Nigeria is a fantastically corrupt country. Possibly, one of the most corrupt country in the world, as rightly pointed out by David Cameron, the former British prime minister.
Nigeria ranked 136th on Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index when Cameron made that “truthful gaffe” in 2016, on the late Queen Elizabeth’s 90th birthday at the Buckingham Palace. Today Nigeria ranks 150th. The corruption has gotten worse.
Third, systemic corruption is a serious issue. It’s the only reason Nigeria is poor. It’s the only reason development eluded us. It’s the only reason Nigeria is a third-world country.
If you doubt this, hear what the experts say, in the words of Francis Fukuyama, as I adapt it: “The source of poverty in Nigeria is not the lack of human resources, natural resources or physical capital. It’s actually bad governance. And that corruption is the single most deeply rooted and difficult obstacle to overcome in turning poor Nigeria into rich Nigeria. (I insert ‘Nigeria’ in places of ‘the world’, ‘countries’ and ‘ones’ – actual words used by Fukuyama)
Therefore, unless Tinubu tackles corruption effectively – no child’s play – he will never succeed as a president. There will be no meaningful development. Nigeria will remain poor, very poor.
Like Nigeria, there was a time in American history when corruption was endemic. Fukuyama called America “hopelessly corrupt”. Indeed, the 19th-century American civil service was “one of the most corrupt civil services that ever existed”, according to Sean Hagan, former IMF Chief Counsel.
One of the reasons that accounted for this was nepotism. American presidents appointed inept and incompetent people into offices. Meritocracy mattered less in that democracy. Appointments were based on political patronage. Mainly friends, family or politicians that helped with their elections got to get into public offices. This rings a bell, right?
In a transition period like this, American presidents-elects used to be overwhelmed by office-seekers. For example, Carl Russell Fish, in his article, Lincoln and Patronage, published by Oxford Journals, wrote: “During the nine days which he spent in Washington, as President-elect, Lincoln was pursued by applicants, as eager as if there were no doubt about the stability of the government they wished to serve. And every Republican of prominence was deluged with requests, modest and pretentious, some accompanied by bribes, others supported by an appeal to pity, or a claim for reward. It was a motley crowd; a new Party had come into power, eager to break its fast, and feast on the Good things that the administration had to dispense.” (Edited for flow) I am sure this might be happening to Tinubu now.
America was that bad, but they dealt with it. Now, America is one of the least corrupt countries in the world. Their public services and servants are amongst the best of the best. Lincoln started the fight against appointment by political reward. In the time of crisis, he replaced political generals with competent and effective generals like Ulysses Grant. On his second inauguration, he refused to listen to politicians of the spoiler system who seek offices, not based on merit but patronage and nepotism, spoiling for plunder. Lincoln replaced nepotism with meritocracy.
Tinubu can be our Lincoln and become the greatest president of all time. He already enjoys the privilege of being great politician and statesman. A good place to start is the appointment of the right people that will help him in governance, good governance.
As Asiwaju appoints people to various offices, let competency, capacity, efficacy, patriotism and progressivism be the guiding principles. Meritocracy is a good thing. The economy must be managed by experts – progressive experts not slaves of the Washington Consensus or market fundamentalists. APC is meant to be a progressive party – pro-poor (90+% of the population) not pro-business.
Let the war on terror and banditry be led by competent generals with demonstrable ability. Generals shouldn’t be appointed because of where they come from, who they know, how they worship, or the bribe they offer.
On corruption, Tinubu must not only talk but also walk the talk. Else, corruption killers would turn out to be corruption dealers, like we have now.
Tinubu must depart from the Buhari way of doing things – nepotism. Lincoln departed from his predecessors too. Friends and family have their places, but not necessarily in government. Unlimited access to Villa by nephews without appointment or appointing relatives, friends, or family members without qualifications to high-level positions must end with Buhari next week.
The best of us should be appointed to the best offices.
Saad, a lawyer is the Deputy Chairman of APC Publicity Committee, Bauchi State and former Director-General of BASEPA.