by Olusegun Adeniyi
In the bid for the 2019 presidency, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar and his supporters have created an English word that does not exist and gone ahead to define it. In strategic places on the streets of Abuja, there are billboards bearing the campaign photograph of Atiku with the bold inscription ‘Deservation!’ and the rider: ‘Project 774 for Atiku 2019’.
Curious as to what the word means within the context of Atiku’s aspiration to be president of Nigeria, I decided to do a Google search which took me directly to the website of ‘Atiku Deservation Movement: Project 774 for Atiku 2019’. While I enjoin readers to peruse the statement titled ‘Foundations of the Dream’, this line captures the essence of Atiku’s ‘Deservation’ dream: “He is believed to be one of the most deserving to lead Nigeria at this auspicious time in its history. So, Deservation connotes deserving to be crowned as the President of Nigeria…”
Yes, I am one of those who believe that in terms of experience and exposure, Atiku is perhaps the most prepared of all the aspirants for the number one job in the country today. But to suggest that he deserves “to be crowned as the president of Nigeria” is to completely miss the point. When leaders give more importance to what they believe they are entitled to rather than what they have to offer the society, there is a problem. Sadly, that state of mind explains our woes in Nigeria because the primary motivation of those who aspire for public office is more about what they should get rather than what they ought to give.
This culture of ‘Deservation’, which simply means that Nigerians owe Atiku the 2019 presidency, is one that denies taking responsibility, breeds inept and self-serving leadership and ultimately creates excuses for failure. Besides, leaders with a ‘Deservation’ mentality are good only at playing the victim and when their manipulation fails, as it most often does, they become desperate and toxic. We do not have to look very far to see all that in our country today, from Abuja to the 36 states, including where some “uncommon defectors” now boast publicly that they would deploy (Adolf) Hitler tactics to win the next election for their party.
For those who may still not understand the ‘Deservation’ mentality, they need only to pay attention to what is happening in Oyo State. In 2016, Governor Abiola Ajimobi visited the ‘Music House’ of popular musician, Yinka Ayefele in Ibadan where he made a confession: “When we contested the first election and won, a lot (of people) told us to demolish the radio station because your programmes and broadcasts are against my government. Your boss, Yinka Ayefele, was also using songs to insult us. I didn’t see any reason why I should demolish the studio. If Ayefele is not for us today, he (will) support us later in future. Ayefele is beside me now and I pray the business will keep flourishing. Without any equivocation, I must confess that this radio station is the best in Oyo State.”
Since the “future support” by the “best radio station” has failed to materialise, Ajimobi last Sunday sent bulldozers to pull down the premises hosting Fresh FM in deference to the advice he got from his supporters two years ago. And it did not matter that an investment worth hundreds of millions was destroyed in the process. That is the full meaning of ‘Deservation’ as most Nigerian public officials abuse their powers to deal with anybody who as much as challenge their excesses or seek to hold them to account.
As we therefore approach the 2019 general election, we must make it clear that the only thing that can untangle the multitude of problems we face in the country is for our politicians to be humble enough to admit that Nigeria has given them so much for so little contributions. Because, let’s face it, the distribution of opportunities in our country is not necessarily about merit, especially for those who are in strategic leadership positions, it is about other considerations. For that reason, those whose palm-kernels were cracked for them by a benevolent spirit, to borrow from the eternal wisdom of Chinua Achebe, should not insult our collective intelligence with their ‘Deservation’ agenda.
Unfortunately, the culture of ‘Deservation’ is now so pervasive that in Kano, the incumbent governor has decreed that his predecessor cannot campaign for the presidency in the state he governed for eight years. In Imo, the incumbent says only his son-in-law can succeed him. In many states of the country today, even the payment of salaries to government workers is now hailed as a big achievement for which governors now erect huge bill boards in the spirit of ‘Deservation’. To worsen matters, there are no debates going on anywhere about the challenges facing the country or how to proffer solutions at practically all levels of governance with the capacity to lead Nigeria now equated with the ability to walk 800 metres unaided.
Meanwhile, in most advanced democracies, politicians spend at least 18 months on the campaign train during which they sell their ideas and have their temperament tested. The essence of the marathon exercise (during which the aspirants move from one town to another) is to subject the candidates to real scrutiny by the people they intend to lead (and in the process weed out the unworthy). But here, all it takes to aspire for office is for just about anybody to register their own political party and print some glossy posters where they make some outlandish promises they have no intention of ever fulfilling.
To come back to Atiku, I hope his handlers realize the potential danger of their choice of the ‘Deservation’ campaign slogan which echoes both a sense of entitlement as well as an offensive condescension. If his ambition to be president of Nigeria is therefore because he wants to offer service to a nation that has evidently given him so much, and not because we owe him our votes, then somebody should have the common sense and decency to remove the pompous billboards that dot some street corners in Abuja.