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2023: Did Afe Babalola Just Fly A Kite?

“The most serious failure of leadership is the failure to foresee.” — Robert. K. Greenleaf

In the political sphere of human endeavour, Nigeria is easily the busiest nation. One whole year ahead of every election season in Nigeria, the conversation is always fierce. Sometimes, it looks as if the country will explode but somehow, we wriggle out and continue the tremulous journey into nationhood. This year precedes yet another general election and the society is turned upside down by politicking and its attendant intrigues. 

The kind of governance delivered by President Muhammadu Buhari and his All Progressives Congress party in the last seven years makes it imperative that 2023 is going to be tumultuous as the nation strives to find direction for the future. The discordant voices in the ongoing political conversation mirror the situation ahead of 2023.

Perhaps, for this reason, the Ekiti State-born iconic lawyer, Chief Afe Babalola (SAN), is in the eye of the storm over his shocking proposal on the way forward for Nigeria. He is one of Nigeria’s best-known professionals and well-behaved [not boatrocking] elder statesmen. His utterances, by rating, have never been frivolous or unbecoming. When a man of no mean standing issues a statement that sounds strange and unexpected, it should not be treated just at face value.

Chief Babalola took a curve in the ongoing, pre-2023 political discussions and said what was not expected from a democrat. The statement, as expected, has generated mixed reactions.

Last week, the legal luminary took the political discourse to another level by proposing that instead of the 2023 general election drawing the curtain on President Buhari’s two terms in office, an interim regime should be formed to steer Nigeria in a new direction.

He suggested the outright suspension of the scheduled general election while the interim regime stayed in office for six months to develop “a new-look people’s constitution which should provide for part-time legislators and [a] non-executive president.”

While the Afe Babalola theory has continued to generate negative reactions in some quarters, he, again, shocked many by insisting that his proposal is the best option for the country right now.

Before we dissect the merits/demerits of the proposal, let us look at how kite flying works in our polity. First, was Afe Babalola flying a kite for some remote schemings of some eggheads or driven by conviction based on the sorry state of Nigeria?

What is kite flying, you may ask? According to Google, the earliest known written account of kite flying is in China in 200 BC, supporting China’s claim to the origin of the kite. The Chinese General Han Hsin of the Han Dynasty flew a kite over the walls of a city he was preparing to attack to measure how far his army would have to tunnel to reach past the defence.

In our clime’s political parlance, kite flying, as explained by Google, also means the tactic whereby a politician, usually through the media and often by way of an intentional leak, raises an idea to gauge the public reaction. This definition looks appears to capture Bsbalola’s position.

Curious minds are asking, what is propelling Chief Babalola? Is he driven by patriotism to find a way out for an embattled nation? Is it a part of a grand design working to truncate the democratic process for an ulterior motive?

Has democracy as practised in this country since 1999 been able to help Nigeria’s growth? Are there any positives to wanting to continue with this system? Is our problem a systematic thing or our attitude as a people or both? Is the Babalola proposal a better option than what we have operated?

These permutations are necessary because it does not seem that the problem with Nigeria can be located outside what the late literary icon Chinua Achebe has in The Trouble With Nigeria. In the book, he identified one thing–a failure of leadership. “There is nothing [else] wrong with the Nigerian land or climate or water or air or anything else.”

Relying on Achebe’s position, even with Chief Babalola’s proposal, the problems may persist until we find a way out of leadership issues. This makes this time very critical in our political life because political parties are in the process of picking their flag bearers who will in the end be our leaders, the President and his deputy, the governors, and their deputies, the legislators at federal and state levels are all being chosen now.

If we are unanimous that in this dispensation we have not recorded appreciable growth as a nation and we keep doing the same thing and expecting different results, then something is fundamentally wrong with us as a people.

The concern is not whether we failed as a nation politically but that we appear contended with our situation. Otherwise, why should we all not feel agitated to think and work outside the box for once? That some political leaders are still seeking to pass the wrong road instead of seeking problem solvers as future leaders is disturbing and worrisome looking ahead.

If in 2015 a cross-section of Nigerians felt that then-President Goodluck Jonathan was not doing well and had to be changed and eight years after some gladiators are desperately seeking the same Jonathan, not for his performance record but the selfish reason that he is the only person that has just four years to be in power, then we are not appreciating the enormity of the problems on the ground. Our interest is more on power grabbing than in finding the pathfinder to direct us to the right course.

Whether or not Dr Jonathan fits into the now and has the wherewithal to handle today’s Nigeria is a story for another day. But suffice it to state the level of confusion in the system might have informed Chief Babalola’s strange proposal notwithstanding that our story with interim government hardly ends well. Chief Ernest Shonekan is a sour case in mind. Rather than slove the problem it set out to do it compounded it leading to the emergence of Nigeria’s worst dictator. Why did Shonekan fail, because the motive of bringing him was suspect and selfish.

Let us therefore pray that Chief Babalola is not knowingly or unknowingly playing out a script of edging out the South-East from the rotational executive presidency. Each time public opinion is in favour of Ndigbo getting power a strange kite similar to Chief Babalola would be flown and eventually made real. In 1983, kites were flown about ending democracy after the general election; it came to pass that three months after winning a second term and then-Vice President Alex Ekwueme looked good to succeed President Shehu Shagari, the regime was torpedoed by the military junta led by this same Muhammadu Buhari. If any scheming is along that line, Nigeria, God forbid, is headed for the dyke. 

If the owl cries at night and the baby dies in the morning, there is a strong connection. This Igbo saying has its variants in other African tongues. God help us.

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