It has been fascinating following the heated discourse about the forth-coming presidential elections in Nigeria. While majority of the debates have been largely based on irrelevancies and emotional outbursts, few have been very well-thought, dispassionate and objective. These few contributions have elevated the discussion above partisanship and self interest to issues that are germane to moving Nigeria forward.

One thing is clear from this cacophony of mixed debates: whether President Goodluck Ebelebe Jonathan (GEJ) or General Muhammadu Buhari (GMB) emerges the winner of the March 28 election, the electoral and democratic landscape in Nigeria will never be the same! As a Nigerian with no partisan affiliation, I am hopeful that Nigeria can become great again. I am tired of the perennial under-performance and under-delivery by the Nigerian Project.

This time is different in many respects. For one, Nigerians (citizens and politicians) now seem more aware that the choices we make today dictate our future. As citizens, we now know that who we vote into power dictates the type of governance we get. I have heard from many, who four years ago voted GEJ, who are now disappointed with his (under)performance. A few have been honest enough to confess they voted for him out of sentiment. Of course, our political class are becoming aware (at least I hope they are) that the days of doing whatever they like while in power, and then coming around during elections (with bags of rice and cash) to convince us to renew their mandates are numbered.

Secondly, I sense a general discontent with the current state of affairs in Nigeria. This is not new, except that people now seem genuinely serious about doing something to effect change. Thirdly, there is a momentum of more willing participants in the electoral process. I have read how people are actively encouraging each other to exercise their voting rights and stay alert against plans to dis-enfranchise them.

Recent events suggest that the balance of power might be shifting from the political class to the Nigerian people. We may be approaching a period of real “power to the people” (not the PDP mantra, of course). We have a good shot at demanding accountability from our elected officials through our votes. I am seeing increasingly more people thinking beyond their ethnic, regional and religious biases and asking the right questions of our intending leaders. If these positive developments are sustained past the March 28 Presidential elections, I believe Nigeria is on to a new beginning, irrespective of who emerges as the Winner.

Notwithstanding, we (citizens and politicians) have some room to improve. For my fellow citizens, we need to be tolerant and respectful of others, irrespective of their opinions. I have noticed people get negative towards others simply because they have a different viewpoint. We must remember that freedom to hold (and express) one’s opinion is at the very foundation of democracy. No single individual (or group) has the monopoly of wisdom.

Secondly, we need to hold our leaders, including our religious leaders, accountable. On the latter, I grew up in Nigeria and understand the sensitivity around demanding accountability from our “elders”. However, if we are instructed to “imitate” our religious leaders as they imitate God, we had better have the courage to ask questions when we are unsure they are following in God’s footsteps. This should be done respectfully with no personal character assassination.

Thirdly, we need to keep these conversations going way past the elections. We must remember that politicians are humans and would automatically gravitate towards “business as usual” after they get to power. We need to be on guard against this. I particularly charge the elites and the middle class not to get back to the “comfortable” and complacent mode – leaving the “dirty” politicians to do whatever they like as long as we have our six-digit salaries, fancy toys, summer vacations in the West and homes in “gated communities”. I believe our children and grand-children would want to us to fight for a future Nigeria they can be proud of.

Fourthly, we should aspire to a level of maturity where we can see issues objectively and make decisions that transcends our narrow lenses. Being a Christian or Muslim, or being from the North or South does not make someone a good or bad leadership material. Our history has repeatedly shown that these frivolous criteria do not necessarily translate to good performance for higher-office holders. Lastly, we must continue to pray for Nigeria and our leaders, and not be naive to believe that governing a complex society like Nigeria is an easy task for anyone. We need God to give our leaders the courage to always do the right thing, no matter how difficult or un-popular.

I’d like to leave a few thoughts for whoever wins the upcoming election. If GEJ is re-elected, I hope he understands now that Nigerians would neither longer tolerate bad governance nor accept mediocrity from our leaders. I hope he learns from his mistakes, begins to work on earning our trust and gets rid of the sycophants surrounding him. If GMB wins, I advise that he is humble in victory and work on re-uniting the entire country. He should remember that the voters that bring a candidate into the office can get him/her out in the next four years if (s)he does not perform. Lastly, he should not try to focus on too many priorities at a time. Pick three or four cornerstone priorities, set specific goals and mobilize all resources available to deliver one-hundred percent on these goals.

Whoever wins, please gather a competent team with the right expertise and integrity to work hard and deliver for Nigeria. I am not naive enough to think you would not have to fill your cabinet with those who worked the trenches during your campaign. All I am asking is that merit, expertise, precedent experience and personal integrity should be central to making such appointments. Enough of having mere political jobbers, who are only interested in enriching their pockets, be at the helm of affairs. Please, do not choose people just because they have three letters (BSc, MSc, PhD etc) after their name, but those with proven track record of personal and professional probity and performance.

I also believe most of our recalcitrant problems (corruption, under-performance, infrastructural deficit, poor service delivery, unemployment etc) can be fixed if we build strong institutions. The next administration should expend significant political capital in strengthening our weak institutions. In the words of the US President, Barrack Obama, “Africa doesn’t need strong men (or women), but strong institutions”.

I am hopeful for a Nigeria where people are given opportunities based on their personal merits and not who their godfather is. A Nigeria that is reputable for noble things, safe, secure and prosperous. Until then, I am encouraged by the events of the recent times where more people are engaged in real discussions about the future of the country. I am optimistic that no matter what happens come March 28, Nigeria is on the path of change. God bless Nigeria.

Deji Dunmola is a concerned Nigeria Citizen. He lives in Canada.