For Nigeria to work for all Nigerians, it is important to construct mechanisms to check the intelligence of our leaders in the sense of how well they understand the current developments and the present and future challenges, before we give them our votes.


Electioneering campaigns play a central role in all multiparty democracies. Campaigns are important in bringing out the ideological positions of politicians running for different offices in the land. In the 1976 Carter-Ford televised debates in the United States, for instance, it was found that debates produced an increased political awareness in the minds of the electorate before the elections were conducted. Such debates allow citizens to have a better understanding of both the personalities and the issues involved.

On the level of personality, the electorate can judge candidate performance, competence and attributes; while on the level of issues, the electorate can assess how well aspiring leaders understand contemporary concerns and policies bordering on present-day challenges. Although political debates could have existed for a very long time, nonetheless, the first televised pre-election debate was instituted by the Nixon-Kennedy campaign of 1960 in the United States, and this has since been adopted by almost all Western democracies. One thing is certain — the presence of the mass media in the political system makes it the most reliable method by which the verbal behaviour of candidates are documented, so that their deeds in office can be used to easily hold them to account.

Since the “mandate theory” of multiparty democracies hinges on the idea that the electorate choose political parties on the basis of alternatives, the demand that they stay on if promises are fulfilled by politicians is key in evaluating the value of the democratic process. This calls for the need to elect the right people to the right public offices, all the time. There are several reasons for which a candidate can be elected to political office, and since leadership requires making the most difficult decisions, it cannot be denied that modern democracies can only function effectively if persons managing the highest offices in the land have the capacity for critical thought to enable them take the most difficult decisions on governance.

In correlating the capacity for effective leadership vis-à-vis the ability to make difficult decisions, German general, Kurt von Hammerstein-Equord, was attributed with the following words: “I divide my officers into four groups. There are clever, diligent, stupid, and lazy officers. Usually two characteristics are combined. Some are clever and diligent — their place is the General Staff. The next lot are stupid and lazy — they make up 90 per cent of every army and are suited to routine duties. Anyone who is both clever and lazy is qualified for the highest leadership duties, because he possesses the intellectual clarity and the composure necessary for difficult decisions. One must beware of anyone who is stupid and diligent — he must not be entrusted with any responsibility because he will always cause only mischief.”

Even though the personal integrity of a leader is important, allocating absolute power to a person based on that attribute alone is problematic, and it could only be essential if that integrity is complemented by a thorough and methodical understanding of the teething troubles within Nigeria’s distinct polity.


Nigeria could be a perfect example that explains the inability of a people to forge ahead due to the absence of clever leadership enduring for several decades. In a recently televised press briefing, Nigerian politician, Dr. Datti Baba-Ahmed, described Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari’s popularity as a political acceptance that was built and sustained not on the basis of meaningful ideas but on “stark illiteracy” and “outright madness.” While Baba-Ahmed’s words may not be politically right as it could be too difficult to endure for those who care to be apprehended by it, perhaps due to narrow local concerns; his words, nonetheless, relates perfectly to the more general and wider issues defining the situation that Nigeria is currently facing. The main message of Baba-Ahmed’s thesis is on the eeriness of voting a person into the highest office in the land, not on the basis of his competence driven by excellent intellectual clarity, but on a supposed personal integrity.

Even though the personal integrity of a leader is important, allocating absolute power to a person based on that attribute alone is problematic, and it could only be essential if that integrity is complemented by a thorough and methodical understanding of the teething troubles within Nigeria’s distinct polity. For Nigeria to work for all Nigerians, it is important to construct mechanisms to check the intelligence of our leaders in the sense of how well they understand the current developments and the present and future challenges, before we give them our votes. In any event, it should be stressed that the personal integrity of a leader should only be significant as a complementary item to the leader’s ability to cause the desired outcome through the productive use of resources.

It should be stated that even in foremost democracies such as the United States, the extent of ideological awareness is debated to establish if the “ideology glass” (to lend the coinage of Columbia University professor of political science, Kathleen Knight) is half full or half empty. Having studied the 1980 presidential votes in the United States within what she termed the “levels of conceptualisation”, Knight concluded that a substantial impact on the choice of a candidate is created when ideological sentiment is supported by a sophistication enough to merit categorisation as an “ideologue.” This doctrinaire support of a political ideology for nation building in the contemporary world is missing in the Nigerian polity. The missing ideology has led to the ignoring of the normative foundations of democratic mandates; thus, the demand that candidates for political offices are competent or not does not even arise in major political party discourses.

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Since there are no set criteria (such as the official completion of a course or the conferring of a title by known practitioners as we have it in our different fields of specialisation) as requirements to be met for holding political offices, the Nigerian voters seem to be very comfortable with people of the least competence amongst them to emerge as their leaders. But in a democratic setting, the criteria for office is not made definite so that the voters can think; so that they can realise that they are not limited by a predetermined boundary for a reason to allow them to elect the best amongst themselves; to have leaders who can formulate the best answers to their problems. The current reality of the Nigerian polity prevents any attempt to attain a fairer, more egalitarian society.

Mohammed Dahiru Aminu (mohd.aminu@gmail.com; @mdaminu) wrote from Bedford, England.