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Vote Your Values, Values Matter!

By Wisdom Okoronkwo
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Nigeria has stubbed its toe on everything leadership, and the need to push back against such misfortune, borne out of seemingly undefined values, has never been more than now that its resultant challenges have come to a head. For as much as owning a voter card is important and valuable in many ways, especially for those who are not apolitical, there is yet a more important need; the need to go beyond the card ownership and vote one’s values. Vote for what you believe because they matter.

Values define who we are in a principled way. They account for what is of worth, what is beneficial, and what is harmful to us as well. Values ultimately guide our actions, judgments, and attitudes. Ethically too, values denote the degree of importance of something or action with the purpose of determining what actions are best to live, or what way is best to live in the light of the description of the significance different actions provide. So that the things we do and the way we behave should match our values; and to that extent life is good, at least.

Catch my drift: owning a card is so very important. In fact, it is the right thing to do to exercise your franchise. I will by no means make light such value plus the rights of the Nigerian citizen. But that circle of the will to own a card and to vote is made complete in so far as one is able to, as a friend would put it, transcend one’s “comfort zone” to one’s “courage zone” and vote for what one stands for, instead of moving with the crowd. By that I mean that card ownership is natural and somewhat easy as it requires you to simply walk down to a registration boot and get registered (although such effort can be frustrated by officials of the Independent Electoral Commission, INEC; and I hope things get better in that connection.) So, under a seamless registration process, it is no brainer to own a card. However, the greater task is the will to vote your values without compromise.

As Nigerians, we are all responsible for where we are now because of our values. When you literally stub your toe in life, the one reasonable thing to do is to make a detour. In doing so Nigerians must be ready to ask the right questions and define their values. To not ask the right questions or not ask at all is to take a trip on a road without direction, and that is a trip to nowhere. We must ask questions which reflect our defined values.

Questions: What are your values, for which you must cast your vote? What are the values of those aspiring for leadership positions and asking for your vote? In bringing the right answers to bare, we must demand for their records and manifestos like our future depends on them. For instance, among other things, they should show capacity in being able to understand the structure of Nigeria’s Constitution, and how our government functions as per the constitution. Aspiring leaders and “occupant-leaders” should convince the electorates that they have a hang of the basic constitutional principles of Nigeria’s democracy. Having transitioned from military leadership and framed the constitution along that fault line, leaders would have to convince voters that they are ready for a review of the 1999 constitution, even as amended.

Given the gap that exists in our diversity, which has further bred sectionalism in our polity, leaders must show capacity in uniting us, as we have been so divided it hurts everyone. In this connection, leadership must be able to ensure that no single part of the government can gain too much power over others. The big idea here is that leaders, aspiring leaders, and the electorate must understand the foundation upon which we are bound to unite.

In my search, trying to figure out how the developed countries, such as UK , U.S., China, and others, have got it right, I have figured one common denominator that makes them able to navigate their peculiar challenges. And that common denominator is the ability to ask critical questions in a manner that is probing enough to reveal answers upon which values are defined or redefined. As we know, Israel has not thrived not despite its unique challenges but because of them; Nigeria can too. Nigeria has all it takes to join the rest of the world in building a strong nation, especially as it relates to power generation. We can, like others, embark on “ideas reconnaissance” to fully rely on renewable energy, among other infrastructural provisions. As a trained Climate Reality Leader, part of my values for which I must vote for any candidate, is that candidate’s vision as it pertains to alternative energy creation. Because we cannot go wrong in total reliance on clean energy for electricity. The gradual shift to the use of electric vehicles has also become needful. At the less, Nigeria can reinforce the use of CGN-powered vehicles and the use of hybrid automobiles specs. There are limitless possibilities in the field of green energy generation that we cannot even fathom yet.

According to the late prime minister of the State of Israel, Shimon Peres, “Oil is finished; it may still be coming out of the ground, but the world does not want it anymore.” Surprised? Yes, that was and still is the theory that got Israel to become the leader in the realm of innovation through the constant questioning of orthodox practices. Shimon Peres could not be more correct, believing that “adversity, like necessity, breeds inventiveness”. Since the State of Israel was founded in 1948, David Gurion, also known as the father of the State of Israel, Shimon Peres, and other leaders defined and stayed clear on all those values that have brought them great fortune.

The United Arab Emirates thrives on similar model too. “We decided to convene a ministerial retreat in coming weeks in presence of local governments and economists to discuss UAE’s economy beyond oil”. Those were the words of His Highness Sheikh Muhammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the Vice President and Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai. These words underscore the reason behind the fact that 70 per cent of their GDP comes outside of oil receipts. Like Israel, the United Arab Emirates hinged its values on economic values that transcend an oil-based economy.

Oil may not have finished running in Nigeria today, but we can build more capacity with renewable energy. On a critical level, oil has done us more harm than good. It has financed terrorism and instability. That is why some argue that oil is either a curse or a blessing. What do you think? Well, I leave that question to your value judgment.

The late Sheikh Zayed, founder of the United Arab Emirates, UAE, was clear on what his values were. The City Dubai inspires happiness because he valued in it and ensured that every detail in the city. On beauty and clean air, the Sheikh believed in the preservation of trees and gardens. Sheikh Zayed ultimatetley believed that a city must be a source of happiness. So, it is now no wonder people travel to UAE and they are happy at once. Values matter!

Thanks to Mr. Tunde Bello for leading the march in Port Harcourt on Thursday, April 20, 2018 in protest against the black soot menace in Rivers State. Heavy drilling activities by International Oil Companies (IOCs) have largely been responsible for this soot outbreak. It is time for Rivers residents to go beyond the efforts of the Stop-the-soot Campaign group, concerned citizens of Rivers State, and Civil Liberty Organizations and re-echo their environmental concerns and values to press for clean energy programs. The need to protect the environment is a global concern. And, the soot flakes, which are organic powdery substances formed by combustion, provide compelling evidence to hold the government to account (federal and state governments). So that going forward, those seeking elective offices should be made to present value-based manifestos that cover the assurance of clean air for the people of Rivers State, among other pressing demands.

On a broader level, for electorates to vote their values by aligning with any candidate of choice, whose values reflect theirs, it will be foolhardy to even do so on the basis of the trending “Not Too Young To Run” idea, as age is in the mind and not a criterion to swing a youth population vote. If values represent what is of worth to an individual, then, it must transcend age and show competence. Yes, it may seem like we are still recycling leadership and dealing with chips off the old block ever since 1999 to date that our democracy has remained stable in terms of transitioning from one democratic government to another. The fact remains that the youths must step up to the plate and push back with superior argument hinged on merit and not mere sense of entitlement. In pushing back the argument, the youth population remains the active force to advancing our dear country, no doubt.

In an age when values are on a downward slope towards excessive liberty and immunity, political leaders and other public office holders are hardly seen as role models. As a result, people often say “we need young people to run for political offices”. Well, while I am a huge supporter of that “shift thinking”, I also think that it weakens the argument. Clearly, that argument of “not too young to run” oversimplifies the urgent need for innovative, vibrant, and radical leadership in our “nation” today.

Interestingly, Nigerian youths are gradually mustering the courage to come out of the cloud that had prevented them from running for elective offices in the past. Evidently, they are not “lazy”. After all, most of our elder-statesmen, dead and alive, led Nigeria at relatively young age brackets. Nnamdi Azikiwe, Obafemi Awolowo, Yakubu Gowon, Olusegun Obasanjo (in the 70s), Ibrahim Babangida, and Muhammadu Buhari ( in the 80s; the list is long) all took the mantle of leadership in their youth days. So, it is not too much to make room for today’s youths to actively take part in our leadership structure. So, that barrier that comes with envisioning an Igbo man a president, or the compensatory feeling that comes with voting a south-south person vice president and president is unfounded.

Again, in the seeming new world order, where technology is obstructing every sphere of human development, ranging from basic computing skills to artificial intelligence, the youth population, which is in the 60th percentile in Nigeria, stand a better chance of leading the park. But in spite of all that advantage, young or old, there is a common denominator that the two groups share: self interest. Self interest is a timeless and universal concern; hence, the need to get involved in the grand scheme of things, where high level decisions that affect the “nation” are and self interests are taken. To that extent I am convinced (and I do hope that you are, too) that the problem is not that we have been in this age-long leadership quagmire, but that this problem can potentially lead us to the “promise land”. As it makes us more profound as a people to face up with the problem: the concept of amor fati.

It is on the basis of the need for the youths to get involved in our political system and leadership structure that I join “a lot of Nigerian youths” to take absolute exception to the fashion in which the Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Femi Adesina attempted to tamper down Mr. President’s gaffe after the facts, against majority of Nigerian youths, in a foreign land. Instead of speaking gibberish, Femi Adesina should spend time and provide his boss the right talking point by way of good PR strategy like Presidential Media Chat or presidential press conference for the president for an opportunity to apologise to Nigerian youths, particularly now that he has declared his intention to run again. I do not blame the president so much as he is prone to off the cuff comments like that, especially when you want to sound “nice” to foreign allies. But I blame his handlers who could not muster a good PR strategy for him to mend such mendacity that set the social media agog. Sad!

To this end, we cannot limit the barometer of good governance and “fine” politics to voting for just any values, and neither are we going to reduce it to age factor alone, too. Age, as many argue, is in the mind. Every so often we relate with old people who are young at heart and result oriented. History is awash with such examples. Likewise, we do relate with young people who have come ahead of their times. What actually matters is the right wisdom to achieve the desired results. Now, it is time to wittingly challenge the orthodoxy of mere card ownership and graduate on to constantly vote for what we believe with regards to today’s peculiar realities and prevent Nigeria from stubbing its toe on leadership to compete favourably with other nations of the world. And like Israel and others in Europe and Asia are doing, we can redefine the largest, most powerful industries as car, oil, and electricity. Nigeria can obstruct the status quo with new, defined and redefined values. And just like no airplane reaches its destination unless it is kept on course, Nigeria, like an airplane, must be kept on course through hope-inspiring leadership; a leadership and followership that is clear on its values regarding our constitutional and democratic principles.

Wisdom Okoronkwo is a writer and a green advocate, researching the most effective ways to help Nigeria meet its energy needs and to grow green. He is also a trained Climate Reality Leader.

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