One of the political stories that dominated the pages of Nigerian newspapers in the last few days was the debate on whether General Muhammadu Buhari should contest the 2015 presidential election. Clearly public opinion was divided on the issue between those who support the idea of Buhari contesting again and those who think the General should have some rest. I believe General Buhari will make the right decision at the right time. My personal opinion is that he shouldn’t contest, but if he does contest, he has my vote.
Beyond participation in the electoral process, there is one contribution which General Buhari can make, and that will make more difference to the future of Nigeria, and will build an enduring legacy that will be useful for generations to come. That contribution is nothing more than providing effective mentorship to the younger generation. One of the mistakes made by our elites from independence to date is their inability to produce worthy successors who can continue with their vision and carry the youth along who may not have the privilege of acquiring similar experience as the generation before them.
Let us briefly define mentorship before suggesting ways in which our elders, and for the purpose of this piece General Buhari can contribute in the development of our country at this critical stage. Ann Morton, one of the leading experts in the area of mentorship whose work on professional development is a reference point starts by looking at the definition of the mentor as a way of understanding mentorship. She suggests that a mentor is somebody who “provides support, advice and guidance in a relationship which is confidential, open and non-judgmental and where the mentor listens and asks questions which promote the mentee to reflect on their own development”.
However the nature of mentorship in politics as espoused by the leading experts on leadership and politics is different from mentorship in professional organisations. Mentorship in politics is a transformational process that gives the mentor the ability to carry the followers along and transfer his vision, integrity and moral values into the followers so that a movement can be developed which will reshape the society and provide direction to the populace.
Writing in the 1986 edition of the Journal of Political Psychology, Lee Wilkins reviewed the work of James McCgregor Burns on leadership in which he spoke about the role of mentorship in politics. Wilkins stated that “one method which the transforming leader may use is that of political mentorship, political mentorship differs from traditional mentorship in that it is accomplished without the personal contact that accompanies the more traditional mentorship. However political mentorship achieves the same goal: it allows the follower to move from political adolescence to political adulthood. Political adulthood is defined not as a function of age but rather achievement of political maturity-that is the individual strength to resist societal coercion on issues involving a universal moral-ethical principle”.
A critical look at the issues presented above suggests that if there is one thing needed in Nigerian politics in this age is the political mentorship that will develop Nigerian politicians to transfer from political adolescence to political maturity. The inability of Nigerian politicians to resist the material temptation to jump from the opposition party whether in their state or at the federal level to the more juicy ruling party is an example of political adolescence. This is something that has characterised Nigerian politics since the return of the country to civilian administration in 1999. And when it comes to political adolescence, there is little difference between PDP, ANPP, ACN and CPC.
In developing a strategy for developing this mentorship General Buhari should dedicate part of his energy to establish a Foundation on good governance whose sole aim is the development of the political culture of the Nigerian politician into service for the community rather than just a career for the development of personal interest. The Foundation should work across party lines, ethnic and religious divides. A Nigeria that is populated by good Muslims and good Christians, good Hausa, Fulani, Yoruba, Igbo, Ijaw and Kanuri is better than Nigeria that is managed by bad Muslims and bad Christians. Recent events involving the pension fund scandal and the sentencing of James Ibori teaches us that corruption and bad behaviour is not the monopoly of any ethnic group or geographical location.
Another thing that General Buhari can do in developing political mentorship is to target our universities by establishing professorial chairs (through the Buhari Foundation) that will conduct research on the political journey of Muhammadu Buhari. This research can provide an invaluable literature that can be used in educating the younger generation. I don’t know if there is an existing framework at the moment in Nigerian universities that supports this venture, but it is worth exploring. No society develops when it ignores the achievements and the mistakes of its founding fathers. As such conducting a rigorous research that examines the success and pitfalls of the Buhari project as a military officer and a politician will be essential in developing a learning curve for the future generation who in the words of Buhari himself have no country other than Nigeria. As we have seen from the politics and life of late Malam Aminu Kano, the appreciation of the real contribution of General Buhari to the political development of Nigeria may come after his life.
By Muhammad Jameel Yusha’u
Newcastle upon Tyne, UK