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Merkelian Principles and Nigeria’s leadership selection conundrum

Nations have swerved from intractable paths of political and economic regression onto highways of prosperity, political stability and social equality, not by systems of government but by the visions, choices and determinations of willing individuals in leadership who assume the roles of societal engineers as against obscene self or group aggrandizement. Recent examples will suffice for the purpose of this essay.

Lee Kwan Yew, the man that inspired the Singaporean political independence from Malaysia in 1959 and who eventually spearheaded the tiny country’s socio-economic rebirth in a reign that lasted till 1990, is one recent example. Lee never pretended to be a democrat. With sheer determination, anchored on selfless, almost spiritual, purpose, he weaved Singapore’s bristling ethnic diversity into a portent economic force and by the time he was leaving office, his country that wasn’t given a chance for survival at the beginning, by the western political and economic establishment, was one of the most prosperous economies in the world.

In Africa, Paul Kagame of Rwanda is the continent’s export into the world’s reference list of nation-changemakers. Having inherited a war-ravaged country with bewildering fratricidal ethnic fission, Kagame has evolved a Rwanda the world has continually used as an example of determined change. Though there are still pockets of criticisms of his perceived anti-democratic dispositions, the Rwandan president has re-created his country, making it one of the choicest destinations on the continent.

Kagame: Changed Rwanda from the ravages of war to enviable economic prosperity

The latest example is Angelica Merkel the German Chancellor who’s set to leave office in 2021. By the time she fully disengages, Merkel would have managed Germany for 15 years and would be leaving the country on top of Europe in leadership and economic growth. As a  demnstration of their appreciation of her impactful, revolutionary leadership, the entire 80 million-strong population of the country came out of their balconies to give their leader, a national applause that lasted for six minutes in February 2021. Merkel didn’t have to pay contractors to hire crowds for this national tumultuous simultaneous endorsement, the first of its kind in the history of the country; she earned it by her uncommon style of leadership, anchored on simplicity and dedication to the national wellbeing.

In many parts of the world, it would be unheard of for someone of Angela Merkel’s background to emerge as the head of government of her country, being as she is, from the old East Germany with all its erstwhile communist pariah baggage. East Germany and West Germany reunited only as recently as 1990 and 15 years after, in 2005, a person – a woman – from the weaker partner in the reunited, republic became choice party leader, choice coalition leader and choice national leader, surviving five British prime ministers, four French presidents, seven Italian prime ministers and four American presidents.

Such stability! To highlight the importance of Merkel’s choice as leader of the German people, it must be noted that the two former east and west entities had been separated for 45 years and all through this period, had been divided by a high wall that cut the border city of Berlin into two. But Germans, determined to progress from what had pulled them apart in the past, decided to work on their strengths instead and one of the best things they did was to choose a humble and determined leader from the old eastern bloc to help blight the scars of years of division and work for a progressive country anchored a new and enduring oneness.

This is where our dear country, Nigeria, comes into the picture. Fifty-one years after the civil war between separatist Biafra and the rest of Nigeria ended, Nigerians have adamantly worked hard for the wounds of the war to remain fresh and bleeding: citizens and centrifugal groups of all shades have regularly been raking over the old sores to make sure it never stopped festering.

The Nigerian version of the collapse of the Berlin Wall happened in 1970 with the signing of the “No-victor-no-vanquished” agreement, ostensibly to reintegrate those who fought on the Biafran side into a united Nigeria. But it would seem, from recent events and conversations that what was achieved 51 years ago was a lopsided unity that has left the present south-eastern part of the country still regarded as second-class stock in the national configuration.

Doyin’s tweet suggesting that the northern part of Nigeria would have to forgive the south east (for the since of the Nigerian Civil War) before a president of Igbo extraction could be possible in 2023 makes nonsense of whatever were the letters of the post-Civil War peace and reconciliation agreement.

If the cries of marginalization from the southeast had sometimes looked like it was overstated, the recent statement by Dr Doyin Okupe, former Media Assistant to ex-President Goodluck Jonathan, has refreshed what many people suspect has been a deliberate blockade of the people of this region from being a part of the country’s leadership at important high levels. Although he would later apologise for the indiscretion, Doyin’s tweet suggesting that the northern part of Nigeria would have to forgive the southeast (for the since of the Nigerian Civil War) before a president of Igbo extraction could be possible in 2023 makes nonsense of whatever were the letters of the post-Civil War peace and reconciliation agreement. It suggests some elements are still bearing the grudge of the Civil War against others, and knowing as we all do that the Civil War was fought between the present South-East and South-South (with the exception of a large chunk of present Edo State) on one side, it should bother everyone why the almighty northern Nigeria would forgive the South-South (where Goodluck Jonathan emerged to be president from 2010 – 2015) but continue to habour grudges against their southeast co-partners in the Nigerian project?

Germany would not have achieved its present impressive social, political and economic milestones if the grudges of the old had continued to influence their relationships. The entire republic has gained from the fortitude of one person.

Merkel won the hearts of the people, not because of her austere and boringly undynamic wardrobe but much more because she also saw the entire country as one; she sought and got the buy-in of the rest of the country towards deliberately developing the former eastern part of the country, which was bearing the regressive marks of Communist-era underdevelopment, to bring it up to the level of the much more advanced western part. The entire country gained from this: it averted needless internal migration with the attendant pressure on infrastructure.

Merkel was also an early visionary of the opportunities the European Union offered for her country. With Germany in an overwhelming manufacturing infrastructure advantage, she knew the other countries around it will become ready markets for goods of German origin, a factor that helped sustain GDP growth all through her tenure. This may have contributed significantly to the lifting of economic standards to a high of 20 percent at a time the economies of other large EU nations were, at best of times, stagnant.

These factors constitute what I have chosen to describe as the Merkelian Principle. In coining this, I am not establishing a political or economic school of thought; my intention is merely to capture change-making governance with a view to isolating lessons for my own people, wallowing as we have been, in leadership search since independence in 1960.

The Merkelian Principle speaks to leadership by example. It espouses measurable economic, social and political vision. It is that noiseless goal-oriented leadership with self-sacrifice as its soul. It is the deliberate leadership selection with actionable developmental objectives as its underpinning. When Germans chose her to lead a coalition government after an electoral stalemate, I am sure those who chose her understood the need for expedited healing of the post-Cold War Germany. Today, the gap between the eastern and western sides of the republic is hardly visible, save for the old site of the Berlin Wall that had become a fortune-fetching tourist attraction and a historical relic for citizens.

The Merkelian Principle understands the creative prowess of the human mind and does not leave for God, interventions that are possible for man to make. Although from a Christian-oriented political party (the Christian Democratic Union), Merkel didn’t pray for Divine intervention when Covid-19 surprised the world late in 2019. On the contrary, she fought the pandemic and recorded the highest success rates against the rampaging virus in the world, staving off debilitating human and economic toll on her country.

The Merkelian Principle is nationalistic. Angela Merkel was from the deprived old East Germany, but she did not see her tenure as an opportunity to give undue advantage to her people. When she thought special financial votes for the development of the eastern part of the country were needed, she ensured the entire country understood its overriding socio-economic implications for the entire country.

The Merkelian Principle is also about contentment. Angela Merkel is reputed to have remained in the same apartment she lived in before becoming Chancellor – a very normal apartment block. There’s no need over-flogging this particular point. We will not even ask this of Nigerian leaders. They might as well join Elon Musk as the first residents of Mars, provided they keep their hands away from our national till.I


Ikem Okuhu is a journalist, a Public Relations professional, brand strategist and teacher. With a career that traversed Print Media, Oil & Gas, Banking and entrepreneurship, Ikem is the author of wave-making book; PITCH: Debunking Marketing’s Strongest Myths, a dispassionate exposition of the dos and don’ts of successful engagement in the marketplace, especially the Nigerian marketplace. He is the founder/publisher of BRANDish, Nigeria’s first nationally circulating Brands and Marketing magazine. He has also handled the PR and reputation management consultancies for a number of brands, businesses and public figures.

  • Cyril Okonkwo

    I agree with you that leadership plays a critical role in the socio-political and economic direction for nations. Some may say that Germany is homogeneous, making integration of the west and east after the demolition of the Berlin Wall quite easy. But Rwanda under Kagame, has proven that visionary, altruistic leadership can knit disparate nations, even with long visceral suspicions, together. Politicians in Nigeria are always looking for ways of exploiting the religious and ethnic fault lines–and that has continued to widen the lines. Rather than something like the Merkelian Principle, what might continue to see in a long time is the Trumpian divisive system.

    March 23, 2021 at 2:09 pm Reply
  • Simeon C. Aruah

    Thank you Ikem for giving us opportunity to think.All developments and milestones start with political and economic structure of a country which compete leadership is the driving force. Our world will be better if take this Merkelian pathway.

    March 23, 2021 at 10:16 pm Reply
  • Tony Onyishi

    This incisive analysis of the negative impact of identity politics can surely be illustrated with the South East political blight no doubt, but it highlights much more germanely the tragedy of institutional anemia to our body politic. Since it’s taking eternity for a transformatory leader to happen on horizon the only feasible alternative for the country is to build strong institutions. Only these can moderate the antics of merchants of ethno-religious and cultural identities – they hanker more after personal power, for it’s sake, than nation building. Thiis, curiously, also explains the duplicity of many a South East political leader in what appears on the surface to be conspiracy to keep the Zone down. Take the currently raging debate on restructuring spearheaded by the civil society as a case in point. Are the South East according it the priority it deserves? I don’t think so; rather, most of them are neck-deep into the shenanigans for 2023 . Yet the current structure of the country if untinkered with will make a President of South East extraction only but a lion in the cage.

    March 23, 2021 at 11:28 pm Reply

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