Mid-2017, media waves trailed behind Diane Rwigara as her campaign to become the president of Rwanda grabbed national attention as well as criticism. True, the odds were against Rwigara: single, 35, running independently, plus being a she in a typical African society. She was running against regular opposition candidate Frank Habineza, journalist Phillipe Mpayimana and Paul Kagame — who has been the country’s president since 2000.
So, when news about Mr. Fela Durotoye’s #RunningforANewNigeria began filtering through my timeline, I greeted it with mindless excitement: New blood. Fresh thinking. Visionary leadership. Thoughts about Rwigara filtered in and I saw Fela Durotoye ticking similar boxes as Rwigara, save for slight differences: Fela is 47, male, and running under a political party — Alliance for New Nigeria.
In the last two months, FD’s campaign has met with increasing criticism across Social Media platforms, so much that I probed myself: What has FD done to deserve this barrage of invectives? What exactly is his crime?
In over a decade of active following, I’ve found his passion compelling and his leadership, astute. This is why I think those who are attempting to reduce him to a mere motivational speaker are either untutored or incorrigibly denigrating.
One does not have to be boot-licking to think that Fela Durotoye has demonstrated competent leadership: for building one of Nigeria’s leading business consulting and human resource management companies, and for grooming thousands of young leaders through Gemstone and Eden Nigeria; a faith-based organization spread across ten institutions and three cities.
A lot of people say Durotoye should have considered vying for an easily attainable office, while some insist that, for supporting Buhari in 2015, he deserves a greater misfortune than what the Buhari administration has brought on Nigerians.
A criticism I consider absolutely valid and difficult for Fela Durotoye to wish away is his history of political apathy.
As far as I know, FD has not much — if at all — engaged social conversations around public policies. On how many occasions has he pushed idea-based debates on issues related to education, security, electioneering, or health? Yes, I know of vigils and Nigeria-centered online prayer feasts. But I’m yet to learn how to pray away Nigeria’s heterogeneity and diversity — in ethnic sentiments, religious affiliation, and political ideologies. How do we pray ideas into execution? Against what backdrops will FD’s biases be adjudged if he never made an impression about ASUU Strike, restructuring, subsidy removal, Ebola crisis, national confab or even issues as seemingly trifling as the forgotten Olympic jersey?
The introductory connection drawn between Rwigara and Durotoye comes with steadfast deliberateness: Ms. Rwigara was known to publicly engage the political scene, calling out President Kagame on issues mostly associated with human rights violation, while Durotoye’s age-old silence continues to trail after him. This difference becomes more pitiful when one realizes how much Kagame’s administration dwarfs the overall economic performances of all Nigeria’s president under these 19 years of undemocratic democracy.
So, let’s interpolate: Rwigara spoke out relentlessly against one of the most remarkable administrations in recent Africa, while Durotoye remained inexhaustibly mute under some of the most overbearing, injudicious and corruption-laden administrations in the collective history of post-colonial Africa.
Such disservice to nationhood is what most of his critics have adjudged to be caused by a fear of conflict, rather than political correctness. Sadly, these years of accumulated silences surprisingly often catch up with aspirants who wish to surprise the public with their political ambition. It is interpreted as hiding from public scrutiny. If there exists other crimes bearing Durotoye’s name, their roots can be traced to his longstanding refusal to overcome political inertia.
I do not dispute that Nigeria’s political system needs charismatic men like Durotoye. What I find disturbing is that his entrance clearly indicates that not much has been learnt from the pitfalls of yesteryear’s technocrats who pursued political revolutions, ignoring its complementary evolution.
On January 11, FD made a release in which he declared that he wants a party “with a clear ideology” but when you read ANN coordinator’s response to a question on ideology, you doubt if the party is not already sitting on a keg of gunpowder. He said: “Our own ideology is that Nigeria is one of the greatest countries created by God but we have not been blessed by good leaders. So we came about with the ideology can be great again.”
Infant ANN doesn’t have much time to grow before 2019. Yet, FD’s campaign hinges on another fragile link: young and strong. When reactionary fanatics of #NotTooYoungToRun insist that young people must be given a chance like Emmanuel Macron or Justin Trudeau, I feel choked by the smell of ignorance.
One. Of the 36 that emerged governors in 1999, 61.1% (22) of them were younger than — or mates with — Fela Durotoye. Nobody gave them a chance. They took it. And as Oo Nwoye noted, there isn’t any strong correlation between the youngest governors in ’99 and the better governed states.
Two. FD’s approach is neither Macronic nor Trudean. Macron got into active politics in 2001. He was 24. Trudeau was in high school when he began engaging public debates about Canadian federalism. In all fairness, the Macrons we should be talking about are the young Nigerians debating policies, participating in parties and engaging advocacy. They are the real barrier breakers.
History is old enough to teach us that when it comes down to winning political seats in Nigeria, our knowledge of leadership is never a worthy substitute for understanding politics. But as long as technocrats stick to this entitlement mentality, Nigeria’s current political dynamics continues to prove less penetrable for newcomers running under newcomer-parties formed by newcomers.
When FD said his team will embark on grassroots mobilization within twelve months, I wondered if he meant it. Since the days of John the Baptist — pardon me — the man Atiku Abubakar, the habitual contender for the hot seat, has been caught again and again within grassroots communities; doing some of the smartest and unthinkable things to demonstrate his connection with the locals. But playing to the gallery of elite youths who support hashtags and chicken out when they’re most needed, is a recurring error among technocrats attempting to navigate through Nigeria’s lumpy, muddy waters.
I imagine that all these protruding deficiencies are redeemable if FD commits to remediation. But will twelve months deliver what twelve years could have done? Yet, I often think about Peter Thiel’s four ways humans approach the future: definite optimism, definite pessimism, indefinite optimism and indefinite pessimism.
Here, I struggle to convince myself that, somehow, FD — the Fela Durotoye I know — has a grander plan than surrendering to the noise of cheerers; that he has a consciousness of history and would not build such a sophisticated mission upon indefinite optimism.
No matter which angle we choose to see it from, Fela Durotoye’s active participation in politics is a good, courageous, even significant move. It will define a lot of things for youth engagement in the years to come.
What Exactly Is Fela Durotoye’s Crime? Was written by Adedapo Treasure who is a Writer and Filmmaker.