Lessons from Macron’s election
For Nigeria, the most obvious lesson from the May 7 election of Emmanuel Jean-Michel Frederic Macron as President of France is that the youth too can do it, if the conditions are right.
At age 39 and one who has never held elected office, Macron founded En Marche, a centrist political group - he called it movement- complete with an ideology, structure, and a campaign machine that within a year, took on and defeated long existing and experienced mainstream political parties- rightist and leftist. At the second round of the presidential election, he trounced Marine Le Pen’s National Front with 66.1 per cent of the votes to the latter’s 33.9 per cent. He received 20,743, 128 votes, about twice his competitor’s 10,638, 475 numbers.
And, taking office on 14 May, he has promptly begun to constitute his government with the appointment of 46-year old Edouard Philippe, the mayor of the port city of Le Havre as prime minister preparatory to choosing candidates for the June legislative election.
Macron, an investment banker, may not have contested election before now but he has substantial experience in the corridors of political power. He worked as a public servant in the Ministry of Economy, was a member of the Socialist Party from 2006, and served in different governments as deputy secretary-general, and Minister of Economy, Industry, and Digital Affairs. Having presented his movement as centrist and on which strength he was voted into power, he is a president that, expectedly, will pursue a balance between social equality of the left, and social hierarchy of the right. Being conscious of, on the one hand, the sentiments that drive some in society to extremes of the political divide, and on the other, the yearning of the electorate for a more equitable socio-economic system, he said that ‘the divisions and fractures in our society must be overcome.’ To this end, the new president promised to ‘reconcile the French (people).”
In terms of foreign policy, he reportedly intends to strengthen the global stature and influence of France, increase overseas spending to meet the European Union target of 0.7 per cent of the GDP of member-nations, and also review the military bases in Africa. His government would insist on fluency in French to qualify for French citizenship, and religious leaders would be trained to imbibe French secular values.
Mr. Macron is a man who follows his mind, as exemplified by the story of his marriage. He is one who, like erstwhile U.S. president Barak Obama, believes in the spirit of ‘can do,’ as evidenced by the policies movement he put together to win so soon and so spectacularly, the highest office in the land and at an age only Napoleon matched. But his success has not dropped from the sky on his laps. He prepared, and was assisted, by others for it. He has a sound education, he worked in both public and private sectors, and he benefitted from elders who brought him into government and political exposure. But all these would have eluded him but for the fact his benefactors found him worthy of high responsibilities and leadership roles, he rose. In sum, Macron earned his achievement. Indeed, his confidence, his courage, and his competence is clearly demonstrated by the fact of moving out of the Socialist Party to start his own political platform.
It must be recalled though, that Nigeria once had courageous and capable young people in leadership positions. General Yakubu Gowon at age 32, led this country through its most difficult times, Brigadier Mobolaji Johnson was governor of Lagos State at 31; Naval officer Alfred Diette-Spiff was governor in Rivers State at 25; and M.T. Mbu was federal minister at age 25, albeit under military rule. It is a mark of Nigeria’s regression that decades later, the older ones are snatching back what they should let go to the terrible detriment of the growth and development of the nation.
It must be noted, however, that his mentors and senior politicians who leveraged his career are good people who identify and nurture younger ones with such positive qualities. It is said that only the deep calls to the deep. The leadership recruitment motive and process that put an under 40 year-old into the French presidency must be commended. Besides, Macron’s success is a function of a political environment that is relatively healthy, civilised, and rancor-free, where respectable politicians, servant-leaders play decent politics largely for the common good. It is noteworthy that outgoing president Francois Hollande reportedly chose not to seek re-election because of his low public rating. If this is true, such sensitivity to public feeling is indeed a mark of statesmanship.
President Macron sees a ‘new chapter of hope and confidence’ and he promised to give back to the French people the confidence to believe in themselves. And he is reported to say he is ‘a man of the right’ but motivated by ‘the greater good of society’ to work with the left. That is wisdom of a patriot.
On the one hand, Nigeria is blessed with a large number of young people waiting for just the opportunity to excel; there are many others not waiting but launching unto something by, and for themselves. But, on the other hand, too many of the older generations are too deeply sunk in all types of delinquency to either show good example, or create an environment conducive for achievement. And there is much to say about the power of environment to affect fortunes.
There is absolutely no reason many such as Macron cannot ascend in this country. The adults in charge must, of course, allow it. And the youth must muster the confidence, the competence, and the courage required to take the baton.