The Nigerian Macron: Can we make it happen?

French President Emmanuel Macron / AFP PHOTO / JEAN-PHILIPPE KSIAZEK

Nigeria is inspired. You can feel the countdown to a day when our own version of Emmanuel Macron becomes president. The key question is: how long should we set our collective timer? We are two years away from the 2019 election, but possibly a world away from the set of realities that brought a 39-year-old to the highest seat of political power. Nigerians may be wondering: “It could work in theory, but would it work in practice?” Perhaps we should instead start out by thinking: “It works in practice, but does it work in theory?” A joke often attributed to the French mentality, which would help us foster the subliminal acceptance of a young president – in the place where it matters most: national conscience. We know Nigeria has a catalogue of celebrated young leaders from the earlier chapters of her chronology; but what about today? And 2019? To build a bridge that enables the Macron possibility in Nigeria, on both theoretical and practical fronts, our nation needs to look at negative trends we must reverse, and positive signals we should accelerate – with equal vigilance.

Negative trends
How would the following scenario be perceived in Nigeria: Macron acted as a close adviser of President Hollande for two years, enjoying cherished access to the President at the Élysée Palace. As a promotion, Hollande decided to appoint Macron as French Minister of Economy, Industry and Digital Affairs. Exactly two years into serving in Hollande’s cabinet, Macron resigned from office in August 2016, having already set up a new political party (En Marche!) in April 2016 – while still a serving Minister! We know how the story ends. How “forward”? We should not feed a culture of misplaced loyalty in matters of service to Nigeria. Let’s recall the first six words of the national pledge. While there is a risk that the patriotism concept can be readily distorted, and serve politicians as a pretext for pursuing self-serving ambition: an engaged electorate can usually see through smoke screens. Our collective consciousness must activate, so we acknowledge and reward true patriots, guided to sense the protagonist’s sincerity from both their promises and precedents.

Hollande deserves credit for initially appointing a 34-year-old Macron to his innermost circle. The lesson for Nigeria? Respectfully, anyone above 40 is no longer a youth. A young person? Different question. For the distinct determination of the “youth” concept, UNESCO recognizes all 35-year-olds to have attained the highest end of the youth band. Nigeria must no longer present or accept anyone above 40 as “youth representative” at any level. Thanks in advance. The youth should also not, just, wait. In 2019, if we still hear the apathetic rhetoric of 2015 that said: “We don’t have any good options, both candidates are not ideal”, then we may be thinking outside the (ballot) box, but would have still not realized there is no box to think within. Several “failed” attempts of a Nigerian Macron may be needed to pave the way for a successful one. In spirit with Martin Luther King’s message, Nigerian youths have to take the first step, even if they don’t see the whole staircase. Let’s be “forward.”

Social media anyone? We all know it is the new frontier of politics, citizen engagement, and most presidential campaigns. Globally. Are there any trends we need to transform in Nigeria? I would like to pose a challenge to you, my esteemed reader: Do you know any Nigerian on social media with over 1million followers – who is not in sports or entertainment? (Our sports and entertainment figures are easily the greatest sources of national pride. They deserve our adulation). The point is that for a Nigerian Macron to succeed at activating a national community of purpose, in this digital age, we need Nigerians on social media to also follow – inventors, engineers, activists, medics, lawyers, economists, journalists and other possible launching points of our future Macron – with as much meaning as they do entertainers. We can also be prepared to support entertainers, should they find the calling and capacity for public office like Desmond Elliot. Since 2007, the Nigerian presidency has been won with roughly 24, 22 and 15 million votes, respectively. While there is not a perfect correlation between social media followers and actual voters, one must consider whether Nigeria’s Macron could rely on an electorate to turn out, at the ballot, when they haven’t even enjoyed popular attention on the digital frontier that is held comfortably in the hand.

Positive Signals
The era of national leaders who are in their golden years faces an existential threat: the young population bulging directly underneath them like a balloon. The time bomb is ticking across Africa, where the average age on the continent is 19, but the average age of leadership is 65. (Santos in Angola at 75 and Mugabe in Zimbabwe at 93 effectively serve as the bookends of Africa’s ten oldest leaders). In Nigeria, more than half of the population are people below 30. The message? The youth are actually the demographic in charge. Theoretically knowing that achieves nothing. To truly become a “positive,” Nigerian youth must seize their power: register to vote, follow campaigns, brainstorm about solutions, collect their PVCs, and most of all, constitute the deciding block of voters in every election.

Populism is not a dirty word, it is “extremism” which is loaded. From his academic credentials to his investment banking days, Macron is an embodiment of the elite. Despite that, he created a movement as an “outsider” and shared a healthy message of economic modernization that appealed to the common person.

“Ne le huez pas. Allez voter,” Macron said, advising patriots to vote instead of booing. Nigerians, especially youth, should do the same.



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