Originally Published On January 25, 2020
Foreword by Femi Falana, SAN
“…In the main, the book is a wake-up call to the youths who have left the fate of the country in the soiled hands of corrupt and selfish politicians who have arrested the development of the country. No doubt, Nigeria has a large percentage of young people but out of ignorance about strategies to win elections, the political space has been polluted and taken over by power mongers…In view of the foregoing, I have no hesitation in recommending the book to politicians – young and old, electoral bodies, political parties and other stakeholders in the politics of the country.” These were the words of Femi Falana (SAN), Nigeria’s leading human rights lawyer about the new book on Nigerian politics – Liberating Nigeria: A Guide to Winning Elections and Reviving our Country (currently available on Amazon – Kindle eBook and Paperback, top classified ads website in Nigeria, as well as other leading online book retailers and bookstores in Nigeria).
Debo Onifade believes that Nigerians have complained about and analyzed our problems long enough, and that it is now time for young people and new-breed politicians to elevate the discussion from mere rhetoric, sensationalism and fantasy to apt understanding of smart politics and solutions. Using facts and history, and juxtaposing Nigeria’s political peculiarities with other successful political revolutions across the world, Onifade explains election-winning strategies and policy priorities for Nigeria. He concluded that since most traditional politicians in Nigeria will remain corruptly oppressive, and rebellion or revolt will not succeed in Nigeria, young people could either give up in despair or unify their efforts alongside older patriotic politicians to liberate Nigeria from our oppressors. This will require a lot of learning, patience and readiness to sacrifice ambitions.
Onifade, who has a master’s degree in engineering management from Tufts University (USA) and a bachelor’s in electrical engineering from the University of Ibadan (Nigeria) has published essays, articles and books. And some of his essays have won him awards inside and outside Nigeria, including an IEEE prize at the historic Bletchley Park, UK in 2004, a Professor Femi Osofisan prize at the University of Ibadan in 1999, and a National Orientation Agency Award in Abeokuta, Nigeria in 1998. Onifade is a registered electrical engineer in Nigeria, has several IT certifications and is also a soccer coach, policy enthusiast and historian. Though he currently resides in the United States, he remains very passionate about Nigeria’s development and seeks to ignite the same fire in Nigerian youths.
When asked what was different about his book, Debo Onifade said “The book is unique because unlike some similar books, the texts are very simple, focused on solutions (not the problems) and easily comprehensible by regular people (Nigerians and non-Nigerians) with very little knowledge about Nigerian politics. Nigeria has a large percentage of young people, but there is consistent ignorance about election-winning strategies and policies among majority of the educated ones. This is largely due to over-reliance on social media for knowledge and some arrogance that we don’t have much to learn from older people, history and in-depth study of local politics. By sharing facts, history and pragmatic solutions, I wish to galvanize new interests to participate in politics more competitively. It is my dream to distribute millions of free copies to educated Nigerians who cannot afford to buy, and I look forward to some future help in that regard.”
When asked if this was the beginning of a political campaign, Onifade said “I have no intention to run for office and don’t wish to be known as a sensational blogger or fierce government critic. But I like to continue to provide pragmatic ideas from the sidelines and may accept opportunities in future that allow me to offer policy advice. We’re all talented in different ways, and I have chosen to actively participate in politics within my talents.” In the book, Debo Onifade defined a new-breed politician as a patriot (young or old) who has learned a lot about politics in Nigeria, clearly understands realistic policies that will liberate the country and is very passionate about the establishment of a people’s government in Nigeria. He explained that some of the new-breed politicians will run for elective posts, while others will just vote and defend their votes, mobilize their friends to vote, donate their money and time to campaigns, engage in coalition talks, and remain resolute until change comes to Nigeria. He x-rayed the 2019 elections and the key characters like Olusegun Obasanjo, Atiku Abubakar, Muhammadu Buhari, Bola Tinubu, Donald Duke, Omoyele Sowore, Kingsley Moghalu, Fela Durotoye, and Oby Ezekwesili, and highlighted lessons for new-breed politicians.
One key point that Onifade emphasized was that politics all over the world was for politicians and not for technocrats and activists who refuse to properly transition themselves into politicians. So it is very important for technocrats and activists that want to succeed in politics to humble themselves to learn and become politicians before engaging in politics. Onifade said and I quote “Dr. Soraj Hongladarom of the Chulalongkorn University in Thailand wrote in 2014 that ‘technocrats are generally not answerable to the people; thus they cannot be entrusted with larger issues that involve values or the overall direction of the country. In a democracy, politicians are those who represent the will of the people, so they can see the larger picture. It is best for the technocrats to work for the politicians and then the politicians have to be accountable to the people through democratic means such as the Parliament.’ This is a very apt explanation that addresses this point about technocrats trying to run for office in Nigeria. To my knowledge, Singapore and Hong Kong are the only countries that have had long-term, successful technocratic leaders. During times of crisis in 2011, Italy and Greece tried technocratic leaders—Mario Monti of Italy lasted less than eighteen months, and Lucas Papademos of Greece lasted less than seven months. Everywhere else, people need to become politicians in order to win elections.” So every technocrat seeking to run for office in Nigeria, should learn politics as it is done in other parts of the world, rather than flaunt their credentials as technocrats to try to win votes.
In his foreword, Femi Falana (SAN) referred the author as a patriot who has painstakingly written this book as his intellectual contribution to the task of nation-building. According to Falana, “Indeed, it is a contribution that has been enriched by a combination of his deep knowledge of Nigeria and extensive experience in the United States. Even though the author currently lives in the United States, his penchant quest for good governance in Nigeria runs through the entire book… The author argues that it is incumbent on the people clamoring for the transformation of Nigeria from poverty to prosperity to submit themselves to a credible electoral process by actively participating in the election process with a more coordinated approach than ephemeral social media debates.”
In the book, Onifade concentrated substantial attention on how to win elections in Nigeria, stressing that traditional politicians can be defeated if the new-breed politicians are organized. In addition to the earlier chapters focused on elections – Desperate Times Call for Desperate Measures; Power Belongs to the People, but We Must First Learn Politics; and Peaceful Liberation Simply Means Winning Elections, the book discussed how a people’s government (a government full of selfless patriots who genuinely care for their people and are ready to pay the ultimate price to liberate the country) can significantly revive the country within a first four-year tenure. He thereafter discussed important policy issues like Revenue Growth; Electricity, Human Capital-Education and Healthcare; Security; Jobs Creation, Social Welfare, and Poverty Eradication; Restructuring; and Roads, Railways, Housing, and Rural Development. He proposed specific policy views and prioritization strategies that new-breed politicians should consider as they formulate their manifesto.
Onifade explained that new-breed politicians are not perfect or dogmatically ideological people, but they are selfless, visionary, not corrupt, decisive, adherent to the rule of law, humble, fair to all tribes and religions, resolute, and persuasive. He talked a lot about building coalitions with several different groups across the northern and southern parts of Nigeria, without which a liberation could not happen. In his introductory chapter, Onifade said he seeks to ignite a new wave of patriotism across Nigeria and explain how within a few election cycles, liberation can sweep through the country—from the remotest villages to the coastal cities, from the elites and aristocrats to the downtrodden, from the deeply religious who continue to seek solace in their faith to the agnostics who never believed or no longer believe in God because of the evils of their religious leaders, and from the highly educated to the least educated.
According to the author, “Transforming Nigeria will take several years, but we can steadily begin the process by humbling ourselves to learn the rudiments of politics. This book is a manual for election-winning strategies and policy priorities within a four-year term. I do not claim to have all the answers, but I make my suggestions based on the history of successful political liberation in different parts of the world, my in-depth understanding of Nigerian issues and politics, and my vast experience of relating with Nigerian politicians and brilliant minds across the world. This book also provides a lot of enlightenment to non-Nigerians who desire to understand the way politics is played in the largest black country on earth. It is a first-of-its-kind book, not just because it shares insightful stories that are not readily available over social media or the internet but also because it focuses a lot more on solutions and specific recommendations rather than the challenges. Every country has got its own political idiosyncrasies, so there is no reason to mock Nigerian politics. It just needs to be better understood by those who desire to refine it.”
Onifade concluded his introductory chapter as follows: “Finally, we need to understand that our options are currently limited to only democracy. Military coups are no longer fashionable or acceptable around the world, and I do not support them. Nigeria has also not done well in the past under the military—so there is certainly no wisdom in praying for a military take-over in Nigeria. As of this writing, some people have started clamoring for revolution, but let’s be frank with ourselves: an effective revolution will not happen in Nigeria. We are certainly not that resolute. The typical South West people will not give up their lives for a revolution, the majority of the youths in the North East and North West will not engage in revolution against their leaders, and the South East, South South, and North Central elites who have huge investments in Lagos and Abuja will not support a revolution. So the percentage of Nigerians who are ready for some serious revolution is certainly not adequate to seize power. I do not support any violent revolution, but I am also experienced enough to know a successful revolution cannot materialize in Nigeria. The only way to liberate Nigeria is to get new-breed politicians into power through a democratic process. Let us begin that process today by learning what it takes to win elections. It is time to liberate Nigeria!”
Finally, I asked the author about his hobbies, how he hopes to spread the words about his book and message, as well as his final words in this interview. In his words, “Coaching soccer, Writing, as well as Debating Global Politics, Policies and History have been my major hobbies in the last two decades. In soccer, I’ve coached boys and girls between ages 7 and 23, and I’ve been writing about politics and technology since I was a teenager. This book venture is very different and most gratifying because it gives me a great opportunity to add significant value to Nigeria’s development. Except we’re able to get good people into power, we’re not going to experience any sustained development in our economy, education, healthcare, security, energy or poverty eradication. No matter how brilliant our technocrats are, if we have bad politicians as leaders, we’ll continue to dance around circles. I want to use my book to recruit millions of Nigerians (especially first-time voters – who never voted before either because they were too young or just had apathy or zero-interest in politics) into the political space. So I intend to work as hard as I can to publicize it across the world. As mentioned earlier, it is available in Nigeria at Delon.ng (a Nigerian website that teaches you how to grow your business online), popular online bookstores and ecommerce sites, as well as leading bookshops across the country. But I also want to get the books to the streets and young people free of charge or at highly subsidized rates, and I’m really hoping to get some sponsorship to achieve that in future. Outside Nigeria, people can order eBook and Paperback copies from Amazon. I will like to end this interview with three quotes – (1) When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle – Edmund Burke (2) One of the penalties for refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors – Plato (3) The darkest places in hell are reserved for those who maintain their neutrality in times of moral crisis – Dante Alighieri. Thank you very much. May Nigeria flourish again in our lifetime.”
I greatly enjoyed reading the book, researching about the author and speaking directly with him. At this period where many Nigerians have given up on the country or just focused only on survival, “Liberating Nigeria: A Guide to Winning Elections and Reviving our Country” is a book that can enormously and positively transform the minds of millions of Nigerians to believe again that Nigeria can be salvaged. The population of Nigerian youths is so huge that they can easily determine election winners across the country. Reading this book is a great starting point, but young Nigerians must discuss, debate and act on the contents in order to compete better in Nigerian politics. Most of us (young Nigerians) don’t like reading books or history because we feel satisfied with reading short texts on twitter and facebook. The Nigerian government also didn’t help us by removing History subject from primary and secondary school curriculum in the last few decades. But if we really want to play active roles in developing Nigeria, we must start reading Nigerian Political Books again. Debo Onifade has done an excellent job of publishing this intriguing book full of facts, history and plausible strategies, and I strongly recommend it to all Nigerians living at home and abroad. It is indeed a must-read for students, activists, technocrats, aspiring politicians and every Nigerian that genuinely seeks a positive transformation of the country. I have personally been greatly inspired by the book and really hope it will inspire many Nigerians to urgent action.