In 1796, as his second term in office drew to a close, President George Washington chose not to seek re-election unlike some of African Presidents who equate longevity in office as enduring legacy. Mindful of the precedent his overstay in office will be, he feared that if he were to die while in office, Americans would henceforth begin to view the presidency as a lifetime appointment. Instead, he decided to step down, providing the standard of a two term limit. Washington admonished his fellow countrymen/women on September 19, 1796 that his leadership was no longer needed, assuring them the new republic would be safe in the hands of a new president with innovative ideas, which will set the republic on a high and different pedestal.
- His counsel resonates specifically to Nigeria political situation especially now that the country is battling with incessant security challenges posed by Boko Haram, Herdsmen, Bandits and recently Nigerians being attacked in South Africa. Washington reminded the people about the independence and liberty the nation enjoyed at that period, which were premised on common dangers, sufferings and successes they had experienced together in the American Revolution. Therefore, to safeguard the federal union, the country had to remain United. This counsel will be best and good for Nigeria if we can begin to view his counsel as counsel meant for us.
- Washington identified three dangers, which are; regionalism, partisanship, and foreign entanglements. He warned his countrymen against allowing regional loyalties overwhelm national attachments. This first danger is already threatening the unity of Nigerians, as most Nigerians have chosen to find succor in their ethnic cocoon. As pointed out by the first America President, he enjoined his fellow citizens to rise in the defense of a United America. Prior his farewell speech, many Americans then and many Nigerians now, primarily identified with their state or region but he reminded the citizenry not to allow such an attachments divide them as it has divided and is still dividing Nigerians. Again, partisanship as observed encouraged the electorates to premise voting on party loyalty rather than the common good. Washington feared that, partisanship would lead to a spirit of revenge in which party men would not govern for the good of the people, but only to obtain and maintain their grip on power. His clairvoyance in 1796 easily represent Nigeria situations today. Since democracy return in 1999, Nigerians elected leaders at all levels have chosen to give their loyalty to their respective political parties rather than to Nigeria people. Speaking further, he warned us to guard against leaders who would use parties as potent engines to subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves the reins of government. Governors, NASS members, political appointees and even the President have all failed to heed to Washington counsel and as long as they choose to defer his counsel, Nigeria will remain only a country with potentials.
- Tellingly, the greatest danger to Nigeria union as observed by Washington in his famous farewell speech stems from the combination of partisanship and external invasion. And the perfect example of this danger is the Boko Haram insurrection and the Herdsmen killings that is traced to a particular ethnic group. Washington explained that prejudice will open the door to foreign influence and corruption. The influence will lead to weakening of voters abilities to make reasoned choices during election. An example is the feasible presence of some Governors of a neighborhood country during the last general election which lay credence to the assumptions that foreigners do partake in the country elections especially in the Northern axis of Nigeria. Another example was observed during the 2015 general election as Western countries covertly or overtly played unspecified roles in the election.
- Lastly, rather than choosing or electing the best man for office, the people would base decisions on ill funded jealousies and false alarms, and so elect their representative in relation to those in league with foreign conspirators. To avoid outside influence, Washington advocated a foreign policy based on neutrality and friendly relations with all as the recent attacks on Nigerians by South Africans has shown us. The lesson to draw from this historical speech is for Nigeria elected or appointed representatives to begin to view their responsibilities to guide against the dangers as stated by Washington in his farewell speech, and it’s only by doing so that Nigeria can begin her journey to greatness.
This article was written by Sunday Oyelekan