In a show of desperation (some would say cowardice) at the polling station in Daura on 25th February, former President Muhammadu Buhari displayed his ballot paper after exercising his franchise. The unusual gesture – which goes against the spirit of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) guidelines – was a not-so-subtle signal to Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu that he (Buhari) had kept his side of the bargain. Just in case the election did not favour his party. It was certainly understandable. Stripped of all pretensions, the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) was carefully constructed by Tinubu for the goal of reaching the presidency after Buhari. That was the meaning of the ‘Emilokan’ outburst at a time people around the former president were plotting to throw Tinubu under the bus. But now that he has arrived at his final political destination, the question is: What does Tinubu want to do with Nigeria?
Let’s be clear. President Tinubu comes to the office with a sense of foreboding. This is the first time under the current democratic dispensation that a presidential election winner secured less than 50 percent of the votes. In his own case, Tinubu secured less than 40 percent of the total votes cast because, also for the first time, there were four major political parties in contention. Like the Second Republic when Alhaji Shehu Shagari won with 33 percent of the votes. This election has also left the country divided along ethno-religious lines. That a Yorubaman is president again after eight years of Olusegun Obasanjo and eight years of Yemi Osinbajo as vice president presents its own peculiar problem in a nation that we have all been conditioned to believe rests on a tripodal WaZoBia political construct. But the issue now is that the kingmaker has wangled his way to the throne at a most difficult period in our history.
In his (in)famous declaration in Abeokuta, Ogun State capital, on 1st June last year, Tinubu said what could have upended his ambition.“If not me that led the warfront, Buhari wouldn’t have emerged. He contested the first time; he lost. He contested a second time and lost again. He contested a third time and still lost,” said Tinubu in a speech that depicted someone going for broke. “This time, it’s Yoruba’s turn. And it’s my turn.” That ‘Emilokan’ slogan which echoes both a sense of entitlement as well as an offensive condescension was enough to end Tinubu’s ambition. That he mocked a sitting African president in the process made his case even worse. But like many of the scandals he has survived, the angry retorts spoken in a moment of frustration may have helped Tinubu’s cause.
But whatever anybody’s preference, Tinubu is now the president of Nigeria. Unless the court says otherwise. Beyond the healing process that must begin, he also has two tough but critical decisions to make on the economic front: removal of fuel subsidy and getting the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to merge the exchange rates that has left scandalous arbitrage for fat cats. Vice President Kashim Shettima said on Tuesday that “it is either we get rid of subsidy, or the fuel subsidy gets rid of the Nigerian nation. In 2022, we spent $10billion subsidizing the ostentatious lifestyle of the upper class of the society because you and I benefit 90% from the oil subsidy. The poor 40% of Nigerians benefit very little. And we know the consequences of unveiling a masquerade.” Shettima could not have presented the situation better and that is exactly what some of us have been saying for the past two decades. But because everything lasts forever on the internet, to borrow a famous saying, Tinubu’s words are now coming back to haunt him.
Following the removal of subsidy by President Goodluck Jonathan on 1st January 2012, Tinubu authored a statement where he argued that the decision was taken “with an arrogant wave of the hand as if issuing a minor regulation”; and “because of the terrible substance of the decision and the haughty style of its enactment, the people feel betrayed and angry.” The same is now being said of the “fuel subsidy is gone” line in Tinubu’s inauguration speech which created chaos at fuel stations before yesterday’s decision that has almost tripled the pump price of petrol. “Government would have us believe that every hardship it manufactures for the people to endure is a good thing. This is a lie. The hardships they thrust upon the poor often bear no other purpose than to keep them poor. This is such a time”, Tinubu wrote 11 years ago apparently oblivious to the fact that a day like this would come.
When in January last year Tinubu told State House Correspondents that being president was a lifelong ambition, I wrote at the time that it was more than a Freudian slip. Tinubu has spent the past 16 years since leaving office as Lagos State Governor pursuing this ambition. In his memoir, ‘My Participations’, former Osun State Governor and founding chairman of the APC, Chief Bisi Akande (who is perhaps the closest politician to Tinubu), confirmed that the ambition indeed dates to 2007, with the formation of the Action Congress (AC). “We agreed that (former Vice President) Atiku Abubakar should be our presidential candidate and we had the understanding that he would run with Bola Tinubu. I was the chairman of the AC. One day, after we had nominated Atiku as our presidential candidate, one young man came and gave me a form from INEC. I told him I could not sign a blank form and that I, as the chairman, must know the name that would be filled in it” wrote Akande who explained the intrigues that led to Atiku dropping Tinubu as running mate 15 years ago. “Segun Osoba, Niyi Adebayo and Lam Adesina had earlier met Atiku, and we proposed to him our choice of Tinubu, and he promised to come back to us. He gave us a date. On that date, we all assembled. Atiku came with Audu Ogbeh, Tom Ikimi and Usman Bugaje. We proposed that Tinubu should be the running mate, though Tinubu was not at the meeting. Atiku would not give us an immediate answer. He said he wanted to have more consultations.”
At that period, there were forces around Atiku who believed the choice of Tinubu, a fellow Muslim, would present a problem and Akande named them. “Ikimi, Ogbeh and others were all strongly against Tinubu, because they said it would mean a Muslim-Muslim ticket. We deadlocked over that. Atiku never said anything. We left the meeting. What prompted us was that anytime we said we needed money, Atiku would say Bola please help us. Bola was the only one spending money among us. The rest of us were poor. Tinubu also put all his energy and resources into the formation of the AC, and we felt he deserved a spot on the ticket. We discussed with Bola on this, and he said we should discuss it with Atiku. It was after we were deadlocked that they brought me the blank form. So, Atiku ran with (Dr Ben) Obi and failed. Only Lagos State from Southwest voted for Atiku.”
Despite the failure of that project in 2007, Tinubu never wavered on his presidential ambition. Incidentally, I have had several interactions with Tinubu over the past three decades but the one I remember most vividly occurred on 16th November 2016. In writing my book, ‘Against the Run of Play: How an Incumbent President was defeated in Nigeria’, I spoke to many of the principal characters, including Tinubu. In the more than two hours I spent with him that day in Lagos, Tinubu made it clear that the idea of the APC was for him to be running mate to Buhari, ostensibly with a plan to use that as a ladder for the number one job. Akande also corroborated that in his memoir.
When in 2015 people around Buhari suggested a committee to assess possible running mate candidates after the presidential primaries, Akande saw it as a betrayal of Tinubu: “Adams Oshiomhole, the Governor of Edo State, stood up and said we were being dishonest. He said he was a serving governor and many of those in the Elders Committee had been governors. ‘Did we set up a committee to give us our running mates?’ he asked. ‘It is not fair!’ I came to know later that some people constituted themselves into a group, called the Northern Interest Group, and they prevailed on Buhari not to allow a Muslim-Muslim ticket. Some governors from the far North were involved in this group. The following day after the Elders’ committee meeting, which was deadlocked, Buhari phoned Tinubu. He said he would like Tinubu to give him three names from which he would pick a running mate. We were all in Abuja and Tinubu rushed to me with this information. He wanted to know whether the understanding we reached with Buhari had changed. I called Buhari and he told me he now needed three names from us. I was angry with him. ‘General, this was not what we agreed upon,’ I said in annoyance. ‘You are changing our agreement?’. He knew I was getting angry. He said he was under pressure from some governors from the North, including (those) who were Muslims. I told him the slot belonged to the Southwest and among the Yoruba, religion is not a factor in leadership. ‘That is the burden the north has brought to national politics!’ He did not like my remark but kept quiet about it…”
Before I conclude, it is important to hear what Akande has to say about the person of Tinubu.“In struggles, Bola is always resolute against all difficult circumstances. In fighting, Bola demonstrates consistent courage and resilience. He is a powerful and strong political mobiliser, a fierce and ferocious fighter such that he generally and quickly generates tension around himself when poised for a fight to the embarrassing confusion of those who might have enjoyed his pleasantness and generosity. In any war, apart from battles of deadly weapons, it would be safer to persuade Tinubu to fight on your side. If you allow him to fight on the other side, even if you are winning the initial battles, you cannot be sure of winning the peace thereafter.”
Akande is not done: “Tinubu carries his business sense too often into his political decisions. He always feels too strongly about his own (sometimes, peculiar) political views and ways, but his presentations and utterances appear constantly underplayed by smarting too often under heavy burdens of human demands and public pressure. Tinubu is a difficult personality; very complicated for me to classify. He revels in controversies but constantly suppresses attendant difficult pains of disappointments and betrayals by consuming cups of strong espresso (coffee) and chains of cigarettes. However, he is a man of exceptional quick reflexes who has interpretations for different and alternating moods of others around him with instinctive striving and sensitive hormones. For whoever he senses negatively, he detests, condemns and, if possible, fights ferociously; for others in his positive antenna, he admires, protects, and defends with passion. Bola Tinubu is blindly generous and dangerously humorous.”
That in a nutshell is the man who now carries the burden of Nigeria on his fragile frame. I have written several critical columns about Tinubu. One of them, just a two-paragraph piece, ‘Tinubu should watch it’ elicited an angry response from my friend Sunday Dare (until a few days ago the Minister of Sports and Youth Development under Buhari) who was then Tinubu’s spokesman. But I am one of those who believe that there are positives from Tinubu’s stewardship in Lagos that would serve us in Nigeria. What critics often ignore is that we are talking about a huge population cramped into a small space (for instance, Niger State is more than 21 times the size of Lagos State in landmass). I crave the indulgence of readers to take a few excerpts from what I wrote in November 2015: “I am quite aware of the sundry allegations that have for years dogged tax administration in Lagos, especially regarding who the actual beneficiaries are as well as other questions that border on transparency and accountability in the management of the state’s finances. Those are important issues that would have to be addressed. Notwithstanding, in terms of the primacy of ideas for modern governance, Lagos remains the model by which Nigeria can work and due credit must be given to Tinubu as the pioneer in that direction.
“When people complain about Lagos, it is because they have not paid attention to its huge population, the enormous challenges and what is no more than meagre resources, even with all the internally generated revenues. The question really is how the situation would have been if Lagos was, like other states, dependent on oil revenues. One fact most people also ignore is that Lagos, according to Governor Akinwunmi Ambode contributes significantly to the federal purse with over 65 percent of Nigeria’s non-oil Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and 60 percent of value-added manufacturing.
“In his cabinet appointments, Tinubu went for talents. For the record, Tinubu’s commissioners included Yemi Osinbajo, SAN, (former vice president); Olawale Edun who had worked in the Wall Street firms of Lehman Brothers and Chase Manhattan Capital Markets Corporation in New York and the World Bank/IFC in Washington DC; Olayemi Cardoso who started his career in 1981 at Citibank; renowned architect, Mr. Lanre Towry-Coker and several other accomplished professionals like Leke Pitan, Ben Akabueze, Tunji Bello and Oladele Alake.
“The Lagos model has its own contradictions that would have to be resolved in the overall interest of the people of the state and that of the actors themselves. But if Nigeria is ever to develop an economy that is less dependent on oil rent, the Lagos model is the way to go. The success recorded in Lagos under Tinubu and (Babatunde Raji) Fashola especially owe largely to their very keen understanding of the immediate needs of the people—free flow of traffic, infrastructure that is tolerably acceptable, improved environmental sanitation and a reasonable level of security. They went ahead first to address these needs in a demonstrable and visible way before evolving taxation mechanisms. It would be recalled that as Tinubu set about fixing potholes on many Lagos roads, there was always a signage that said, ‘YOUR TAX MONEY AT WORK’. The same went with most other public work projects.
“When the tax man eventually came calling, most people were able to see the relationship between the increased demand for taxation and the sense of responsibility of their government. This remains the clearest demonstration in recent Nigerian history of the dictum that dictates a correlation between taxation and representation…”
I wrote that eight years ago when I had no idea that Tinubu would ever be president of Nigeria. Now that he has achieved his ‘lifelong ambition’, we wait to see what kind of president he would be. Yes, Lagos under Tinubu was not perfect but by putting the right people in the right places, enduring reforms were made in several sectors and the state is now the better for it. But all factors considered, Tinubu is a very lucky man. Despite what Nigerians know (and do not know) about him, he is now our President. Therefore, in moments of introspection, Tinubu must admit that Nigeria has given him so much. And to whom much is given, much is expected. I wish him all the best in his new assignment.
▪Dokpesi: An Impactful Life
From Agenebode, Edo State to Ibadan, Oyo State capital, before the sojourn in Poland and the political adventure in Yola, Adamawa State in the early eighties, the late Dr Raymond Dokpesi, as I wrote in the blurb to his memoir last year, lived according to the timeless injunctions of Misty Gibbs: He was bold, he took risks, and was perpetually on the move. It was therefore with sadness that I heard about his death on Monday.
Although we had been ‘neighbours’ for more than a decade, I had no relationship with Dokpesi. But two things happened in the last three years. First, his wife and African Independent Television (AIT) Managing Director, Mrs Oluwatosin Dokpesi took special interest in the free education project for indigent children (Not Forgotten Initiative) of my wife and has been rendering invaluable support. And then two years ago, I was approached by two respected senior colleagues, Messrs Bayo Bodunrin and Okoh Aihe to help read through the draft of their authorised biography of Dokpesi, ‘The Handkerchief’. It was a task I accepted without hesitation. The hefty cheque that accompanied the letter of appreciation that followed from Mrs Dokpesi indicated that the late DAAR Communications chairman knew about my intervention. Thereafter, Dokpesi called me to initiate what became a friendship until he died.
Despite the circumstances of birth and the travails of formative years, Dokpesi rose against all odds to accomplish so much in 71 years. Not only did he pioneer private radio and television stations in Nigeria, but he was also one of the first persons to venture into indigenous shipping line on the continent with ‘Africa Ocean Line’. And he was barely 30 at the time. I commiserate with his family. May God grant him eternal rest.
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