By Rotimi Adebayo
Although he cannot be quoted anywhere as saying that he is aspiring to contest Nigeria’s presidential election come 2023, the name of Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, a former governor of Lagos State and National Leader of the All Progressives Congress (APC), continues to feature in most media analyses as a likely contestant in the election.
Indeed, this is understandable as a number of individuals and groups across the country have taken it on themselves to campaign for the actualization of the yet -to-be-declared ambition even though many of these have publicly claimed that they are acting entirely on their own volition without any prompting.
Well-known editor and columnist, Shaka Momodu, of Thisday newspaper has done a two-part column titled ‘Tinubu: Nigeria is not Lagos’ articulating in unmistaken terms his opposition to Tinubu’s presidential ambition if indeed he has any.
Momodu indeed has the right, even duty, to express and rigorously articulate his opposition to any politician’s ambition as vehemently as he can if he believes this is in the public interest.
But, he also has a responsibility to present his arguments fairly and objectively with scrupulous respect for the facts as required by the best canons of public interest journalism. It is also in the interest of his reputation and credibility that he presents his case in a balanced and mature way to retain the respect of his readers, whom any columnist can take for granted to his own peril ultimately.
In the second part of his column, with which this piece is interested, Momodu himself admits that he may be sounding like a broken record having to repeat and amplify much of what he had already said in the first part.
Like him or not, Momodu likes to see himself as a good writer. But a columnist with his talents certainly does not need the load of abuses and insults he heaps on Tinubu to make his point.
Indeed, his resort to unrestrained name calling and extremist submissions degrades his literary offerings.
The finest columnists rely on the force of logic and the impregnability of their facts to persuade the reader rather than the venom of their anger or acidity of their invective.
For instance, on the same influential Back Page of Thisday, cerebral journalist, Dr. Reuben Abati, has also written in unfavourable terms about Tinubu’s presumed ambition but in far from abrasive, acerbic and abusive language as Momodu.
It is important that Momodu realizes that he shares the back page of a newspaper that has become an institution along with such eminent columnists as Segun Adeniyi, Kayode Komolafe, Akin Osuntokun, Simon Kolawole, Waziri Adio, Dele Momodu and Chidi Amuta to name a few.
He can be pungent without being reckless and temperamental.
For instance, the professional in him compels Shaka to admit that till date no court of law has convicted Tinubu of any crime and that his rights of presumed innocence are protected by the constitution.
Yet, he does not hesitate severally to describe Tinubu as corrupt, a thief and a looter. His argument is that Tinubu has not been found guilty of the crimes he accuses him of only because he has not been prosecuted.
But, Tinubu left office in 2007. Prior to the end of his second term, leading PDP politicians like former President Olusegun Obasanjo and Chief Olabode George had stated publicly that Tinubu would be heading for prison once he no more had any immunity covering. But Nigeria is not a jungle; she is a country governed by the rule of law, not the arbitrary whims of man.
Tinubu was the leading opposition politician in Nigeria since 2007 when he left office up till 2015 when the APC ended the 16-year control of power at the centre by the PDP. A former Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Mallam Nuhu Ribadu, has publicly stated that the commission exhaustively investigated Tinubu both locally and abroad but found nothing incriminating against him.
If Tinubu is being covered up today against Momodu’s unproven allegations against him, what about the eight years between 2007 and 2015 when the PDP was in control and had every opportunity to investigate and prosecute him?
But, then, how can a respected editor and columnist predict the outcome of an at best hypothetical case that has not even come before any court of law?
Can the opinion of a columnist, no matter how eminent he is, substitute for the verdict of a court established by law to determine the innocence or guilt of individuals accused of crimes?
If a journalist of Momodu’s experience and ability takes such professional license, what advice does he want to offer rookie journalists who also indulge in such excesses?
Even more importantly, if one of the editors of a leading national newspaper engages in the kind of unrestrained and uninhibited journalism bordering on personal attacks that Momodu freely exhibits in his tirades against Tinubu, how do the mainstream, traditional media show a higher professional and moral standard for the social media jungle where all too many ‘citizen journalists’, operating without any ethical restraints, have become a veritable danger to society?
One of the reasons why Momodu asserts that Tinubu is unqualified to contest for the country’s presidency if he chooses to do so is that he is allegedly responsible for President Muhammadu’s victories in 2015 and 2019 and thus also for the grave crisis of insecurity in which the country finds itself today.
Surely, Tinubu did not hide his support for Buhari’s aspiration both in 2015 and 2019. But did Tinubu cast a spell on over 16 million Nigerians to cast their votes for Buhari on both occasions?
The truth of the matter is that a large cast of individuals and tendencies contributed to the dislodgement of the PDP as a ruling party and the ascendancy of the APC even if Tinubu’s role was critical.
It is curious that a writer with Momodu’s analytical skills is silent on the fact that as at 2015, a significant number of Nigerians were utterly fed up with the President Goodluck Jonathan administration’s ineptness and massive corruption at the time and were persuaded by APC’s mantra of change.
Today, some Nigerians may argue that the Buhari administration has not lived up to the expectation of many of those who voted for him. But for many Nigerians, the dilemma remains if the PDP is any better alternative especially given what we know of its own 16-year record in government as well as the uninspiring performance of many of the states under the party’s control today.
Momodu is irked that Tinubu has not called for the removal from office of Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Sheikh Isa Pantami, following allegations that he had held extremist religious views in the past. He says Tinubu’s silence in this respect is because of his purported presidential ambition.
But, why should a key leader of a ruling political party criticize the administration formed by his party in public especially when he has access to the President and other top functionaries of the government? It would appear that Momodu confuses the role of a politician like Tinubu with that of a social critic in civil society, an activist journalist or an opposition politician.
Momodu contends that ‘Nigeria is not Lagos’ and accuses Tinubu of what he calls his “authoritarian reign over the Lagos politick, camouflaged as democracy” which “cannot be allowed to continue or extended to the national level”.
He asserts, amazingly, that all election results in Lagos “were merely written by the godfather and his agents and rubberstamped by INEC and the courts”. To put it mildly, this is a most astonishing claim for a senior editor of a major national newspaper to make. Surely, given his position, foreign diplomats must certainly read his columns and make deductions about his articles and their opinion of him as a journalist.
The INEC is an electoral agency under the control of the Federal Government. The 2003, 2007, 2011 and 2015 elections in Lagos State were all conducted by INEC with PDP governments in control at the federal level! Where then is the logic in Momodu’s exceedingly careless and reckless assertion?
To worsen matters, he even boldly asserts that the courts colluded in legitimating false election results in Lagos and all this without a shred of evidence!
As far as Momodu is concerned, Tinubu recorded no achievements whatsoever during his eight years in office as governor between 1999 and 2007. From education to roads to environment and urban planning, Momodu scores the Tinubu administration zero.
This clearly is not an example of sober and credible analysis. The lack of objectivity and rationality of this kind of submission is so evident that it requires no response.
Suffice it to say, for example, that the Kaduna State Governor, Mallam Nasir el-Rufai, has not hidden his dislike for the person and politics of Tinubu. It has been regularly speculated that el-Rufai himself is interested in the 2023 presidency. Yet, as keynote speaker at this year’s annual Ehingbeti Economic Summit, organized by the Lagos State Government, el-Rufai openly stated that Lagos had been fortunate in having a succession of competent governors from Tinubu through Babatunde Raji Fashola, Akinwumi Ambode and now Babajide Sanwo-Olu.
The Kaduna State governor openly asserted that Lagos was indeed the model, after which his state had fashioned its developmental agenda. It would appear that the partisan politician is here more objective and factual than the journalist and editor, and this is so sad.
Momodu dismisses the claim that the Tinubu administration developed a comprehensive master plan, which has largely guided the development trajectory of the state since 1999. He claims that he has looked everywhere for the plan and no one has been able to provide him a copy. Let me help our experienced journalist who ought to know better: he should direct his search to the Lagos State Ministry of Budget and Economic Planning!
The master plan was first fashioned as the Ten-Point Agenda at the first Ehingbeti Summit, an annual Public-Private-Sector brainstorming and planning forum, which held at the Akodo Beach Resort, Ibeju-Lekki, in 2000. It was under the master plan, for instance, that the Lagos State Metropolitan Area Transportation Authority (LAMATA) was conceived and actualized with the financial and logistical support of the World Bank. It was under LAMATA that the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) scheme, being systematically expanded across Lagos was conceived and is being actualized. The agency is also responsible for the conceptualization and actualization of the light rail and water transportation schemes that are at varying states of implementation across Lagos.
Last month, Governor Sanwo-Olu carried out the groundbreaking ceremony of the Red Line light rail project which is to be fully operational in the last quarter of 2022. The 30 km line will run between Marina and Agbado. To underscore his administration’s seriousness, the governor at the ceremony presented cheques of different amounts as compensation to residents whose properties, numbering over 263, will be affected by the project.
Work is equally ongoing on the Blue line light rail project which will connect Okokomaiko to Marina. In 2014, the Fashola administration reviewed, modified and updated the master plan.
Much of Shaka Momodu’s piece dwelt on Alpha Beta, a consultancy firm involved in revenue collection for the Lagos State Government. Thankfully, he acknowledges that before the Tinubu administration, under the military administration of Brigadier Buba Marwa, Adekanola Associates had been contracted by the Lagos State Government to enhance the efficiency of its revenue collection mechanism. As a result of that effort, there was an increase in the state’s Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) from N300 million to N600 million monthly.
Under Tinubu, the IGR of the state had risen from N600 million monthly to over N8 billion monthly as at 2007. Momodu himself speculates that the IGR of the state today must be over N50 billion monthly. Yet, he wants the template responsible for this superlative success dismantled on the basis of unproven allegations and outlandish figures of questionable provenance by a disgruntled former staff of Alpha Beta.
The columnist presents the unsubstantiated allegations of this aggrieved former employee of Alpha Beta as gospel truth and relies on these to label Tinubu as corrupt in utter violation, again, of the canons of responsible and good journalism. Surely, the Thisday stable as an institution and Shaka Momodu as a professional are far above this.
Again, as stated earlier, Momodu should convince his fugitive friend, the former MD of Alpha Beta, to return from his unforced exile to defend his allegations in court.