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By Bolanle BOLAWOLE

turnpot@gmail.com 0705 263 1058

On Tuesday, 13 June, 2023, I was at the University of Ibadan where I delivered a public lecture titled “The task before Nigeria’s 16th Head of State, Bola Ahmed Tinubu” at the 31st anniversary of the Resurrection Morning Star Society, Chapel of Resurrection of the university. Following is an abridged version of the lecture:

“Tinubu is an enigma. To borrow from the words which the self-styled “evil genius” and self-conceited military president-cum-dictator, Gen. Ibrahim Babangida (IBB), employed while describing the sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Tinubu has been “the issue” in Nigerian politics since the current Fourth Republic kicked off in 1999. The return to democracy did not come on a platter but was forged in the crucibles of fire. The rallying cry was for the military to return to the barracks – that military rule had become an aberration worldwide. Tinubu was a senator under Babangida’s planned-to-fail Third Republic, having won election on the platform of the Social Democratic Party (SDP), Babangida’s “a little to the left” political contraption. When MKO Abiola threw his hat in the ring to contest the June 12, 1993 presidential election, Tinubu was in Abiola’s corner. Abiola won the election judged both locally and internationally as free and fair and the most credible in the history of elections in this country; but the results were annulled by IBB. Thus began an epic battle to have the election de-annulled, thereby throwing the country into what came to be known as political impasse or logjam that did not come to an end until the military heeded the cry to return to the barracks and the country returned to civil rule on May 29, 1999.

Tinubu played a prominent role in the pro-democracy group called the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO) that fought the Babangida and, later, Gen. Sani Abacha dictatorship to a standstill. When the soil of Nigeria became too hot for the pro-democracy activists due to the mindless assassination, arrest and detention of leading June 12 activists, many of them, including Tinubu, relocated abroad to continue the struggle to liberate Nigeria from the jackboot of military dictatorship. The struggle achieved its goal on May 29, 1999 but not before the death of Abacha in unexplained circumstances on 8 June, 1998 followed closely by that of Abiola in controversial circumstances on 7 July, 1998. Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar succeeded Abacha and initiated a return to civil rule programme that birthed the ongoing Fourth Republic, so far the longest-running in the history of the country. Tinubu participated in the process under the platform of the Alliance for Democracy (AD) and was elected the governor of Lagos State. He ruled the country’s most important state for two uninterrupted terms of four years each (1999 -2003; 2003 – 2007).

The momentous events that signposts Tinubu’s unforgettable years as the governor of Lagos state include his epic battles with the then President Olusegun Obasanjo, first in the 2003 General Elections when Obasanjo, leveraging on the ubiquitous “Federal Might”, uprooted all AD governors in the South-west with only Tinubu escaping the political tsunami! Obasanjo’s action was not only precipitated on earning himself a second term in office but also to avenge what had come to be referred to as “the shame of 1999” when he lost scandalously in his, well, home geo-political zone of the South-west to his rival, Chief Olu Falae. The second leg of Tinubu’s tango with Obasanjo occurred in 2005 when, on account of the Lagos governor’s creation of more local government areas in the state, and justifiably so, Obasanjo seized Lagos State’s local government’s federal allocation, an action capable –and, perhaps, actually meant – to financially strangulate the state and force Tinubu on his knees. However, rather than back down and kow-tow to the president, Tinubu stood his ground and engineered a tax system that geometrically shot up the Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) of Lagos from a measly N600 million per annum in 2005 to the N51 billion per annum that it is today. That quantum leap in revenue generation makes Lagos state, perhaps, the only state in the country that can sustain itself without relying on Federal allocation.

Necessitated by what some say is vaulting ambition while others counter that it is survivalist instincts, Tinubu soon broke ranks with his political godfathers in the AD/Afenifere camp and charted his own course with the formation of the Action Congress (AC), which later became the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN). Archimedes it was who said: “Give me a place to stand, and a lever long enough, and I will move the world” Lagos and ACN became the “place to stand” in Tinubu’s scantily-concealed quest to master Nigeria’s political landscape and bear rule over its people. He took a quantum leap forward in 2014 with the cobbling together of an alliance (the All Progressives Congress, APC) that no one had given a chance of success going by the country’s antecedents. The APC, however, defeated the sitting president, Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, and his ruling party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the General Election of March 2015.

Tinubu’s mastery of Lagos politics since 1999 has not been in doubt. He saw off the AD/Afenifere leaders not only in Lagos politics but also in the elective political leadership of the entire South-west. He has since firmly ensconced himself in Lagos in particular as the man who decides “who gets what, when and how”, to quote Harold Lasswell. As a politician in Lagos, you disagree with Tinubu at your own peril! He saw off two deputy governors (Senator Kofoworola Akerele-Bucknor and Olufemi Pedro) and has installed Babatunde Raji Fashola, 2007 – 2015; Akinwunmi Ambode; 2015 – 2019; and the incumbent governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, 2019 to date. When, in 2019, he decided that Ambode would not go for a second term in office, no Jupiter, as they say, could change it despite the outcry against the decision.

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For Tinubu, however, it has not all been a bed of roses. Virtually everything about him is steeped in controversy: His name, parenthood, state of origin, age, schools attended and academic qualifications attained and, no less so, the source or sources of his immense wealth. His case, however, can be likened to that of the palm frond that luxuriates in the midst of thorns. Controversy and opposition appear as energizers that fire Tinubu to mount with wings as the eagle and overcome adversaries and adversity. Nothing demonstrates this better than the last presidential election where he had to fight tooth and nail to win the presidential ticket of his party. Tinubu’s famous “emilokan” and “o lule” statements at Abeokuta, Ogun state attested to his frustration and desperation as the stakes appeared stalked against him and his “life-long” ambition to rule the country seemeth in tatters. But like the phoenix that rose victoriously from its ashes, he eventually got the ticket and went on to win the last presidential election. Interestingly, like MKO Abiola in the June 12, 1993 presidential election, Tinubu lost the last election scandalously in the South-east geopolitical zone, whose voters voted overwhelmingly for son-of-the-soil Peter Obi. Tinubu had, fittingly, couched his Renewed Hope 2023 campaign after MKO Abiola’s Hope ’93 campaign 30 years earlier.

Now that Tinubu has achieved his life-long ambition of ruling Nigeria, it remains to be seen what he will make of it. If anything, our sour experience with Buhari has shown that it is one thing to thirst after an office; it is another to get into the office and perform well. Buhari got into office after four attempts but messed up real time. A quotation once hung on the office wall of a friend; it reads: “O Allah, when you have prepared a place for me; prepare me for the place” It was obvious Buhari was ill-prepared for office but can we say the same of Tinubu?

Popular columnist, Dr. Reuben Abati, set out eight tasks for Tinubu, namely: removal of fuel subsidy (which Tinubu achieved in his first day in office); widening of the country’s revenue base; enthronement of true federalism; according a special status to Lagos; sanitizing the budgeting and procurement processes; taking a look at the foreign exchange regime (which Tinubu has also done); empowerment of the security agencies, particularly the police (he just changed the Service chiefs, including the IGP); respect for media freedom and the demands of Nigerian youths.

Another way of understanding the task before President Tinubu is to identify what the people wanted but which his predecessor, Buhari, failed to do. According to a former Kaduna state senator, Shehu Sani, Buhari failed to secure the life and property of Nigerians; therefore, security of life and property is one of the tasks Nigerians expect President Tinubu to perform. Sani also said Buhari promised restructuring but failed to deliver. Since Tinubu himself also promised to restructure the country, he is expected to deliver on this promise. Sani accused Buhari of granting waivers to the rich while impoverishing the poor. Tinubu will be expected to pursue policies that will close the yawning gap between the rich and poor and not further widen it. Sani accused Buhari of building magical rice pyramids that disappeared after three days! We all saw the political rice pyramids but they did nothing to bring down the price of rice and other foodstuffs, which kept skyrocketing despite the billions of Naira allegedly sunk by Godwin Emefiele’s Central Bank of Nigeria into the Anchor Borrowers’ Programme. Food security, therefore, is one of the urgent tasks before Tinubu for, as they say, a hungry man is an angry man! When hunger enters a stomach, nothing else finds its way there!

Yet, another way to approach this question is to attempt a comparative analysis of the situation of Nigerians pre-Buhari and post-Buhari and use that to set a template for President Tinubu, if only as a starting point. Data from the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) indicate that in 2014 before Buhari took office, the inflation rate oscillated between 7.7 and 8.5 per cent. By 2015 when Buhari took office, it averaged 9 per cent but under Buhari, the inflation rate hit a 16-year high, in the midst of increase in prices and poor purchasing power. In 2016, inflation rose to 15.68 per cent; 16.52 per cent in 2017 but dropped to 12.09 per cent in 2018 and 11.40 per cent in 2019 before it resumed its upward climb again in 2020 to 12.2 per cent, closing at 16.95 per cent in 2021. In 2022 the inflation rate climbed to 21.34 per cent and now to 22.04 per cent . President Tinubu and his economic team are expected to adopt measures that will not only reduce the inflation rate to the single digit it was under Jonathan but also improve on it.

The unemployment rate when Buhari took over power in the second quarter of 2015 was 8.2 per cent; it rose to 9.9 per cent in the third quarter of that year but between then and May 2021, Nigeria’s unemployment rate has more than tripled. National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) data shows that currently, the country’s unemployment rate is projected to rise to 41 percent this year! At the 33.3 percent that it was earlier, the World of Statistics had already rated Nigeria as having the highest unemployment rate in the world! The NBS poverty survey also shows that 63 per cent of Nigerians, about 133 million people as opposed to 53 per cent before Buhari took over in 2015, are multi-dimensionally poor. The Multi-dimensional Poverty Measure is an index that measures the percentage of households in a given country deprived along three dimensions – monetary poverty, lack of education, and lack of basic infrastructure services.

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The question must then be asked: The trillions of Naira that the Buhari administration reportedly spent fighting poverty in the country, where did it go? (TO BE CONTINUED).

*Former Editor of PUNCH newspapers, Chairman of its Editorial Board and Deputy Editor-in-chief, BOLAWOLE was also the Managing Director/ Editor-in-chief of THE WESTERNER newsmagazine. He writes the ON THE LORD’S DAY column in the Sunday Tribune and TREASURES column in New Telegraph newspaper on Wednesdays. He is also a public affairs analyst on radio and television.

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