Many Nigerians are in a fix what to make of the fuel subsidy removal controversy with which President Bola Tinubu kick-started his presidency. On the one hand, they agree that paying trillions in subsidy was economically wasteful, and it needed to be stopped; but on the other hand, they fear that ending the binge abruptly could also prove disruptive, if not obstructive. Even presidential candidates who were caught on tape suggesting that they would stop subsidy immediately they were elected have, sensing the drift of public discontent and the stirrings by labour unions, quibbled that ameliorative measures needed to be put in place first before the policy was halted. Irrespective of the back and forth over the policy, the subject of subsidy and its complex undertones as well as the acrimonious debates that have suffused the country in the past two weeks indicate the chasmic gap between theory and practice in politics, and between electioneering and governance.
President Tinubu, perhaps contrary to his expectations, managed to baptize his presidency in the furnace of controversy right from his inauguration. Barely a day after the inauguration and unsure which way the pendulum of the controversy swung, he dithered briefly; and in the similitude of Napoleon Bonaparte’s hesitation during the Coup of 18 Brumaire, even gingerly walked back his brusque statement on subsidy. But as the days wore on, and as a favourable consensus seemed to develop over the subject to the stupefaction of the labour unions, the president has found his voice, and has put more resonance in his voice and convictions. It is not certain how those tumultuous early beginnings could be taken to signpost the early period of the Tinubu presidency, especially whether making intuitive interjections in policies would not sometimes endanger his administrations’ carefully choreographed measures. But all considered, his daring fuel subsidy policy has proved a success; it even met with curious acclamation to the dismay of his opponents and those who swore he was incapable of providing strong leadership.
In great leadership, there is always a place for intuition. This time, President Tinubu’s intuitionism won. But that is the mystery about intuition; a great leader must always have the intuition to rein in his intuition, to know when, or how often, to indulge it and when not to. Intuition cannot always stand in the place of carefully crafted and orchestrated policies. The president may have started on a roaring and even uproarious note, but it will take months, if not years, to determine the measure of his presidency: his style, his depth, his intellect, his vision, his work experience, and the durability of his administration. Without a visible kitchen cabinet to advise him, his steps so far, including meetings with security chiefs, traditional chiefs, intelligence chiefs, political titans and parties across all divides, and a few one-on-one parleys, have been unimpeachable. He has seemed to imbue his presidency with a sense of urgency, and surprise of all surprises, has increasingly and quickly appeared surefooted and knowledgeable such that critics who had dismissed him as phlegmatic are left flummoxed. He garbled a few words during his inauguration address; but now he is even elocuting far better than expected.
Nevertheless, the great tests of his presidency are still many months away. Yes, he may have cleverly dealt with the Godwin Emefiele conundrum, and with one throw of the stone may be restoring stability and credibility to the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), but initial house-cleaning, as adroitly as President Tinubu’s has so far undertaken, neither emblematises nor defines the coherence and brilliance of an administration. He has signed a few landmark bills passed by the Ninth Assembly, but the direction of his presidency, far beyond the theoretical indications of his manifesto, is yet to emerge. It remains to be seen whether in the face of public, legislative, and perhaps judicial resistance he will yield supinely to the flip-flops that scandalised and enervated the Goodluck Jonathan administration or the rigidity and centrifugation that undermined and dissipated the Muhammadu Buhari presidency.
In his address to the council of traditional chiefs few days ago, President Tinubu admitted that no leader could hope to get it right 100 percent of the time. He hoped, he said modestly to a round of applause, that his administration would get it right at least 90 percent of the time. For a presidency inaugurated amidst contrived opposition by powers and forces of the old order masquerading as harbingers of the new order, the president must really hope he can score the mark he has wished for himself. As every historian knows, decades of leadership can be compressed into one or two books, with much of the mundaneness of daily and hourly administrative details edited out. Often too, the brevity of such books masks years of pains, indecisions, agonies, and failures. President Tinubu’s success will, therefore, be judged not by the facile measures he takes, including signing some nondescript bills into law, but by great and defining policies as well as unerring appointments. Before he took office in the opening months of World War II, Winston Churchill was more known for his policy failures than the great acclaim which followed his leadership of Britain throughout the war. President Tinubu will be judged by how bravely and knowledgeably he stands for great ideas and how well he remains true to impactful but sometimes complex and unpopular policies. Renowned for doggedness of the most punishing and self-flagellating kind, he will hope that throughout his stay in office, he will neither flag in enthusiasm nor drop the ball.
In the short term, however, he will be assessed in terms of the integrity and solidity of the cabinet he assembles, both at the kitchen cabinet level and general cabinet level. Weeks into his presidency, and in addition to his inexplicable denigration of ministers as a component of government, ex-president Buhari managed to assemble the most insular kitchen cabinet ever. And after he got round to appointing a general cabinet, he virtually outsourced the responsibility. The predictable result was an amalgam of men and women of differing and counteracting temperaments, ministers and security chiefs who sauntered off blithely at different tangents. Unlike President Buhari, President Tinubu has built a wide circle of friends and associates around the country, bridges that connect brilliant politicians and technocrats from one end of the country to the other. He probably understands that the style and tactics that made Lagos responsive to his sculpting and enabled him offer sound leadership are different from the style and tactics capable of sculpting Nigeria. His kitchen cabinet is, therefore, expected to reflect the ennobling essence of his cosmopolitan politics, as against the provincialism of his predecessors.
Should President Tinubu succeed in assembling a great kitchen cabinet, with most of them as advisers, he will logically be expected to follow suit with a great general cabinet, many of whom he will have had personal contacts and relationships with. States and their parties may nominate candidates for the statutory ministerial positions, but despite being a consensus builder unwilling to ignore those nominations, he is nonetheless expected to be able to vouch for his appointees. In Lagos, some of his protégés, indeed an uncomfortable many, ended up parting ways with him acrimoniously, some of them unable to manage their ambitions, and some lacking in sobriety, character and the right values that conduce to loyalty and succession. His task of assembling the right men and women will, however, be complicated by the political debts he owes many of those who helped him secure the scintillating victory he is savouring today.
Take for instance, former Kaduna State governor, Nasir el-Rufai, who, despite hedging his bets wildly in the last presidential elections, finally settled for President Tinubu. There is little anyone can do to restrain the gadfly from imprudently baiting Christians and political opponents. He is a relentless volcano of trenchant words calculated to always skewer and scald but seldom to build, a Niagara of dismissive characterisations of opponents, all dressed in probably the most opportunistic politics any Nigerian seems capable of. Yet, there is no denying the role he played in the last elections. That role may have been exaggerated; but it was still pivotal. Rewarding such a man in the face of a seething Christian population still nursing the wounds inflicted by APC’s Muslim-Muslim presidential ticket will be tricky. Then there is the ferocious battle between two Kano State ex-governors, Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso and Abdullahi Umar Ganduje, both strategic and influential friends of the president. Given the bitterness between the two Kanawa politicians, it will take the skillfulness of angels to reconcile them. At the moment, the two seem permanently to be at daggers drawn; yet both were and still are crucial to President Tinubu’s success. How would the president walk the tightrope?
In the midst of resetting Nigeria’s foundations, a task the president is probably the most equipped of all Nigerian leaders to carry out, he must enunciate great and defining economic and social policies, and then top them sometime in the future with some tolerable political reengineering of the country. Ex-president Buhari signed some 15 bills or so in the twilight of his presidency, and President Tinubu has given assent to two more. These and perhaps a few more in the medium term could help reset Nigeria and deliver a great approximation to the federalism Nigerians crave. Structures are as important as policies, hardware as important as software. The president, it is expected, will not lose sight of the goals of building a great, powerful and stable nation, let alone allow the ball to drop. As he gets down to brass tacks, he will need all the savvy nature has fashioned in him in his years in office and in the wilderness. He is gifted and resilient, and had hankered after the job for decades. Now he has the job; but vengeful opponents scarified by eight years of President Buhari will use him as their battering ram for the next few years, whether he succeeds or not. He must not let the distractions weaken his resolve.
Credit: The Nation
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