Opinion: Issues In Tinubu’s Ambition – By Segun Ayobolu
Last week Monday, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu visited President Muhammadu Buhari to discuss important national and party matters and on his way out he addressed the State House Press Corp where he answered questions on his presidential ambition. Asiwaju Tinubu was most daring, courageous and audacious when he made a categorical declaration that he would run for the nation’s highest office and he had already informed the President about his intention. The 2023 polls are less than 14 months away. These are not times for tentativeness, anonymous ambiguity or timidity on the part of any serious presidential contender who seeks to make an impact in an election only months away.
Speaking with the Presidential Villa reporters Corp after his private meeting with the President, Tinubu described his aspiration as a lifelong ambition
All too often we have been saddled with accidental leaders who never deliberately desired and sought the country’s apex position of leadership and were thus largely unprepared for the tremendous responsibility. A candidate who has a passionate desire to lead the country is also more likely to have prepared himself for the demands of the office than one who is thrust on the throne by sheer luck. This does not mean of course that it is not impossible to seek public office for the pomp, glamour and material benefits rather than an ardent desire to offer transformational public service.
Tinubu naturally referred to his accomplishments and legacies as governor of Lagos State as an indication of his capacity to offer the country transformational leadership. It is difficult to credibly dispute this claim. On assumption of office in 1999, Tinubu inherited a practically collapsed and insolvent state. Coming up with an inspirational vision, a systematic programme of action, and appointing an impressive array of talents to actualize this plan, he offered the effective leadership that laid the foundation for the sustained progress Lagos State has been enjoying since then.
Some critics have faulted Tinubu’s assertion that he intends to build on the foundation and accomplishments of the Buhari administration. They referred to what they consider the “faults and failings” of the APC government even when these so called “failings” are matters of perspectives. But should an aspirant running on the APC platform like Tinubu focus on the negatives of the administration rather than its positives and attainments? I don’t get the logic. One indisputable fact is no government in the world and in history is so perfect to the extent that it could satisfy all the yearnings of every citizen. While the Buhari administration certainly has its low points, the government has also scored many big points that will remain landmarks for generations to come.
Others contend that as a kingmaker, Tinubu should not seek to become king. This may be true of a traditional, absolutist monarchy as in the Obaship institution of the Yoruba or the Emirate system in the north. However the concept of kingmaker is irrelevant and misplaced in a constitutional democracy like we run today. Anyone who has been supported by Tinubu in their quest to hold elective public office in the states or at the centre had to go through democratic elections in which the electorates are the Kings. In this context, the concept of kingmaker is meaningless. Thus, Tinubu’s concluding answer to the question is apt. His words: “Whatever is your attribute is your own opinion. Me, I want to pursue my ambition without the title of a kingmaker. You can write your literature or your story based upon your own perception”.
Responding to a question from the Presidential press Corp, on the purported presidential ambitions of Vice President Yemi Osinbajo and Dr Kayode Fayemi, Ekiti State governor and Chairman of the Nigerian Governors Forum, Tinubu appropriately stated that he would not discuss other individuals but would rather focus on his own ambition. Another name routinely mentioned in connection with the 2023 presidential race is Mr Babatunde Raji Fashola (SAN), Federal Minister for Works and Housing who seems entirely focused for now on his current public assignment. If these three accomplished individuals are perceived as being worthy of Nigeria’s presidency, then a lot of credit should be given to Tinubu’s judgement who spotted their talents and either appointed them into public office or strongly supported their electoral bid as in
However, it is difficult to find any contender across the parties who possesses Tinubu’s array of accomplishments and range of experience. As a Senator in the aborted Third Republic, he worked closely with then President of the Senate, Professor Iyorchia Ayu, and other like-minded Senators to thwart the effort of the military regime to use the National Assembly to legitimize the annulment of the June 12, 1993, presidential election. Tinubu was a frontline player in the protracted struggle to dislodge military rule and enthrone democracy that has prevailed since 1999. His sterling record of performance as governor of Lagos State is already too well known and need not detain us here.
During his tenure as governor, Tinubu was an ardent fighter for the deepening of federal practice in Nigeria supporting his then Attorney General, Professor Yemi Osinbajo (SAN), to sue the Federal government over diverse issues on the rights of states and Lagos recorded no less than 13 victories in the Supreme Court at the time that helped expand the horizon of state autonomy in the Nigerian Federation.
After the routing of the Alliance for Democracy (AD) in the South-West with the exception of Lagos in the 2003 elections, Tinubu became the last man standing as governor in the region and he stood steadfastly in his party helping to rebuild and nurture the opposition contrary to the belief in some quarters that he would have no choice but to dump the AD for the then ruling PDP at the centre. That courageous stance is one reason why opposition did not wither and die in Nigeria and we have the competitive, vibrant democracy we enjoy today despite its failings and shortcomings. He has been widely applauded as a key and most critical factor in the formation of the APC and the latter’s success in dislodging a government in power at the centre through the ballot box for the first time in the country’s history.
It can rightly be said that no Nigerian politician in this dispensation has identified more talents in the country and given them opportunities to utilize and demonstrate their competence in diverse spheres of life. He has built over the last three decades a network of friendships and political associates across the length and breadth of Nigeria. Before going into politics, Tinubu had achieved success in the private sector where, as an accountant, he rose to become Treasurer of the multinational oil corporation, ExxonMobil. He is thus at home both with the grammar of politics and also the algebra of economic and financial management.
When the Director-General of Tinubu Support Groups, Honourable Abdulkumin Jibrin featured on the Arise TV ‘The Morning Show’, one of the anchors persistently wanted to know the source of what he described as Tinubu’s immense wealth. He claimed that Tinubu owns a bullion van. I am not aware that the laws of Nigeria permit individuals to own bullion vans.
Again, any astute journalist ought to do his or her homework and come up with concrete and specific allegations of corruption against him that the Tinubu campaign can respond to. Beyond this, Tinubu has been out of office since 2007. That is clear 15 years ago. I remember PDP chieftains like Chief Bode George boasting that Tinubu would head for prison once he left office and no longer enjoyed immunity. The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) had been under the control of PDP governments at the centre between 2007 and 2015 when the APC government came to power. Could it be that the PDP governments chose to ignore allegations against Tinubu even when he was a persistent thorn in the flesh of the PDP?
All the talk about Tinubu and corruption reminds me of the travails of Chief Obafemi Awolowo throughout his political career. His adversaries accused him of amassing immense wealth as Premier of the Western Region. The vindictive Coker Commission of Enquiry into the finances of the Western Region under Awolowo accused Awo of building an empire around himself through the disbursement of public funds. Of course, these allegations remained un-litigated and unproven.
I recall that during the Second Republic, the Concord newspaper published a sensational front page story alleging that Awo owned 360 plots of land at Maroko in Lagos. This issue immediately generated widespread national controversy. How could a man who claimed to be a fighter for the poor and a democratic socialist own so much land many asked? And to tell the truth, I was quite disenchanted and apprehensive myself. Awolowo was on vacation abroad as this controversy raged.
On his return from his trip, a tumultuous crowd welcomed Awo at the Lagos airport. Interacting with journalists at the airport, Awolowo stated that he had handled and won a protracted land case for the Oniru family and he received the plots of land in lieu of his legal fees. Interestingly, he submitted and I paraphrase him here, “In Nigeria if a poor man is fighting for the poor, they will claim he is only being jealous of the rich and if a rich man is fighting for the poor, they will ask him to first of all go and commit economic suicide and join the poor before he can pursue their cause”. Awo went on to wonder how he could have established a powerful newspaper as well as help fund the establishment of viable progressive political parties if he did not have the necessary financial means.
Other issues raised against Tinubu’s ambition relate to his age and health. Of course, age is not a factor in the determination of a candidate’s competence and suitability for public office. This has again and again been demonstrated across time and space. One of the Arise TV anchors persistently sought to know what Tinubu’s real age is. The celebration of Tinubu’s birthdays over the last one and a half decades has been a major feature on the country’s political calendar. Anyone who doubts his declared age should come up with credible and incontrovertible evidence of what they consider his real age to be.
On the issue of health, we have seen all too many outwardly robust men and women, seemingly radiating health and energy, who succumbed unexpectedly to chronic ailments or even just slumped and died suddenly. On the other hand, there are several others who have been written off for their perceived fragile physical frame only to live for many productive years. On the matter of health, let no human being magisterially proclaim on the health of others as God Almighty is the sole determinant of the life or death of his ephemeral creatures.
– Ayobolu is a respected columnist with The Nation