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The masquerade came out in the open on Monday when the governor emeritus of Lagos State, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, confirmed his much-rumoured interest in the 2023 presidential election. Putting aside the hide-and-seek game he had played on the issue, Tinubu announced he will run in 2023. For Tinubu, to all intents and purposes, the race has started! The Jagaban Borgu, thus, is the “early riser” as far as the 2023 presidential race is concerned. Tinubu did not call a press conference or issue a press statement to make his intentions known, although a “world press conference”, as they call it, would not have been out of place. Instead, he chose to first break the news to the President, Major-General Muhammadu Buhari, before letting other lesser mortals into it. This is called courtesy and giving honour to who it is due. Only a fool will try to diminish an office to which he is aspiring – although there are many such fools around these days. Tinubu knows much more than to belong in that category. He has wielded power – and still wields power – and knows the devastating effect to which power can be put. Buhari wields power, immense power, whether he is demented or you call him Jubril from Sudan. God apart, Buhari can make or mar any politician’s ambition, especially in a polity like ours where the populace is docile and the powers-that-be get away with blue murder in broad daylight. Like him or loathe him, if you are wise, you will recognise, admit, and hallow the fact that Buhari is a god here. So, call a mad man “beloveth brother” so he can yield the way. That also is wisdom.
Tinubu may have been instrumental in cobbling together the unprecedented alliance that birthed the APC; the Joseph Goebbels-inspired propaganda machine that unhinged the PDP while endearing the APC to the people might have been the handiwork of Tinubu’s media boys; and Lai Mohammed, the arrow-head of the German rottweilers that made a mince meat of Goodluck Jonathan might have been Tinubu’s alter ego, but the moment power changed hands and Buhari settled in office, the new Sheriff announced his presence in town when he contested the honorific title of “National Leader” accorded Tinubu by the APC. Stripped, scorned, abused, disgraced, humiliated and vilified, it is a measure of the tenacity, political sagacity, and doggedness of Tinubu that he has not only managed to survive it all but has also been able to raise his head and dare to say he wanted the very office whose awesome powers have all but been ranged against him. As the de facto National Leader of APC, Buhari has a near veto power over who flies the presidential flag of the party in 2023 – except a major rift or revolution happens in the ruling – but roiling – party. Expect Tinubu to understand that if he will fly the APC flag in 2023, he must have Buhari in his corner or, at the very least, get him to maintain neutrality, if that is possible. Should Tinubu forfeit the APC flag and move to another party to contest, keeping an open door with Buhari must still remain high on the cards.
But will Buhari support Tinubu? In one of the president’s recent hogwash of television interviews, he was quoted as saying if he revealed his preferred successor; the person could be killed. “They will kill him”! Who are the “they”? Why would they kill him? And why can “they” not be neutralized by the Commander-in-Chief? We can guess that the president likely knows the “they” but rather than dare them, go after them, name and shame them, he is either powerless against them or does not want trouble with them. So, he toes the line of least resistance by keeping the name of his preferred successor close to his chest. Nigerian leaders usually play god when it comes to succession battles and you hear such statements as “we know those who will not succeed us”! For those who marvel at Buhari’s disclosure, have you forgotten that the evil genius, Ibrahim Babangida, was reported as saying that one of the reasons he annulled the June 12, 1993 presidential election won fair and square by MKO Abiola was that “they will kill me and my entire family if I did not”? Who are the “they”? In the aftermath of the assassination of Chief Bola Ige, the sitting Federal Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, during the Olusegun Obasanjo administration, Nobel Laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka, spoke of a “nest of killers” in the then ruling party, the PDP. What of the murder of Funsho Williams in Lagos? If IBB was scared and Buhari is scared, then, no one is too big for the “they” to handle. Watching one’s shadow, therefore, becomes the beginning of wisdom.
Tinubu disclosed on Monday that his decision to run is a “life-long ambition” – and I like that! After a period of hiding behind one finger like the grasshopper, Tinubu finally came into the open to declare that he had always nursed (“nurtured” might be a better word) the ambition to rule Nigeria. That is what “life-long ambition” means. It also means that all and everything Tinubu has ever done – good and evil – have all been geared towards fulfilling the ambition to rule Nigeria. All his NADECO activities before, during and after the June 12 struggle; the personalization of his rule over Lagos and much of the South-west; his reported primitive capitalist accumulation; his pan-Nigeria political and philanthropic activities – all these are not altruistic but have a ring of personal interest around them. Even then, I like the fact Tinubu is being honest, unlike the usual refrain of “my people” want me! We have had too many unwilling and, therefore, unprepared leaders.
The leaders of the Northern People’s Congress – Ahmadu Bello and Tafawa Balewa – were not prepared for independence and delayed the other regions that were prepared many years but when, eventually, Independence fell like a bull buffalo, to quote the Ugandan poet, Prof, Okot p’Bitek, it was the unprepared that slipped into the driver’s seat. Obafemi Awolowo and even Nnamdi Azikiwe were better prepared and this showed in the stupendous development recorded by their respective regions, especially Awo’s Western Region. Regardless of their errors, the five Majors that heralded the first Nigeria coup had an idea what they wanted – to deal decisively with the “ten-percenters… and corrupt politicians who made Nigeria look big for nothing” but it was an unprepared JTU Aguiyi-Ironsi that took power and destroyed the federalism that was the fulcrum of the First Republic. How prepared was the bachelor boy, Yakubu Gowon, when he took over after the counter-coup of July 1966? His more experienced, better trained and, possibly, more competent superiors were shoved aside. The same Gowon wasted the country’s first oil boom on Udoji salary increase and other frivolities. Gowon, it was who said Nigeria’s problem was not money but how to spend it! When we should have diversified the economy, an unprepared and incompetent Gowon frittered our riches. Shehu Shagari was campaigning to go to the Senate when he was foisted on Nigeria as president. The then military Head of State, Olusegun Obasanjo, whetted the ground for that by saying the best candidate might not win the 1979 election. Who was that best candidate? Awo, of course! We can go on and on!
It has been said that the coup that toppled Shagari did not have much of an input from Muhammadu Buhari but for reasons best known to them, the coup plotters offered him the leadership and he messed up fantastically. If Chief Ernest Shonekan (who died yesterday) had prepared for the office thrust on his shoulders, he would not have been such an easy push-over for the evil one, Sani Abacha. Reports have it that when Obasanjo was approached by the “kingmakers” of Nigeria to become president in 1999, he asked how many presidents they wanted to make out of him! Fresh from Abacha’s unjust prison, Obasanjo was anything but prepared to rule. As a fresh ex-Secretary to the Federal Government and later Minister of Finance, Chief Olu Falae appeared a better candidate. When Obasanjo forced Umoru Yar’Adua on us, the two-term governor of Katsina state was said to be on his way to returning to the university as a lecturer. Of course, Jonathan twice had no inkling he was due for “promotion”, first to make him succeed his disgraced boss, DSP Alamieyesiegha, and secondly as running mate to Yar’adua. Gov. Peter Odili of Rivers state was the earlier choice for VP who was preparing before the table turned at the dying minutes. After running for president and falling short three times, Buhari cried like an inconsolable baby before Tinubu went after him; dusted him up and packaged him for the presidency. The rest, as they say, is history – though one sordid history we wish had never been written!
We have had enough of unprepared and unwilling rulers! After the assassination of Gen. Murtala Mohamed on February 13, 1976, Obasanjo, who was the second in command, said it was against his “personal wishes and desire” to take over. All the same, he took over and, together with Col. Ahmadu Ali, his Federal Commissioner for Education (as they then were); he destroyed education and started a process that this country is yet to recover from. Away with insincere, reluctant and “arrangee” rulers! (TO BE CONTINUED).
*Former editor & chairman of the editorial board of The PUNCH newspapers, BOLAWOLE is a columnist with the Sunday Tribune (ON THE LORD’S DAY column) and the New Telegraph newspapers (TREASURES column every Wednesday). He is also a public affairs analyst on radio and television.