By Tunde Rahman
The global coronavirus pandemic is really gathering speed. The numbers are frighteningly on the rise. As I write this on Thursday, more than 500,000 persons across the world, 65 of them in Nigeria, have been infected with the virus. Fatalities are now in excess of 22, 000. The world, indeed, is being confronted by a monster of a virus. The coronavirus crisis has been described as the worst, the most devastating, since after the Second World War, which is why individuals, organisations and nations are feverishly mobilising efforts and materials to confront and curb the effects of the pandemic.
Coronavirus has proven that it’s no respecter of nations, rich or poor, developed or developing. No nation is immune to the disease. It’s a global pandemic ravaging all continents and all countries. Interestingly, rather than Africa, perceived as a poor continent, with weak health institutions and facilities and believed to be mostly vulnerable to killer diseases like COVID-19, Europe has emerged the epicentre of coronavirus. The grim reality of the pandemic is that the virus is being brought back home to us in Africa by people who have travelled to some of these developed countries, now turning to be coronavirus-high risk nations.
This piece is not exactly about the ongoing virulent disease, though there are ways in which it is connected to the crisis. The article is to draw attention to and contextually situate the two crucial interventions of the All Progressives Congress National Leader, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, on the cusp of his 68th birthday, which incidentally falls due tomorrow. The one issue is the yearly Bola Tinubu Colloquium, which has become widely known as a platform for proffering ideas and solutions to contemporary issues affecting the Nigerian society over the past 11 years. The other is on the APC leadership crisis, which, mercifully, has simmered down, even if not completely exorcised. In both interventions, however, is clearly demonstrated the APC national leader’s responsiveness, sensitivity and political sagacity.
It is in line with the imperatives of this moment and in synch with the global call for the adoption of precautionary measures to prevent further spread of coronavirus, that Asiwaju Tinubu, along with the Planning Committee of the colloquium, took the right decision to postpone the annual event, which would have held on his March 29 birthday. Announcing the postponement of the colloquium through an advertised statement signed by one of the panel members, Mrs. Foluso Idumu, the Planning Committee said it was in consideration of the health and safety of all the guests expected at the event. “Following increased and overwhelming concerns about the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, we felt this (postponement) was the best way to proceed during such an unprecedented global situation,” she said.
If that statement is apt, Asiwaju’s letter to Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, Lagos State Governor Babajide Sanwo-olu and others involved in the organisation of the colloquium, as reported by some newspapers, is more pertinent and instructive. “I believe we have a unique social responsibility to help educate and lift public awareness on all issues, including the coronavirus. We must lead by example,” the APC leader said in his letter, adding that he looked forward to the colloquium every year, this year inclusive.
“This year I was greatly looking forward to the discussion on innovation in basic education. However, I think it even more urgent that we educate and increase awareness of this possible public health menace. We do not want a situation where we have gathered for a good cause only to later find that the event might have been a conduit to disseminate not only knowledge but also the virus as well. “
Since the postponement, Asiwaju has used every opportunity that comes his way to counsel Nigerians to obey all the measures put in place by governments at all levels to contain coronavirus and also impress it on them the need to take their personal hygiene seriously by washing their hands regularly and maintaining social distancing and taking other precautionary steps. The point is, on this coronavirus pandemic, the need to continue to focus public attention on the menace and harp on the importance of taking precautionary measures can hardly be overstressed.
It was no surprise therefore that coronavirus again became a metaphor for Asiwaju in his intervention in the APC leadership crisis, precipitated by attempts by some powerful forces to oust National Chairman Adams Oshiomhole at all cost. Against the backdrop of exchange of barbs and court orders, the interventions by President Muhammadu Buhari and Asiwaju Tinubu, however, saved the day and saved the party from the path of disintegration it was inexorably headed.
Although some people have tried to trivialize and even distort, mischievously, Asiwaju’s statement on the issue, the pertinent point he was making cannot be overemphasized. There must always be a gap between one election and the beginning of campaigns for another to give room for newly elected or re-elected governments to govern. Just imagine if the ruling party was at this time engaged in managing the unsavoury fallouts of removing its national chairman at this time. How would the governments the party controls at the centre and the states be able to focus single-mindedly on the coronavirus crisis, which is a crisis of global dimensions? Future ambition that subverts and undermines present governance can be as deadly in their consequences as viral attacks on a polity.
Again, Asiwaju’s analogy is not relevant to the APC alone. How do we explain a situation, for instance, where the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), driven by ambition and partisan political considerations decided to hold political events with large crowds both in Ibadan and Port Harcourt at this period of virtual national emergency? That again shows how blind desperation for power for its own sake can, like a virus, rid a polity of its immunity with disastrous consequences.
Asiwaju said those who engaged, in the distracting politics of seeking to remove the APC Chairman at this time were allowing their ambition to jeopardize the public good. Thus, he wondered why people were already entangled in the succession battle that is three years away rather than helping President Buhari to deliver on his mandate.
This is how he succinctly put it that members of the party “should be trying their best to help the president. Instead of seeing President Buhari as our present leader and commander-in-chief, their sole contemplation is upon his eventual exit. Yet, not even a full year has passed since his second inaugural. How can they be committed to helping him realise his mandate when the fullness of their gaze is affixed to seizing this very mandate for themselves?”
Those touched by the malady, the APC leader urged to tell the time and discern the difference between the present and the future and the imperatives of the very season our nation finds itself, saying the party was not built simply as a vehicle for personal ambition. “We built the party because we saw it as perhaps the only enduring hope to bring progressive governance to this nation.”
The truth is that if ceaseless politicking from one election cycle to another marginalizes and undermines good and effective governance, and thus makes it impossible for the ruling party to fulfil its promises to the people, how will the party be able to face the electorate in the next election with any confidence? If politicians are preoccupied with elections that are still three years away now to the detriment of impactful and productive governance that the mandate of the ruling party demands, are they not creating the conditions for the non-realization of such ambitions if their party is unable to showcase a record of high performance to the electorate?
By the quality and incisiveness of his interventions in public discourse, which is akin to those of the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo, for example, Asiwaju is demonstrating, once again, that politics is not just about intrigues and jostling for office, it is also, perhaps more importantly, about thinking deeply and rigorously about public issues and intervening in such a way as to elevate public discourse and impact public policy positively.
On the occasion of his 68th birthday tomorrow, I join the teeming admirers in wishing Asiwaju happy birthday and many years of patriotic service to Nigeria and humanity.
––Rahman, Media Adviser to APC National Leader Asiwaju Tinubu, was formerly Editor, THISDAY on Sunday Newspaper.