Tambuwal: A Pragmatic Unifier in Times of a National Dilemma

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Aminu Tambuwal

Paul Obi

“A pragmatist turns away…from abstraction and insufficiency, from verbal solutions and from bad a priori reasons; from fixed principles, closed systems, and pretended absolutes and origins. He turns towards concreteness and adequacy; towards facts, towards action and towards power.”
–––William James

To assess the viability of a democracy and its survival; start by measuring the number of political elites who oppose undemocratic policies. Then, x-ray the quality of debate within the civil space, specifically in times of a national crisis. Within that scope, it’s been a dicey situation for Nigeria. Since 2015, Nigeria’s continuous slide to monumental crisis has known no bound. Like a malicious orchestra, Nigeria’s prospects have turned 360° clockwise, from vibrancy to a national ailment. Deep at what ails Nigeria the most is the increasing spate of disunity, insecurity, hunger and clear abdication of leadership at the highest level – including the oval office. In this season of anomie, voices of truth, peace, reason and foresight have also lost their traction in the ensuing political nadir that have occasioned the present administration.

Ensnared by the politics of deep state Nigeria has been thrown into for more than four decades, political elites very often maintained table manners at the detriment of national unity and progress. It is in this very setting that Governor of Sokoto State, Aminu Waziri Tambuwal has created a different niche – rather resorting to hold the President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration accountable to the true tenets of democracy. And the need to live up to the responsibility of protection of lives and property as enshrined in the 1999 Constitution as amended. Of a truth, a democracy without dissenting voices loses the vibe that makes it thick. The absence of dissenting thoughts breath and emboldened authoritarian regimes.

It is not a mean feat therefore for the Tambuwals of this world to choose to battle Buhari’s Presidency with truth. Recent attacks targeted at Catholic Bishop of Sokoto, His Lordship, Mathew Hassan Kukah bears witness to the criminalization of truths and facts – even on Buhari’s infectious policy of nepotism. To cap it all, the sincere lampooning of the federal government’s abysmal performance on security by the trio of the Sultan of Sokoto, His Eminence, Sa’ad Abubakar III, Kukah and Tambuwal is the climax of the demystification of Buhari’s messianic presidential capacity. Strategically, all three – deriving their powers from the Caliphate; their measured intervention in the polity and their guts and sack to speak truth to power has come out handy.

For Tambuwal, beyond being the Chairman of the opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP) Governors Forum, Waziri’s resolve to give voice to the helpless resonates with many Nigerians trapped in the present national crisis of monumental proportions. And as the political leader of Sokoto State, situated in the Seat of the Caliphate, it will ordinarily smack of political self-immolation to speak truth to power and confront Buhari, whose cult-like followership in the North has remained obstinate even in the midst of this present crisis. Tambuwal’s zeal to constantly engage the Buhari’s administration, specifically on its betrayal of the Nigerian mandate underscores his pragmatism. This task in all accounts, accounts for Tambuwal’s sincere political leaning, which is now seen as his magnum opus politically.

Yet, in times of overwhelming distrust within the Nigerian civil space, Tambuwal has continued to provide a poignant look at the potential pathways upon which Nigerian citizens could be engaged constructively. He has led both in the national discourse on how to retool Nigeria for the better and the need to hold forth democracy in the true sense of it. With helpful insights, the former Speaker has relentlessly explored avenues for national unity – sort of some damage control from the current orgy of spoilt-rotten nepotism that has regrettably been elevated to state craft by Buhari’s Presidency. Even in terms of challenging personal trial – like coming in contact with a Covid-19 patient, Tambuwal’s speed to handover power to his deputy, Munir Muhammad Dan Iya, with utmost clarity and equanimity remains legendary.

On restructuring, Tambuwal has remained one of the fierce proponents among Northern Governors Forum for devolution of powers to the respective federating units. His argument lies on the urgency to dismantle the current malady of Nigeria’s feeding bottle democracy – that practice unitary government on one and turn round to preach federalism. Unlike other pseudo-political activists, Tambuwal has been frontal in his support for restructuring in line with the participation and buy-in from the National Assembly. The Governor also understands the imperative of reducing the ominous Exclusive List and expansion of the Concurrent List, to quote him, “for the importance of sub-national development” agenda. He has argued passionately that the stripping of powers of the states by the 1999 Constitution as amended in critical areas such as electricity, transport, policing, railway, resources management has continued to inhibit development across the country. Despite this clamour for restructuring, as a pragmatist, Tambuwal has insisted on the sanctity of the constitution as the benchmark and roadmap upon which restructuring and devolution of powers could be achieved. He is basically not given to the verbal remedies that suggest a new constitution without recourse to the National Assembly and the 1999 Constitution as amended.

On #EndSARS and participatory politics, Tambuwal has not minced words, in calling the Nigerian state and its elite to action in the midst of the prevailing widespread angst by the Nigerian youths against the state. According to him, the #EndSARS Protest is a ‘wake-up call’ for Nigerian leaders to brace up and meet the yearnings of the populace or faced the consequences of inaction in addressing real issues of governance. Irked by the misgovernance that has continued to frustrate the Nigerian youth, Tambuwal has chosen to side with the youths rather than dwell within the cozy confines of the Nigerian ruling elite. Incensed by the continuous collapse of human capital development, the Sokoto Governor went further to recommend that more strategic roles should be given to the Nigerian youths, by way of expanding the scope and reach of participatory politics. To this end, he called on the Federal Ministry of Finance, the Budget Office and National Assembly to go beyond ‘closed doors’ mentality to organizing town halls for the youths to participate fully in the national budget processes.

As Nigeria is plagued by more killing fields by Boko Haram terrorists in the North East, banditry and kidnapping in the North West and other increasing criminal gangs around the country, Tambuwal, has even to his own political risk, tasked the Buhari’s government on the need to reorganize the nation’s security system. Not done, he has demanded for the sacking of the service chiefs in the midst of a gloomy performance and inability to tame the monster of insecurity. Sokoto, being a victim of banditry both from within and neighbouring countries, the governor had to meet President Buhari to make a case for more proactive measures in curtailing insecurity in the country.

But in all his political adventures, it’s Tambuwal’s quest for peace, unity, oneness and a united Nigeria that has come to define his place within the Nigerian nation state. With all intents and purposes, Tambuwal understands the consequences of the social dislocation Buhari’s stinking nepotism and 97/5% politics of tribalism would have on a united Nigeria.

Hence, his zeal to constantly extend a hand of fellowship across the Niger for the sake of peace and unity. And as Buhari entrench nepotism the more, and Nigeria becomes more drenched in an unprecedented North – South divide, Tambuwal has risen to the occasion as the unifier and bridge-builder, stretching the olive branch with great pomp and applause. In the South South, Tambuwal has found a trusted ally in Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike; in the South East, he has former Deputy Speaker and former Governor of Imo State, Hon. Emeka Ihedioha (Omenkeahuruanya) and in the South West, he has Oyo State Governor, Seyi Makinde. The aim of this political romance is not just for mere friendship and comradeship, but that Nigeria may survive post-Buhari. In this zero-sum game that the All Progressives Congress (APC) has regrettably brought Nigeria into, these are the young Turks for Nigeria’s unity and indivisibility. In the midst of this national dilemma, where the constituent regions are even angling for separate empires, Tambuwal’s peace initiative remains a beacon of hope for Nigeria’s future.

Conversely, notwithstanding his national pedigree and political pursuits, it’s the political economy outcomes from Sokoto State that will count for or against Tambuwal. As popular and strategic as Sokoto is, data from the Nigerian Bureau of Statistics (NBS) have not been favourable. Granted, the state government may have issues with NBS on how such data are collated, yet, there is need to explore more avenues to re-write the poor statistical data emanating from Sokoto State.

For instance, in the 2019 Poverty and Inequality Index Report, a survey spearheaded by the NBS and World Bank through the Nigerian Standard of Living Survey (NSLS), Sokoto alongside Taraba and Jigawa State were ranked the poorest in Nigeria.
Instructively, the Sokoto State government under Tambuwal has an economic plan to fight poverty to a standstill in the state. It’s in that light that the Sokoto Development Plan (2020 – 2025) and the Zakkat and Waq Commission (SOZECOM) ought to be given more vibes in order to confront poverty fiercely in the state. As a pragmatist that he is, Tambuwal should go beyond the periphery and reach out to experts well equipped in the business of fighting poverty to assist the state. The cash transfer and business support policies of the state targeted at the poor should be intensified and expanded as well. The government should also expedite action in education and healthcare service delivery. Whenever government is able to take the burden of access to quality education and healthcare from low income households and earners, chances are that poverty would have been stemmed out half way. These are the very daunting tasks lying in wait for Tambuwal in order to make or betray history.

Born on 10th January, 1966 in Tambuwal, Sokoto State. He attended Tambuwal Primary School, Tambuwal; Teachers’ College, Dogon-Daji; Usman Dan Fodio University, Sokoto. He also obtained certificates from the Stanford Graduate School of Business and the Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University in Infrastructure in Market Economy in the United States among other certifications and training. He is also a member of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA). He turns 54 today.

And as he navigates his path politically and nationally, a lot still lies ahead for Tambuwal. Nothing is certain; some tongues have been wagging whether Tambuwal has his eyes fixated on the Presidency. Some have even adduced that the clamour for power shift to the South, specifically the South East may halt his ambition. Yet, much lies in wait for Tambuwal. But whenever historians would flip on his pages and political trajectories, Tambuwal will be remembered as a symbol of unity in times of Nigeria’s greatest national dilemma – a dilemma that’s even edging towards a national hara-kiri. He will likewise be remembered as a politician whose corporate mantra was the pursuit of truth even to his own political harm. He will be adjudged as an empire and a pragmatic prince from the caliphate who rejected trifles and the paraphernalia of the palace in defence of the masses. Happy Birthday Matawallen Sokoto, Ka Tazarche!
––Obi, is a journalist and political communication consultant based in Abuja.