Tinubu and the Chatham House Drama
Last Monday, Senator Bola Ahmed Tinubu , the APC presidential candidate in the 2023 election went to London. No, he didn’t go for medicals. Neither was it a business trip, as he is wont to do. It was a trip essentially to further his chances at winning the election next year. He had an engagement session at Chatham House, London. Chatham House is the Royal Institute of International Affairs. It is about the equivalent of the Nigerian Institute for International Affairs (NIIA). Chatham House is a top-rated elite Policy House where many aspiring leaders, so to speak, go for British screening and endorsement. The place has built a reputation for independent interrogation of individuals, societies and governments. Many world leaders including former President Olusegun Obasanjo and President Muhammadu Buhari had had appearances at Chatham House. Tinubu himself had been at Chatham House before, but not as the principal guest like last Monday’s. But the appearance on Monday struck controversial chords among Nigerians, both in London and in Nigeria. This was essentially due to the novel style Bola Tinubu decided to adopt.
He delivered a speech for 28 minutes on his feet, with the aid of a tele-prompter. And when it came to the time of question and answer, Tinubu introduced what he described as the philosophy of “teamship”, “unbreakable team”, wherein he delegated members of his team to answer some of the questions he was asked. It was strange. Those who came to Chatham House—Nigerians and non-Nigerians, wanted to hear, first-hand, from the very candidate aspiring to lead Nigeria, NOT his team members. One of the ladies who asked a question made the point of Nigerians wanting to hear directly from Tinubu and not his allies and surrogates, but the APC candidate missed the point. He explained that it was a doctrine he firmly believed in— working as a team.
Perhaps it was a wrong time for Tinubu to show or parade those he expected to work with if he wins the election. It was a time to assess his suitability, presence of mind, depth of knowledge of the Nigerian issues, physical, mental and cognitive capacity to deal with arising issues, etc. But he missed the chance. He missed the chance to prove all the doubting Thomases about his persona wrong.
Even at that, there was nothing special in terms of cognate capacity among those he asked to answer the questions. None of the Tinubu responders is a specialist in the areas they spoke about. That is why none of them said anything spectacular by way of deeper-than-ordinary and common knowledge or insight on the issues.
First, it was pretty curious that Tinubu who had consistently avoided media engagement in Nigeria chose to go face another set of media audience in the United Kingdom. It is remarkable that even if he had a fantastic and impressive outing in the UK, it would count for little in his electability, as there is no Diaspora voting yet in the Nigerian democratic quest. So, of what end and essence is the sojourn to the UK to address (by proxy), issues besetting Nigerians at home? It is akin to a common expression in Nigeria which says Tinubu went to Sokoto to look for what is in his Sokoto.
His campaign council last month issued a statement saying that Tinubu will be too busy with the campaigns to be appearing in the many media debate invitations, as he would not want to attend one and fail to attend the others, preferring to deal with Town Hall meetings, which is essentially a ceremonial campaign rally where no key policies are discussed but bland and nebulous promises are made without details of tact and method.
But at the Chatham House, Tinubu explained that he is shunning the Nigerian media because he does not want them to make money out of him. I think that is unkind and somewhat insulting to the Nigerian press. It suggests that the Nigerian media is extortionist. That media which he is ignoring and typecasting now with ill label, will be the same press that he would rely on to vent his policies and programmes, if he wins the election, and not the UK press. Truly, as the scriptures say, the prophet is not valued in his home.
It is even doubly ironic that the same Tinubu “bad-mouthing” the Nigerian press is himself a media entrepreneur, owning a TV House and a National newspaper.
If Tinubu really has any issue with any media house or a section of the Nigerian media, is it not even more a reason to confront such a media house(s) by attending their programmes and clear every and any cobweb of disbelief and distrust?
But one of his many supporters, Biodun Ajiboye, an Assistant Director Media Directorate who spoke at a TV station last Tuesday, stressed that what Tinubu did at Chatham House was an “innovative dimension” to leadership. Ajiboye who appeared combative and aggressive said Tinubu’s leadership dynamics were what was on parade at the Chatham House, even if it was against the philosophy of Chatham house protocol. His other ally, Dele Alake noted that leadership is not a one-man show. Yes! But Nigerians are seeking to evaluate the one man they want to vote for, not his team. He can showcase his team after he had won the hearts of Nigerians and Nigerians in turn endorse him as their president, not before. That is the sequence, not the anti-clockwise mode Tinubu is pointing to us.
The vociferous argument of Ajiboye, plus the rowdy conduct of Tinubu’s supporters at the Chatham House suggest that there will be a crowd bullying if and when he wins the election. They have no room whatsoever for a contrary or alternate opinion. They are too eager to cheer and hail their principal even when he utters inanities. And anyone not hailing is an enemy that deserves to be struck. That is dangerous!
In his opinion, for Tinubu to stand and read a (prepared) speech for 28 minutes—which is not more than a rote skill, was proof of his physical strength and thus an indication of a sound health.
Such persons do not believe that asking others to answer your question, in a forum which was not a press conference, was like sub-contracting a major leadership task. Indeed, the Chatham House encounter was a veritable ground to assess Tinubu’s understanding of the Nigerian problems, the template of his solutions, his physical gait and composure, his oratorial skill (if any) and any area of his innate strength that can cover up for his natural drawbacks, etc. But all that we saw was the parade of “teamship”. Like Robert Browning, in his poem, My Last Duchess, we cannot be too soon made glad.
And what is the morality of what Tinubu did? One of the persons he asked to answer the question on the security issue was Nasir El-Rufai, the governor of Kaduna State. Besides the fact that El-Rufai’s Kaduna State has been a major epicentre of insecurity and thus should have no convincing rectitude to proffer solution, hey, it is more remarkable to note that this same el-Rufai sacked many teachers in his state who were unable to answer questions at an evaluation session. So, if El-Rufai believes that those teachers who could not answer common questions asked them and so should lose their jobs, why does he want Tinubu to be a President even when he too could not answer questions directed at him? Is what is good for the goose not also good for the gander?
In all, the Chatham House episode would have been an added advantage for Tinubu’s candidacy if he managed it well, even though it is seen as a superfluous effort to impress the Diaspora audience whose electoral value is zero, at the expense of the Nigerian audience/voters who would indeed decide to support Tinubu or not. Luckily, he still has nearly two months to engage with Nigerians, not through the so-called Action Plan of his campaign, but through direct interaction with critical stakeholders in the Nigerian setting, including the Nigerian media.
The Challenges of Teaching in Mother Tongue
In 1990, as minister for Education, Professor Babs Fafunwa of blessed memory had suggested strongly that teaching and learning in the lower classes should be done in the mother tongue of the children. He argued that children learn better when they are taught in their native languages rather than in languages that are foreign or those of their colonial masters.
As a final year Student of the University of Benin at the time, I remember clearly that the Fafunwa challenge became a subject of intense enquiry and seminar at the department. It was noted, at the time, and even now, that as noble and desirable as the idea is, it will face enormous challenges.
First, we identified that the local languages—our mother tongues– have huge vocabulary limitations. There are many words in the English Language which do not have equivalence in our mother tongues. I remember somebody asked what is carbon dioxide or Nitrogen or atom or morphemes or allophones, or nuances or surrogacy, etc., in our native language, without using a community of words to explain them.
How can a teacher teaching Osmosis, for instance, be able to effectively communicate the concept in his or her native language without resorting to code-switching (employing the interplay of another language) to complete an explanation or expression? Or how can a Geography teacher explain Ox-Bow Lake to his students in his mother tongue?
But it is a little relieving that the present directive of the sitting Minister for Education, Adamu Adamu, an accountant and journalist, had narrowed the policy to just the primary school education. But even at that, there are many words in the English Language which cannot be succinctly captured in our local language. How will a teacher explain the concept of LCM or HCF or BODMAS or Circumference, or types of rock etc. etc., without employing the English Language to support the explanation?
Beside the issue of limited vocabulary, comes the issue of manpower. Where are the teachers who can even sustain a conversation in their native languages, let alone use it to impart knowledge? That many of Nigerian indigenous languages are dying is no news. That we have all embraced the English Language as a means of communication is no news either. Efforts at reviving the indigenous languages must therefore be encouraged. That was why I applauded, when the Borno State lawmakers, years ago, resolved to conduct the affairs of the state House of Assembly in their local languages. That can deepen not only the mastery of the language but also its development. That is why I think the first step towards the indigenization of our languages in schools is to commission a team of Curriculum experts to carefully develop teachable curricula of all the languages, at least to primary and secondary school levels. We should also go back to the teaching and learning of Vernacular as a subject in the lower classes. It sure lays the foundation for the mastery of the autography of the language.
Then teachers must be deliberately encouraged and trained to study these local languages, say at the NCE level so they can in turn impart their knowledge on the younger learners.
The other concern is the effect of urbanization on learners. And this is multi-dimensional. First, the big towns and cities are populated by people from diverse ethnic backgrounds. So, we can have in a classroom in the city (like Lagos), say five or more pupils of Igbo origin, twelve of Yoruba origin, and five of Hausa origin and probably another six from other ethnic groups in Nigeria. So in such a case, in what native language shall the lessons be taught? Perhaps it is an attempt to solve this problem that the examination bodies and ministries of education demanded that a Nigerian student must learn one local language. The local languages are just three—Igbo, Yoruba and Hausa. So what happens to the children from Urhobo ethnic or Efik background? But even at that, the teaching has been less than effective. What is the percentage of passes in these languages at the SSCE level? How many pupils are able to speak or write in any local language in Nigeria, especially in other languages which is not their mother tongue (L1)? Truth is that both men and materials are not available to drive home this language policy from Adamu Adamu , the first things should be done: design a workable curriculum in the local languages, let scholars be encouraged to develop and write books that will serve as instructional texts, as well as many other illustrative teaching aid materials that will enhance and facilitate the teaching of these languages.
If these and many others are not done, Adamu will soon realise that the policy began and ended in the Aso Rock chamber where he briefed state House correspondents on this plan.