Tinubu: The Man Meets The Moment

Dateline Lagos February 23, 2023

GUEST COLUMNIST by Kashim Ibrahim-Imam

On all scores, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu eminently fits the bill for what Nigeria needs as its next president. He is inventive and hardworking, courageous and committed, steadfast and sagacious, firm and flexible, accommodating and empathetic, and lots more. He is not faultless, and no human being is. In any case, he is running to be a president and not to be a Pope. He may appear frail physically on account of a recent knee operation, but his mind is as fit as a fiddle. He is full of energy (as his punishing schedule on the campaign trail has shown), his intellect remains sharp, and his problem-solving skills are still top-notch.
Let me admit my bias upfront. He is my friend. We have been political associates for more than thirty years. On account of this association, I have had the privilege of seeing him up close, and I can testify that Tinubu is imbued with all the qualities that Nigeria needs at this critical juncture of its political and economic journey. He is a politician and more, the best positioned on account of executive and legislative as well as political experience to help forge the needed national consensus for national development. He is an astute manager of men and resources, in fact a magnet for talents, and thus the safest pair of hands for the present turbulent economic currents.

For local exigencies, Tinubu and I sometimes stood on different sides of the political divide. For example, at the SDP Convention in Jos in 1993, he was with Bashorun MKO Abiola, GCFR, and I was with Ambassador Babagana Kingibe, GCON. At the Jos convention I offered him and other supporters of Abiola the hotel rooms we had cornered in exchange for them to support Ambassador Kingibe. They didn’t have a place to stay but he declined, saying they were in Jos to work and not to sleep. That’s vintage Tinubu for you. Once he is committed to a cause, even sleep can be sacrificed. Both of us later worked on the Abiola-Kingibe Hope ’93 Campaign, he in a more prominent capacity as he was a sitting senator then. By the way, the first political project we worked on was in supporting Professor Iyorchia Ayu to become the Senate President in 1992.

The outset of the Fourth Republic again saw us in different political parties as regional realities demanded, but we have remained close, and this is largely on account of his political astuteness. It will be hard to find a Nigerian that today matches the depth and breadth of Tinubu’s political and social network, north to south, east to west. He is the vintage bridge-builder. He is not only at home in all parts of the country, he is a leader who will make all Nigerians feel at home, and will deliberately increase their stakes and renew their hope in the country.  

As a politician of close to 35 years’ experience, I have known and collaborated with some of Tinubu’s competitors too, and they surely have their qualities too. But all things considered, Tinubu towers head and shoulders above even the closest in the field in terms of real accomplishment, temperament, understanding of and readiness for the urgent tasks at hand. He occupied real executive powers in Lagos State, which is as complex and diverse as Nigeria is, and he did so at a time when the challenges are similar to Nigeria’s of today. His records and those of his successors speak for themselves. But it may help to outline a few of them to illustrate why Tinubu is the right man for the job at this moment.

Yes, Lagos had been the administrative capital of Nigeria from 1914 to 1991 and still remains the commercial capital of our country. This status clearly gives Lagos some head-start over the other states in the country in terms of infrastructure, commercial activities and revenue potential. But the Lagos that Tinubu took over in 1999 was a city-state with visible signs of decay. Refuse clogged the space, most roads were ridden with potholes, public transportation of the Molue-era was a nightmare, inter-ethnic skirmishes were regular, Victoria Island was constantly flooded, and Lagos was grossly underperforming its revenue potential.  
Yes, Lagos is still a work in progress, especially because of the daily influx of people not only from all corners of Nigeria but also from neighbouring countries into the state with the smallest landmass in Nigeria. But the difference between the Lagos of 1999, which many seem to have forgotten, and the Lagos of 2023 is like the difference between night and day. Refuse dumps are now a rarity in Lagos, and gardens and parks have sprouted from places that used to harbour criminals. Major and minor roads, bridges and flyovers have been constructed all over the state. Molue has been retired and Lagos is one of the few cities with BRT lanes and buses. And with the newly-launched Blue Line of the Lagos Rail, a major headache of Lagosians is about to be addressed. These few examples alongside critical investments in education, health and security, did not happen by accident. They are products of Tinubu’s vision, capacity and guidance.

This is why it is not an exaggeration to call Tinubu the architect of the Modern Lagos, a fast changing but positively evolving megalopolis. Which of these can be denied: Is it his vision and role in the Lekki Seaport, in the Lekki Free Trade Zone (which houses the Dangote fertiliser plant and petrol refinery), the Lekki Airport, the Fourth Mainland Bridge or the Eko Atlantic City? These are all audacious and transformational interventions/projects that did not happen by accident or just simply because of the history or prior reputation of Lagos. They were part of a development masterplan, and arose from clear vision, deliberate planning and diligent execution of an outstanding leader and distinguished administrator.

Take Eko Atlantic City. Victoria Island was constantly at the mercy of perennial surges from the Atlantic Ocean. The sea had defied the tokenist interventions of previous administrations and even of the Federal Government. But with a masterstroke, Tinubu envisioned and coordinated an effort that not only pushed back the sea but also created a highly sought after real-estate this side of the globe. This is simply the stuff of genius!
Tinubu’s inventiveness is best appreciated in the financial realm. Yes, Lagos always had the potential to be more financially viable than others. But potential on paper and potential in reality are not the same things. It takes a lot of thinking and heavy-lifting to link the two. It is a known fact that when Tinubu took over Lagos in May 1999, the Internally Generated Revenue of the state was about N500m per month. In a feat of financial wizardry, Tinubu increased Lagos’ IGR by more than 15 folds within a few years. Today, Lagos IGR is about 100 times what it used to be in 1999. This healthy IGR improved the resilience of the finances of Lagos and its economy. The healthy IGR ensured that Lagos survived a period when its local government funds were illegally seized by the Federal Government. It also contributed to the impressive growth of the GDP of Lagos, which according to World Bank data consistently outperformed that of the country. With about four-fifth of its revenue now coming from within, Lagos is one of a handful of states in Nigeria today that can survive without federal transfers or is already weaned off oil rents. It was not always like this. And the change didn’t happen by accident.

Nigeria is today at a financial space close to where Lagos used to be or worse. Nigeria collects the lowest revenue as a portion of GDP not only among its peers but also in Africa. The average tax-to-GDP rate in Africa is around 18% but Nigeria’s is around 8%. Without adequate revenue, Nigeria risks falling into a debt trap and being unable to meet its basic obligations to its people. Nigeria needs a tested administrator and a creative thinker who has real-life experience in tackling the biggest challenge facing the country today. Nigeria needs the man with the Midas torch. Nigeria needs the Jagaban to replicate his feat in Lagos.
Apart from his innate abilities, Tinubu’s key strength is the capacity to surround himself with competent people. He is smart enough to know that he is as good as the people around him. He therefore actively shops for the brightest and the best around, he argues with them as they argue with him, and he gives them the space and the support to excel. Some of these accomplished administrators have been given bigger roles in national affairs and they include the likes of Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, Babatunde Raji Fashola and Ben Akabueze. Nigeria is in dire need of a leader who has proven track record in putting the strongest hands on the plough. Tinubu is that leader.

At this special hour, Nigeria also needs a detribalised and accommodating leader. Tinubu relates with and invests in all Nigerians irrespective of how they worship or which part of the country they come from. It is a known fact that his wife, Senator Remi Tinubu, is not just a Christian but an ordained pastor of the Redeemed Christian Church of God. It is on record that he nominated a northern Christian, Babachir Lawal, to be the Secretary to the Government of the Federation—BD Lawal himself said so. His running on a same-faith ticket is not out of disdain for Christians but borne out of the same political pragmatism that made Abiola run on a same-faith ticket in 1993: as a southern Muslim, he is a minority from the south and his chances will be grossly diminished with running with a minority from the north. I can testify that Tinubu strongly believes there are many other ways of accommodating and indeed the need to accommodate the interests of the different diverse religious, ethnic, gender and generational groups of our country.

It is also not an accident that he got the strongest support from the north during the primaries of APC. He has been an active supporter of the north, a testament to his open-mindedness. He made his political platforms available to Alhaji Atiku Abubakar and Nuhu Ribadu to run for president in 2007 and 2011 respectfully. He contributed in no small measure to the victory of President Muhammadu Buhari at the fourth attempt in 2015. After eight years of President Buhari, a northerner, the honourable path for the north is to support power shift to the south. And there is no southerner in the presidential race deserving of that support more than someone who has also been a supporter of the north, who is a competent and safe pair of hands, and who is a strong believer in a united and strong Nigeria. He is no other person than Alhaji Bola Ahmed Tinubu, Jagaban Borgu.

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