BY ENIOLA BELLO
0805 500 1956
Sometime in May 2002, the City Colleges of Chicago presented the distinguished alumnus award to the then Lagos State Governor Bola Ahmed Tinubu, on the nomination of his alma mater, the Richard J. Daley College, one of the seven institutions that make up the city colleges in that American city. Reading Tinubu’s citation at a side event of the institutions’ Board of Trustees meeting, Dr Wayne Watson, at the time the chancellor of the City Colleges of Chicago, had described Tinubu as “a likely future president of Nigeria”, amongst others. Sitting in the audience, I had chuckled in amusement, and had in my column on this page (Tinubu Returns to Chicago, 12 May 2002), dismissed Watson as either having “a limited understanding of the dynamics of Nigerian politics”, or attempting to humour Tinubu.
Twenty-one years after, the future Watson speculated on is here as Tinubu prepares to be sworn-in as the 16th President of Nigeria on 29th May 2023 (all things being equal), having won the 25th February 2023 presidential election. The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) last week declared the candidate of the ruling All Progressives’ Congress (APC) the winner, having met the double requirements of spread (25% of the votes in 30 states) and highest number of votes (8,794,726). He defeated Atiku Abubakar of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) who got 25% in 21 states and total votes of 6,984,520, Peter Obi of the Labour Party (LP) who scored 25% in 16 states and total votes of 6,101,533, Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso of the New Nigeria People’s Party who recorded 25% in one state and total votes of 1,496,687, as well as 14 candidates of other parties.
Not unexpected, the main opposition PDP and LP have both claimed to have won the election, alleging fraud, and vowing to challenge the results in court. Typical of politicians in this clime, the two opposition parties had moved to discredit the election long before INEC released the result and declared Tinubu winner. They had complained of voter suppression, violence, destruction of ballot boxes, late arrival of electoral officials and voting materials, and more crucially, failure to transmit result electronically. The PDP agents even tried to force on INEC the suspension of further release of results, and when that failed, staged a walk out from the result collation centre in Abuja. On the other hand, the APC insisted the election was free and fair and advised those dissatisfied to challenge the result in court.
There is no doubt that the election could have been better managed. It suffered the ills of previous elections in areas of logistics and violence and voter suppression. These were mitigated in rescheduled voting in polling units where INEC officials were late or electoral materials were unavailable, and cancellation of results in polling units where there were reports of violence or destruction of ballot boxes, or where those who voted were more than those accredited. What many found, however, untenable was INEC’s failure to use BVAS (Biometric Voter Accreditation System), to upload in real time the results from the polling units on the election result viewing portal, despite months of promises and assurances, and the general expectation of the ensuing transparency and a credible election. INEC somehow managed to sabotage itself and give some politicians a ready weapon to shout foul play and discredit the election.
The devil is in the details of the INEC figure. Out of the over 93 million registered voters, less than 25 million voted despite the enthusiasm of the youths and the reported large voter turnout. The inescapable conclusion is that the voter register is populated with ghost names and INEC has done little or nothing to ensure a thorough clean-up. With 8.7 million votes, Tinubu won the election with 37% of the votes; he didn’t have the support of over 60 percent of accredited voters who shared their votes among PDP’s Atiku, LP’s Obi, and NNPP’s Kwankwaso. The trio, all members of the PDP before the party primary, scored a combined votes of more than 14 million. Had they worked together in PDP, the APC candidate would have been toast, and understandably so. In a normal democracy, a candidate of the APC, even if he were the best of the lot, should have stood no chance of winning that election in the light of the pain and trauma a government produced by that party has foisted on the generality of Nigerians in the last eight years. The general sense of disappointment at Tinubu’s victory therefore is because the opposition PDP failed itself in not managing the ambitions of its members resulting in having, from its ranks, three candidates for the presidential election instead of one, and even still allowed a group of five state governors weaken the party from within. A divided opposition lost long before the ballot was cast, despite the incompetence of the APC administration, particularly its chaotic currency redesign policy and grinding fuel scarcity weeks into the election.
Despite INEC’s failure at electronic transmission of results from the polling units, the election still has many positives. The use of the BVAS machine stopped politicians from delivering fictive millions of votes for their parties; and made it possible for votes to really count, almost. Without BVAS, the APC would possibly have delivered between 15 to 24 million votes to its candidate to match the range of votes of the winning candidates in the 1999, 2003, 2007, 2011, 2015 and 2019 elections. Without the BVAS machine, Governors Ben Ayade of Cross River, Okezie Ikpeazu of Abia, Samuel Ortom of Benue, Abubakar Bagudu of Kebbi, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi of Enugu, Darius Ishaku of Taraba and Samul Lalong of Plateau would have won their senatorial seats; the southeast political elite in PDP and APC would have shared Obi’s votes in that region; LP wouldn’t have won in Lagos or Nasarawa or Edo or Cross River or Delta or FCT; and APC would have somehow managed to take Kano, Kaduna and Katsina; and an Okada rider would have had no chance of winning a House of Representatives seat in Kaduna State. The technology innovation has moved our electoral system miles away from sharing unused ballots for thumb-printing, stuffing ballot boxes, allocating fictitious figures at collation centres, and declaring bogus results. All INEC need do before subsequent elections is to review its systems and processes, work on the rough edges, and in no time, power would FULLY be in the hands of the people. For now, whether INEC was right in declaring Tinubu winner would ultimately be a subject of judicial intervention, the PDP and LP having separately insisted on claiming a stolen mandate in court.
No matter. Tinubu has been savouring the taste of victory, displaying to friends and associates, like a trophy wife, INEC’s Certificate of Return, and jaywalking to the gates of Aso Rock Presidential Villa. Watson’s uncanny prediction 21 years ago is about being fulfilled. For Tinubu, the journey to realising what he once described as a life ambition has been a long and turbulent one. I do not know whether Tinubu’s presidential ambition preceded Watson’s prediction, or if it was the prediction that sowed the seed of ambition in his mind. What I do know is that at the time Watson described him as a likely future president of Nigeria, Tinubu had only just survived a bruising battle of his political life. Shortly after his election as Lagos State governor, he had barged into a storm of certificate scandal, claiming on his INEC forms, to have attended Government College, Ibadan and the University of Chicago, United States, institutions he never attended. The media, NGOs and opposition politicians smelt blood and went for the kill. About the same time, House of Representatives Speaker Salisu Buhari and Senate President Evan(s) Enwerem, faced with scandals of similar proportion, had fallen on their swords. Those who hoped Tinubu would end the same way, embraced an effigy of disappointment. Through deft political moves, Tinubu rallied the Lagos House of Assembly members and got a clean bill of health.
Bruised and weakened, Tinubu embarked on a political re-engineering that turned him into a darling of the civil society. He weaned Lagos from being financially dependent on federal allocations. Unlike many of his peers, he stood up to the bullying tactics of President Olusegun Obasanjo. He challenged the federal government in court and won some cases which helped define the powers of the federal government in relation to those of the states and deepened the structure of our federation. He successfully resisted Obasanjo’s stealthy move to hand over Lagos State to the ruling PDP in the 2003 polls. He instituted a governance template for Lagos, installed his successors, and held the leash on the state’s politics, and some would argue, and resources. He brought most of the southwest states under his political influence, built relationship across parties, formed alliances, supported associates to realise their ambitions, and was pivotal to the formation of APC and the victory of Muhammadu Buhari, after three failed attempts, in the 2015 presidential election. With eyes fixed on his ambition, he carefully cultivated and consistently nurtured personal relationships with some top academics, journalists, lawyers, entrepreneurs, and monarchs, relationships he leverages on for empathy, support and loyalty at every point in his presidential sojourn.
In the ensuing years, Tinubu’s influence first as godfather in Lagos, then opposition leader, and later his catalytic role in the making of the Buhari presidency in 2015 has been a subject of envy by associates, and derision by competitors. Every aspect of his life is mired in controversy – his parentage, age, early life, education, health, business, politics and source of wealth. In the last eight years, he’s unarguably the most talked about politician, with many holding him vicariously responsible, even while not holding any appointment in the party or the government, for the failed policies of the Buhari administration. He always spoke favourably for Buhari even when elements in the administration, and the party, made repeated efforts to undermine and frustrate him. Throughout the campaign period, he was enemy candidate No.1 on social media – abused, ridiculed, derided, caricatured. His mistakes were amplified, his voice became a source of comedy skits, and his words were turned into mocking songs.
However, Tinubu navigated every obstacle. He campaigned with determination and courage, dishing out close to as much as he received. He is what the Yoruba people call, Apamaku, the one who has refused to die after being serially killed, the unbreakable so to say. As he savours the joy of victory, Tinubu must move hard and fast towards forming the government he intends to run. In the immediate term, he must heal a country deeply divided, not so much the well-known the religious and ethnic divisions, important as those are, but more crucially, the division between the new generation of youths against those of their parents. The road to bridging that division would only be paved with fixing the economy, creating the environment for job opportunities, restoring the education system, securing the lives of the citizens, and making the country work.
The first step to achieving this is putting together a solid cabinet immediately after inauguration, a cabinet with a healthy injection of experts that could grow the economy. Of course, Tinubu has political debts to pay his associates, particularly state governors who were critical not only to his nomination as APC candidate, but also to his victory at the polls. Many of these governors are rounding up their second term and would expect to be beneficiaries of major political appointments in Abuja, particularly so for those who lost their bid for Senate seats. Indeed, the way Jigawa State Governor Abubakar Badaru jumped up with both hands in the air when INEC announced the winner of the presidential election, one could have mistaken him for the president-elect were Tinubu not in the same room with him. In picking his cabinet, Tinubu shouldn’t allow politics of loyalty trump competence and performance.
However, the strength of Tinubu presidency, at the end of the day, would possibly depend on the commitment and capacity of the men women around him, his personal staff; those that would plan his schedule and appointments, manage his time, write his speeches, shape his thoughts, work out his policies, work on his battle plans, finetune his strategies, and generally ensure efficiency and effectiveness. The choice of a Chief of Staff, the man who will help the president-elect breathe life to his vision by planning the strategy, overseeing the work, managing the people, interfacing with other stakeholders, tackling the challenges and generally making things happen, is crucial. Considering the powers of that office, charisma, communication and interpersonal skills, emotional intelligence without a touch of arrogance should be necessary qualities of the would-be CoS.
The president-elect does have a lot to proof. Having coveted the presidential office for so long and worked so hard to get it, he would need to quickly stamp strong footprints on the nation’s problems with a view to driving the country on the path of quantum growth and development. Should he succeed in posting solid achievements, he could force the hands of the foreign media, which in the wake of his electoral victory, have unwholesome narrative of him as a “ wealthy political fixer” (Financial Times), “divisive figure” (New York Times), “kleptocratic godfather” (The Times of London), and “wealthy veteran power broker trailed by corruption” (The Guardian of London) who won “a deeply flawed” (Financial Times) election after a “messy count” (The Economist).
Having now achieved his life ambition, would Tinubu work hard and smart to change the Nigerian narrative from a country with perpetual potential for greatness to one bursting forth and flying the path of greatness? Would he transform himself as the founder (or what his traducers call feudal lord) of modern Lagos to a great leader of Nigeria? That should be his challenge.