BY REUBEN ABATI
Yesterday, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, GCFR, was sworn in as the 16th President, Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces of Nigeria along with his Vice President, Kashim Shettima, GCON, at the 7th major transition ceremony since the return of Nigeria to civilian democratic rule in 1999. The event was held at the Eagle Square, Abuja. For decades an episodic military interregnum placed Nigeria in dire straits but 1999 was a turning point for the country. Yesterday’s event was a further confirmation of how Nigeria has managed in the last 24 years, to sustain democratic rule, despite the challenges. Yesterday, May 29, marked the end of an era, and the beginning of another. For about two weeks, President Muhammadu Buhari, as he then was, and his family had been moved to the Glass House. For those who do not know the configuration of the Presidential Villa, the Glass House is a small bungalow, a meeting place, a three bed-room structure, where when a President is in power, he holds occasional meetings, usually of the high state security variety, but when a President is on his way out, he and his family are moved to that small space.
The usual excuse is that the main Villa is undergoing renovation to allow access for the in-coming President and his family who would have taken over the renovation of the residence, the choice of furniture, the selection of dinner-ware, and the arrangement of the seat of power. The more symbolic part of the diplomacy here, is that the Glass House is located very close to the exit and entrance to the Official Residence. One of the major aspects of the theory and practice of diplomacy is symbolic representation. Moving the outgoing President close to a smaller space and very close to the exit gate such as The Glass House at the Presidential Villa, is a subtle reminder that the time is up, the game is over, and that both the President and his family can begin to readjust psychologically. The President and his “main body” (I once explained what this means in this column) would leave the Villa on the morning of the hand-over straight to the Eagle Square, and go through the process of the inauguration of a new term, the main highlights of which are: the handing over of the instruments of governance to a new team, the change of military colours from the old to the new, and the swearing-in protocols in line with Constitutional provisions.
The convoy that takes the President to the Eagle Square would immediately shift to the new President. It is that convoy that will take the new President and the new First lady and their team back to the Villa. A standby protocol team, a different, pared-down convoy, takes the outgoing President to the airport, straight to his new destination as a former President, that is – his home-town. As soon as he is accompanied back home, the same convoy withdraws immediately to Abuja, and reports to the new dispensation. Nigerians are very cynical about how they go about this end of tenure protocol. This being an APC-to-APC transition, President Buhari may well have been allowed privileges that would be denied an outgoing opposition President. In our time in 2015, I can say categorically, that some of the state officials who left with us from State House to Eagle Square did not even bother to follow us to the Airport. They simply melted into the Buhari crowd. Many of them were looking for re-appointments. When we got to the Airport, we were locked out of the Presidential Lounge. The then outgoing President and his departing entourage had to loiter around in an outer space, before we all eventually had to board the aircraft to Bayelsa. The boys who had the keys to the Presidential Lounge had vanished. They became unidentifiable. This was the same Lounge we had used only a week earlier. President Buhari was of course not subjected to such embarrassment yesterday as the reports have shown and that means with his party holding on to power, he has enjoyed the pleasure of a respectful exit. He probably did not even bother to wait awhile at the airport.
This explains all the triumphal ceremonies that we have witnessed beyond state protocol and etiquettes in the last few days in the lead up to the arrival of the new administration. There was much that was beyond the control of the state establishment. Outgoing Ministers brought masquerades to organize and serenade their own farewells. The National Association of Witches and Wizards delivered on their promise that they would be on the ground before May 29 to ensure that there would be no disruptions. Senator Shehu Sani has quipped on Twitter that he was surprised that the witches and wizards were seen in buses, entering Abuja: why didn’t they fly into Abuja with their “osoro moniga” wings? The witches and wizards of Nigeria probably knew better. But now we know that witches and wizards also board buses and trains, and that expands our fears and anxieties. They even staged a street demonstration in support of Tinubu and Shettima. Was February 25, 2023, a witchcraft exercise? Not surprisingly, the Christian leaders of Nigeria have spoken up with Pastor Paul Enenche (Dunamis International Church) quoted as proclaiming that Christian leaders are in charge. What a country! On the eve of the handing over ceremony in Nigeria, we had to be reminded again that religion is a major, divisive issue in this country. It has always been. Nigerian politics is dominated by religion, ethnicity, and every possible centrifugal factor in the books.
Nonetheless, on May 28, on the eve of his departure, President Muhammadu Buhari gave a farewell speech in which he told Nigerians that Tinubu is the best candidate among all candidates and that Nigerians have chosen well. He praised the aggrieved political parties and candidates for choosing “to go to court” and advised that they should accept “the decision of our courts”. Whatever the courts decide, it is obvious that some of the political stakeholders would remain inconsolable as they have shown in their reactions to the ruling on whether or not the All Progressives Congress (APC) and its then Vice Presidential candidate, were guilty of double nomination under Sections 35 and 84(2) of the Electoral Act 2022. Costs were awarded against the People’s Democratic Party (PDP). The Court dismissed the PDP as “a busy body and a meddlesome interloper.” Similarly, the request by the Labour Party that the proceedings at the Presidential Election Tribunal should be televised was dismissed as impossible because there is no such provision in the law. There has been an attempt by the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal to respond to the pressures being mounted in certain quarters that election petitions should be determined expeditiously, and this: when the Tribunal asked the political parties involved in the dispute to consolidate their petitions and that the court would treat the petitions together.
Still the Tribunal has until September 16 before the 180 days provided for in Section 285 of the 1999 Constitution expires. Thereafter, appeals before the Supreme Court have a time-frame of an additional 60 days. We are looking, it seems, at some time before the end of the year. By then, the Tinubu administration would have settled in nicely. Ministers would have been appointed; over 5, 000 possibilities for political patronage would have been explored and fixed. Already, some of the persons who worked on the Tinubu/Shettima campaign have been given national honours in the former President’s last superintendence over that state function. The Supreme Court being a court of public policy is not likely to rock the boat. With what we saw yesterday at the inauguration ceremonies in Abuja, the pomp, the pageantry, the colourful transfer of power, witnessed by leaders from all over the world, even with China, United States and Venezuela whose Vice President was in attendance, it would take an earthquake to uproot the APC from the Presidential Villa. But would that discourage those who have raised serious objections and who do not agree that Bola Ahmed Tinubu was the best candidate on February 25? President Buhari cannot be so sure. The worst that may well happen is that one or two of the most vociferous Presidential candidates would be “offered something” in Nigerian parlance and they would go quiet. The inauguration would be a test of integrity and character on all fronts.
Nobody should be surprised if any Presidential candidate in the last elections accepts the position of a Senior Special Assistant or a Minister. It would be rationalized by his allies that he is committed to serving Nigeria. Others may just accept financial settlements and keep quiet thereafter. In this same country, we have seen former Ministers at the Federal level who went back to their states to serve as errand boys and girls. Opportunism is that other factor that drives Nigerian politics, not ideology, hardly common sense. Indeed, no one should be surprised if the National Association of Witches and Wizards also shows up to demand a seat in the Federal Executive Council!
One other point of interest is the following excerpt from the outgone President’s broadcast at 7 am on Sunday, May 28. “I am leaving behind an electoral process that guarantees that votes count, results are credible, elections are fair and transparent and the influence of money in politics is reduced to the barest minimum. And Nigerians can elect leaders of their choice.” I can hear loud yawns…Yesterday’s inauguration, however, moved Nigeria quickly forward as President Buhari returned to Daura to attend to his cows and sheep, who, he tells us, are better behaved than Nigerians. But while preparing to leave, within two weeks, he had signed more than 11 bills, leaving out the Sexual Harassment Bill. He awarded National Honours to over 340 persons. He re-named airports after historical figures. He took the sole credit for the Second Niger Bridge and the Dangote Refinery. He also got the National Assembly to amend the CBN Act to push ways and means from the 5% threshold to 15% and he pushed the responsibility for removing fuel subsidy to the Tinubu administration. He is now in Daura, probably laughing at us.
The ball is now in Tinubu’s court. His campaign was based on the slogan: “Emilokan”, now the subject of academic inquiries, including an international research project to which I have been invited to make a contribution. “Emilokan” means “It is my turn.” And now it is his turn at the helm of affairs in Nigeria. The Godfather who is now King. A defined life ambition achieved. He refers to it as a “SUBLIME” moment for our country where “a better future emerges with our improved capacity to create that future”. He promised “to mend and heal this nation, not tear and injure it”. He extended his hands of fellowship to all who contested against him in the political process across all divides. “For me, political coloration has faded away. All I see are Nigerians… you are all my people”. This is an APC President who says he belongs to everybody, and hopefully, this one will not compare us to cows and sheep!
His inauguration speech went further to outline and define his understanding of what he called “the new Nigerian Ideal” in the shape of principles and priorities: Security, the economy, jobs, agriculture, infrastructure, fuel subsidy, monetary policy. President Tinubu had not yet finished his speech before the news networks ran with the headline: “Breaking News; Tinubu Removes Fuel Subsidy.” I have tried to take a look at that inauguration speech again. Is there a categorical statement as to the removal of fuel subsidy? Students of language should go back to that paragraph on fuel subsidy and break it down. Compare same to the paragraph on Infrastructure which begins with “We shall…” Go further to the paragraph on “Monetary Policy” and pay attention to the use of the word “need” and “needs”. We are told: “The Central Bank must work towards a unified exchange rate”. Must work towards? Candidly, a well-written piece from the point of view of presidential rhetoric by some guys who believe that they are smart, but there is nothing concrete here that anyone can hold on to. The devil is in the details. If the President has decided to remove fuel subsidy, he must do so in more elaborate details and offer concrete information as to how he intends to go about it. How? When? But just see right on Day One, the confusion that the lack of clarity has caused. What are the key contributions that the Tinubu team has put on the table? Which Central Bank is going to unify the exchange rates? What are the plans to deal with fiscal deficit and debt burden? Sound bites are not enough. While the key sound bites about fuel subsidy removal and a unified exchange rate would give hope to the international financial system that had always asked Nigeria to adopt orthodox economic policies across board, the real taste of the pudding is in the outcome for average Nigerians.
We are dealing however, with people who understand the game of power. If Buhari and his CPC/ANPP wing of the coalition that drove the PDP out of power in 2015, and held on to it for eight years, thought they all got it worked out now, the ACN wing of that coalition and probably the most powerful wing of it, has taken over power. We look forward to the internal drama within the APC superstructure, as the party tries to balance expectations within the party. Beyond that, has anyone noticed that the Yoruba establishment is suddenly aligning with Tinubu? Even those Yoruba leaders who threatened to go on exile have publicly said that they are no longer going anywhere, and that they have forgiven him. When a group of Yoruba ultra-nationalists stormed a radio station, Amuludun FM, in Ibadan over the weekend, trying to reject Nigeria, they were arrested and promptly disowned by the Oodua Nation leadership. A Yoruba man is now President again, Oodua leaders don’t want anybody re-enacting “The Mystery Gunman” incident of the 1960s. The assailants have been paraded in the full glare of cameras even if it is illegal to do so.
We have been told that Tinubu will hit the ground running. He has enough capacity to make quick announcements with regard to key personnel. But the important thing is how he intends to build that “Ideal Nigeria” with all the rot that the Buharists are trying to cover up, and how to fulfil the promise of hope and unity. The journey ahead belongs to us all, whatever shape it assumes. Even with all that excitable, celebratory dancing by the President and VP yesterday, the road may be rough.