Monday Philips Ekpe advises the new president not to squander his opportunity for an exceptional, historic leadership

Life is more intriguing when it exhibits a touch of fate. Sometime in the 1990s, I interviewed Nigerian music legend, Bongos Ikwue, who has just clocked 81 years. One of the things he said has stuck with me since then. He wondered about what he called the overconfidence of some pastors sometimes when they express their knowledge of the motives, ways and will of God; as he put it, “as if they have breakfast, lunch and dinner with the Almighty regularly.” According to him, he couldn’t reconcile that kind of God with the one in the Bible.   

The numerous unfavourable prophecies, predictions, and other chants against the presidential bid of Senator Bola Ahmed Tinubu should be of interest to students and researchers of esoterica and public discourse. Many of the persons who spoke from religious, spiritual and other supra-sensory platforms on the subject and who were opposed to the emergence of Asiwaju as Nigeria’s president also tended to do so with so much passion that it became hard to separate their own personal prejudices from the topic. While those declarations were going on, I sincerely wished that the men and women stepped down from their pedestals and left God’s name out of the pronouncements. For, like Bongos, I’m convinced that while it’s true that the Supreme Being reveals bits of the future to people, he does so as he pleases, at whatever times he chooses.  Honestly, there are enough other grounds upon which to probe the aspirations, tactics and processes that led to the eventual announcement of Tinubu as the winner of the February 2023 presidential poll.

The unpredictable nature of divinity, therefore, makes it not only wise but also critical for those who consider themselves as God’s mouthpieces to exercise adequate caution in choosing when and how to deliver sensitive messages. This self-censorship could make a huge difference in how they’re perceived and received, and how the speakers themselves are rated in the estimation of the analytical public. In a tensed ethnic, religious and political atmosphere like ours, the effects of strategic utterances on socio-political tranquillity and equilibrium shouldn’t be underrated because, in addition to the value of the offices the preachers and commentators occupy, some of them are also well-respected opinion leaders.

Now that Tinubu has been sworn in as the nation’s 16th president, they shouldn’t even bother to explain anything to their audiences, especially if it requires invoking God’s name yet again. They must now accept the simple fact of man’s finite knowledge and wisdom, no matter how ‘anointed’ someone is. Their followers and listeners too should. No need to nurse any bruised ego. No need to even feel that they have failed. The struggle between human emotions and spirituality can be very exerting and confusing, after all. The results aren’t always predictable.

Thankfully, I don’t see the president as someone who would gloat over the misjudgements of the predictors. He must be wiser than that. His aides and supporters, however, need to be mindful of the significance and sensitivity of this moment. Any temptation for them to deride those tagged as “doomsday or false prophets and enemies of progress,” must be quenched. The recent change of guards at Aso Villa needs to be accorded commensurate humility, magnanimity and tact. That won’t diminish the grace, grandeur and respectability of the office. It could, rather, rekindle hope in the minds of Nigerians who have watched over time the integrity of their leaders dwindling drastically.

President Tinubu surely has his own reasons why he should adopt meekness, gratitude and large-heartedness as his unwritten codes. Apart from enabling him to obtain and maintain a subliminal edge over those who seriously wish him evil, these virtues would equip him with the fortitude to face the legal proceedings legitimately initiated against him by his closest rivals, Wazirin Atiku Abubakar and Mr. Peter Obi, in the last election. They would also grant him the much-needed focus to squarely preside over the onerous task of governance. And being at the top of the government that must fix Nigeria at this point is not a particularly enviable job. Anyone in Tinubu’s shoes must be sober in order to bring out his best and demonstrate purposeful leadership.

Parts of the burden of this nascent administration are the legacies of the previous one having been midwifed by the same political party, the All Progressives Congress (APC). Even if Tinubu’s team had tried to distance itself from the actions and inactions of the government of former President Muhammadu Buhari, it would have boomeranged. So, the failings of Buhari and company have been rightly passed down and should now be owned by the successors and treated with the seriousness they deserve. The beauty of the system of government we’re running here is that even though what becomes of Tinubu’s turn will finally be decided by the judiciary, he already has a chance to make a mark in our democratic journey.

For the long-suffering Nigerian people, that impact must include reassuring them that the ongoing and seemingly irreversible slide in virtually all indices of personal and national growth can and will be halted. The new federal government is still counting hours and days in the saddle but it has to show straightaway that it’s not about to take the route of its predecessor. When Buhari moved from being careful and studious to unpardonable delay in forming his government, it became clear to discerning minds that the country would not make much progress under him. The cabinet he formed eventually wasn’t among the best in the nation’s history. After a six-month wait! Some of the members had the luxury of running their ministries like fiefs for eight years without meaningful checks.

Of course, where we are today is different from where we were in 2015. Buhari came into power on the wings of the overwhelming goodwill of a great number of the populace which was emphatically exhibited at the poll. Former President Goodluck Jonathan didn’t find it difficult to concede defeat, partly because of his own good character and also his ability to read the tide properly. The climate now is in reverse. Those contesting Tinubu’s victory are armed with proofs that may not be easy pushovers, a condition that can pose a psychological distraction. But, hopefully, not for Tinubu who has planned all his political life to become president. Nigeria, therefore, now has the most prepared leader in its chequered history. And what a time for him to appear on the scene!

The desperate situation in which the country has found itself is largely a product of the quality of direction given by the men and women Buhari had relied on to deliver the goods. Sadly, many of them delivered excuses, sterile policies, jaundiced implementations and hollow promises instead. This president can’t afford to toe the old, unproductive paths. Neither should Nigerians be dragged, yet again, along those familiar, wearying ways.           

My friend and colleague, Agatha Edo, sent me a chat earlier in the week: “We are finally in the abyss we have kept praying against. One wrong move, we may never get out of it. I hope the people in charge of Nigeria realise that this cake is about to crumble beyond repairs if they don’t remove self-interest from their menu.” Unfortunately, it remains to be seen if the current actors in public service have been inoculated against corruption, inordinate aggrandisement and ineptitude.

Now that destiny has handed the presidency to Tinubu in fulfilment of his life-long ambition and, so far, in defiance of certain expectations of May 29 becoming his own Ides of May – some sort of harbinger of personal ill fortune – thoughts of positive posterity ought to dominate him constantly.

Dr Ekpe is a member of THISDAY Editorial Board

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