The president must act fast to justify his image of a thoughtful, strategic leader, writes Monday Philips Ekpe

Some years ago, a number of billboards sprang up at various locations in Lagos bearing the photographs of two late notable personalities and the man who is now the President of Nigeria, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu. I can’t recall if there was a fourth person. First was Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi who later assumed the name, Mahatma (the great-souled one). He was once described by renowned historians as “India’s greatest revolutionary nationalist leader and the greatest Indian since the Buddha.” That foremost proponent of passive resistance may never be forgotten in world history because of the enduring impact of his beliefs, teachings and activities.

Second was Chief Obafemi Jeremiah Awolowo, one of Nigeria’s foremost nationalists, elder statesmen and a former premier of the defunct Western Region. Much of his lifetime was spent making indelible marks, not only in his immediate domain but also his entire country and continent. Awo, as he is still fondly called, pushed the frontiers of development to the limits achievable within the times in which he lived. It’s doubtful if any other western Nigerian politician can endear himself or herself to the people anytime soon the way Awolowo did decades ago because of his truly progressive policies. Some pretenders have shown up after his passing but have also faded away as quickly.

It was with these legends that President Tinubu, then far younger, shared those imposing advertisements. All the human visuals there were also united by eyeglasses that tended to announce them as great thinkers. There’s a way certain glasses suggest the brilliance or acute intellect of their wearers. One couldn’t fault the choice of the men if what was intended was to create Tinubu in the minds of the target audiences as a visionary or an icon in the mould of Gandhi and Awolowo.

It ought to be clear to any follower of the president’s political odyssey by now that his packaging didn’t start today. Give it to his promotion handlers, some of whom still operate in his firmament. The politicking in the runup to last year’s presidential election provided the platform to showcase the orchestrated public relations design and implementation that started many years back. Only deliberate deniers of facts would carpet the point that this strategy has worked perfectly for Tinubu. There’re many people in Lagos and other parts of Nigeria today who sincerely believe that he is the best thing that has happened to Lagos since 1999 when his two-term tenure began. But for natural constraints, some of those people are so enthusiastic about their conviction that they would have gladly added the period from the inception of the state. Yes, the effect of the concerted image-making is that compelling. No insinuations here, it must be stated, that the president isn’t intelligent and pragmatic enough to have produced landmark achievements.

This flow of thought is necessitated, however, by a nagging curiosity to understand, even if a bit, the mindset of someone who had told the nation publicly and unapologetically that it was his turn to occupy Aso Rock. An unprecedented pronouncement, clearly. What audacity! Promptly dismissed and hated by those irritated by the very idea, the actualisation of that arrogant declaration is now one year old, to the joy of his admirers and chagrin of the people who had reasons to loathe a Tinubu in the country’s driver’s seat. Surely, it takes more than luck to pull off that feat.

The picture of Tinubu being a man of great, workable ideas, a discoverer and manager of men, and, to some persons, a sage, loomed large in his race for the Villa. What went with that image was someone who held the wand needed to deliver Nigeria from the monsters that had for long threatened to bring it to its knees. And to do it in record-time.

True, expecting the Jagaban to perform any magic, to drastically redirect the omnibus that is called Nigeria from its present rapid descent to the bottom just in one year would be utopian and asking for too much. But to also get immersed in any form of Tinubu-mania this moment and shut down one’s capacity for disinterested assessment would be illusory. It’s valid to argue that whatever has happened or failed to happen in the last twelve months should not be pinned to one individual. Afterall, democracy is about three different and supposedly independent arms working in concert to optimally render to the people the key twin services of citizens’ welfare and security.

One major reason why this theory can’t be the basis for giving the president much space here is that the military-era legacy of vesting the ultimate power in the head of state is alive and kicking in many respects. Another ground for holding Tinubu to account is the very impetus for his emergence at the topmost desk. Becoming president was his lifelong ambition, something he never hid from his compatriots. In a country where most of the earlier heads of state were accidental, at least not known to have publicly stated any longing for the job, that disclosure was taken seriously, with varying expectations. Besides, he went to every length to clinch the position. Nigerians must be proud of one of them who dared to dream and went all out to grab the big prize. But the significance of the unequalled volume of those who voted against Tinubu in February 2023 can never be wished away, the finality of the judgment of the Supreme Court which endorsed the legality of his electoral victory notwithstanding. We also know that no dissenting voice matters now.

But that doesn’t close the concerns either. Whatever has become the standard of living of Nigerian citizens and the fortunes of the nation is directly or remotely connected to the quality of the thought processes of the man in the saddle. No two ways about it. Nobody should pity the president now. And, in fairness to him, he is not even asking for it. His choices of ministers, heads of parastatals, board members and aides reveal, in part, his ability to steer this overburdened ship of state. Ensuring that they either live up to their responsibilities or be shown the door is one duty he shouldn’t joke with.

The president said some days ago while flagging off the construction of the Lagos-Calabar Expressway that it was time for him to boast of the strides made by his administration. Not so fast, Sir. The other day, I stumbled on an anonymous monologue that has gone viral, a delicate mixture of panegyric and elegy titled, “Garri, Why Have You Decided to Join Them?” rendered thus: “Garri, you’ve always been for the masses for centuries even as the rich and elite class despised you, preferring Semovita to you. In this 21st Century, you took an astronomical leap from your usual N30 per cup to N100. As the masses were expecting you to come down you then took another leap and landed at N200…. Garri, please have compassion on the masses who have taken solace in your ability to provide a first aid to hunger. The masses see you as problem solver and a soul lifter, please come down to them.”    

Tinubu needs to take a break from the statistics being churned out by agencies of all types and read that lamentation again. The despicable multidimensional poverty profile he inherited from his predecessor is worsening beyond what words can describe. The only value of his intellection, in the long run, is to ensure that more Nigerians do not regret living under his government.

Dr Ekpe is a member of THISDAY Editorial Board

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