When President Bola Ahmed Tinubu was sworn in on six weeks ago, the general mood was sombre because he had only won 37% of the vote, which means that Nigerians who wanted him to take over from Buhari were greatly outnumbered by Nigerians who didn’t.
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And even the 37% figure was being described as inflated by his opponents and some election observers and journalists. Allegations of rigging and other forms of skulduggery were rife.
Still, despite his blatantly mendacious insistence that “since the advent of the Fourth Republic, Nigeria has not held an election of better quality,” his inauguration speech was impressive overall.
There was an empathetic acknowledgement that “we have endured hardships that would have made other societies crumble”.
There were stirring, poetic words: We have, he said, arrived at “this sublime moment.” We need, he declared, to “march beyond the dimness of night into the open day of renewed national hope.”
There was a patriotic focus on transforming Nigeria into a united and truly great African giant that fulfils its unmet potential, respects religious, regional and ethnic diversity and is the “strongest champion of the black race”.
There was the pious reference to faith in “God Almighty”.
Desperately needed economic reforms – fuel subsidy removal, harmonization of exchange rates, et cetera – were promised.
He assured his domestic and international audiences that he would reform the security architecture. He extended an olive branch to political rivals who are challenging his victory in court, defended their right to seek legal redress and described their support bases as “important constituencies…that wisdom dare not ignore.”
He announced that he would “discourage” corruption and beef up the efficiency of anti-corruption agencies. He humbly pledged to govern rather than rule, dialogue rather than dictate and to “never put down a single person for holding views contrary to our own.”
But was Tinubu being sincere?
This is a man who has serious reputational problems, some totally deserved in my opinion. And I am wondering whether this particular leopard can change its spots and pleasantly surprise his critics.
If he is really ready to effectively launder his image and become known as a genuine icon of integrity, he will have to ruthlessly control cronies, relatives and powerful vested interests who may be more interested in aggressive self-enrichment than in helping him rescue a country that is on its knees in so many different ways.
So far, he is emitting contradictory signals.
On the one hand, he has gone after Godwin Emefiele, the ex-Governor of the Central Bank who is currently in custody.
On the other hand, some of his closest cronies – Nyesom Wike of Rivers and Ganduje of Kano, for example – have been investigated by the EFCC. But Tinubu’s body language suggests that he doesn’t care about such inconvenient details and intends to give them senior jobs.
Furthermore, Tinubu pushed hard to instal Godswill Akpabio, who also has EFCC issues, as Senate President.
Ethical concerns aside, there are doubts about whether Tinubu can significantly add value to Nigeria on a practical level.
Tinubu and his fans insist that he is a visionary who massively upgraded Lagos during his two-term governorship and transformed it “from a jungle to a megacity”. But recollections vary.
“I am tired of hearing that Tinubu made Lagos because the reality is that Lagos made Tinubu,” scoffs Henry Odeinde, a businessman who says that Tinubu exploited his legendary political clout to acquire extensive property holdings and “endless” business benefits.
According to Odeinde: “Tinubu was nothing to write home about! He became governor in 1999 and only started to resurface internal roads on Lagos Island in 2006. This was the only improvement in infrastructure I noticed. As for all this talk about him drastically increasing internally generated revenue, please note that he collected a large percentage of this increase via his consulting firm.”
Tinubu is often – quite rightly – described as a skilled talent spotter who likes to work with competent professionals. And his ministerial list is awaited with bated breath.
The editor of a newspaper who wishes to remain nameless says that Tinubu “puts square pegs in square holes and will be a much better economic manager than Buhari.”
However, Senator Kofoworola Bucknor-Akerele who was Tinubu’s deputy during his first gubernatorial term, wound up resigning because, according to her, he doesn’t listen to alternative opinions.
Tinubu also clashed with his second term deputy, Femi Pedro, whose impeachment he eventually engineered, using a State House of Assembly that was firmly under his thumb.
Given that there is a considerable difference between running a six-state geopolitical zone (Tinubu has been the main mover and shaker in the South-Western region for nearly a quarter of a century) and running 36 states plus the Federal Capital Territory, Tinubu will do well to suppress any self-defeating tyrannical tendencies and take advice from technocrats who understand Federal-level challenges.
Tinubu has craved the presidency for most of his adult life. Even if the ongoing election tribunal eventually sends him packing, he can still make a big mark in a short period of time.
Within days of assuming office, he silenced critics who regard fuel subsidy removal as a great idea (despite the widespread hardship it has inflicted on a nation that was already staggering under the weight of Buhari’s multiple failures).
It has to be said that despite his numerous flaws, leadership seems to come naturally to him…and that quite a few of my contemporaries who rooted for Peter Obi and Atiku Abubakar in February are now taking the view that Tinubu may not be bad news after all.
But not everyone is impressed.
A young cousin of mine came up with an immensely insightful when I asked him what people of his age (Obidients mostly) are saying about Tinubu:
“Their attitude and mine,” he responded wryly, “is that Tinubu has stolen Obi’s car and is being praised for maintaining it quite well!”
I nearly fell off my chair laughing.
But I guess I won’t be laughing quite so hard if Tinubu does a good job until whenever he leaves the presidential Villa. Watch this space.