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BusinessDay
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The beautification of Jagaban

Nigeria is bleeding dangerously and inexorably falling apart. But the urgency of the moment, when the country is virtually leaderless as myriad groups of criminals overwhelm the state, hasn’t stopped ambitious politicians from advertising their 2023 presidential quest so early.

The leading aspirant among the expanding field of presidential hopefuls, is Bola Ahmed Tinubu, former Lagos Sate governor and national leader of the All Progressives Congress, APC. His popular alias is Jagaban coined from his traditional title of the Jagaban of Borgu Kingdom, Niger State. He has since transformed to the “Jagaban of Nigerian politics” and “the Emperor of Lagos” as some of his detractors have dubbed him.

The posters announcing his quest for Aso Rock are becoming ubiquitous, while bags of rice specially packaged with his picture boldly printed on the bags are already being distributed to poor and gullible Nigerians. He’s carrying on like he’s been ordained to succeed Mohammadu Buhari in Aso Rock, the man he helped bring to the presidency with disastrous consequences for the country.

His supporters are not inclined to think that anything and anyone can stop him from becoming president. Even Tinubu doesn’t think there’ll be any serious challenge to his plan to get to Aso Rock. Hence the endless and unsavory beautification of him by them and his huge army of media publicity stormtroopers.

They have elevated him to the status of a political genius; a man of brilliant ideas; the uncanny mentor of very capable people; a selfless leader who has dedicated his life and humongous resources to serving Nigeria etc. Above all, they say he’s “a committed democrat and a master political strategist.”

We can dispense with most of the hyperbole and just interrogate the last two claims about him. A committed democrat? That inevitably provokes a scornful laugh because he is not. Without any pun intended, Tinubu is more an autocrat than a democrat.

Typical of all autocrats, he ascended to power through the democratic process when he became governor of Lagos State in May, 1999. He used his eight years as governor to first amass incredible wealth, and then used that wealth to consolidate his grip on power and expand his influence beyond any serious challenge.

Fourteen years after he left office, he remains not just Lagos governor-emeritus, but the de facto power broker and ruler of the state. He’s singlehandedly chosen all the governors who have come after him. Since 2003 when he had succeeded in seeing off the old men of Afenifere and the Alliance for Democracy leaders and apparatchiks, nobody becomes a senator and a federal representative from Lagos without his imprimatur.

Even the lower rungs of the political ladder are not immune from his control. So state legislators, local council chairmen and members are all loyal to him and must remain faithful followers in his cult. Because he puts all of them there. Just as he selects members of the cabinet for any governor he’s chosen and got ‘elected’.

No matter how brilliantly he’s dressed in borrowed democratic garbs, he’ll never be a true democrat. He’s most content and comfortable being an autocrat. The man in charge, at whose feet the rest must genuflect and pledge undiluted loyalty heavily marinated with sweet, hefty doses of praise-singing. For he’s an insatiable consumer of flattery.

Tinubu has also been generously credited with the ability to headhunt and mentor capable people like Vice President Yemi Osinbajo and Babatunde Fashola, minister of works and housing. Osinbajo served as attorney-general and commissioner for justice for eight years under him. While Fashola was his chief of staff in his second term as governor.

However the question that begs for an answer is that, while is he such a control freak if he truly believes in the innate abilities of other people? You are only good and useful so long as you don’t deviate from the strict code of unqualified loyalty to him. Governor Akinwumi Ambode can bear witness to such unbridled ruthlessness. He was brutally discarded once he was deemed disloyal and therefore a threat to his benefactor. Fashola was lucky not to have suffered the same fate as Ambode’s. He barely managed to escape the hammer and got a second term as governor to the eternal irritation of Jagaban.

What can’t be argued against, or ignored, is the seemingly unbridgeable gap between the real Tinubu, who’s an autocrat by his natural inclination and deeds, and the one posturing as a democrat. It may be best for him to stop pretending to be what he’s certainly not. The country could do with an autocrat who would put the country above his personal and other primordial interests, work hard to secure it and place it on the path of real nation building. But is Tinubu such an autocrat? We can say a flat no to that.

The second accolade he’s been constantly showered with is that he’s a master political strategist. This reached a saturation point after the 2015 general elections in which the APC dusted the ruling Peoples Democratic Party, PDP. His party, barely two years old by then, won a truly historic victory by defeating an incumbent government and ruling party, a first for the country.

Tinubu was rightfully credited with playing a decisive role in making the victory possible. He did that by successfully convincing a huge swath of the south-west to shed its political antecedents and go along with his mostly self-serving plan of forging an alliance with northern conservative political forces. And Buhari, after three previous failed attempts, was elected president.

Let’s remember that he took that calculated step not because he thought it would be good for the country. No. He went into political dalliance with Buhari and the north that was by then craving for a recapture of power at the centre, primarily to serve his own personal interest. A crucial part of the deal was for him to be Buhari’s running mate. If that arrangement had not been scuppered by other powerful political forces spearheaded by President Olusegun Obasanjo, Tinubu would have been elected Vice President.

Since he couldn’t be on the ticket, he was given the special privilege of nominating a replacement for himself. And he chose Osinbajo who’s becoming more embarrassingly invisible in the presidency.

Now the so-called “master political strategist” is refusing to take responsibility for the disaster he helped birth in the Buhari presidency. Let’s also remember that eight years before he pivoted effortlessly back to Buhari, he had dismissed him as a political dinosaur, a religious fundamentalist, an ethnic bigot and a clear danger to country if he ever got elected president.

But in pursuit of his personal agenda and overarching political ambition, he licked all his earlier vomit on Buhari. His new song was that Buhari was now a “born-again democrat”. Which was just a grand misnomer because Buhari had never been a democrat. So how could he then become one that’s born again when he was never one in the first place? In Tinubu’s machiavellian political orbit, such inconvenient fact could either be ignored or repackaged.

The universal consensus is that Buhari’s presidency has been a sweeping failure and an unmitigated disaster for the country. Even APC members are saying so now, even if they don’t express it in a blunt language. They all strive uncomfortably to avoid directly criticizing the president, who’s their party leader; notwithstanding the odd appellation of national leader that Tinubu clings to.

Early this week, Governor Abubakar Sani Bello of Niger State vented his frustration about the continuously deteriorating security in his state that’s one of those being ravaged by bandits. He said all his appeals to Aso Rock for some decisive intervention hadn’t yielded any results. He made the astonishing disclosure that some of the communities in the state have been seized and occupied by Boko Haram elements who, according to him, “have hoisted their flags” in places they now control.

If the PDP had made such disclosure, the APC would’ve protested loudly as usual and dismissed it as propaganda to make Buhari look bad. So what would the party and Garba Shehu, Aso Rock’s premier Rottweiler, say in response to Governor Bello’s damning indictment of the federal government for its failure in dealing with the security challenges that are going completely out of control?

Having invested heavily in the political marriage of convenience with Buhari, Tinubu is constrained by his own need for the ultimate political validation of becoming president in 2023. He’s therefore largely absent from the discourses on urgent national issues. Such as the near complete breakdown of law and order. After long periods of deafening silence, he makes interventions that are painfully tame and mostly neutral. He’s over careful not to say anything that would be deemed to be a criticism of the man he wants to succeed. He knows he needs his support to realize his own ambition.

Behind close doors, Tinubu expresses his disenchantment with how the Buhari presidency has turned out very badly. He rails against those, he believes, have misguided Buhari and hijacked his presidency. And this is the huge dilemma he has to deal with.

Mainly because of the abject failure of his political partner and his own many embarrassing baggage, his detractors believe his quest for Aso Rock is doomed to fail. Buhari and the APC have few positive records for Tinubu to run on. And he can’t point to Lagos as an exemplar of what he can achieve as president. This is because, after over 20 years of running the state, Lagos remains one vast, sprawling slum with a large proportion of its population lacking access to basic amenities like clean, potable water and basic health care. Lagos metropolis is only a mega city because of its population. All the fundamental elements that define a modern, mega city are absent.

Many Nigerians expect Tinubu to apologize for his part in turning the country into a comprehensive mess. He financed the well-oiled propaganda machine of his party that sold the chimera of change to the people. If he thinks that he can bluff his way past that essential obligation to show contrition for the biting hardship Nigerians are suffering today, he would be gravely mistaken. No amount of beautification of him by tons of flowery literature and sweet narratives will change that. The people are determined to hold him and all those responsible for the current state of the nation accountable.

He’s often glibly referred to as a man of vision. There’s even no need at all to waste energy and time challenging such nebulous assessment of him. All we need do is point to the current version of Nigeria his ‘vision’ has wrought for all of us.

Having fatally shot himself politically in the foot by entering into an electoral pact with someone he has never believed in and respected, Tinubu has set himself a very difficult task of convincing people to forget the odious lies he and his party told them. So it would be good for him if his team doesn’t respond to every pushback against his plan to run for president by throwing out insults and making more enemies for him.

Yes, he’s entitled to exercise his right to run for any political office he wants. The people too are entitled to demand accountability and apology from him for helping give the country to a man who’s totally ill-equipped for national leadership. That’s the least he owes Nigerians, and he must pay that debt before asking for our votes.

nosaigiebor@tell.ng 0807 629 0485 (WhatsApp and SMS only).

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