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“E mi l’okan”: Tinubu And The Audacity Of Self-Belief, By Ogaga Ifowodo

E mi l’okan or “It’s my turn.” To be president of Nigeria, though not quite what was intended but more on that presently. The utterance was seen and celebrated by the opposition parties, even by many independents, as a ghastly gaffe, giving proof beyond any spectre of doubt that Bola Ahmed Tinubu was unfit for the office he so desperately sought. Here were arrogance and entitlement mixed into one overweening desire, self-incriminating evidence, if ever any were needed in the first place, that Tinubu, already perceived as having turned Lagos State into his personal fiefdom, was merely seeking to do same with Nigeria as a whole. And it was the duty of all who love Nigeria to thwart that ambition. I love Nigeria but I’m not one of them. And before going any further, full disclosure: I am a member of the All Progressives Congress, a party whose existence is in no small measure due to Tinubu’s foresight and tireless exertions and whose standard he bears to the presidential election taking place in three days. I am also a member of APC’s presidential campaign council, as well as of the Delta State gubernatorial and (Delta South) senatorial campaign councils. I was, for that matter, a member of the media and publicity committee of the APC presidential primary convention. I address myself in this article to those who will definitely vote or are inclined to do so on Saturday and three weeks later on 11 March in the governorship and state houses of assembly elections. If you have no intention of voting, having declared “a plague on all their houses” to the political parties, then you may stop reading and save the precious minutes for some other chore.

Warning duly given, let me go now to the fraught question of perception versus reality suggested by my title and opening passage. In politics, as in life generally, perception too often trumps reality. Put another way, it is always a difficult task separating truth from falsehood, illusion from reality or, in the current lingo, real from fake news. Was Tinubu asserting an uncontestable claim, a prerogative right, to being president of the great Federal Republic of Nigeria, the Giant of Africa? He wasn’t. Very conveniently forgotten is the context of his exclamation. He was addressing himself to his party and, in particular, to President Muhammadu Buhari as the leader of the party. His role not only in bringing about the great merger of opposition parties which, try and try again, could not dislodge the Peoples Democratic Party from power but also in sacrificing his ambition for Buhari’s victory were enough for him to plead the special circumstance captured in the utterance. Shorn of political one-upmanship and generalised umbrage, Tinubu was merely asserting a right to be given first consideration as his party’s flag-bearer and a chance to be president, if elected, in appreciation of his immeasurable labour and sacrifice, without which APC and the president would not be in power. The point to note is that this public outburst would not have been necessary in the first place had dark and sinister forces not sought to thwart him at every step, doing so, partly, by poisoning the president’s mind against the person who arguably worked hardest to ensure that his fourth foray for the office would not be in vain. These forces had made it their mission to stop Tinubu at all costs. Thus, just before the election at the presidential primary convention, they announced a consensus candidate who, incidentally, was a Northerner, thereby ensuring, should APC triumph in the general election, that power would remain in the North after Buhari’s two terms. But for the heroic insistence of the fourteen Northern APC governors, those unpatriotic and self-serving forces would have had their way and APC would not only be mired in the sort of crisis rocking PDP currently but, also, perhaps, the nation as a whole, given the fact that APC controls the federal government. It is those same forces still busy at work now by way of the twin contrived crises of fuel scarcity and the naira redesign fiasco, timed surgically close to the elections with the goal of creating such frustration and anger that APC would be voted down and PDP’s Atiku elected president. Once again, we have the Northern APC governors (and El-Rufai) to thank for unmasking the dubious intentions of the power-drunk clique that seems hell-bent on plunging the nation in a catastrophic crisis, war even, that would almost certainly spell the end of Nigeria as a country. In this bid, their ultimate aims, apart from the proximate goal of self-aggrandisement, is hardly separable from those of Boko Haram and the Islamic fundamentalists seeking a caliphate and fomenting any and every atrocity to bring it about. Nor from the more secular aims of the self-determination separatists of the Middle Belt and South.

In full context, therefore, “E mi l’okan” was first and foremost a plea to be heard, for fairness, to be allowed to be a contender, that a labourer is worth his or her wages, an intra-mural utterance to his party made in public for fear of not being heard within. I argue that it is more than that, that it is an expression of supreme self-belief by one who feels more qualified than his rivals for the office they all seek. And that each and every one of those currently seeking to be president of Nigeria says to himself (they are all male), “It is my turn.” Else, why would they be in the race? If it is arrogant to harbour such a notion, then they are all guilty, unless of course it is only the verbalisation that constitutes an offence. After all, what is it but vaulting ambition, untempered self-belief, if out of a population of over two hundred million fellow citizens, one declares oneself to be the one who should govern the rest? Generally, such individuals would be more artful in their choice of words in expressing such ambition, depending often on the audience and the forum, but in the heat of passion or the urgency of the situation, may be less circumspect. As was the case with Tinubu. And that is hardly a disqualifying characteristic.

I have dwelt on the utterance for the simple reason of the wisdom in the adage, character maketh a man or woman. And because in “E mi l’okan,” the opposition parties thought that Tinubu’s fatal flaw had been exposed. On inspection, however, he proves to be of more steadfast and admirable character than any of his top rivals (without intending any statement about the rest of the field, or those who will cast conscience even if wasted votes, I limit myself to the PDP and Labour Party candidates, the only ones who stand a chance in the presidential election). Among these three, Tinubu alone stood and fought for the democracy that makes the coming elections possible, after the decades of military dictatorship. He is the only one among them not to have betrayed his core ideological beliefs by becoming a political prostitute dashing to the next party that promises to pay more for the time being. He is the one whose strength of conviction gave him the courage to defy President Obasanjo’s determination to turn Nigeria into a one-party state, perhaps in anticipation of his third-term dream, by seeking to stifle Lagos State through the withholding of its federal allocations under the pretext of a constitutional breach, when Tinubu would not back down from his legitimate right in a federation to create local governments. At a point, all the states of the former Western region had fallen to Obasanjo’s political blitzkrieg. We have Tinubu to thank for persevering the critical concept of healthy opposition in any democracy by painstakingly returning the West to the progressive fold.

Moreover, this matter of character and self-belief bears on one other thing that is wrongly held against Tinubu: his rigid insistence on adherence to the masterplan and development vision of Lagos State. I grant that his stance on who becomes governor of the state has not only been informed by this idea, that rewarding hard-working party members is a consideration as well but anyone who discounts this factor is neither a politician nor does he or she understand the reality of party politics in a bourgeois liberal democratic setting. Still, whatever one’s view might be, Lagos arguably re-presents the best case for development plans, be they short, medium or long term, and the imperative of sticking to them. One simple example will do: the integrated transport system that is slowly and gradually transforming Lagos from a commuter’s nightmare, a daily experience of moving from Point A to Point B in hell, to the prospect of a modern megalopolis. Heavy infrastructure works such as railways, air and sea ports, roads and bridges require vast amount of resources, a long time and unwavering commitment to achieve. If anything, then, Nigeria needs a Tinubu now more than ever, for the bane of our development as a nation is the sore lack of a coherent vision (what became of Vision 2020 and the many other half-hearted plans?) and the political will to mobilise resources and the citizenry for its realisation.

One thing, though, that Tinubu’s traducers and enemies might possibly say with some justification, is his health status which they claim cannot bear the strain of the office of president. None of them is privy to Tinubu’s medical report, so the claim is made entirely on the strength of the treatments he is known to have undergone and speculations about his public appearances, some of which border on outright manipulation in an age of artificial intelligence and explosive information technology. Wherever the truth may lie, however, some facts are indisputable at present: Tinubu has logged more miles and subjected his allegedly frail body to greater physical exertions than any of his rivals, starting from the pre-primaries stage to the grueling campaign period that is ongoing. Nevertheless, the notion persists in the minds of his traducers that the demands of waking up and going to sit at the presidential desk or attending meetings, at home or abroad, are more punitive and would surely lead to his death or permanent impairment. It has been usefully pointed out by his running mate, former governor Kassim Shettima, that choosing a president is not the same thing as selecting an Olympic athlete. I dare say that none of the candidates, not even those that may be under fifty among them, would qualify for a 100-metre heat race if that were the criterion. Why, not even a minister of youth and sports would be selected using that yardstick! It bears repeating that the office of a president (governor also) does not require him or her to be a construction site worker, to demonstrate daily fitness to run a marathon or be a champion weight-lifter, else neither Winston Churchill nor Donald Trump (just to mention two well-known figures) would have been prime minister of Britain or president of the United States of America. Yet, whatever their achievements or failures in office might be, physical fitness was not the deciding factor.

I am not to be understood as arguing that the health status of a president is inconsequential; only that it must not be overblown to the detriment of far more significant considerations. Tinubu verily believes that he is up to the physical and mental demands of the office he seeks. And by the evidence already alluded to, showing him besting his rivals, and the solutions he has proffered to the burning national question of naira-redesign and the swapping of old for new notes, he may be right in his self-estimation. At the very least, he deserves the benefit of the doubt on that question. He has proven himself quite adept at surrounding himself with sterling talent, something only those with supreme self-belief would do in power, and that in itself lessens tremendously the admittedly weighty burdens of the highest office in the land. What we all want is a man of vision and courage and a track record of performance, which his two terms as governor of Lagos State and active participation in the struggle for the very democracy that we seek to perpetuate in the general elections, testify to abundantly.

It is the burden of the political party mode of the bourgeois liberal democratic system under which the general elections will be held to be presented with candidates that too often do not meet our individual preferences. Yet, love or hate them, one from among them will be elected and given awesome powers to determine our welfare and happiness through policies ranging from how much tax and how many taxes we pay to the quality of our air, water and food; the quality and number of schools, hospitals, roads and bridges and even houses to cater to our needs; the peace and stability of the realm, including security from external aggressors; the safety of airplanes and motor vehicles; in short, just about everything that we do as social beings.

I am convinced that Bola Ahmed Tinubu stands head and shoulders above his two main rivals. The question of national unity and fairness in a clamorous multi-ethnic society such as ours, which Alhaji Atiku Abubakar’s candidacy threatens, aside (not to mention his dismal record as vice president), and which makes him the least acceptable of the three aspirants, I also believe that Tinubu’s record as governor of Lagos State is the better compared to Mr Peter Obi’s as governor of Anambra State. Maybe that’s why Lagos is Obi’s preferred address, instead of Awka. There has to be more to recommend a putative president than that he is Peter Nwana, a congenital miser masquerading as the epitome of fiscal frugality. Remember him, Peter Nwana, the character in Chinua Achebe’s Chike and the River, from whose clenched fist you could never prise a penny however hard or long you try? Yet, I wonder why such a self-vaunted miser would need a shady company in an offshore tax heaven, a favoured destination of money launderers who seek to hide any trace to them of stolen or ill-gotten money, particularly drug lords, mafia dons and politically exposed politicians. Obi, despite changing political parties several times, as if a party is no more than a ladder for climbing to power and to be discarded as soon as it cannot meet that goal, sold himself as the political miser by claiming to have lost his bid for the ticket in — wait for it, PDP! — only because he would not bribe delegates. That he was proclaiming a seeming Saul-to-Paul conversion on the Road to Abuja, a dubious proposition outside the realm of religion, was lost on a populace bloodied and despairing of the money-bag politics that it believes rightly to be a major cause of our predicament. But had Obi suddenly become a Marxist revolutionary or true defender of the masses by switching overnight to the Labour Party in search of the ticket denied him by PDP? Was he now the Michael Imoudu, so to speak, who would lead the workers’ charge at the polling booths to save Nigeria? I doubt that any discerning Nigerian not driven almost solely by the raging desire to do away with anyone perceived to be among the principal architects of our current misfortune would mistake a miser for a messiah. On Saturday, I will cast my vote for Bola Ahmed Tinubu. A democrat and a proven quantity whom I’m convinced is far better prepared to undertake the task of leading our beleaguered nation out of its crippling predicament and putting her on the path of true development and self-actualisation. If you have read this far, I urge you to cast your vote for Tinubu as well.

Ogaga Ifowodo, lawyer, poet and scholar, wrote from Warri. His most recent book of poems is ‘Augusta’s Poodle’.

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