God Save the Jagaban

By Victor Anazonwu

In a proper democracy, the APC would not be contesting Nigeria’s Presidential Elections in 2023. Not in any real sense. It would, quite rightly, consider 2023 a lost cause. It would be content to take a few seats in the Senate and House of Representatives. And maybe a few governorship stools also. The party would be in deep anguish and sorrow, begging for forgiveness, groveling to rebuild its tattered image and depleted human stock. It would be hoping to groom some decent candidates with whom to make a fresh bid, perhaps in 2027 or 2031. By which time, it would be hoping that Nigerians might have forgiven its trespasses during the calamitous years between 2015 and 2023.

But Nigeria is not a proper democracy. Not by any stretch of the imagination. Here is a country which in the last seven years has been run aground by the best administration that APC can offer. Going by every known, objective indicator – economic, social, political, psychographic, spiritual and even existential – Nigeria is either clinically dead or on life support. Yet the political party responsible for this unmitigated tragedy is hoping to win the next election!

Under the APC, terrorists have become the defacto government of Nigeria. The elected government, led by a retired Army General, has become a cowering opposition. Bandits and sundry felons now hold citizens captive within Nigerian territory and all the government can do is turn away in horror or issue press statements. Under the APC, gunmen now attack correctional facilities to free their members in detention. They post the videos online. And there are no consequences.

The same APC is now “mobilizing its structures” to win elections again in 2023. It is fielding its “most powerful” candidate in the person of Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu for the race. Surely, this party must be counting on something other than the will of the people and their legitimate votes to win. Alternatively, the APC must be working on the underlying assumption that Nigerians are like cattle; they have no minds of their own; they will go whatever they are made to.

President Buhari

It is only in Nigeria that “leaders” are permitted to think so condescendingly of the led without consequences. It is only in Nigeria that such a disdainful mindset is allowed to thrive outside of psychiatric wards. Like a drunken police officer on our streets, the APC is saying to Nigerians: “I will shoot you and nothing will happen.” The good news is that, for the first time in living memory, Nigerians appear to be standing up sensibly to this threat. They are mobilizing to put this drunken political party where it rightly belongs.

By running Nigeria so poorly these past seven years, President Buhari and the APC have handed Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu a crippled Bolekaja. Or, more accurately, the Jagaban of Borgu has insisted on driving a Bolekaja with neither an engine nor a gearbox to win a Formula One race. He is obviously counting on his well-known antecedents as a fixer of old, broken machines. In 2015, he fixed the Buhari machine and put it to work on the Nigerian state. Today, we all can see how well that machine has worked. That is why some Tinubu critics say he is drinking a poison he brewed himself.

Bola Tinubu is no ordinary fellow. By any standards, he is an enormously accomplished man. He is said to have made his fortune at a fairly young age. But don’t ask me how. With a pocket full of money, he transited into politics where he quickly earned plaudits as a master strategist. He swam seven seas in 1999 to emerge as Governor of Lagos State – a state with more revenues than most African countries. Since then, he has managed to turn Lagos into a private estate, groomed so many political acolytes, expanded the frontiers of his party across several states of the Southwest, and in 2015 brokered the alliance that produced the victorious APC at the federal level. In the process, Tinubu has evolved from a man with a pocket full of money to one who commands bullion vans laden with dollars with a snap of the fingers. He fits perfectly the description of a political influencer, an enabler, a godfather and a kingmaker.

But the Jagaban of Borgu is not an electoral asset all by himself. First, his origins, parentage and name are still subjects of fierce controversy. Whereas he claims to be Bola Ahmed Tinubu, a scion of the famous Tinubu family of Lagos State, many are willing to swear that he is actually Yekini Amoda Ogunlere from Iragbiji, in Osun State. Not to mention that at least a section of the Tinubu family of Lagos has long issued a statement saying that they cannot find his name on their family register or locate his ancestors on the family tree.

The Jagaban’s age has also been a subject of dispute since 1998 and that dispute is nowhere near resolution. Whereas Asiwaju claims to be “just 70 years old”, his critics say everything around him points to a real age 10 to 15 years older. Asiwaju has not helped matters. He has not been forthcoming with a birth certificate, schooling records or other circumstantial and chronological evidence to put his critics to shame.

Tinubu’s educational records are similarly shrouded in mystery. His initial claim to have attended Government College Ibadan (GCI) in the 1960s was robustly contested by some who were at the school during that period. His entire primary, secondary and tertiary educational records have existed more in conjecture than in reality.

Other critics say Tinubu’s famed eight-year tenure as Lagos State Governor only produced a dictatorship of motor park touts (aka Area Boys or Agberos), not a civilized government that seeks out bright minds and competent technocrats. They say Lagos State is so rich and so small in geographical size that the incompetence of any government is easily hidden by an impressive network of roads and bridges.

There are even those who say that for his role in installing and sustaining the now failed Buhari-Osibanjo administration, Asiwaju Tinubu deserves a one-way ticket to Siberia or Sambisa to live out his years.

So, like most great men, the Asiwaju is a highly controversial figure. He is adored by some, loathed by others and feared by some others. It is not his fault. It is the way of life. Nature does not give anyone everything. Some are tall, others short. Some rich, others poor. Some smart, others lucky. Some pretty, others powerful. Some speak well, others write better. Some are good business managers but lousy spouses and parents. No one has it all.

In politics, governance and leadership, there are kings and there are kingmakers. A red line separates the two. A good kingmaker is not expected to be king or even dream dreams of ascending the throne. If he is wise, he is content with his station as one highly besought by the monarch who himself is revered by the people. Likewise, a wise king is not expected to covet the role of kingmaker. It is like a man carrying an elephant on his head and steadying his gun to shoot an antelope. Disaster awaits.

This is part of life’s balancing act. To go against it is to attempt to play God. There are consequences. This seems to be the dilemma currently assailing the Asiwaju of Lagos and Jagaban of Borgu. He wants to migrate from kingmaker to king. He says it is his turn. His handlers are worried but dare not speak up. They thought as an elder he knew better. Besides, they are still chewing on the generous banquet spread out on Asiwaju’s table. It is bad manners to speak with food in your mouth.

Are the gods angry with the Jagaban? Have they withdrawn their gift of wisdom to him? Is that why he is going from gaffe to blunder? In a fit of rage, he said, “I made you President…” Those are words which can only be spoken by God Himself. Not any mortal or angel He sends to do His bidding. In another moment of indiscretion, Asiwaju said, “E mi lokan” (It is my turn). As if the leadership of a country is a ping pong game. Shortly afterwards, the master strategist chose a fellow Muslim to run as his VP candidate in a heterogeneous country with a long-standing tradition of mixed electoral tickets. This looks like self-immolation. Or drinking Sniper to quench thirst. Perhaps the sorcerers in his village are working overtime.

If the Jagaban was my dad or uncle, I would have gone to him with a few elders in tow. I would have prostrated to entreat him to retreat. I would have told him that ten, fifteen years ago he might have made a great president. But that time is long gone. And he must now yield space to a younger generation with fresh visions to remain relevant. I would have told him that no matter how knowledgeable and passionate a coach is, he must not set foot on the field of play. I would have reminded him that an elder evades a raging bull from afar; he does not join the youths to taunt the beast in public. I would have counselled that one can be in power without being in office; that public office beyond a certain age is a needless burden that either hastens a man towards his grave or hastens society towards decay. I would have assured him that his place among Nigeria’s greats is already secure without the vanity of the presidential office. If he spurned my entreaties, I would have dusted my feet at his doorstep and departed in peace.

It is a duty we owe those we love and respect to tell them the truth as we see it even if it displeases them and makes us uneasy. Does the Jagaban still have people who truly love and respect him? Are they all too busy at the dinning table to spare him their counsel? Or is he his own greatest enemy? Time will tell. In the meantime, God save the Jagaban.

Victor Anazonwu, a journalist and author, writes from Lagos.

This article was first published in The Rennaisance Online Magazine of August 9, 2022

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