Bola Tinubu, the President in waiting


A book in honour of First Lady Aisha Buhari was launched in Abuja last week.

‘Aisha Buhari: Being different,’ was authored by Hajo Sani, a senior administration official.

Chief Bola Tinubu, the National Leader of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), who chaired the event, took it upon himself to interpret the Nigerian story.

“Remember there were those who argued that the constitution does not assign an official role to the First Lady,” he said.  “Because of Dr Aisha Buhari, their concerns have been forever laid to rest.”

To begin with, it is false that the argument was made by “those”, unless he was referring to General Muhammadu Buhari.  Put simply, there is no office of the First Lady in the constitution.

Buhari—when he campaigned for office in 2015 and wanted to portray the image of a focused nationalist, driven by the torture of former First Ladies Turai Yar’Adua and Patience Jonathan—accepted that reality and affirmed that there would be no such office in his administration.

In Tinubu’s citation on Thursday, he described Aisha as “a voice of conscience calling us to be our better selves for the good of the nation and for the betterment of the weakest, most vulnerable among us.”

Personally, I do not know of any such body of work, and Tinubu offered no evidence.  Still, he declared that Aisha has shown herself to be “First Lady of Nigeria in title but also by virtue of her talent and temperament.”

For the record, Buhari’s resolve, if that is what it was, folded in his second term when Aisha rejected his “Wife of the President” title and established the “Office of the First Lady.”

Buhari, conveniently forgetting the constitution, immediately appointed aides into that “office.”

But if he thought that peace had arrived in Aso Rock, he was mistaken. Arriving in Egypt for the Aswan Forum in December of 2019, he was informed that Aisha had issued a press statement that was critical of his older nephew, Mamman Daura, and of presidential aide Garba Shehu, accusing them of an illegal presidential directive that her office should not be recognised.

In the statement, Aisha made her decision: “Based on Garba Shehu’s misguided sense of loyalty and inability to stay true and loyal to one person or group, it has become apparent that all trust has broken down between him and my family due to the many embarrassments he has caused the Presidency and the first family….We all have families to consider in our actions and therefore it is in the best interest of all concerned for Garba Shehu to take the advice of the authority, given to him sometimes in the first week of November, 2019.”

For some reason, Garba did not take that “advice of the authority” whatever it was and whoever it was.  If anything, he appears to have grown infinitely more powerful since then.

So, when Tinubu cites her talent and temperament, what does that mean?  Of her talent, Aisha did not write the book the billionaires launched on Thursday; that was done by a senior administration official in the presidency.

Temperament, tempestuous or temperamental?  Are we talking about the same person who disappears abroad mysteriously whenever she pleases, abandoning everything?  The same lady who only just returned from six months in Dubai while killer herdsmen ravaged the country from North to South and kidnappers made brisk business kidnapping children from their schools?

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Tinubu does not appear to know.  Worse still, he does not care.  He wants to be president of Nigeria in 2023, a project towards which, apparently, he will do anything and say anything.

Exactly two years ago on Twitter, President Buhari celebrated what we thought was Tinubu’s 77th birthday, extolling him as “…National Leader of our great party, the APC; pillar of democracy; and father of modern Lagos State. His best years are still ahead; I pray that the almighty God will grant him longer life, health and more wisdom to keep serving Nigeria.”

It turns out, curiously, this year that the former Lagos State Governor is 10 years younger!  Of greater importance, should Tinubu acquire the presidency, Nigeria would have transited from a man who was thought to have a wonderful chance of success because he was arriving with glowing credentials, to another who will be known to have no chance of success because of a questionable past.

In response to Buhari’s tweet at the time, I observed that while Tinubu may be a pillar of the APC, he is not a pillar of democracy, as he does not believe in “one man one vote.”

This point was demonstrated last year at the Edo State governorship contest where his mere appearance boosted voter turnout against the candidate he had gone to support.

Buhari called Tinubu the “father of modern Lagos State,” an advertisement that led to his “Edo No Be Lagos” rejection.  Edo was evidence of how much, outside Lagos, Tinubu is seen as the proverbial bad coin.

Yes, Tinubu is a wealthy man, and he is very conscious of his wealth.  He once bragged about being richer than Osun State, a claim that nobody who respects democracy will ever make.  Neither Jeff Bezos nor Bill Gates—men who pay taxes and whose wealth is not challenged by anyone—claims to be richer than any county in the US.

But it will be fascinating to see Tinubu run.  He would be the first man to win the presidency of any country despite obstacles and doubts about who he really is, where he has been, what he has achieved, and what he owns.

Think about it: there are questions about how old Tinubu is, where he was born, and where and whether he went to school in Nigeria and abroad.  The Jagaban, as he is called, has parlayed all of that into political and economic “success” at home, seizing control of Lagos State, Nigeria’s richest, and manipulating its politics and processes into a “Democracy of One.”

It is this Tinubu who wants to run Nigeria.  It is this Tinubu who says that the First Lady is in the constitution.

I am not saying the Jagaban is not capable of “winning” the presidency.  After all, he can always put pictures of bullion vans in every street corner in Nigeria.

And then he can remake Nigeria in his own image, just as he has done Lagos.  He will interpret the constitution and economy for himself. That will not be laid to rest.

This column welcomes rebuttals from interested government officials. -Punch.

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