Tinubu: The Flawed Progressive

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THIS REPUBLIC By Shaka Momodu, Email: shaka.momodu@thisdaylive.com, SMS Only: 0811 266 1654

He is a shrewd politician and a brilliant strategist, but the former Lagos State governor and national leader of the All Progressives Congress, Senator Bola Tinubu is certainly not your quintessential progressive.

Former governor of Lagos State, Senator Bola Ahmed Tinubu, is a man of many parts, titles and acclaim. He is the Lion of Bourdillon; the godfather of Lagos State, no, of South-west politics with the exception of Ondo State, which has refused to worship a foreign god. He is the Asiwaju of Lagos, no, of Yoruba land and ‘the National Leader of the APC,’ whatever that means. He is held in high esteem, loved by many whose political lives depend on him almost to the point of a cult-like adulation. Admired also for his tenacity and audacity in the face of challenge, he has become a metaphor of sort for a new brand opposition politics.

He is equally disliked by many who have come to see his politics as borne more out of personal self preservation, double standards and hypocrisy. Many more dislike him for his vast riches, sources which have for long been subject of speculations. Since 1999 when he came in as a greenhorn governor, albeit with a stint in politics as senator in the Ibrahim Babangida days, Tinubu has grown in stature and eminence, first, in Lagos politics, to South-west and now on the national front. From being selected as a candidate to fly the Alliance for Democracy (AD) flag for the Lagos governorship, Tinubu has become the Selector-in-Chief of candidates for elections, year in, year out.

He has become the who-must-be-obeyed regardless of any objection or dissenting views. He is the only one who must select every candidate for every elective position and to a large extent, nearly all appointive positions in Lagos, in particular and some South-west states under the then ACN control.

Though lacking the intellectual accomplishments and philosophical discipline of the legendary Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Tinubu seems to make up with his dexterity, adept political engineering, shrewd political calculations that sometimes border on over-ambition and sheer opportunism. He neither possesses the gift of oratory, nor the charm and capacity to condense long narratives into short and inspiring messages to arouse a people out of slumber. But he identified early, the power of money and has used it to build bridges of favours and political leverage that has sustained him and his political empire. When faced with danger, Tinubu’s most potent response has always been propaganda.

Watching him make his very first broadcast in 1999 on assumption of office as the Lagos State governor was a refreshing breakaway from the starched khaki uniforms Nigerians had been used to under the iron fist of the military rule. He outlined his grand vision for Lagos and set out a roadmap for achieving a new and beautiful Lagos. He has largely succeeded. Although he was initially challenged by the enormity of the problems he inherited, with refuse littering the entire landscape, and every road a dump site, the general state of infrastructure even in more terrible and deplorable condition, Tinubu soon rose to the occasion with his team of very competent people hired from across the different walks of life. And soon, Lagos began to change and transform into a new clean modern city.

The mega city state soon relinquished the ignoble title of being the dirtiest city in the world for the more ennobling and inspiring fastest growing city in Africa. Many of his initiatives have become lasting legacies of his vision. He practically laid the foundation for a new Lagos upon which his successor, Babatunde Fashola, a cerebral lawyer by calling, is building on. Whether you like him or hate him, Tinubu brought creativity and ingenuity to revenue generation in Lagos that has seen the state’s internally generated revenue snowball into the multi-billion naira bracket. The exact amount generated is however shrouded in secrecy. His creation of LAWMA, LASTMA, KAI, LAMATA, etc has really helped to bring some sense of sanity and purpose to the meaning of governance in Lagos. For that, many thanks must go to Tinubu, for being able to crystalise his vision into many positive and lasting legacies.

But Tinubu’s positives are greatly tempered by the conflicting imperatives of his own actions. His desire to be seen and called a democrat is only matched by the reality of his undemocratic tendencies. Measured by every standard of transparency, accountability and openness which are the hallmark of democratic enterprise, his then ACN was the most undemocratic party amongst the lot, yet he never misses any opportunity to lay claims to democratic high grounds. Give it to him, he sure knows how to mouth the platitudes at public fora but they are meaningless to a lot of people by the contrasting reality of his activities, actions, public pronouncement and the manner of the choices he makes.

Tinubu presided over a party that lacked internal democracy, where selection replaced election; where decency is sacrilegious; where transparency and accountability are anathemic and must be jettisoned. The emperor sits in court and pronounces who will and will not stand for election. And that is it! His word is the beginning and the end- making and crushing careers in one stroke. To defy Tinubu is to attract the wrath of his followers who are always so eager to be seen as loyal and will do everything to pull down a critic of his style and reach. Hon. Bamidele Opeyemi, who dared to defy the master, is currently feeling the heat for his ‘effrontery.’

To underscore the enormous power he wields, many refer to him ‘as the governor emeritus’, especially of Lagos while the legitimately elected governor is derogatorily referred to as “the other governor.” But nothing lately underscores Tinubu pretentious claim to the principles of democracy than his arbitrary appointment of his daughter, Sade as the Mogaji Iyaloja of market women and traders in Lagos following the demise of his mother, Alhaja Abibat, who held the position. He didn’t allow the traders the opportunity of electing a leader from amongst themselves or even the courtesy of lobbying them. He simply pronounced his 40-year old daughter who is not even a trader, the President General of market women and traders in Lagos, practically decreeing it a hereditary position.

To drive home the message, the state was shutdown to mark her coronation just like he did when he turned 60 some two years ago. The attendant traffic build-up that characterised the week-long event stretched kilometres and many motorists and pedestrians had a harrowing time getting to their various destinations while Tinubu’s partying and celebration lasted. Ironically, each time President Goodluck Jonathan or his wife, Patience is in town and causes the same traffic misery to the motorists, the then ACN now APC will suddenly remember that such visits cause untold hardship to the ordinary people plying Lagos roads. And it will start issuing statements of condemnation.

Imagine it was former President Obasanjo or even President Jonathan that appointed their daughters as President of Market Women and Traders, all hell would have broken loose in the country. APC and those fraudulent human rights activists would have been shouting to high heavens in condemnation. Lawyers, hundreds of SANs would be jostling to represent the traders in court, free of charge to challenge the imposition. But Tinubu did it against all known sense of decency and not a whimper from these hypocritical set of people who by their own choosing lay claim to being the custodians of public good. From the activists who see two similar impunities with double vision and twin morality to the godfather and goaded on to continue to dupe the conscience of a people, there is no difference between their sins.

She has since started her totalitarian reign, shutting down markets for days at a stretch, collecting levies and imposing fines on poor traders. It was alleged that she even demanded from the traders and market women evidence of APC registration as a condition to reopen shops. Yet the human rights activists could not find their voices to speak up because it is Tinubu. At the height of Boko Haram’s senseless killings and destruction of property, Tinubu did the unthinkable which he hoped would translate to personal and national appeal and possible political gains. He called for amnesty for members of the killer sect, which senseless act of destruction had claimed over 5,000 lives. His call jarred the collective sense of justice and resulted in revulsion.

Reading every word of his call was like an arrow piercing every sense of right and wrong; every sense of justice and the value of human life, with each next word penetrating deeper and more painful than the last. That ill-conceived call for amnesty for the insurgents by the APC chieftain even as he paid a condolence visit to victims whose lives had been changed forever by the mortal wounds inflicted on them and others whose lives had been snuffed out by the extremists.

Tinubu’s amnesty call was issued with a caveat: that such amnesty should be granted those with no ‘blood on their hands’. “For the innocent ones among them, there must be amnesty,” he said. But for the victims of the senseless killings and their families, Tinubu was sadly silent. It was the public condemnation that followed his ‘political’ call that led to modifying his position and sparing a thought for the victims.

With the charred remains of buses, the haunting report of a severely injured man who had to wrap his entrails in his shirt and who spoke so matter-of-factly about his possible death from an infection, and several other wounded persons lying critically ill in the hospital emergency wards, the picture that popped up from the March 19 suicide blast in Kano seemed like scenes from Armageddon. Amid all that horror, there was a particularly telling photograph that appeared to confirm an incipient trend among the country’s opposition – an unabashed desire to score political points from tragic situations that should normally inspire bi-partisanship response in a decent society. Tinubu’s brand of opposition is ever so eager to score cheap political points at the expense of peoples’ lives.

Otherwise, how can it be right that a man on a condolence visit to victims of Boko Haram will shortly after, call for amnesty for the very people responsible for the destruction of lives and property? It was a most wicked and irresponsible call, many would reckon. If one may ask: what about justice for the victims?

Ironically at the time Tinubu made the visit which from the start to finish was all about politics, the destruction of shanty communities of Makoko, known in the western press as Poor Man’s Venice on the Lagos lagoon by the Lagos State government had rendered thousands of poor people homeless. All appeal to the Lagos State government to provide alternative place for those rendered homeless fell on deaf ears. Why didn’t Tinubu visit the displaced Makoko people to show that he shared in their misery and the photograph put in several national papers? The answer is straight forward. It will undermine his party and will not give him the kind of political gain, the condolence visit to the victims of Boko Haram will extend to him.

Tinubu’s power is now such that he can unilaterally change the deputy governor of Lagos and impose another candidate on the incumbent. He denies Senators from Lagos a new term and picks his wife as a replacement; he moves Lagos legislators from one constituency to another for strategic political reasons and ultimately determines who governs Lagos. He has become a cult-like figure for anyone dreaming of running for political office in Lagos and South-west. And now, he looks like a rallying point for any one opposed to Jonathan’s second term bid. He cannot tolerate insubordination from any of his subordinates but actively encourages such against the president. Recall his former deputy’s case, Femi Pedro. His vindictiveness was well on display when he went after Pedro.

Even after Pedro had resigned from office in the wake of the impeachment threat, Tinubu still made sure he was impeached a few weeks to the end of their term in office for daring to go against his wish. He appointed a new deputy, Abiodun Ogunleye, who did less than three weeks in office and reaped the retirement benefits, including the severance package.

Today, unfortunately, Tinubu is in the forefront of criticism of government on practically everything. He acknowledges nothing positive and sees nothing good. All he sees is danger ahead even when international bodies are rating Nigeria better and better in terms of economic growth.

Incidentally, it is the entrance of APC and its manner of politics that have largely created tension in the country. The impunities they criticise the federal government for are worse in their states. But they get away with it because attention is focused at the centre. Pardon a little digression here to the Sanusi Lamido Sanusi saga. The opposition has found an ally and hero. But let’s pause for a moment and ask some simple questions: would a Bola Tinubu or a Muhammadu Buhari have tolerated for a moment, one third of what Sanusi did? Would they have allowed Sanusi to continue to embarrass himself and the government at whose pleasure he held office? Would Sanusi have behaved the way he did under an Obasanjo presidency or even with a Yar’dua? Perhaps, if we learn to call a spade by its true name, Nigeria will be better for it. Given Tinubu’s progressive credentials, one is inclined to adapt the words of rebuke by that great American, Frederick Douglass, in an address to the citizens of Rochester, New York in 1852, to suit this occasion.

Tinubu’s claim to progressivism is a sham; his boasted claim to fighting for the people, an unholy licence; his coalition to form APC, a swelling vanity; the party’s victory dance even before elections is empty and heartless and its denunciation of federal government’s impunities brass-fronted impudence.

Its claim to transparency and accountability is a hollow mockery and hypocrisy’s thin veil to cover up crimes that will shame a nation of savages. No one is guilty of impunity than the so called opposition.