MY BOLA TINUBU ODYSSEY, BY FESTUS ADEDAYO
Since Wednesday, March 1, 2023, as Persians, Carthaginians and Romans did in penal sanction, I have been literally hung up for crucifixion. It began the moment Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) Chairman, Prof Mahmood Yakubu, announced ex-Governor Bola Ahmed Tinubu as winner of last Saturday’s presidential election. Diatribes, sarcasms and mild verbal whiplashing were reserved for me. Like ice cubes, rebukes of me got generously intermixed with cognac of victory celebrations.
It reminds me of celebrated Nigerian journalist, May Ellen-Ezekiel’s piece, Over Cognac, in her column in the Quality magazine of the 1990s. Battling personal medical privations that resulted in delayed childbirth, Ellen-Ezekiel lamented how her bosses made mockery of her as they drowned their guts with cups of liquor. It was at a time she frequented one dibia over another in search of metaphysical remedy to her childlessness. It was an award-winning piece.
Navel-wracking posts on social media celebrating “my loss” in the presidential election sprung up to taunt me. While some very sarcastic ones who encountered me asked what route I would flee out of Nigeria to avert the dangers that lie ahead of me in a Tinubu presidency, others harangued me outright. Some even looked me in the face to argue the bastardy of my opposition to his presidency. A Yoruba man should support the aspiration of his fellow Yoruba, they waxed sanctimoniously. You would think I was on the ballot against the announced winner of the election and I lost my deposit. Or, that I made a career of raging criticisms against his candidature.
Perhaps, I did? By the way, congratulations to Senator Bola Ahmed Tinubu, INEC’s declared winner of the 2023 presidential election. If, for a minute, you take your mind off allegations by the opposition parties that the election was grossly manipulated, you cannot ignore the humongous grits, energy and persuasion that Tinubu invested in this ambition. It is good for him that it culminated in the historic breasting of the tape.
For about four years now, I did not hide my opinion that Tinubu should never be Nigeria’s president, to the chagrin of many. I pursued that conviction relentlessly, supplying what I was persuaded were concrete evidence against such ludicrous ambition. I felt that if Nigeria elected him, it would be an all-time low moment in her leadership moral history. On February 25, 2023, Nigerian electors unanimously told me I was talking absolute balderdash. They chose Bola Tinubu. Once again, congratulations to the president-elect. Very few people are ambition marathoners as he was.
My resentment to his presidential ambition was four-pronged. On each count, I have been grossly blood-nosed by careerist bootlickers. One was his moral pedigree which I submitted was abysmally low for Nigeria’s leadership. I argued that at a time like this when Nigeria’s leadership should use self to exemplify the need for a moral about-turn, Tinubu would aggravate the slide. I made allusions to allegations of his amorphous ancestry and romance with the globally banned white substance. Severally, seemingly supervening interventions were provided to trounce my arguments. One was that, Nigeria is not desirous of the pretentious messianism I sought.
Second, that one of Tinubu’s greatest achievements in Lagos State was the reorganization of the Lagos judiciary, in spite of allegations of corruption leveled against him. Third in their lines of interjection is that, granted that the allegation of corruption was true, virtually everyone, including even leaders of the western world, have, at one time or the other in their lives, made ignominious nocturne dashes, like the proverbial African witch. The witch, while making dashes to the coven, if she gets drenched by a midnight downpour, would keep sealed lips by daybreak on cause of her sodden dress. Tinubu shouldn’t be imprisoned by this forever, they said.
I was also wary of a sacred cow government that Tinubu would run. I reckoned that it would be intra-systemic irruption if Tinubu rose against a system he nurtured throughout his leadership foray. Like Atiku Abubakar, Tinubu is enveloped by one of the most atrocious systemic leeches ever. They are the pullers of the levers of the awesome political machine he commandeers in the last 24 years. That machine is hyper-efficient, precise, delicate, deadly and amazingly functional. Its effectiveness has not ceased to amaze pundits since the Tinubu phenomenon hit the political firmament in 1999.
This machine spans the entire gamut of Nigeria’s system. It is political, media, judicial, economic, intellectual, name it; comprising of the most audacious underworld apparatchik ever, to the most venal; it is yet unassuming. It is serviced by a conscience-purchasing system of graft that would buy off an angel’s loyalty to God.
I was also bothered about the optics of a failing health, especially the glaring disconnect of cognition. My argument was that you needed a very robust, not necessarily unassailable, health and presence of mind to become the president of Nigeria. I suggested that Tinubu doesn’t have both. I have witnessed the quantum of energy deployed in the service of administration of states in Nigeria and I come out wondering if it isn’t foolish to want to govern vast people and places with a failing health. I felt Nigeria would be a killing venture for Tinubu in his present circumstance. On this count too, arguments have been proffered to counter my take.
Administering Nigeria is not about brawns but brain, they said. You didn’t need the pugilist prowess of an Anthony Joshua, nor his physique to be in Aso Rock. All you need is your brain. More fundamentally, they ask, is there any man who is above 50 years of age who is not carrying one health crucifix or the other?
Underneath however, following his trajectory in the public space, I saw a systems disrupter and a valiant bullet-biter in Tinubu. He seems to me to be one who wouldn’t be afraid to confront the python of power, head on. Nigeria needs this quality this time. It was one of those qualities that recommended Muhammadu Buhari for Aso Rock in 2015.
Unfortunately, we didn’t know that what we saw was a mirage. Nigeria’s main challenge today is sacred cow-ism, if you like. Like the python encircling a buffalo and trying to suffocate it to death, entrenched forces with buttons to press in high places are responsible largely for Nigeria’s stymying.
A leader with an eye on making noticeable changes in Nigeria must be a disruptor of existing decadent configuration. As a member of that decadent order, a complexity arises if that same man seeks to rise above his membership of this destructive clan. How can such person disrupt that calculus? Tinubu has to be like the proverbial python’s fetus that is fated to ensure the death of its mother to be that disrupter.
Of a truth, I had been very despondent that Tinubu became Nigeria’s president. I had earlier been sad about the quality of candidates the political parties’ primaries sprung up. However, my hope for Nigeria’s redemption was buoyed not long after. My calculation was that anyone as inexplicably opportune as he is would change the system. Tinubu would or should desire to use this presidency as opportunity for personal redemption.
General Murtala Muhammed, Nigeria’s late military Head of State, did just that. He was generally perceived to be corrupt and divisive. These allegations were exemplified by his infamous role in the Asaba massacre and partaking in illegal acquisition of property during the Nigerian civil war, Mohammed spent his six months as Nigeria’s Head of State erasing his infamy in history. He is today seen as a hero.
I feel Tinubu would want to spend his last years on earth being a Murtala, especially, in the hearts of his Yoruba people. They continue to make copious and panoply of lines of demarcation between him and their heroic avatar, Obafemi Awolowo. I suspect Tinubu would want to go down in history working towards being given same honor as the Yoruba hero.
Since the announcement of Tinubu’s win, I have vowed to stand back and constructively engage his presidency. My engagement will come in the form of what I have generously and freely donated to Nigeria’s presidents since 1998 when I began column writing. God willing, I will dispassionately critique and criticize his government, without my stand being flavored by our mutual ethnicity or fear of any repercussion of power.
At the risk of being considered immodest, from the government of General Sani Abacha who was in office when I began writing a column for the Sunday Tribune in 1998, till date, I have unapologetically held Nigerian leaders to account, at the risk of my life. Permit me to slide into the immodesty of recounting some of the routes I took.
My consistent followers from 1998 will glean a philosophy of standing by the weak against the strong in my writing. If as president, I see that there is a gang-up against Tinubu, I will queue behind him. I promise. This does not preclude my picking my cudgel after the rampaging foxes have been scared off.
Immediately he assumed office in 1999, I celebrated Olusegun Obasanjo, even when the Yoruba belonged largely to the Alliance for Democracy (AD). I believed his near-execution by the demented General Abacha was penance against his decades of working against his people. When Chief Bola Ige, Awolowo’s heir apparent, decided to take up appointment under Obasanjo, I wrote against him, using the newspaper of his hero, Awolowo, for this task. I felt if Papa Awolowo was alive, he would do same. God bless his soul, Ige, who had the power to ask for my immediate sack, openly sought my friendship.
The fusillade of criticisms from me against the Obasanjo government was intense. When I was invited to the Presidential Media chat circa 2000, I continued the critiquing on the NTA live broadcast. I was unsparing. Mr. Tunji Oseni, the presidential spokesman, aghast at my criticisms of the president, told me I must have been sponsored to attack Obasanjo. A couple of years after when then Governor Chimaroke Nnamani chose me as his image maker, I learnt the presidency reached out to him to stand down the appointment. I had unfairly and vociferously denounced the president, they claimed. Brilliant man that he ever is, Nnamani reportedly told them that if he had their enemy in his fold, he had helped them reduce the rank of adversaries by one!
Then came Ghali Umar Na’Abba, Speaker of the House of Representatives. No sooner did he get into office than he and Obasanjo began a tiff in office. I immediately appointed myself as a one-man army to dislodge his bile against the president. The criticisms reverberated so much that Eziuche Ubani, then Special Adviser to Na’Abba, visited the Tribune and sought explanation for my trenchant views against the Speaker. The ballistics didn’t stop. Na’Abba and I today are best of friends.
President Umaru Yar’Adua too received same mettle of critical dosages from me. When he deserved praises, I gave them effortlessly. When the cabal surrounding him, made up of his wife, Turai, his Economic Adviser, Dr. Tanimu Yakubu and others schemed to continue to foist him on Nigeria, despite his obviously failing health, I was at the vanguard of the resistance. The doctrine of necessity received vociferous analyses from me. I saw all these as a gang-up against a southerner, Goodluck Jonathan. The facts are in the public domain to be verified.
Then Jonathan became the Nigerian president. The romance with him didn’t last. In my column on the back page of the National Life newspaper, the Bayelsa-born president soon lost the comradeship of my pen. By the time I left the newspaper in 2011, my pen did an unrelenting weakening of public estimation of his government.
Of course, you all know what I did in the last eight years with President Muhammadu Buhari. It will be difficult to believe that the critiquing of our leaders was not sponsored. It is why it is necessary for readers to do psychological and historical analyses of those who seek to mould opinions for them. Permit me to be overtly modest: I am irreverent for bulwarks against national good.
The states were not left out. Take for example ex-Governor Sam Egwu of Ebonyi State. I had never been to the southeast by the time Egwu began to face the heat of attacks from Abuja-based politicians from his state. It was led by Senate President, Anyim Pius Anyim. It was a bloody fight which culminated, one day, in a near massacre between the two political flanks at a point close to Abakaliki. Right there in my Imalefalafia office, reading through the report, I felt the Goliaths wanted to take advantage of David and wrote passionately against it. I stood by Egwu. Almost a year after when I met him, the governor almost promoted me to the rank of pantheons. As he sunk into panegyrics of how he had never seen my kind of commentator before, I almost shed a tear. I disconnected from him ever since.
It must be difficult for ex-Governors Adebayo Alao-Akala and Adewolu Ladoja to believe I was not sponsored to attack them while they were in office. The impression was so huge that our highly respected egbon – Dotun Oyelade, Alao-Akala’s image maker then, scribbled a note to me that I should not allow “them” to use me against his principal. I still kept that note. He must have presumed that Tinubu, who I never met during my years of sojourn in his newspaper, dictated to me what to write against his political enemies. Years after leaving office and Mrs. Kemi Alao-Akala met me in the family’s Ibadan house, she said, matter-of-factly, “If not for my Christian faith, I shouldn’t allow you to enter this house. You abused my husband too much!” Alao-Akala sat watching the mild exchange between us. By the time of his passage, Alao-Akala redrew his image in my heart. I doubt if I ever saw a more humane politician than this late petrel of Oyo State politics.
Ladoja and I met for the first time about three years ago at the University of Ibadan. I was honoured to be on sane high table with him at the Babatunde Oduyoye Annual Lecture. He shook my hands like a long-lost friend. Then, he shocked me with what I felt were unearned accolades: “I was one of those who literally carried placards against your being made aide to the Senate President. Your brain is beyond such job!” he told me. I stood there looking petrified. That was a man I spent almost half of my column-writing years denouncing.
I did all these at grave risks. Friends delink me and adversaries abhor me. Financially, it is a barren path. It lands the columnist by the island of Siberia. It is more profitable praise-singing politicians so that you can get considerable chunks from their stolen loots. Those who can help you at times of need distance selves from you, lest they be identified with your toxicity. I feel immensely satisfied that even if I was the lone voice in this wilderness, I will not back out. What would have made me miserable even to my grave is if someone is financing my opinions against these leaders.
On the Tinubu presidency critiquing, I suffered beyond people’s imagination, even up to the point of ostracism. I however do not regret a jot of all I have written against him or previous Nigerian leaders. I will write them all over again if the situation presents itself. I am persuaded that I acquitted myself very well and that the wellbeing of Nigeria was my bother. I must however thank these leaders I have been critiquing. It is either my unflattering critiquing had no effect on them or they just saw me as a public nuisance acclimatized to ranting and needed to be ignored. When I see public comments which many times commend my stand, I derive immense gratification therefrom.
So, once again, I congratulate the man who would be Nigeria’s next president, Bola Ahmed Tinubu. I wish I would one day eat my vomit on this page and roll out the drums in his praises. I would, God willing, do this if he chisels a better Nigeria from this penkelemes he will be inheriting. I will do it with mirthful abandon.