Against all odds, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu was sworn in as Nigeria’s 16th president on Monday. It is an event that should not surprise any realist conversant with the Nigerian situation. The 2023 presidential election came with many irregularities, without a doubt, but it also presented significant shifts in Nigeria’s electoral configuration. Two of such dislocations are that politicians can no longer take Nigerians for granted and that if we maintain fidelity to technology’s opportunities, the people’s votes will be increasingly impactful. But I digress.
Tinubu’s victory in the elections was hardly surprising. Unlike the precipitous Peter Obi revolution, which shook Nigeria to its roots, Tinubu worked hard for his medal from the outset. For instance, the presidential primaries of the All Progressives Congress (APC) were the most keenly contested. When they went to the field on June 6, 2022, 13 other people, including the then Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, slugged it out with him.
Although candidates of the Peoples Democratic Party also had a battle, the stakes were higher in the APC because its status as the ruling party gave its aspirants more impetus.
Peter Obi of the Labour Party and Senator Rabiu Kwankwaso of the New Nigerian Peoples Party, the two other leading candidates, had their tickets on a silver platter literally. While three opponents who went into the primaries with Obi stepped down, Kwankwaso was the sole aspirant in his party.
During electioneering, Tinubu put in tireless work. Despite concerns about his health, he traversed the whole country, travelling to many states—two, three, even four times. While the PDP, which could give him the actual fight, called the bluff in five of its 15 state governors, the Labour Party had limitations in most northern states, where ultimate winners of national elections usually get their haul of votes. Tinubu was efficient on all fronts. Most altercations in the APC were resolved before the elections, regardless of the cost. In cases where reconciliation was impossible, he made overtures to enemies of his enemies, turned them into friends, and received bountifully from people like Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State. Tinubu worked so hard at these elections that he took almost nothing for granted!
Yet these last few months were only the tipping point of a lifelong preparation for Nigeria’s presidency. When he ventured into politics in 1992, the presidency seemed like the end goal for the man widely known as Jagaban.
But from 1999 on, keen observers of the polity were left in no doubt about the mission Tinubu had in sight. Every friend, enemy, and political associate he made and every step he took, including aligning with former President Muhammadu Buhari to form the APC in 2013, were towards the end we see today. It would be a disaster unforetold if a man who has prepared for this office all his life got in there and made a mess of it! This is more so if he is humble enough to draw lessons from the uninspiring performance of his predecessor.
Regardless of how much he thinks he has prepared; however, President Tinubu must consider himself extremely lucky to be in that seat today. Why? He is not the first to desire, prepare for, and qualify for that position.
Compared to someone like the late First Republic Premier of the Western Region, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, any qualifications Tinubu may parade would pale into insignificance.
Awolowo, who released his first book, Path to Nigerian Freedom, in 1947, just after he was called to the Bar in London, was not just a politician; he was an intellectual and philosopher, the first man who postulated that federalism was the way to prosperity for Nigeria and Nigerians. He joined those who fought for Nigeria’s independence, and evidence of his six-year leadership of the western region still exists in the human capital, physical infrastructure, and even economy of the states in western Nigeria.
It was upon Awolowo’s death that the late Chief Emeka Ojukwu wrote: “He was, for a long time, the only Nigerian leader that enunciated principles and played down personalities… He was loved and feared, but above all, he belonged to the people he professed to lead. At his death, I had the singular honour of proposing for him this epitaph that has endured — he was the best president that Nigeria never had.” Despite his overwhelming qualifications, preparation, and efforts, the late sage did not make it to the presidency. Tinubu has!
There was also Moshood Kashimawo Abiola, a business mogul, politician, and philanthropist extraordinaire. MKO, as he was known, built relationships amongst every stratum of Nigeria before contesting an election in which he defeated his opponent, the late Alhaji Bashir Tofa, in his native Kano atate.
The election Abiola participated in was so free that Tinubu and many other Nigerians put their freedom and lives on the line for its actualisation. The great MKO saw victory coming his way, but he was lowered into the grave instead of occupying the seat that Tinubu sits on today.
Then there is Abubakar Atiku. The former vice-president was one of Tinubu’s opponents in the 2023 election, and he has been at it since 1992! In those 30 years, Atiku has moved from God knows how many political parties of convenience to the other such that he would pass as the most desperate for that office in today’s Nigeria. Yet, in this last election, he lost to Tinubu on the latter’s first attempt.
This victory is not because the president is more intelligent or endowed than any of these three great men mentioned earlier. Those who believe in God will say that power comes from Him and that He gives it to whoever He wishes. If so, the president must see his victory as a divine assignment, which failure will disappoint God and the good people of Nigeria.
Why would Tinubu allow this to happen to him at his advanced age? No matter what has happened or not happened in the past, the president must put the past behind him, roll up his sleeves, and work for Nigerians. Finding himself in that place he always dreamt of, Tinubu should make the most of the opportunity to leave a performance legacy that his generations would be proud of. What’s more, for a man who has seen it all.
It will be a testy time for the new president. He will not have it easy with his friends in the elite class, who have become leeches on the already ruined national economy. He will also need to earn the trust and confidence of Nigerians, who have been on the receiving end of bad governance forever. A man who wins Nigeria’s presidency with only 36 per cent of the total votes cast must know that he has a lot of work to do.
Good enough, he started well with some sound bites he left after his inauguration. However, governance is more than speeches; it is about matching action with the poetry of campaigning and inaugural speeches.
What Nigeria needs Tinubu to do is like what Franklin D. Roosevelt did when he became president of the United States of America after the Great Depression in 1933. Move swiftly to right as many wrongs as possible; always put the people first, communicate with them and build consensus; be fair to all and sundry; make the best use of the resources (human, natural, technological etc) at your disposal, and trust God to see you through.
Years of poor governance have driven Nigerians to despair, where they have lost faith in the government and themselves. This loss of confidence is why fault lines now define who we are. Redefining the essence of government by putting the people first can bring Nigeria back to that place of pride; this is what Tinubu must do. He cannot afford to fail.
Adedokun can be reached via Twitter@niranadedokun