The return of Bola Tinubu, president-elect, By Reuben Abati

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Reading Time: 8 mins read

Nigeria’s President-elect Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, Presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC) is back in the country. He was declared winner of the 25 February presidential election with 8,794,726 of the total votes cast with over 25% in 30 states, more than the 24 states required by the Constitution. He reportedly returned to the country at 4.30 pm yesterday through the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja after a four-week vacation in Europe and Saudi Arabia. He left the country on 21 March, and according to his handlers, the president-elect needed time to rest, relax, re-tune, rejuvenate and prepare for the inauguration of a new government on 29 May. We were told he would be in France, the UK and Saudi Arabia where he was expected to observe the lesser hajj, that is Umrah. The trip fueled speculations about the state of his health, with many Nigerians arguing that his trip abroad was a cover up for undisclosed medical treatment. There were even videos of his sightings in Guinea, and speculations about his citizenship. For record purposes, I had argued on another platform, The Morning Show of AriseNews, the television wing of this newspaper where, as lead anchor I ruminate on sundry issues every morning – that Asiwaju Tinubu has the right to the freedom of movement and that I did not see anything wrong if he wanted to take time off to rest after what we would all readily agree was a hectic, hypertensive, campaign season.

Nigerians were however inconsolable. They wanted the president-elect on the ground. They said they were not comfortable with the idea of a president-elect who would be missing in action or become the equivalent of an unidentifiable, untraceable flying object going from France to the UK to Saudi Arabia and wherever. Where is he?, they asked. And that included even persons that did not vote for him. To be fair, I could understand the concerns of those who raised these questions. When a man is proclaimed President-elect, he becomes automatically, a property of the state. He becomes a person and subject of state interest. He is effectively no longer an ordinary person. He is asked to move into secure state accommodation, in this case, the Aguda House in Abuja. He is given a full complement of state security. He receives daily briefings from all the security agencies. He acts in other words, as if he were already president. The only difference is that he cannot yet exercise executive powers until he is duly sworn in and he takes the oath of office. The underlying logic in this regard is that there cannot be two presidents at a time. So, in effect, Tinubu is a President-in-waiting, and Nigerians who are concerned about his movement, health and safety have every reason to raise questions. There are also national security implications. The British, Chinese and the Americans would not allow their president-elect yo-yoing across the world weeks before inauguration. In traditional communities, such persons, waiting to ascend the throne, are kept in seclusion, to be prepared for the enormous assignment ahead and their transition from one plane of existence to the other. 

However, Bola Tinubu is back. What a big relief! His return, yesterday, it can be said, has settled the questions about his condition and health.  Those who have raised questions about his health and circumstances can now see him. It bears stating that no one would expect any further overseas travel by the President-elect before his inauguration, 35 days from now.  The timing of his return is also auspicious. The Ramadan season is over, and whoever uses religion as the excuse for being abroad, is of course expected to return. While he was away, the supplementary elections in 24 states of the Federation took place on April 15. The President-elect issued a statement commending the process and asking all elected persons to work with him. While he was away also, there were controversies about his citizenship and whether or not he committed perjury in filling the Form EC9 that he submitted to INEC. Quite a number of persons insist that the President-elect must address these two issues. 

I have argued and I stand to be corrected that the controversy about his Guinean connection and/or dual citizenship is of no moment. No right-thinking, reasonable person would imagine that Tinubu is not a Nigerian. He is in fact more Nigerian than most of us. That is why he is president today and you and I are busy still pursuing the dream. The laws of our land recognise dual citizenship, and in law that matter was settled in the Bukola Saraki case. The conditions for citizenship are properly spelled out in Sections 25–28 of the 1999 Constitution, and there is no point quibbling over Tinubu’s qualifications in that regard. The other issue that has been raised has to do with perjury. But that can only be proven and confirmed by a court of law. Section 117 of the Criminal Code frowns upon giving false evidence or testimony, either orally or in writing, and Section 118 further prescribes punishment accordingly. But perjury has to be proven. It should be recalled that last year, some lawyers went to the Federal High Court accusing Tinubu of perjury. It was an ex parte motion seeking an order of judicial review with regard to Tinubu’s educational qualification. What is the status of that case? 

We have been through this route before, by the way. As governor of Lagos State, Tinubu was similarly accused of perjury. The lawyer involved in that case was a jurist of timbre and calibre: the inimitable Gani Fawehimi.  “Gani The Law” was a formidable officer in the temple of justice. But nothing came out of that case. The matter was dismissed. The order of mandamus sought by Gani Fawehinmi was ruled out of time.  Tinubu was already governor. The court held that he was covered by immunity under Section 308 of the 1999 Constitution. I imagine that similarly, history would repeat itself on this matter, in the same manner in which it is certain that the inauguration of Asiwaju Tinubu as president of Nigeria would take place on 29 May 29. It is true that there are petitions at the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal, but anybody who knows Nigeria fairly well can confidently wager a bet that their Lordships will not give a decision to upturn the social and political order. Tinubu has already set up an inauguration committee, a 13-man committee. His associates have been sighted attending the Spring meetings of the Bretton Woods institutions in Washington DC, United States. He has been busy playing Rose Garden politics. Meanwhile, nothing has been heard from the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal. Petitions and cross petitions have been filed. Hundreds of lawyers have been lined up. We would probably be here in 50 days from now, with inauguration done attended by traditional rulers competing for attention, the international community in attendance too, a Federal cabinet in place, the woman in charge of catering for the Presidential inauguration Ball having been paid for her pepper soup, small chops, and jollof rice, and the aso ebi, skyscraper Yoruba headgear crowd compensated, a new National Assembly inaugurated, and then the election petition tribunals would suddenly start sitting… The same tribunals would be paid and offered logistics by the new government. Indeed, the Nigerian system is one of the most comedic in the world. Never mind. The lawyers will collect their pay, there will be one or two dramas in the courts, the judges will be happy to have made some fine points of law, and we will all move on.

Moving on, however, it is important, now that the President-elect is back in town that we remind him of the urgent tasks ahead: the big load on his shoulders, the thing around his neck: how to lead Nigeria out of the woods. Nigerians can expect that it would not take Tinubu a long time to set up a Cabinet. In 2015, it took President Buhari quite a while to identify Ministers. He was not alone. One state Governor ran a one-man show in his state for a whole year! He had stayed too long in Lagos before going back home to be Governor. He had difficulties identifying his own people. Tinubu would naturally put a team together without any stress. He has the necessary experience. He has done this and that before as Governor of Lagos State and as an active Godfather in Nigerian politics. Nonetheless, he has more than enough persons in his face who since the elections have been posturing as potential Ministers and advisers, re-enacting their own “Emilokan” – “it is my turn” posturing. The sense of entitlement in the Tinubu camp is so much, so loudly paraded, I would not be surprised if one or two persons in that camp end up in the hospital if they do not get what they think they deserve. But should that bother us? Nigerians are not looking for a team, post-29 May, of entitled persons, boys and girls who are in government to collect IOUs, “emilokan adventurists” in the corridors of Aso Villa. 

Nigerians want a team that can work and move Nigeria forward. In eight years, this country has taken one step forward, two steps backwards. We don’t need to argue over that. Check your pocket. Listen to the loud, tsunami-like rumblings of your stomach. Consider the rate at which burial spaces are disappearing at the cemeteries because of increased harvest of corpses. Imagine how laughter has died in the people’s throats and the pronounced jeremiad in Southern Kaduna, Benue and Plateau. Headline inflation is now over 22%. Food inflation is much higher. The country is in heavy debt. Only the other day, the World Bank told us that Nigeria’s debt service to revenue ratio is 96%. President Buhari says he is looking forward to 29 May, and that he can’t wait to return to his home town of Daura. He wants Nigeria to forgive him in case he has not met our expectations. Err, he needs not worry. Nigerians are too distracted, too confused, they don’t know what is good for them. The president can be sure that he has already been forgiven, except anybody wants to start another round of religious and ethnic controversy. Charly Boy says the apology is not accepted. Charly Boy, Charly Daddy, is on his own. What Nigeria needs right now is a magician. And the question is: how versed is Tinubu in the magical arts of leadership and societal transformation? He says “emilokan”: now soon, that would be fulfilled in a historical manner, the only other Yoruba man in contemporary times to be president of Nigeria. Very soon, Abuja will be overtaken by the Yoruba cap, the language spoken in the big halls of Abuja hotels would be distinctively Yoruba, “emilokan” will become “awalokan” with Tinubu’s children, in-laws and associates treading the surface of mother earth like new conquerors, backed by power aphrodisiac and possibly, Artificial Intelligence! What Nigeria needs is a president who knows what to do!

“Whatever they like, they (can) speculate, I am healthy and strong and I am okay. May 29 is not a calendar…The challenge ahead is beyond that., it is for all of us together.  And we must stay focused. That is very important. Don’t isolate one date. One date on the calendar does not mean anything. It is just an event.”, Tinubu said on his arrival yesterday. Good. We have heard. But the President-elect must be further reminded that he made many promises to Nigerians, including those who voted for him and those who did not, about his mission to restore hope. Nigerians are looking forward to the delivery of those promises. They need the renewed hope that he promised! Once upon a time in this country, and many would remember, a President told us that he was not aware of the promises in his own election manifesto. He changed the script the moment he got into power and blamed the past administration for everything that did not work. Tinubu cannot play that game. He is an APC man succeeding an APC administration. He would not have a predecessor to blame! Scratch that out of the strategy list. He cannot unleash the security agencies either after the departing administration. If anything, he would in fact be expected to give the incumbent President and other influential persons slots in his own government. 

We, the people of Nigeria, cannot control that. But we expect hope, and that the promises made will be delivered. The President-elect promised Nigerian students that he will pay them loans. Those students at home and abroad are waiting. Where will the money come from? He told us he will increase oil production to 4 million barrels per day. Nigeria has never done more than 2.2 million barrels per day.  We can’t even meet our OPEC-assigned quota. Nigeria’s refineries are down, there is a big crisis in the oil and gas sector, upstream, midstream and downstream. Will Tinubu remove fuel subsidy, immediately he assumes office, on 29 May, or would he postpone the evil day complaining about consequences or some “bla bla, blu blu” excuses?. He says he will address the challenge of insecurity in the country. How? And how soon? We would all love to see a civilian leader succeed where a President with an acclaimed strong security background failed.  The days ahead are challenging indeed, not a season for proverbs and Babelic language but action, leadership and results. 

As it is, Tinubu will be President. The courts can have their say, but the power brokers will have their way. I sympathize with the people who continue to insist that something else will happen before May 29, based on the predictions of. prophets and pastors. I am unavailable for that kind of talk, to borrow a phrase that has been made popular in Nigeria by Davido, the musician. In Nigeria, you can hire a Pastor to see what you want to see, and use his social media pages (These Pastors are all over social media now) to say what you want to say. Even persons who are not pastors see visions in Nigeria. So, deal with it, what is ahead in Nigeria would prove to be very interesting. The countdown has begun.  

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