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THE BUCK STOPS HERE; President Takes Full Responsibility for Country’s Fortunes By Keem Abdul 

Read Time:5 Minute, 52 Second


Of all people, Nigerian President Bola Ahmed Tinubu is no stranger to the rigours associated with holding high political office, making and implementing policies, and sometimes taking decisions that make the difference between life and death, triumph and disaster. And he would know, from his time as Governor of Lagos State, that beyond the glitz and glamour of office, beyond the pomp and pageantry, beyond the crowds of advisers, aides, hangers-on and even the inevitable sycophants with their forked tongues, power – real power – is a lonely enterprise. The higher the office, the lonelier it gets. 

Not all who occupy high office can handle its rigours – either because they didn’t understand, and therefore underestimated, the demands of their office, or they overestimated their own abilities vis-a-viz these demands and the pressures they would bring. How they react in the face of these pressures ultimately determine whether or not they offer effective leadership and make a positive difference in the lives of their constituents. 

The story is often told of Harry S. Truman (the 33rd President of the United States of America, who assumed that office on the death of his illustrious predecessor, Franklin Roosevelt) and how he was so rattled in the early days of his Presidency that he started having migraines and nightmares. He would wake up at night, sweating profusely, relate the nightmare to his wife, and then say, “I must tell the President about this.”

“But you ARE the President, “ Mrs. Truman would gently remind him. It took him a while to adjust to that daunting reality, but as soon as he did, he went on to excel, not just as the leader of his country, but as the de facto leader of the Western World – founding NATO (the North Atlantic Treaty Organization), for example, among many other triumphs on the global stage. Interestingly, it was he who popularized the phrase, ‘THE BUCK STOPS HERE. ‘ 

Far from being an accidental President, Asiwaju Tinubu has prepared himself for his current office for years, if not decades. In late 2022, he famously described his quest for the Presidency of Nigeria as a ‘lifelong ambition.’ As one who didn’t inherit it on the demise of the incumbent, as Truman (or closer to home, President Goodluck Jonathan) did, but obtained it at the conclusion of a long and arduous electioneering cycle, he wasn’t expected to be rattled by the challenges and pressures that come with his position. 

And yet, in the face of Nigeria’s dwindling fortunes, mounting challenges and expanding threats, the President’s declaration last week – that he took full responsibility for the performance of the economy and the excruciating pains Nigerians were going through as a result – came as a surprise to many observers and commentators. Ordinarily, that declaration should be a no-brainer; the fate of any entity (whether communal, corporate or geopolitical) depends to a large extent on its leadership. But Nigeria, as a country, has had a singularly bad experience with leadership (especially at the presidential level) over the course of its post-colonial history. If the leader is not monumentally corrupt or dictatorial, he is an ethno-religious champion determined to rule on behalf of his section of the country. Even if he is neither of those, he is too weak to stand against the negative influences of those two – either because he attained the office by accident, or is even terminally ill or otherwise physically incapable. 

And because, as is often said, mediocrity does not recognize anything above itself, this crop of so-called leaders resort to the one thing failure is best at: Excuses. If they’re not blaming previous administrations for the country’s current woes (though they had campaigned on the promises to address and fix those woes), they are accusing real or perceived enemies (both within and outside the country) of undermining their valiant efforts to revive the economy. They spend a lot of time and energy looking for scapegoats (both within and outside their government) for their non-performance, or they bad-mouth the independent media when it report anything other than the ‘official’ version of the situation on ground. They blame the ‘paucity’ of funds for the execution of key and impactful projects (even though their ‘lack of money’ mantra never seems to affect the fact that they themselves live like royalty at public expense). 

In taking personal responsibility for the adverse effects his government’s policy reforms are currently having on the people, President Tinubu vowed that Nigeria would survive its current difficulties on the strength of those reforms. There is light at the end of the tunnel, he reiterated, not least because of his determination to a) stop the economy from being exploited – nay, raped with reckless abandon – by those he called ‘marauders’; b) re-engineer the country’s finances and permanently curb the excesses of selfish, albeit powerful, interests; c) navigate the twists and turns, and go through the rigorous processes, that would inevitably lead to prosperity, rather than look for shortcuts and quick fixes, as has been the case in the past; and d) meet Nigeria’s financial and other obligations to the international community – including lending agencies. “We have not defaulted,” the President said, “and we will not default.” 

Looking back on his tenure as Lagos State Governor from 1999 to 2007 – during which that state’s economy grew exponentially to become the largest subnational economy in Africa (and the 5th economy overall), with a humongous expansion in its internally-generated revenue (IGR)  profile during and well beyond his tenure – Tinubu pledged to ‘manage this moment (of extreme national distress on so many fronts) with wisdom’ and grow the country’s socio-economic life in a responsible and sustainable fashion. “Difficulties are not new to me,” he added, in response to those who have questioned his ability to lead the nation out of its present morass, and even asked him to quit his office forthwith. “I have faced similar calls for my resignation before.” 

Like that great British Prime Minister, Sir Winston Churchill, who came to office at a time of his country’s gravest crisis – and said at his inauguration, “I have nothing to offer … except blood, sweat and tears” – Asiwaju Bola Tinubu is offering his fellow Nigerians one thing: a 24/7 FOCUS on the job at hand. No excuses, and no room for error. “I requested this job,” he said. “I’m not complaining.” 

To be sure, the President’s understanding of his job – and his attitude towards the pressures that come with it, along with the sky-high expectations that Nigerians tend to have of their leaders – will not automatically put food on the table, or reduce the price of tomatoes in the market. It is, at best, a symbolic gesture. But then, there is much about political leadership that is symbolic, or depends on symbolism. President Tinubu’s stance may be symbolic, but it is far more reassuring than the menu of excuses and the blame-game that Nigerians have been routinely fed with in the past. 


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