Nigerian President Bola Ahmed Tinubu has a lot on his plate. On a daily basis, he is confronted with an unholy trinity of challenges. As we say in Nigerian pidgin, ‘Di man don enter am. ‘
As the political leader of the largest concentration of Black people on the planet, he has been saddled with the task of managing a polity whose people are far more divided today (along the old fault lines of ethnicity and religion) than at any time since the Civil War of the late 1960s. He faces the task of reviving a bruised economy which has endured two recessionary spells in six years, and is now hemorrhaging badly as a result of the dwindling prices its mainstay (crude oil) commands on the international market, a situation made even worse by declining production rates. Add on top of the above two, the ever-widening circle of insecurity which has caught the nation in a vice-like grip, and what do you get? A deadly cocktail designed to try not just the fortitude but the very sanity of even the most able statesman.
Not long ago, Vice-President Kashim Shettima had to warn expectant Nigerians that the beginning of the Tinubu Administration might not be “so rosy”. Shettima’s remarks signalled to Nigerians that the administration was aware, not only of the challenges ahead, but of the fact that the bruises on Nigeria’s economy that may take a while to heal. In the same vein, President Tinubu, on being urged by a political associate to replicate ‘the Lagos magic‘ at the national level, reportedly admitted that there were high expectations from Nigerians which would be hard to ignore, and prayed to God to help him carry the burden of Nigeria’s leadership. Describing Nigeria as a country that has stumbled a number of times, but never faltered, he said the country, though squeaky like Old Mama’s car, will never break apart.“Don’t pity me,” he reportedly added. “I asked for the job, I campaigned for it, so no excuses.”
Nigerians do not have a particularly notable history of identifying with their leaders – let alone ‘pitying’ them. In fact, the last time anyone expressed any deep personal emotions in respect of a Nigerian leader would be the aftermath of the tragic assassination of Gen. Murtala Muhammed in February 1976.
But perhaps it is possible for Nigerians to muster some sympathy at least, if not exactly pity, for their leaders. Or, if not even sympathy, then perhaps ‘solidarity’ as they see the leader whom they perceive to be fighting hard to secure their present welfare and future security. For that to happen, though, a whole sea-change has to occur in the collective psyche of the Nigerian people.
President Tinubu seems to be inching closer and closer to making that sea-change a reality, with the plethora of problems currently staring him in the face, vis-a-vis the bold steps he has taken – especially on the economic front – to address them since his assumption of office in May this year. Apart from the unholy trinity of problems mentioned earlier, the President is faced with a major legal challenge, in the form of an appeal before the Supreme Court challenging his declaration as winner of the February 25, 2023 presidential polls – as initiated by his two closest opponents, namely, Alhaji Abubakar Atiku (a former vice-president of Nigeria) and Mr. Peter Obi, a former Governor of Anambra State. Recall that the petitions by Messrs Atiku and Obi had been struck out earlier by a court of lower jurisdiction, namely, the presidential election petitions tribunal (or PEPT) on technical grounds.
But while these appeals may never result in the truncation of the government of President Tinubu, they pose the potential of heating up the polity to an alarming degree; they could cast public doubt on the legitimacy of the government, and more ominously, create a climate of uncertainty among policymakers, advisers and other aides who are not sure whether they would be in their positions for long, and therefore have no incentive to work with the zeal and dexterity we have already see in quite a number of the ministers and ministers-of-state. It will sap whatever political will there is among them and other senior functionaries. As for the President, his deputy (and even the party on whose ticket they were elected) such disruption will ensure that long-term visioning and agenda-setting will be replaced by considerations of personal and political survival as they seek to preserve their mandate. Such an atmosphere of instability and uncertainty cannot be good for the peace and progress of our country. President Tinubu used the words ‘irreparable damage’ to describe the consequences of this kind of disruption.
It is said that to whom much is given, much is expected. And the pressure to deliver on the people’s expectations – as well as on agreed set targets – can be overwhelming, no matter how prepared a new leadership thinks they are. Leadership, at political, military and so many other levels, demands one’s full and undivided attention. It demands reserves of physical and mental energy that the leader and those around him may not even suspect that they possesses prior to assuming office.
To digress a bit: American political commentators and analysts – especially those who study the Presidency – like to categorize their past Presidents as ‘transformational,’ or ‘great’ or ‘transitional’ or ‘poor’. However, the 43rd US President, George W. Bush, was asked in an interview while still in office which past President he respected the most. To which he replied, “Having sat in their chair, I respect ALL OF THEM.” He was referring, of course, to the burdens each President bears while occupying that chair, and the life-and-death decisions each has to make in the course of their stewardship. It is a position in which, as President Bush also added in that interview, everyone cries on your presidential shoulder, but you can only cry on the shoulders of God. It is a position that demands grit, courage, a certain equanimity in the face of the inevitable adversities and criticisms that will arise in the course of each day. It is a position in which the leader must embody the attributes and attitude the great English poet, Rudyard Kipling, extolled in his famous and much-loved poem, ‘If’:
If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or, being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or, being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise;
If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with triumph and disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools;
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on”;
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with kings—nor lose the common touch;
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you;
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run—
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!
In Nigeria today, we see President Bola Ahmed Tinubu also displaying the attributes and attitudes that have seen him face up to the menace posed by the aforementioned trinity of a bruised econmy, a widening circle of insecurity, and a divided population. He has taken some really tough – even painful – decisions whose medium and long term returns, he is convinced beyond any doubt, will be tremendous and bountiful. With patience and perseverance, he has set about erecting the building blocks, not just of recovery from the present economic slump, but of a sustainable and consistent economic growth, one that will benefit not just this generation but future ones as well. To a greater or lesser extent, this is probably true of all former Comnanders-in-Chief – civilian and military alike. Like the incumbent today, they, too, have given orders to kill, and they have buried soldiers they’ve put in harm’s way. And everyday they wake up bearing responsibilities many of us cannot possibly imagine; responsibilities which will crush many of us if they ever fell on our shoulders. In all this, they do not utter a whimper of complaint, they do not lament their burden or express a desire to put it down before their tenure expires, and they keep their emotions in check. To quote President Bush, they cry on the shoulders of God – whatever they conceive Him to be. Leaders are survivors, because they realize that their destinies are tied to the destinies of so many others.
Therefore, any action or words designed to belittle the leader, or diminish the enormity of his responsibilities, is a disservice to the polity, and to our quest as a nation for prosperity, peace and unity. Not having sat in ‘that chair’ (though he was only a heartbeat away from it years ago) former VP Atiku Abubakar may not appreciate the enormity of it, nor can he be sure if he has the mettle it calls for, and tests, on a daily basis.
Atiku’s quest for the Presidency is quite understandable, having served in such tantalizing proximity to ‘that chair’ between 1999 and 2007 – in which he wielded powers that no Number 2 has ever wielded before him, or after. Even as he seeks to actualize his long-standing quest for the country’s Number One office, he is also well within his rights to unearth every fact he can about President Tinubu, his identity, background, as well as his academic and other relevant records. As a matter of fact, every single Nigerian has the right to scrutinize President Tinubu or any public official.
However, this must be done in a manner that lets President Tinubu breathe and focus ie with minimum fuss, without the public histrionics that Atiku seems to be displaying lately. In the face of the grave and existential challenges we face, the last thing this President needs is unnecessary distraction. Having lost yet another election (as announced by INEC) Atiku could perhaps have waited till 2027, when Tinubu would be eligible for re-election (assuming he stands again). Or, if service to fatherland is truly his motivation (and not self-aggrandizement) he could easily have used his privileged access to the President and his inner circle (considering the fact that the two men are long-standing friends and business partners) to offer advice and influence positive outcomes.
But then again, perhaps that’s asking too much of a man who seems to specialise in wasting his tremendous political capital on chasing wild geese, in a perennial attempt to mitigate the tremendous damage done to his reputation by the damning allegations leveled against him in so many quarters – including his own former boss, President Olusegun Obasanjo.
It is to the President’s credit that while Atiku is causing these distractions, he is doing, and has done, so much to restore the nation’s economic equilibrium, even on a shoestring budget that was proposed, not by his administration but by the previous one. In a few short months, the Asiwaju has helped Nigeria successfully repay China, India and Germany a total of $1.81bn in loan servicing; done the same with the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to the tune of N912bn, in addition to many bold actions, initiatives and reforms.
If he can do these under the current disruptive and uncertain atmoshere, imagine what he will do in the absence of such an atmosphere. In her concession speech after her unexpected loss to Donald Trump in the 2016 US presidential election, former First Lady Senator Hillary Clinton told her distraught supporters: “However disappointed we may feel about this outcome, we owe Donald Trump one thing as patriotic American citizens – a chance. He deserves a chance, along with our cooperation and prayers.”
In the same vein, President Tinubu deserves a chance to take us where we need to be. As Atiku – and by extension, Obi – along with the generality of the Nigerian populace – await the ultimate verdict of the Supreme Court, we all must repose renewed faith in that Court, in our fidelity to the democratic system of government (and to President Tinubu’s ability and willingness to do the right thing as a former pro-democracy activist), our love for our country and the things that bind us as a commonwealth enriched by a staggering and beautiful diversity, and as a people of faith strengthened – even in the darkest of times – by our abiding faith in a wise, faithful, loving and almighty God.