By SHAKA MOMODU
“In Japan, a corrupt person kills himself. In China, they will kill him. In Europe they will jail him. In Africa, he will present himself for election.”
Former President Olusegun Obasanjo once said that Nigeria is the only country where if you catch a thief red-handed, the thief will be the first to drag you to court. The above quote whose real author I couldn’t establish and Obasanjo’s characterisation of the Nigerian thief are spot on and speak to the Nigerian conundrum. The fact is that no one has captured the reality of Africa’s leadership challenge better than the two. Nothing depicts the tragedy of Africa, particularly Nigeria, more than the above quote. It tells the story of how Africans have underdeveloped Africa.
Nigeria which was long thought of as the hope of Africa, has unfortunately stuttered miserably. Hope increasingly looks like a distant illusion for the so-called Giant of Africa. A once promising nation has been subdued and scorched by a succession of bad leaders and their aspiring successors. It has witnessed the rise of tribal lords, religious fundamentalists, corrupt and amoral persons elevated to positions of power and authority to chat the destiny of their people, and unfortunately celebrated by the people. The tragic consequence is a nation heading to the brink of disaster.
There is an old saying in the land of my fathers: “If you fill your mouth with broken bottles, you will spit blood.” Nigeria has been spitting blood since it allowed men with a violent heritage to fill its leadership positions.
Frankly, our politicians’ understanding of democracy is threatening the security of lives and properties as well as the corporate existence of the country. Our so-called democracy has witnessed the rise of godfathers, whose sense of public office and purpose of governance is sharing public money and appropriating public property for personal use, creating gangs of armed thugs and militia armies to rig elections in order to perpetuate themselves or proxies in power. National interests are being undermined by tribal and religious affinity.
To rub salt into the wound, many of the aspiring candidates for the different elective positions to replace the current crop of extremely selfish and bad leaders, or names being bandied about in the media as President Muhammadu Buhari’s possible replacement are not only unsuitable for public office, they embody the worst vices that any decent society with the desire to make progress should ordinarily strive to exorcise from its governance system to secure the future of the next generation. But here, many people celebrate and revere them for their incompetence and criminal pillaging of the state’s resources. People who should ordinarily be serving long prison terms or would have paid the ultimate price for corruption in saner societies are the ones jumping around, aspiring to be president, governors, lawmakers and local government chairmen. How can our country make progress with these sorts of people as leaders?
Now, let’s go to the main focus of this write-up which is about former Governor Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s overbearing influence and corruption – the big elephant in the room that nobody wants to talk about. It’s an open secret that the former governor of Lagos State and strongman of Lagos politics, Bola Tinubu is interested in contesting the 2023 presidential election. For sometime now, the debate about his suitability for the position has dominated the public space. Even though he is yet to formally declare his intention to run, his body language has given sufficient indication that he is actively planning and preparing to seek the ultimate office in the land.
Planning committees and contact groups have been set up across all zones in the country to advance that purpose.
And he has been unusually careful not to intervene in burning national issues for fear of giving the all-powerful cabal the ammunition to block his candidacy or where he decides to speak, you come away with the impression of someone who has lost his testicles to his frenemies. What started as whispers, seen then as an unlikely possibility and perhaps, a mere intent to grandstand and dramatise without substance has swelled into staggering noisy stridency of voices of many recruits whose only interest is the cash windfall to harvest from what promises to be a massively funded presidential campaign, that is sure to come their way.
Tinubu knows the power of money, and equally understands human frailty. In the last 22 years, he has amassed prodigious wealth by virtue of holding public office and continues to control the levers of power in Lagos State despite being out of office since 2007. He decides who gets what. He is rich, very rich, he even boasts of his massive wealth, owns two brand new private jets, pours millions of pounds into the governorship aspirations of candidates, yet no one can point to any legitimate means of income that generates that kind of wealth. No one knows how much taxes he pays to the state and federal governments. Various businesses have been associated with him and his allies but a cloud of secrecy hangs over his links to the businesses – businesses clearly established with a corrupt intent, or a product of abuse of public office and trust.
For those who hide behind a finger to ask for evidence of Tinubu’s corruption, the erstwhile Managing Director of Alpha Beta, the Lagos State controversial consultant on IGR, Mr. Dapo Apara’s petition to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) through the law firm, Adetunji Shoyoye and Associates, is your answer. It’s about the illegal activities taking place in Alpha Beta Consulting, one of the firms associated with Tinubu. Alpha Beta has held the exclusive franchise for revenue collection for Lagos State Government for nearly 19 years. Recall that Tinubu was in office when he awarded the contract to Alpha Beta, a company he had and still has interest in (held for him by proxies), to be the sole revenue collector for the Lagos State government. There was no competitive bidding for that contract. The current Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo, a Professor of Law, was his Attorney General then. He must have seen that contract and must have known that it was a pure act of corruption.
Mr. Apara stated in his petition to the EFCC that Alpha Beta has been an IGR consultant to Lagos State since 2002, earning about 10% of whatever it collects for the state. He accused the firm of corruption, tax evasion and money laundering, among other things. He said the company had failed to pay taxes in the sum of N100 billion. What did EFCC do? It simply allowed the petition from no other person than a former managing director of the firm to gather dust on its shelf. And seeing that nothing was done, the firm has continued its nefarious activities till this day. Long before Apara’s bombshell, precisely in 2006, then Chairman of the EFCC, Mallam Nuhu Ribadu at a plenary session of the Senate specifically highlighted Tinubu’s corruption as one that had “international dimension”.
With such questionable financial dealings which have earned him prodigious wealth and the political power he wields over governance in Lagos in over two decades, he has held steady the loyalty of a horde of fanatical supporters, effectively using this to infuse his political base and spread his influence to other Southwest states. Not done with his material possession that has nearly crippled Lagos, he now wants to be president of Nigeria. What temerity!
As much as I have tried to understand the rationale behind peoples’ support for this fellow, to the extent of enlisting the services of behavioural experts and social anthropologists, there is still a part of me that is at a loss to understand why otherwise educated and enlightened people are queuing behind his ambition to govern Nigeria despite knowing about his atrocities in Lagos and his vast unexplained wealth. Are these people saying to the rest of us that are not falling head over heels with his ambition that it is okay for one man to maintain such a totalitarian control over Lagos State and illegally appropriate public resources the way he is doing? Are they saying corruption by others is condemnable while Tinubu’s own is tolerable?
Are these people saying it is okay for him and his children to be running a parallel government in Lagos State?
Indeed, he has been running a parallel government since he left office – he determines who becomes governor, lawmaker, senator, council chairman and even who gets government’s contracts. As a matter of fact, he determines what goes and what does not go. He has a finger in every pie in the state. After the death of his mother, Chief Abibatu Mogaji who was the President-General of the Association of Commodity Market Women and Men of Nigeria, Tinubu arbitrarily and single-handedly appointed and imposed on the traders his own daughter, Folashade Tinubu-Ojo as her successor. He truncated the process of the traders to elect someone among themselves. His daughter never had a shop in any market prior to her appointment by her father as reported then. Who does that? Can anyone tell me where Tinubu derived such authority as a former governor to unilaterally make that controversial appointment?
Anyone with well-tuned political antennae would have known that the motivation was to grab and maintain political sway, and had nothing to do with making the association better. It is all about the huge revenue generated from levies arbitrarily imposed and forcefully collected from market traders for which there is no accounting. The money doesn’t go into maintaining the markets or to the state government, but to wet the ravenous appetite of an overbearing godfather. It is also about ensuring that traders in Lagos continue to vote for him and his chosen candidates, knowing full well that traders in the informal sector and members of their families constitute a major political demographic in a state like Lagos.
His son, Seyi Tinubu now bestrides the Lagos landscape like the lord of the manor. His presence anywhere in the city sends shivers down the spine of many a government official. Like his father, he gets what he wants. His Loatsad Promedia and E-motion outdoor companies have total control of outdoor signage on most lucrative routes, viz. Lekki-Ajah and Epe axis, Falomo and Bourdillon areas of Ikoyi on the Lagos Island, Third Mainland bridge, Murtala Mohammed International Airport road, etc. The implication is anyone wanting to advertise on billboards on the routes he now controls has to go through this rookie practitioner with doubtful certification from regulatory agencies. His only pedigree in the field is his father’s chokehold on Lagos. For a guy that made his debut in advertising four or five years ago to have risen so fast to pull off such a feat speaks to Tinubu’s overbearing political influence. Today, Seyi enjoys unfair advantage over other operators in the industry but who is Seyi without his father who in a state of heady self-declaration is known to cry out: “I am Lagos.”
Tinubu’s continuous manhandling of Lagos has reached an unprecedented scale, such that nothing happens in the state without his knowledge. His spies are everywhere and report to him daily the activities and crucial decisions of government. In other words, Tinubu has been running the affairs of Lagos State since 1999 in varying degrees, depending on the personality of the governor in office. He has been able to achieve total control over succeeding administrations in the state with his firm grip on the State House of Assembly, a lackey house that is more loyal to him than the people they represent. He single-handedly handpicked and railroaded every member of his party into the state legislature. Election results were merely written by the godfather and his agents and rubberstamped by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and the courts. With the loyalty of the assembly members well assured, Tinubu is able to threaten with impeachment and arm-twist any sitting governor who tries to assert his authority. Nearly all critical executive appointments are nominated by him.
Having conquered Lagos and expanded some influence to one or two Southwestern states, Tinubu is getting more bold and confident of riding roughshod over the captive states and the people. And now, he wants to capture Nigeria to do with it as he pleases. Imagine that reality for a moment! How can any sane educated human being be promoting him to the highest office in the land?
His ambition to be president is a slap in the face of all Nigerians of good old precious values. Ascending the presidency will be the ultimate reward for his impunity and will engender a brisk-street confidence that he can get away with anything – that the law is made for others and not for him.
I concede that Tinubu has not been convicted of any crime, so all his rights and privileges are preserved and protected by the constitution. But he has never been tried for all his abuse of power and corruption in and out of office. I can bet my life that if he is investigated and sincerely tried based on facts already in the public domain, he will have a huge debt to pay to society.
Now, let’s even leave his abuse of office and corruption (of “international dimension”) for a moment and honestly interrogate his political exploits. Tinubu is the main architect of the general malaise in our country today. His desire to be president at all cost led him to fetch Major General Muhammadu Buhari from retirement – a man he once described as “an agent of destabilisation, ethnic bigot and religious fanatic who if given the chance would ensure the disintegration of the country”, according to a Wikileaks transcript of a conversation between him and the US Consul-General in 2003. He had warned then that Buhari should not be trusted with power due to his ethno-religious bigotry. He pointed to Buhari’s tribalistic nature as potentially dangerous to the unity of Nigeria. In his own concise summation, “Buhari and his ilk are agents of destabilisation who would be far worse than Obasanjo.”
Tinubu later denied that he made those statements about Buhari to the US Consul-General following his alliance with him in 2014/15. Tinubu and his apparatchiks made a complete about turn on Buhari and started to spew a new narrative on Buhari’s unblemished record of performance and competence, adding that he would be a unifier. Well, Buhari went on to win the 2015 presidential election and Tinubu’s influence/stature catapulted through the roof. His lackeys went to town, celebrating him as the hero of democracy and “the greatest political strategist to come out of Africa”.
Of course you know in this part of the world, it is very easy to be celebrated as a hero no matter the crimes one has committed or continues to commit. Just spread some money around, memories will fade quickly and juries can be bought. However, Tinubu’s summation about the danger Buhari represents has proved so prophetic that I am just in disbelief how precise and forthright he was (forget all those denials).
What manner of man recognises danger in all its ramifications and for selfish political ambition leads his people into it with false promises of security? Now we can’t sleep anymore with our eyes closed. We can’t travel by road anymore. What about Tinubu? He flies his private jets. While things are tough for you and me, Tinubu is enjoying his best moment ever. As herdsmen are killing your neighbours and burning down their homes, he (Tinubu) is safe in his house. He is even building another palatial palace in Ikoyi, that straddles between Bourdillon and Queen’s Drive, a mansion like no other.
Never forget that it was Tinubu who brought Buhari and led the repackaging and rebranding of the man to make him president. So he bears direct responsibility for the complete failure of leadership our country is experiencing today on Buhari’s watch. Everyone kidnapped or killed, every woman or girl raped by the bandits or herdsmen, wherever, however, Tinubu shares part of the blame, let no one deceive you. He told us Buhari was capable of leading this country in a progressive way. He assured Nigerians that Buhari was the man to fix this land and clean up the ‘mess’ that then President Goodluck Jonathan and his team had created.
He and his All Progressives Congress (APC) apparatchiks rewrote the man’s history and achievements in superlative terms and presented him as a saviour who was coming to right all wrongs, rebuild and restore the glory of our fatherland. With that, he successfully hoodwinked a gullible young generation who neither studied history nor learned any lessons from the past to fall over each other to support a man they barely knew, whom he had once described and rightly so, as a tribalist and an agent of destabilisation. Today, the catastrophic consequences of his false narrative that propelled Buhari to office are self-evident for all to see. Indeed, his depiction of Buhari as a tribalist, a religious fanatic and an ethnic bigot was on the money.
The president’s six years in office have proved Tinubu right in every material sense. It is no longer a matter of debate or conjecture or some distant allusion based on hate that on the president’s watch, the country is broken and more divided than at any time in its chequered history. The level of lawlessness and the general insecurity across the country today are indescribable. All manner of terror franchises have turned our natural pristine forests into safe havens for their most heinous activities, while the government looks on in complete surrender. Many lives and properties have needlessly been lost due to Buhari’s poor leadership.
I am curious to know what Tinubu’s campaign would be like? Whose mess is he coming to clean, Buhari’s or Jonathan’s? Can anyone help me out?
Now, how can the man who foisted this calamity on the nation be the one to succeed him? How can any sane human being be promoting Tinubu for president? It is annoying that many educated persons are behaving like dimwits by supporting a man who at the very least should be crawling on his knees to every household in this famished land of our fathers, begging for forgiveness from Nigerians for the tragedy he has brought upon them and their country. For God’s sake, how can Tinubu replace Buhari? What manner of people are we? Are we so cursed as a people that we keep groping in the dark for solutions to our problems? I know that the godfather of propaganda himself is about to unleash another round of propaganda, half-truths and lies on our country. But we must be vigilant and resist propaganda this time. The thinking, I presume, is that if propaganda did it for Buhari, why not for Tinubu?
I fervently pray that his presidential ambition ends in smoke but I am not so unmindful of the fact that Nigerians are smart people, but with a history of foolish choices. Rewarding someone who foisted this tragedy on our country and who has not been able to keep his hand out of the Lagos cookie jar since 1999 with the presidency would amount to handing over to him a bigger cookie jar to do as he pleases. That will be a total surrender to the whims and caprices of someone whose deception doubles his appetite for primitive wealth acquisition. Imagine for a moment what will happen to NNPC, Customs, Federal Inland Revenue Service, etc.
If I may ask, what on earth does Tinubu now stand for? On what endearing value would he stand for election that you are willing to risk the future of your children in his hands? He has since jettisoned those things that he used to champion; namely, restructuring or fiscal federalism to make the country work better for all its components parts, state police, free, fair and transparent elections, etc, all for a seat at the table of those with their foot on our neck.
Talking about elections, they are only free and fair when his party wins. He celebrated and praised the daylight robbery that happened in the Osun gubernatorial election and the one that returned his new ally, Governor Abdullahi Umar Ganduje of Kano to office.
Still on free and fair elections, many won’t forget in a hurry how in the 2019 presidential election, thugs of the APC targeted areas in Lagos they suspected would vote for the candidate of the opposition party and actively prevented them from voting. In the process, ballot boxes were openly destroyed by them, all in an effort to minimise the performance of the opposition candidate. The so-called great political strategist didn’t realise that the thugs were hurting Lagos’ overall voting relevance? Nor can one forget that in the run-up to the governorship election in 2019, Nigerians from a certain ethnic group and their businesses were threatened by APC’s thugs in Lagos, leading to voter apathy in the election proper and a shoo-in for Tinubu’s chosen candidate (we are waiting to see how he will deny him a second term ticket).
If Tinubu and his acolytes could get away with such electoral malfeasance at the state level, one can only imagine what he would replicate on the national stage, if given the chance. The truth is, in a free and fair election in Lagos, Tinubu would lose scandalously. Everything about the man Tinubu is doubtful and questionable. From the secondary school he claimed to have attended to other educational attainments, his state of origin, identity of his parents, to even his actual age, doubts and questions persist. Added to all these are his past misdeeds in the United States of America. What kind of person is that?
In Lagos where he must be obeyed years after he left office as a governor, Tinubu has ensured he continues to draw from the treasury, courtesy of a nebulous and fraudulent pension law for ex-governors and their deputies. An ex-governor is now entitled to a house in Lagos, another in Abuja, cars, security, aides, paid medical expenses, full salary and allowances, all at the state’s expense. That law was rushed through the legislature in the closing months of his eight years in office. Unfortunately, eligibility to benefit from the law started with Tinubu. Alhaji Lateef Jakande, the first Executive Governor of Lagos State, the epitome of service, a visionary par excellence, the true father of modern Lagos was ineligible to draw from that pension law. Lagos under Tinubu was the first state to pass such a law in the country. With his bad example, others states followed suit. Is this the man you want to be your president? God forbid!
In his eulogy to the late Jakande, he claimed he tried to walk in his spirit. How deceptive can this man not be? The late Alhaji Jakande didn’t live in a grandiose mansion in Ikoyi, or on Victoria Island even though he served as governor. He was not a moneybag or bullion-van politician like Tinubu, no one ever saw bullion vans ferrying cash into his house on the eve of a presidential election. He neither owned millions of pounds to sponsor candidates for elections, nor private jets after occupying public office. Jakande didn’t award contracts to companies he had interests in as a sitting governor. He didn’t have bulletproof high-end SUVs; he didn’t drive around in a convoy of glittering cars, no shrieking sirens to scare people off the road, no security escorts. His security and safety were in the hands of the people he once served, his neighbours were his companions. Until his death, he lived in a nondescript single-storey building in Ilupeju, among the ordinary people. He was a true hero, unsung by the vocal minority who make heroes and statesmen of villains like Tinubu.
Unfortunately, our country doesn’t have men of conscience anymore. A cadre of old hacks and grifters is being lionized as Nigeria’s hope of redemption. A motley assortment of shady characters and activists is assaulting our sensibilities with warped new values. They take no prisoners and deodorise the manifest flaws of characters they crown heroes.
There is a saying in the land of my fathers: “If you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you.”
Anyone who viewed the video of Tinubu at the Kano airport recently would definitely have noticed the sluggishness in his gait. Are those rooting for Tinubu saying they hate this country so much that they would prefer we move from one sick, broken man to another with a history of running abroad for medical treatment? We must be vigilant and respond decisively to his deodorised profiles so as not to repeat history. This is a clarion call to Nigerians to reject Tinubu and his presidential ambition because he has failed the personal attributes test of the president Nigeria needs. He is not even remotely charismatic, neither does he possess the gift of oratory to mesmerize the people.
We want a leader who can express himself in a lucid manner, not one who mumbles and muddles up well-written speeches. We yearn for a leader who feels our pain and who understands that public office is a call to serve, not one who views it as an opportunity to appropriate state resources, and award contracts to companies he has interests in, or to have his hand in the cookie jar. We must reject Tinubu today, tomorrow and always, and state unequivocally that Nigeria is not Lagos.