This piece is not about a bat. It is about a human phenomenon, which shares certain similarities with this creature. The bat that we all know is a mammal, a winged creature that is believed to be neither a bird nor a rat. It is nocturnal, purblind and the only animal that perches atop a tree upside down. Such a unique creature is the bat that some cultures weave a lot of folktales around it, associating it with witchcraft, black magic, darkness and disease.
But the bat, like an unctuous toad, doth wear a precious crown. It performs vital ecological roles like pollinating flowers, dispersing fruit seeds and eating insect pests. It is in this context that we want to look at the human phenomenon called Bola Ahmed Tinubu, BAT, former Lagos State governor, politician, strategist and leader of the Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN, a leading opposition party in Nigeria. This BAT marked his 60th birthday last month with the nation’s crème de la crème in attendance.
Many attended the event because Tinubu is a success story: as a student in the United States – never mind the Chicago certificate saga, as an accountant in the private sector including Mobil, and as a politician who has survived many political battles with many crowns to show for it. A lot of people see him as being singularly responsible for the ACN and Labour Party electoral and legal victories in Ogun, Oyo, Ekiti, Osun, Ondo and Edo states. Some believe he stopped the rampaging pests in the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, from routing the ACN in Lagos State in the 2003 elections, during which all the South-west states, excluding Lagos, were ‘conquered’.
Like a bat, he has, and is still, dispersing and sowing seeds in money and political patronage, determining who gets what, where and when. Having sown huge sums into people’s emotional bank accounts, Tinubu cannot but reap bountifully from this investment in human and material resources. Thus his beneficiaries have been pouring their gratitude to him in torrents, via media advertorials, speeches and patronising publications.
To many of them, he has become an Asiwaju, a Yoruba word for leader. Some see him as an Obafemi Awolowo, that political legend; a Mahatma Ghandi or an Oduduwa incarnate, the latter according to the Oranmiyan of Osun state, Governor Rauf Aregbesola. Oduduwa is believed to be the progenitor of the Yoruba race imbued with awesome powers. But Tinubu is none of the above yet. Although he is no doubt a courageous patriot, multi-millionaire, lover of the masses and a cheerful giver who combines the above traits with cerebral acuity, he is still far from the above-named great minds who were more or less avatars of their times.
It is not that he has not tried to measure up to them. At the beginning of his political career, he tried to be like an Awolowo or a Ghandi in his sartorial choice and pair of eyeglasses. He embraced Awo’s socialist philosophy of progressive egalitarianism, identifying free education and free health in particular as means of attaining human progress.
But he and his party seem to have deviated, albeit slightly from Awo’s path, party organisation and popular leadership. Odia Ofeimun was trying to make this point in his contribution to Asiwaju: The Untold Story of the Leader, a publication by The News magazine. Ofeimun, a former private secretary to Awolowo in the early 1970s, had rightly noted that Awolowo had “what management people call ‘idiosyncrasy credit’. He had done so many great things in the past that wherever you mentioned his name, people deferred to him, so that even people who would not have followed his way of doing things, did.”
In the case of Tinubu, he noted, “You know that these political parties were literally created overnight. And the next day, they were governors. There was hardly time to build party spirit. The effort they all made to build the party was wonderful. But frankly, it was thoroughly out of sync with the way it used to be organised in these parts.” According to him, “You will expect for instance that a party that considers itself close to and benefits a lot from Awolowo’s legacy to have a clear position on all those policies that made Awolowo tick.”
Ofeimun recalled Tinubu talking about putting every child in school, giving him mid-day meals and uniform, observing that, “these were certainly the kinds of things you would have expected as carry-over from the Lateef Jakande days in Lagos State.” And he declared almost with a veiled threat that, “until all the governments of ACN are prepared to make education thoroughly free and run the risk of getting broke in the process, they are not doing the right thing. Manpower development is the thing of the future in this part of the world.”
I have quoted Ofeimun extensively to show that Tinubu and his party still have several miles to go to be an Awolowo or represent what the late sage stood for. Unlike Awolowo and his parties, Action Group, AG, and Unity Party of Nigeria, UPN, Tinubu and his ACN are not masses-driven, programme or ideology-driven and thus lack emotional and intellectual content to attract the people to it. Tinubu’s followers are therefore mere beneficiaries of some largesse from a large-hearted godfather or a political Father Christmas at best. This is why his party, the ACN, like all other political parties in Nigeria harbours all kinds of characters looking for daily meals and opportunities for financial and political relevance. As soon as these lollipops stop popping again, they switch camp looking for greener pastures elsewhere.
For now, Tinubu looks good as Asiwaju of ACN; he is not yet an Asiwaju for the entire Yoruba race or geo-political South-west because he needs to do more to acquire this toga. He is simply a bat yet to perch in the courtyard of the masses; he a renowned politician trying to fulfill his destiny on this terra firma.
This does not mean, however, that he cannot aspire to be the Asiwaju of Yoruba or leader of the South-west. At the rate he is going, he can yet be if he applies himself properly, correct his political and managerial/personal deficiencies and grow an ideologically focused political party whose leadership will not necessarily have to collect tolls or taxes on behalf of the state to survive or hijack appointments and distribute same in an undemocratic manner or on the basis of the size of a candidate’s moneybag. If an Awolowo had done it that way, successful governors in the Second Republic like Lateef Jakande of Lagos State, Olabisi Onabanjo of Ogun State, Adekunle Ajasin of the larger Ondo State, Bola Ige and Ambrose Alli of the larger Oyo and the defunct Bendel states respectively would not have made their marks on the nation’s political landscape because they were picked on merit and by democratic means, not by the size of their pockets.
There is no doubt that Tinubu has the Midas touch and a demonstrable ability to choose able successors in the public sector, but he needs to be more democratic and inculcate in his choices the virtues of not only increasing Internally Generated Revenue, but doing so in such a way that the burden of governance on the masses particularly in the areas of education and health is reduced considerably. This is my birthday wish for this BAT called Asiwaju.