By Dele Sobowale
“Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.” Lord Acton, 1834-1902.
That observation made last week, in the first part of this series had to be brought back because Jonathan will go down in history as one of our presidents; he would also be remembered as one of the weakest and most ineffectual people to ever govern a nation. Nigerians call some people “money miss road” meaning a person who came into tremendous wealth but clueless about how to manage it effectively. GEJ was “money and power miss road” rolled into one. The poorest man elected President today will retire within one year as a billionaire without stealing a kobo. For a man said to be a Ph.D holder, that simple fact should have been all he needed to want to establish a lasting positive legacy. Deep in his heart, if he has one, he must be asking himself: what is my legacy?
By contrast, Bola Tinubu is a master at deal making and he must have read widely about the acquisition and uses of power – even if those uses sometimes tended towards abuses of power. Without going into details, he sized up the old men of Afenifere, who controlled the Alliance for Democracy, AD, in 1998, and applied his basic principle of power acquisition – “every man has his price”. He seemingly gave the old men what they wanted to gain their support; became the Governor of Lagos State (the richest state in Nigeria) and proceeded to send Awolowos political descendants into oblivion. Again, it was Critias, around 404 BC, the Athenian statesman, who told us a blunt truth. “It is impossible for those who want to gain power to avoid getting rid of those people who are most likely to form the opposition.” Tinubu wanted absolute power within the progressive movement and he judged correctly that the old Awoists were going to stand in the way. So, he drew them into close embrace and knifed (politically) them. They have not recovered till today and might never.
So, the first lesson for anyone engaging in political business with Tinubu is: beware of the warm embrace and the kiss. It might be the last one you will receive on the political terrain. The man craves for control; absolute control. And, he has obtained it most of the time. No President, not even Obasanjo, was in such total control of his party as Asiwaju. He dictated who would run for office all the way to Ward level. A visit to his house at Ikoyi, when he is known to be in town was like driving into three or four parking lots all rolled into one – given the number of cars bringing people literally praying to see him. And, being admitted to his glorious presence was akin to seeing the Almighty. A positive nod from him was like winning a lottery – which for the most part it was. Fortunes were made from just one good visit.
But, almost nothing given was ever eleemosynary (don’t go and get your dictionary, I picked that fancy word meaning CHARITABLE from a seminar at Harvard in 1969). The man, unlike most of us who picked up ordinary brains on our way from Heaven, must have anticipated a world of computers. He added laptops to his own. He apparently can calculate in advance what every deal will fetch him in political power in the future.
He developed a strategy to capture the South West and Kwara. His first Chief of Staff was Alhaji Lai Mohammed, from Kwara State. He was and is still till today the only Chief of Staff of a state government not an indigene of that state. He appointed nothing less than fifty percent of his Commissioners and Special Advisers from other states. Some, went to run for Governor, Senator or House of Representatives in Oyo, Osun, Ekiti and Ondo – their states of origin. None of the winners ever appointed a Lagos State indigene as a street cleaner. He was confident that nobody would question his decisions and nobody did. But, why go on to list seriatim what absolute power can bring about? It is only important as background briefing because Bola Tinubu had promised or threatened to write his own book about the events leading to the 2015 elections as a rejoinder to Adeniyi’s book.
In Segun’s book, Asiwaju reportedly made the claim that he was denied the nomination for Vice President to Buhari on account of opposition from Senator Saraki and Governor El-Rufai of Kaduna state. Saraki and El-Rufai deserve the eternal gratitude of most right thinking Nigerians if indeed they were opposed to Tinubu’s dream of a Muslim-Muslim ticket. Candidly, Tinubu did a lot more damage to himself as a national political leader by making an admission known to some of us but which we decided to keep secret on account of his monumental contributions towards getting rid of Jonathan.
But, there is a limit to gratitude. A woman saved from one attacker does not necessarily want to submit to the advances of the rescuer. A Muslim-Muslim ticket, just as a Christian-Christian ticket in Nigeria at this stage of our development is not only politically insensitive; it demonstrates contempt for the practitioners of the other religion.
In fact, if Tinubu must know the truth, Saraki and El-Rufai were not the only people opposed to his choice as the VP. All leading Northern politicians and the entire Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN, (including those who approach him for “assistance” in the Southwest and Lagos) were opposed to it.
I was in Abuja when the decision was hanging in the balance and I sat in two parlours two days after Tinubu, Aregbesola and Muiz Banire had gone to lobby for support for his nomination as VP. Not only were the two Northern leaders opposed to it; they were receiving calls from others who were also not in support.
For reasons that I choose not to disclose, some of them were not even as strongly!
Furthermore, by raising the possibility of an all-Muslim ticket, Tinubu has finally vindicated those of us who led the struggle for a Christian Governor in Lagos State in 2015 – starting in 2011. When information first reached me that Asiwaju has penciled down four possible successors to Fashola in 2015, all Muslims, my instinctive reaction was to give him the benefit of doubt. Mainly, I argued that a Muslim man who has a Christian wife cannot be discriminatory against Christians. I asked for more information and they soon tumbled in.
The break down of known Christians and Muslims in Lagos State public service was almost equal in 1999. By the time Fashola was starting his second term, it was about sixty-five per cent Muslim and thirty five per cent Christian. The powerful position of Chief of Staff, next in power to that of the Governor, had been occupied by a Muslim for twelve years and the new fellow was poised to make it sixteen. Two Muslim Governors occupied the seat in the sixteen years, but five Christian Deputy Governors were selected and disgraced out in the same period. Tinubu approved all the appointments.
Thus when I wrote my series of columns titled LAGOS STATE GOVERNORSHIP: 2015 CHRISTIAN AGENDA, starting November 2011 and running into January 2012, there was no doubt in my mind that what we had on our hands was someone in possession of what he regarded as absolute power. The successful effort to get a Christian Governor was not without opposition but I can state without fear that Ambode would not have been Tinubu’s choice if we did not challenge him. I also know that “Good intentions don’t control power, only power does.” (Alexis de Tocquville, 1805-1859, VBQ p 197). We organized Christians into a solid powerful vote in Lagos. The rest is history.
Thank God, we have Ambode at Alausa, even if he lasts till next week. We have made our point. That leaves the issue of Professor Osinbajo’s appointment as VP to be addressed
Here again, Tinubu would be making the same mistake Jonathan made by letting people know that Professor Osinbajo was not his first choice; that he only suggested Prof after his own bid was turned down. Prof is a man of God; but still a man. Certainly, he would have been grateful to Tinubu for the honour done to him by being nominated – even as a substitute. The process should have been kept quiet. It might surprise Tinubu to know what happened when he dropped the envelope containing only Osinbajo’a name instead of three on Buhari’s table.
My advice to Jonathan and to Tinubu is: forget about writing. Some of us want to forgive both of you all the trespasses against society. But, if your erudite associates are eager to earn some change and encourage you to write, rest assured yours will not be the final words. You might even force others to write about events best forgotten. We “forget” because we appreciate most of the things you have done. Finish.