December 15, 2022

Tinubu’s Chatham House farce and attack on free press

Bola Tinubu

By Olu Fasan

ABOUT two months ago, I received a call from a loyalist of Bola Tinubu, presidential candidate of All Progressives Congress, APC. The caller, an old acquaintance, asked if I could advise on how Tinubu could secure a meeting with the new British monarch, King Charles III. I was flabbergasted, stunned!

Okay, I was a UK Government adviser but advising on how a foreign politician could meet the monarch was well above my paygrade. Besides, was he not reading my columns? Did he not know I believed, still believe, a Tinubu presidency would be monumentally disastrous for Nigeria? 

“That’s not the point,” he said dismissively. “Please, tell me if you know how Asiwaju can meet King Charles.” He sounded as if he badly needed an answer that he could pass on to someone. I told him the King would never interfere in the internal politics of a foreign country by meeting any presidential candidate in an election season. “What about the Prime Minister?” he asked, refusing to give up. I sighed in annoyance. 

The encounter showed Tinubu’s eagerness to meet foreign leaders and act as president-in-waiting. Indeed, he’s already acting as if he’s one. He refuses to engage with critical audiences in Nigeria, rejects live TV interviews, rebuffs media-organised Town Hall events and even declines personally to sign the peace accord. Yet, Tinubu wants to attend international events and meet foreign leaders.

I wasn’t surprised when I heard he was giving a lecture at Chatham House, the renowned, London-based international affairs think-tank. But, despite the hype, Tinubu’s presence at Chatham House last week, on December 5, was a damp squib, indeed a farce; it wasn’t “superlative, fantastic, invigorating, inviting, riveting, arresting”, as Dele Alake, an overzealous Tinubu aide, gushingly described it on Channels Television!

First, Tinubu didn’t address the “international community”; he addressed APC supporters. The packed room of about 200 people had fewer than seven white faces, many journalists from media outlets like Arise News, African Confidential and Agence France-Presse; others, employees of Chatham House, including Alex Vines, Director, Africa Programme, who moderated the event. 

For a lecture titled “Nigeria’s 2023 elections: Security, economy and foreign policy perspectives”, and promoted by Chatham House, it was distinctly an audience of APC hyper-partisans. This was worsened by the theatrical and indecorous shouting of “Jagaban” and singing of “Bola, on your mandate we shall stand”, prompting the moderator’s repeated admonishment: “Please, please, can we sit down?” 

Truth is, it’s utterly shameful that Tinubu took a large entourage, including sitting and former governors, to London, wasting scarce foreign exchange, just to talk to his supporters, when he refuses to engage with Nigerians at home, and dance “Buga” afterwards in a restaurant.  

The event itself? Well, Tinubu gave a passable speech, speaking to an autocue. After the speech, the moderator said: “We should have some proper conversation now, including some questions.” Customarily, after a speech, speakers field questions themselves. But Tinubu said he wanted to demonstrate “team-ship” and off-shored questions to his acolytes: “The first question to Dele Alake; the second to Nasiru el-Rufai; the third to Ben Ayade …”

In one of many embarrassing moments, Tinubu assigned a question on “diaspora voting” to Wale Edun. In a flash, former Governor Kayode Fayemi jumped up to raise an objection. He said the question should be directed to the INEC Chairman, Professor Mahmood Yakubu, who would speak at Chatham House in January. Puzzled by Fayemi’s intervention, Tinubu muttered: “But, but …” It was an utter demonstration of poor judgement. 

Of course, a president could ask ministers to answer questions about their ministries at public events. But it’s presumptuous, even disrespectful to the audience, for a presidential candidate to dole out questions about his plans for government to subordinates instead of answering them.  

Now, talking of contracting out questions to acolytes brings us to Tinubu’s use of surrogates to fight dirty. First, there are Festus Keyamo and Femi Fani-Kayode, who act aggressively as Tinubu’s character witnesses but lack credibility because of their past damaging words and actions against him. They are character witnesses without character. In courts, their character evidence would be inadmissible. Their motives are impure!

Then, there’s the duo of Bayo Onanuga and Dele Alake. They’re supposedly journalists for several decades, who supposedly fought for press freedom under military dictatorships. But now they’re muzzling the media to help Tinubu actualise his “lifelong ambition” to become president, self-interestedly seen as their route to advancement. For them, the end justifies the dirty means!

I align myself with the bold statement of the Board of Editors of ThisDay and Arise News, titled “Tinubu and THISDAY/ARISE Media Group and the attack on free speech” (ThisDay, December 12, 2022), which rightly called out Onanuga and Alake for “attempting to silence independent media, cower and bully free press, ahead of the 2023 general elections.” 

But why? Well, because Tinubu hates media scrutiny of his past. He wants to rule Nigeria and control the destinies of over 200 million people, but he doesn’t want Nigerians to know his true age, educational qualifications, origins, source of wealth, etc. When he provides “answers”, they can’t bear scrutiny. Take his identity, Tinubu said: “I’m not claiming another father. I’m Tinubu proper.” 

Yet, in a recent interview on Alaroye TV, Senator Kofoworola Bucknor-Akerele, Tinubu’s deputy-governor for four years, said: “We all know that Tinubu is not Lagosian. He’s from Iragbiji. His name is not Tinubu. He adopted the name.” This week, on Arise News, Chief Bode George said: “I know for real that Bola is not Lagosian. You can quote me.”

This raises critical questions about Tinubu’s real identity. If he’s “Tinubu proper”, why was a child of the famous Tinubu family so poor he couldn’t attend primary and secondary schools, as he now claims. And who would buy his story that he’s now a multi-billionaire through “real estate”?

Tinubu plumbed the depths with his Chatham House absurdity and attack on free press. But he can’t mute himself, or bully his way, to Nigeria’s presidency. He must come clean about his past!