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May 19, 2024

Tinubu’s Nigeria is a potboiler, by Obi Nwakanma

Tinubu’s Nigeria is a potboiler, by Obi Nwakanma

Obi Nwakanma

Nigerians are a hardy lot. That is what everyone says: Nigerians survive everything with humour. They laugh even at their own death. They turn everything into a huge joke. Life is a huge joke in Nigeria. But increasingly, a lot more Nigerians are not finding this funny any longer. Laughter is no longer the best medicine. Why? Because for most Nigerians now, more so than in the past, their eyes can now see their ears! Nigeria is a magical place. How does the Nigerian without income survive from year to year? By what means? How in fact does the average worker, still paid the minimum wage of N35, 000 manage to survive with a salary that cannot buy a bag of rice? 

 To think too much about the situation of the Nigerian does give one a massive headache. The Nigerian lives in a confusing and inexplicable environment. The situation is tough. The entire mood of the nation is tragic and irremediable. But the worse is that it does not quite feel like the Nigerian administration under Mr. Tinubu has a clear sense of what to do to retrieve Nigeria from the morass of the last ten years, starting with that made-in-Nigeria disaster called Buhari. 

Once upon a time, Tinubu and his gang, called Goodluck Jonathan, “clueless.” They trundled out their paid pipers and beset President Jonathan, and told lies against him, insulted him roundly, mocked his wife’s unique brand of expression, and called him “clueless.” Why? Well, Jonathan was working. He was moving Nigeria in a direction that threatened the powerbase from which the likes of Tinubu operated. They had to stop him by all means necessary. 

Jonathan was humane because he was an intellectual. He understood the openness of democratic discourse. He did not use the DSS to abduct or threaten journalist. He did not frame his National Security policy to go after a region of Nigeria that opposed him, and he did not empower Ijaw or ethnic Niger Delta minorities with arms to invade the north, kidnap people, and kill and rape with the protection of the Nigerian security apparatus. Jonathan did not run an ethnic government. He sought what he saw as the best Nigerians, and he tried his level best to create a balance of inclusion in his administration. That was what every Nigerian Head of state did, in various degrees, until the arrival of the APC and the man from Daura, who was actually not just clueless but far too provincial and ignorant, to govern a complex, multi ethnic state like Nigeria. 

They called Jonathan “weak” because he governed without throwing his presidential weight around. He did not create a complex security state that frightened people into convenient compliance, or drove them from the road because of a contrived security crisis. He did not terrorize Nigerians. 

Jonathan was considerate, not weak. He tried to accommodate the interests of every part of Nigeria, and some from what was the former Eastern Region, only blame him for neglecting to invest strategically to open up the sealed economy of the Eastern Economic Corridor. By May 2015, when Jonathan handed power to Buhari’s APC, Nigeria still felt like a hopeful place. It was not perfect. But it was getting back its groove.  As a matter of fact, by 2009-2010, there was such hope in the revival of Nigeria, that many Nigerians were relocating to Nigeria from the various parts of the world where they had formed a restless and fragile diaspora. By 2020, the herd was fleeing Nigeria again, in what people now call the “Japa.” It had become an unwelcoming place. No one could travel any longer in Nigeria, North or South. Only the Fulani herdsmen who were given arms and state protection had the power to travel. Kidnapping became rife. Insecurity became an even bigger business than previous. The president, Buhari, went into seclusion. 

Sometimes he came out, only to be seen at the tarmac of the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, on his way to see his doctor in London, to get a fix of the expensive elixir paid for by the poor Nigerian, who was dying in great numbers in poorly equipped government hospitals, and a public health system so weak and disorganized that it may as well have collapsed. Well trained Nigerian doctors and nurses, and Medical Laboratory Scientists, began to leave the country in droves. But how could a National Health system survive, when the President and his ministers did not patronize it? 

The President could just fly in the presidential jet, check into an expensive suite, and get the best treatment available in a medical facility in London or Berlin or Toronto or Paris or New York. Never mind the National Security implications of that. Serious nations do not hand their political leaders to be treated by foreign doctors in foreign medical facilities. 

The possibilities of being compromised by interests inimical to the well-being of the nation is rife under that situation. A president who refuses to be treated in his own country’s best hospital facilities is not fit to be entrusted with the responsibility to govern. He is worse than a mole. The most iconic picture of the Daura Mole is not him dressed in an ill-fitting suit. That, does come close. 

But it is Buhari in the sumptuously furnished living room of the Aso Rock Villa, picking his teeth self-satisfyingly, after a sumptuous meal, at tax-payer’s expense, while millions of Nigerians who had slipped into what those who know such matters call, “multi-dimensional poverty,” under Muhammadu Buhari, gnash their teeth and suffer deathly pangs of hunger.Then comes Tinubu, flowing with Agbada. It may, or it may not be true that Bola Ahmed Tinubu is not who he claims to be.

 Nigerians distrust him. His party, the APC, stole the elections. Bola Tinubu was not properly elected as the president of Nigeria. The institutional corruption of the Nigerian state made it possible for him to buy the presidency of Nigeria. So, he is President. But he has no real base support. Nigerians do not believe him, and do not feel reassured by him. He is very close to mass national insurrection which anything can trigger, because the hunger, and the suffering in Nigeria is too much. It is multidimensional and dangerous. The gangrene of many years of poor leadership has found conjunction in the dumb policies of Bola Tinubu, and things are genuinely fluid and fragile. Many years ago, in the early 1980s, when I began to pay attention to such things, my late father used to quip, “Nigeria is not a banana republic!” Needless to say, I believed him. But even he became doubtful about whether Nigeria was a republic, banana or not, by the time he passed. Nigeria is no longer a “banana republic.” 

It has crossed that state. Nigeria is a “captured state.” The systematic corruption of the Nigerian state institutions using ethnic caste system and regulatory capture was exacerbated under Buhari, and has continued with intense frenzy under Ahmed Tinubu. In the last month, the Tinubu administration has revealed its real play. It has awarded a no bids contract to build the Lagos to Calabar Atlantic Highway to his friend and business partner, Gilbert Chagoury. The Chagourys – these Lebanese-Nigerians are fixers. I will not bother to bore Nigerians with the details of this strange, ridiculous, and brazen act of corruption. Much of these have been dealt with. I will just summarize what should be the point of our outrage: one, the contracts were awarded without bid. Two, it is contract gouging. It is the most expensive road project in the world at over $12 billion. Three, Tinubu has interests with the Chagourys, and this is a key conflict of interest situation, but finally, four, this contract is an unfunded mandate. Meaning, it has no legal approbation by the National Assembly. 

It must be why, to raise money “for infrastructural funding,” the Tinubu administration wants to raid the Nigerian Pension Fund. This is a dangerous move that will further compromise the well-being of the Nigerian citizen/worker. Then, of course, the strange cybersecurity tax on citizens deposits in Nigerian Banks. Thankfully, this came quickly under blistering criticism, forcing the Tinubu administration to quickly backtrack. In general, i is difficult to imagine how Nigerians are surviving at all, with the increases in tariffs on electricity, petrol, food, and the soaring prices of daily living in this combustible nation.  Nigeria seems, more so under the current administration of Ahmed Tinubu, like a fictional potboiler. One day, One Trouble.In spite of his promise to roll out the magic, which he said he had in his pocket,  Tinubu as president, seems eminently now at his wits end. He does not have many more moves.