I was at the Alausa Governor’s Office in Lagos. Accessing the governor was like seeking a needle in a haystack. His Press Secretary had sent word up that an irritant interloper had come to ferret a response to a news magazine’s damming exposé on the governor. After hours of waiting, a commissioner (name withheld) sauntered in and met me where I sat immovably like Mount Kilimanjaro. “You can’t write that story,” he began in a steely voice laced with a veiled threat. “Go back to Ibadan. We will talk to your boss.” That was how the story never saw the light of the day.
The Nigerian Tribune, of which I was the Features Editor during this period, had sent me in pursuit of the facts or fiction surrounding the news magazine’s report. The principal of that ancient school, Government College Ibadan (GCI), had suddenly gone AWOL then, becoming as incommunicado and inaccessible as the proverbial excrement of the masquerade. Through the grapevine, there was an allegation that Alhaji Lam Adesina, the governor of Oyo State at the time, had ordered that all data of the school’s attendees during the period of Governor Bola Tinubu’s supposed attendance of GCI be brought to him in the Government House, where they were then placed under lock and key. The media that were seeking the corroboration or converse of those claims, went after the Principal of GCI. He had disappeared into thin air. Perhaps, a one-on-one interview with the governor would do?
In 1999, one Dr Waliu Balogun wrote a petition against Tinubu, leveling a number of damning allegations that bordered on fraudulent claims of educational attainments. Among other things, he accused Tinubu of lying in an affidavit attached to his Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) form that he lost his degree certificates while he was on exile between 1994 and 1998. The news magazine later published those details in a gripping exposé which left sour tastes in the mouth.
One after the other, all of Tinubu’s claims, sworn to under oath in the Form CF001 he filled with INEC, were shredded to smithereens by the magazine’s story. St. Paul’s School, Aroloya, Lagos, which he claimed to have attended, was found never to have existed, in the investigative reporting of the magazine, just as his name was conspicuously missing from the records of the Government College, Ibadan, which he claimed to have attended between 1965 and 1968. Indeed, GCI’s alumni association, the Old Boys of the school, debunked the claim of having him as a member. So also was Tinubu’s claim to have attended Richard Daley College, Chicago, between 1969 and 1971. Punctured also were the governor’s claims of being a student of the University of Chicago in the U.S. between 1972 and 1976, as well as obtaining a B.Sc degree in Economics from the university. A request to those institutions for affirmation of Tinubu’s studentship by the magazine came up with a resounding ‘No.’ Till date, in spite of his having vanquished the legal principalities spearheaded by Chief Gani Fawehinmi (SAN), with the Supreme Court voiding Fawehinmi on technical grounds, none of Tinubu’s classmates, schoolmates or even teachers, has come out in public to counter the facts of the legal behemoth erected against him.
Four years later, in 2003, it was time for Tinubu to fill the Form CF001 again, in pursuit of his second term bid. His enemies who were waiting for him to make those claims again were dazed when they saw what the governor filled. In all the columns, the gentleman simply filled NOT APPLICABLE – Primary School: Not Applicable; Secondary School: Not Applicable and; University: Not Applicable! Could that have meant that the man never attended any school?
Tinubu was not alone. Rife as expectations were from the new-found Nigerian republic in 1999, like alligators, renowned for the incredible nasal power of smelling a drop of blood, even in ten gallons of water, Nigerians smelt crises in the cache of scandals that involved newly elected office holders of the republic. Less than three months after commencement of the Fourth Republic, Nigeria began to manifest noticeable cracks. It took political scientists and students of Marxian dialectics to allay our fears and tell us that those cracks were curative, self-correcting and akin to the Marxist postulation of thesis and antithesis which, when they jam, produce a synthesis.
In a quick succession of messy, damming scandals, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Salisu Buhari; Senate President, Evan(s) Enwerem and Bola Tinubu got entangled in seismic, roiling scandals of identity misappropriation, subversion of their oaths of office and perversion of truth. While the earlier two were swept away by the typhoon of the crises, Tinubu not only survived the ignominy, to spite the allegations, he is today one of the top three most consequential and powerful Nigerians alive, and a presidential office aspirant to boot.
Salisu Buhari, the affable and young Speaker of the lower parliament had just then been unraveled by the media as an age inflator and certificate forger. Hitherto a Kano-based businessman, Buhari had made an entry into politics, but barely two weeks after being sworn into office, the now rested news magazine, TheNews, in its February 16, 1999 edition, published details of his age and certificate forgery. The magazine wrote that he was actually born in 1970 and not in 1963 as he had claimed.
Again, TheNews put a lie to Buhari’s claim of having graduated from the University of Toronto, stating that he not only did attend the school, the mandatory youth service he claimed to have undergone at Standard Construction in Kano was equally fiction. On July 23, 1999, like a rain-soaked squirrel, Buhari was contrite, disgraced and admitted all the allegations. “I apologise to you. I apologise to the nation. I apologise to my family and friends for all the distress I have caused them. I was misled in error by a zeal to serve the nation. I hope the nation will forgive me and give me the opportunity to serve again,” he murmured as he resigned from the House. He was subsequently convicted of certificate forgery, sentenced to two years in prison but was pardoned by President Olusegun Obasanjo.
Senate President, Evan Enwerem, was to kiss the canvass a little while after. In the race for the Senate presidency, he had sidestepped his closest sprinter rival, Chuba Okadigbo, for the office by 66 to 43 votes. Shortly after his ascension in 1999, Enwerem was shoved into the sieve, and scrutinised on the allegation of an identity opacity. He was held up on the fire-spitting wire gauze for the falsification of his name. A ball-fire of controversy erupted on whether Enwerem’s real name was Evan or Evans. In the melee, on November 18, 1999, his ouster, spearheaded by Okadigbo and his allies, became a fait accompli.
Between his consequential emergence on the political turf of Nigeria in 1999 and now, only an armchair, analytical yokel will underrate or belittle Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s awesome and colonising genius in Nigerian politics. He became so consequential that some translucent analyses compare him to the sage, Obafemi Awolowo. It appears that immediately he got away from the drowning tidal waves of that identity theft legal tango and the lacerating fisticuffs of his numerous political adversaries, Tinubu tightened his muscles on the political levers of Lagos, a State which had always been the microcosm of Nigeria since it became the federal capital of independent Nigeria in 1960. He saw how the almighty power of the media, like a mammoth whale, almost succeeded in capsizing his ship of state and political career.
Rising from the ashes of the crises, Tinubu encircled his claw-like fists on the media, meandering himself into its total corpus and essentialising himself in its operations. While English crime thriller writer, René Lodge Brabazon Raymond, popularly known as James Hadley Chase, says that fear opens the wallets of the rich, Tinubu’s street chemistry, which he deploys, says that licit and illicit favours, prebends and perks, imprison consciences and arrest captives faster than the glue gum traps mice. Unconscionably, Tinubu waves these aces with the magisterial clinicality of a professional executioner, succeeding in the process in harvesting a huge cache of political, media, government, judicial, corporate, etcetera clienteles inside his massive pouch.
The truth is that since 1960, seldom has Nigeria had a political aficionado who has deployed the genius of the streets in the service of politics, as Bola Tinubu has done. Scarcely can anybody have the mis/fortune of encountering him without becoming a captive of his cash influence. Someone once said that even the god of Mammon would be envious of Tinubu’s sagacity in deploying its essence as a weapon.
Within the span of his Lagos governorship of eight years, from someone who those who knew him said was passably well-to-do, Tinubu grew a monstrous wealth, such that a 2015 back page opinion piece in The Sun newspaper claimed he owned almost half of Lagos and urged Buhari to clone the Vladimir Putin method with which the Russian president neutralised drug czars who funded his presidential emergence. Within this period, Tinubu also acquired a humongous political influence within Lagos and outside, that could rank aside those of the Pharaohs and emperors of old. In 2007, an ex-governor, who witnessed the miasma of power flakes encircling him as he arrived the Lagos airport, jealously told me that it was godlike.
Superficial analyses of Tinubu claim that his vice-hold grip on Lagos can be found in his ability to “build” and plant people in state and national offices, while sustaining a linear pattern of succession. This, such analysts claim, reflects his sagacity. Those who know the modus operandi of this power retention system however put a lie to it. To them, deep beneath it is an opaque, yet fastidiously maintained and pervasively sustained system of mega corruption and the perpetuation of self hegemony, through a carefully mastered mind-coercion, which is promoted by a cultic abidance to an oath of allegiance.
Those who see Tinubu’s strength in his fluid recruitment of aides, should also be able to answer why he suffers the huge casualty of his investment in such persons? Could it be that he uses them as indentured viceroys? Or that the rebellion we see from them is an attempt to set themselves free of his hold? From Babatunde Fashola, Muiz Banire, Akinwumi Ambode to Rauf Aregbesola, and many others, there must be a single thread that unifies Tinubu’s foot soldiers’ rebellion against him. Unfortunately for Tinubu, this same set of soldiers, knowing the secrets of the sustenance of their power machine, are today against his emergence as Nigeria’s president and will willingly supply the fire that will incinerate his ambition. In Yorubaland today, apart from Lagos and Osun States, which APC governor can Tinubu claim to be under him?
If nothing else, the controversy provoked by Chief Bisi Akande’s My Participations unraveled the mythic notion that Tinubu promotes his aides to the top for the love of country. Back and forth arguments, especially about Vice President Yemi Osinbajo’s nomination in 2015, revealed that not only is the Lagos landlord obsessed with the self alone, the ascension of others in his loop is secondary and subordinated to the personal interest. The world saw that Tinubu grudgingly acceded to Osinbajo’s candidacy, only when his personal interest hit the rocks.
Last week, however, Bola Tinubu paid a visit to President Buhari, a few hours after the latter granted an incoherent interview where he claimed that if he named his successor, the fellow could be assassinated. A content analysis of the president’s statement must have revealed to Tinubu that he could never have been the one Buhari was referring to. Tinubu must know that Buhari knows that a plan to murder Death would be easier done than assassinating Nigeria’s Mafia don, the Capo dei capi himself.
The most mis-recommending criterion against a Tinubu presidency is that, in mental depth, the Lagos Landlord is just a whiff higher than Muhammadu Buhari. Remove the cockney accent he feebly mimics, you will find out that most times, his extempore speeches lack coherence, logic and verve.
Counter-arguments have been proffered against the school of thought that says Tinubu’s ultra-stupendous wealth should recommend him against vying for the Nigerian presidency. You will recollect that the military apparatchik argued along this line against an MKO Abiola presidency. Abiola, they said, was as wealthy as to grant Nigeria loans. Weak as the argument was, it is strong in Tinubu’s disfavour, for its moral and deleterious implications. While the world knew that Abiola’s wealth was procured from international dealings, especially in ITT, Tinubu is said to own a pie in virtually every sector of the Nigerian economy, ranging from oil, steel, finance (tax), airline, real estate, to the media, and you name it. These are all operated in names of shells and proxies. In all these, as the Americans say, we can see the bucks but not the shop. What morality will Nigeria be preaching by having a president of such opaque composition and disposition?
Either real or imagined, it is said that the only thing that is real about Tinubu is his person and that every other ascription on him is a borrowed robe. He has not come in the open to effectively disclaim the allegation that his name is not his name; that the parents he claimed were not his; that the certificates he claimed to be his are not and that the schools he claimed to have attended, didn’t know him. I don’t know a baggage bigger than this for a country like Nigeria that is struggling to sell herself to the world, to now have its president burdened by this pernicious pedigree.
With the calamity that the Buhari presidency has posed to Nigeria, it will be more calamitous to have a Tinubu as his successor. Governing Nigeria is not all about identifying surrogates who will man critical political offices for future political gains. Nigeria needs a cerebral, healthy, comparatively morally overboard president, a man – borrowing from Oscar Wilde’s description of his gay partner friend, Sir Alfred Douglas in De Profundis – who is not a man for whom the gutter and all that is in it fascinates.
One would have expected Tinubu to heed the counsel of Apala music icon, Ayinla Omowura. Omowura must have had in mind leaders who are heavy-laden, burdened by baggage of their past, when he counseled that, as all shrubs and leaves in the forest should not be the predilection of a herbalist seeking curative herbs; not all palm trees in the forest should excite the palm-wine tapper either. In Yoruba, he expressed this as, “gbogbo ewe ko l’ojawe nja; gbogbo ope ko l’onigba ngun.” Sagacious leaders who carry stupendous moral baggage of the Tinubu hue should know the forests they ought to venture into.
The forests of presidential contest that the Lagos Landlord is about to venture into is what same Omowura, in his vinyl, referred to as “igbo odaju” – the forest of the heartless, the hard carapace-hearted hunters. At least not anyone who does not have the benefit of a real mother – a real mother’s prayers are like magic, steeped in mystical and metaphysical powers. Anyone, said Omowura, who does not have a real mother who can provide the protection of witchcraft for them, should not venture into igbo odaju. Never! Abraham Lincoln, father of the American nation, also alluded to this when he said, “I remember my mother’s prayers and they have always followed me. They have clung to me all my life.”
Some Yoruba lament what they call the predilection of the Yoruba for pulling themselves down. This piece would be their perfect example. It is thinking like this that has condemned Nigeria to stagnation. The truth is, the Yoruba are very proud of their pedigree and wear it like a lapel on their sleeves. So how can the same Yoruba who have preached moral uprightness to the rest of the world for centuries, now queue behind a man who cannot point his right hand at his father’s homestead? Let the rest of Nigeria be rotten eggs. The Yoruba will still underscore the societal purity. It should gladden us that the Yoruba are the ones revealing the maggots in their home so that when they expose the maggots in others, they will occupy a higher moral ground. It is better for the Yoruba not to lift a presidential leg forward than lift one that is riddled with a festering and putrid sore. In any case, what Nigeria needs is a president that is a leader who is not crippled by ill health and is adequately schooled in the nuances of 21st century solutions to our self-inflicted, existential challenges.
Since independence in 1960, six ‘major’ Yoruba sons have attempted a shot at Nigeria’s civilian presidency (excluding fringe aspirants of Babangida’s political guinea-pig era). They are Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Alhaji Lateef Jakande, Chiefs Abiola, Bola Ige, Olu Falae and Olusegun Obasanjo. If Tinubu carries through his recent declaration, he will be joining this pantheon. Of this lot, Tinubu would be the only one whose pedigree is shrouded in a miasma of dubiety.
Yoruba will totally support Tinubu in his presidency dream if he agrees to fill in the INEC forms all those claims he made of his roots in 1999. He must fill in the 2023 Form CF001 St. Paul’s School, Aroloya, Lagos, as his primary school; Government College, Ibadan; Richard Daley College, Chicago and the University of Chicago as his alma maters, without Senator Tokunbo Afikuyomi swearing on oath that he filled them for him by proxy.
Festus Adedayo is an Ibadan-based journalist.