An article like this necessarily must commence with a caveat. There is a usual angst when it comes to writing about public figures, and especially when these figures are politicians who are caught in the eye of the storm. If there is any political figure whose reputation has always hung in the balance, it is Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu. There is therefore the likely expectation that one would be expected to toe the line of the regular Tinubu-bashing that has become the pastime of political commentators in Nigeria. My commentary will be more reclamatory than condemnatory. The leadership problematic in Nigeria requires that we pay adequate attention to rescuing what is given to us in terms of leaders and those who can be forced to achieve what is needed for the task of nation building. And all this becomes imperative despite their human frailty.
Tinubu’s significance straddles not only Yoruba affairs but also the postcolonial fate of Nigeria. He began as an activist-politician whose democratic audacity, together with the tenacious agitation of NADECO, caught the attention and hearts of Nigerians at the height of the aborted June 12 democratic saga in Nigeria. The significance of June 12, in my reckoning, goes beyond the truncation of the electoral victory of Chief Moshood Kashimawo Abiola. On the contrary, and like almost every political issue in Nigeria, it goes to the very heart of Nigerian national integration which lies at the heart of the national project. It was a crisis that almost consumed the soul of Nigeria. Its reverberation is still at the heart of party politics in Nigeria and the diversity of the political anomalies that ails us. It stands to reason therefore that those who fought the war of liberation, as it were, deserves a trajectory analysis that attempts to cumulate their contribution to the larger issue of the salvaging of the Nigerian nation.
Tinubu is no hero. On the contrary, he is a politician who cannot be understood within the regular understanding of politicking in Nigeria. I concede that he is a master of political gambit which is required if anyone ever hopes to survive the complex minefields of political intrigues that characterize Nigeria’s realpolitik. But it seems to me that calling Tinubu a political realist is the most consummate compliment one can ever hope to give him. And this is all the more so within the context of the complex relationship that links the governance of the Yoruba with the future of Nigeria. Whether we like it or not, the existence of the Yoruba nation, as well as any other nation within the Nigerian plural context of nationhood, is significant for the survival of Nigeria as we want it to be. If this is correct, then it stands to reason that we need a concept of leadership that has the capacity to hold Nigeria together in its plurality.
Asiwaju Tinubu is one leader out of many who has been involved in the turbulence of making Nigeria work. He is unique not only because, like other politicians, he is concerned with the dynamics of power and power play. On the contrary, Tinubu’s political gambit is usually tied in with the political fate of the Southwest within the overall development of Nigeria. Let us begin with the successful governance story of Lagos State. I suspect that any attempt at narrating the turning point of the governance story that transformed Lagos would have to factor the Tinubu governorship years into the Lagos governance history. But that is not imaginative in the sense that the development dynamics of Nigeria in itself requires sustainability if any governance creativity of one governor is to have any positive and continuing effects on the lives of the citizens of any state. Thus, Tinubu did not just end his tenure as governor and then retired to savour his wealth and goodwill. His political gambit was to further that legacy of good governance through a calculated political engineering that brought in Babatunde Raji Fashola, and then recently Governor Akinwunmi Ambode. If godfathers exist to perpetuate good governance, then I am for Tinubu as a godfather. Lagos State therefore play host to a significant governance story which I have argued should be replicated throughout the Southwest as a critical response to the challenges of restructuring and anomalous fiscal federalism in Nigeria.
However, the Tinubu factor in politics is not just a Southwest brand alone. It is to his credit that a credible opposition could be mustered to dislodge a sit-tight political party with a slogan of ruling Nigeria for many years rather than empowering millions of poverty-stricken Nigerians who voted the party into power. Does this political clout for ideological politics in the midst of a pandemic of insane self-aggrandizement count for anything when considering the future of Nigeria? I have always been a student of leadership dynamics not only within the organizational framework or as a managerial necessity. Chinua Achebe’s lamentation about the absence of leadership in Nigeria strikes a deep core in me. Leadership is the most cogent factor in any reform effort either at the organisational or national level. However, the search for this reform factor must be as realistic as the context within which the search is taking place. It will be an irresponsible expectation to think that Nigeria can ever throw up a saint or savior without sin who will take us to the Promise Land.
The fundamental question for me is: What can be done with or gained from Tinubu’s political capital as a significant dynamics come 2019? The type of political capital Nigeria requires for a significant national reform is definitely not one that deploys charisma for the purpose of dumb electoral victory. On the contrary, there is the need for an ideological arrowhead that could serve as the rallying point for a progressive recalibration of politics around which we can redefine democratic governance in Nigeria. With his Lagos governance success, Asiwaju Tinubu displays many political virtues that (a) speaks to the fact that he is his own person; and (b) ideology matters in good governance.
A leader that moves with the tides of political maneuvers is definitely one without a backbone required to move ideas to practice. I see this clearly in Chief Olusegun Obasanjo’s political character. Yet he became a toast of not only the Southwest but of the North. Tinubu himself is far from a politician that is subject to the self-interested will of others. And leadership, for me, is first and foremost, self-evident will power. More significantly, leadership requires an ideological fuel that ought to become the source of ideas and ideals that can motivate policy conceptions and implementations.
Nigeria’s present season of anomie and the manifestation of obscene corruption reveal that ideology dies within the dense atmosphere of political greed. Is it possible to extricate Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu from the rubric of corrupt politicking? That is a question we must wait for time and chance to reveal. But it seems to me that there is more to the Tinubu factor than achieving a grim certainty that he is a corrupt politician. Of more interest is the need to delimit a sphere of progressive politics in Nigeria—the kind of thinking that led to the evolution of Alliance for Democracy and later the APC—that will accommodate all democratic and patriotic minded politicians and patriots around the possibility of making Nigeria a democratically viable and developed country. Thus, can Nigerians see the forest for the trees? Is it not time for us to commence reclamation of those who possess the political wherewithal to lead a silent revolution of leadership in Nigeria? Can Tinubu’s ethnic commitment be excavated into a national development dynamic? In what sense can politicians and national figures like Tinubu and OBJ become the central discursive point in a leadership theory in Nigeria which speaks to a pragmatic understanding of politics as determined by flawed characters?
With Tinubu, we have an opportunity to commence an articulation of a Nigerian leadership theory that commences from where Nigeria is at the moment and then moves on to what possible progress we can achieve with what we have in terms of people and capitals. “Leadership,” Robin Sharma tells us, “is not about a title or a designation. It’s about impact, influence and inspiration. Impact involves getting results, influence is about spreading the passion you have for your work…” If we can get beyond the present disillusionment we now have with the crop of politicians who raid our votes and destroy the commonwealth, we may actually begin to find a means of rethinking a framework of political leadership which, however flawed it may be, provides the most available juncture from which we can move forward as a nation. Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, I argue, provides a good starting point in that reflection.
Dr. Olaopa is executive vice chairman, Ibadan School of Government & Public Policy (ISGPP).