Tinubu: Between desperation and degeneration, By Paul Nwabuikwu

Ordinarily, the recent visit of APC presidential candidate, Bola Ahmed Tinubu to the outgoing incumbent, President Muhammadu Buhari at the Presidential Villa in Abuja was an opportunity for the ruling party to show a united front in the thick of a tough campaign and to demonstrate that it is confident of victory despite the efforts of determined rivals.


With the PDP candidate, former vice president Atiku Abubakar gathering momentum in the vote-rich North East and North West, and the disruptive campaign of Labour Party’s Peter Obi dominating social media and the opinion polls showing no signs of abating, it was critical for APC to show that it is still the powerful landlord of Nigerian politics and that its awful record would not stop its victory.


But, of course, that didn’t happen.


The anxious expressions of Tinubu and the three governors who accompanied the former Lagos governor on the visit – Aminu Masari of Katsina, Abubakar Bagudu of Kebbi and Babagana Zulum of Borno told the story. A robust discussion of strategies for impending victory was not on the agenda of the meeting. Rather, according to multiple reports, the trip was a “face saving” one by Tinubu to apologize to Buhari for comments he made at a rally which have been widely interpreted as a direct attack of the president for approving the implementation of a major government policy: the ongoing currency redesign and change of the Naira. Though Tinubu’s team has strenuously denied that interpretation, Tinubu’s quoted comments strongly indicate that the popular reading of the words is quite valid.


His precise words were: “Hide the petrol, hide the naira, we will still vote! We will win… Even if you change the ink on naira notes, what you want will not happen. We will win.”


There are two clear conclusions from the statement. First, as already indicated, Tinubu blames the Central Bank for conceptualizing and executing the currency change project and Buhari for approving the idea and defending it despite strident public criticism of its poor implementation. The CBN’s failure to make enough of the new notes available within its own short deadline made its insistence on maintaining the deadline very unpopular. Second, Tinubu believes that the project is targeted at him specifically to stop him from winning next month’s polls.


The second point is intriguing. The only explanation for Tinubu’s passion on the subject is that the currency change is a direct obstacle to his campaign strategy to massively deploy money especially among the rural and urban poor in the critical final stages of the campaign. There is, of course, nothing new about using money to change hearts and minds in order to influence election results in Nigeria. In our democracy, elections and money are conjoined twins with no hope of separation for the foreseeable future because the blood, vital organs, arteries and veins of the two are too intricately intermingled. Perhaps this phenomenon is best captured in pidgin English: “elections and moni for Nigria na five and six”.


Still, Tinubu’s outburst is significant. No other major presidential candidate in our recent history has gone public with his dissatisfaction because his plans to engage in election malpractice are being frustrated. It is not the kind of thing that you spill while addressing your supporters – real or purchased – at a public event during a campaign. Even Mafia dons and drug barons are not in the habit of announcing their bloody secrets to neighbours and passersby. As Oscar Wilde said: “hypocrisy is the compliment that vice pays to virtue”. Human beings tend to keep silent about certain evil desires or actions because they know that the said desires and actions are, well, wrong.


The logical question then is: why did Tinubu engage in the kind of honesty usually associated with Catholics in the private and confidential confines of the confession booth? So why didn’t he, an experienced veteran of many political wars who should know better, hold back?


To answer that question, let’s start with what we already know: win or lose, Tinubu has already made history as the most incoherent and physically fragile presidential candidate in Nigeria’s history.


Despite the efforts of his handlers to explain away or distract from his antics on the stump, it is clear that Tinubu is going through a horrendous process of physical and mental degeneration that is affecting his limbs and tongue simultaneously. The man is in very poor physical and mental shape. All the signs of an old man losing his faculties are fully on display. The hoarse, shaky voice that trails off suddenly. The failure to hold on to a thread of thought in mid-sentence. The search for even the most elementary, mundane words. Perhaps most ominous is Tinubu’s sudden talent for spouting strange, indecipherable words for apparently no reason. Balablu is the most famous but the worrisome list is growing.


And the efforts to hide the embarrassment are becoming more desperate. On two recent occasions – after the Chatham House fiasco during which he shared questions to members of his delegation rather than answer them and a campaign stop in Kano – Tinubu declared a preference for dancing rather than talking and proceeded to entertain with some funky steps that recalled the Lagos boy of his youth Hopefully the muscles for swaying and prancing will prove more durable than those responsible for comprehension and speech.


Bottom line: it is no surprise, given his challenges, that Tinubu doesn’t always appreciate the difference between conspiratorial conversations with associates and campaign speeches.


The second challenge Tinubu is grappling are fundamental to his ticket. There is no escaping the reality that APC’s performance since 2015, to put it diplomatically, has been awful. And Nigerians are still experiencing the impact in real time. Poverty, high inflation, insecurity, spiraling debt, mass migration and brain drain are not easy to dismiss. And to worsen matters, the party’s single faith ticket after eight years of serial mismanagement of the country’s diversity is making matters even worse for Tinubu. A divisive ticket demands a divisive strategy and so the focus has been more on exploiting all available fault lines – ethnic, religious, regional – because there is little else to work it. Apart from money, of course. Tinubu’s rage at losing the key “bullion van advantage” in the midst of few and disappearing options can better be understood in this regard.


At the human level, it is sad to see Tinubu, arguably Nigeria’s most formidable political godfather ever, going through what should be a private ordeal associated with age and ill health in public. But the sadness is also mixed with anger and impatience. What kind of ambition, cynicism and inordinate pride would convince the man – and those egging him on – to embark on this unholy quest to force a sick and rickety president on a country facing serious, possibly existential problems?


Nwabuikwu is a member of THISDAY Editorial Board


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