A couple of disclaimers will suffice….
(a) I am an ACN supporter. I am not yet a card carrying member of any political party in Nigeria but if I were to join one today, it would be the ACN without a doubt
(b) This is not because the ACN is a party filled with wonderfully glorious men and women without a single blemish to their name but mainly because I see in the party, a growing mass of people who subject their decisions to some form of rigorous intellectual scrutiny
(c) Uncharitable people might therefore choose to refer to me as an ‘ACN apologist’. But if it isn’t too much trouble for you, I’d much rather go by the appellation of ‘ACN sympathiser’. Read with the usual caution and seek out another account for more balance as neccesary
Once again the venue was Chatham House and the lecture was titled ‘Democracy in Nigeria and the Rebirth of Opposition’. There was also a mini ‘event’ afterwards so I will split this into 2 sections.
Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu
1. Mr Tinubu arrived around 10 minutes late but that was nothing compared to the tardiness of the invited guests. Long after Mr Tinubu had started speaking, people were still seemingly casually strolling in. Immediately he began speaking I knew there was a problem as he was reading from a prepared but lively speech. No point going through all 12 pages of the speech here so if you’d like to read it, please follow this link. I think that, given the length of the speech, time could have been saved to allow for a longer Q&A session especially as everyone was given a copy of the speech. In effect it was a ‘read-along-with-me’ speech.
2. The speech itself was peppered with the usual anti-PDP and anti-Obasanjo rhetoric. He spoke about how the ACN refused to join the ‘nebulous’ Unity Government that was touted to them by Mr Jonathan apparently. In a not so subtle dig at APGA and Labour Party who were finally spurned by Mr Jonathan when it came to the composition of his cabinet, Mr Tinubu said the ACN was ultimately vindicated in turning down the offer. I read somewhere in the last week that Mr Jonathan wrote a letter to APGA and Labour Party telling them he wont be picking their nominees for the Federal Executive Council. Better luck next time then.
3. Mr Tinubu kept repeating the meme that Nigeria’s democracy is by no means the real thing yet. He said it would be naive to celebrate the arrival of democracy based on the last April elections. We ough not to lend credence to the outward appearance of democracy any more than we should mistake the image of a person in the mirror as the real thing. He said our democracy is populated in the main by people who do everything to gain power and then once they have it have no idea what next to do with it. A metaphor, of a man who uses a ladder to reach the rooftop and once ensconced there proceeds to kick away the ladder so no one else can climb it, was invoked. He reiterated that the possibility of Nigeria becoming an artificial democracy remains a very clear and present danger.
4. He ran through the history of Nigeria’s democracy since 1999 and interestingly concluded that Nigerians owe the late Umaru Musa Yar’Adua a debt of gratitude for going a long way into dismantling the ‘Nigerian Reich’ established by Mr Obasanjo in his time as President. Strong words. He accused Mr Obasanjo of stealing more elections than he actually won culminating in 2007 where the PDP had a super majority in all things except performance. I don’t think Mr Tinubu likes Mr Obasanjo very much and indeed speaking to other ACN chieftains later, this much was apparent. He went on to describe how the ACN hired 52 finger print experts from Britain led by the late Adrian Forty and another 10 from Israel all in a bid to reclaim a mandate they believed they rightly won.
5. On more than one occasion, Mr Tinubu stated that he believes Mr Jonathan won the April Presidential election but that there is clear evidence of fraud in parts of the country. He admitted that the opposition got a lot of things wrong in the run up to the election especially in thinking that public disenchantment with the PDP was enough for them to win. He said the ACN and CPC danced together but never embraced causing a lot of their supporters to get annoyed with them over the whole ‘will-they-wont-they’ alliance. He called these things ‘grave’ mistakes which they wont be repeating in future.
6. One thing I found very interesting from the speech was when he spoke about the Sovereign Wealth Fund Bill recently passed into law. He completely rubbished the idea as another mechanism for state capture at the center and said the ACN Governors will be challenging it in court. The SWF was of course Mr Aganga’s idea and when I first read it, my first impression was that it was a very watery effort lacking in substance or any illuminating detail beyond the outline of what was perhaps a very good idea. In that regard, it will be very interesting to see how a challenge to the bill plays out in court. In such a fight, I will not underestimate the ACN in kicking this bill into touch. Mr Tinubu also rubbished the PDP’s touted economic growth rate of almost 7% per annum. How can this be, he queried, when inflation is running at around 12%? Are the PDP claiming to be growing the economy by almost 20% per annum he asked? He wrapped up by dismissing the PDP as beyond redemption due to its corrosiveness and expressed his concerns that those who perfected state capture under Mr Obasanjo are now quietly returning under Mr Jonathan to resume from where they left off.
7. The first question of note was from a man who asked if it wasnt Mr Tinubu’s ambition to become the Vice President that scuttled the alliance talks. Mr Tinubu responded very robustly to this by stating that he is eminently qualified to run for President on his own merit never mind angling for the VP slot. Complained that so many sacrifices were made by the ACN which were not reciprocated by the CPC including Mallam Ribadu offering to step down. Another person asked a question of the Boko Haram menace and Mr Tinubu responded by saying that the Boko Haram menace was partly the culmination of ‘over-rigging’ in 2003 and 2007 i.e the successive truncation of the people’s will. Today the Boko Haramists see a convenient target in the Nigerian government. My good man Kunle Durojaiye then asked about the reports on April 13th about the infamous journey to Abuja on the presidential jet after he was summoned by Mr Jonathan. He asked, with perhaps the line of the evening, ‘Sir, was this meeting for opposition or for alignment?’. Mr Tinubu went on to say that he did go to Abuja on the invitation of Mr Jonathan but that he did so on a private jet owned by one of his friends. On the said day, the private jet took off from the presidential wing of the Murtala Mohammed Airport and some journalists quickly added 2 and 2 together to come up with their story. He never denied that he did in fact meet Mr Jonathan before the election, he however said that the meeting was about who would emerge as Speaker after the elections should the PDP win. Now this is an interesting answer to say the least not least because it seems out of sync with actual events especially as Mr Tinubu also mentioned Mr Tambuwal’s name in his answer. I will confess that his answer to this question made no sense to me (beyond the private jet answer). Why was he discussing positions in the House before the Presidential elections had even taken place? Weird.
Someone asked a question relating to something that was erroneously attributed to Pastor Bakare during the CPC session a few weeks. It was actually Mallam El-Rufai who said that for some reason the ACN had decided that they had no horse in the presidential race so they decided not to back Mallam Ribadu. Nevertheless, this was an opportunity for Mr Tinubu to take some pot shots at Pastor Bakare. He dismissed the Pastor as not being a politician and had no idea as to how to win a councillorship. He said the CPC have no chicken never mind laying an egg. He went on to say that in the next 2.5yrs, Nigerians will see the difference between Coca Cola and 7UP in terms of governance. Big talk indeed.
After the event ended, practically everyone headed to a hotel in central London that had apparently been used for some ACN event during the day. I went along on the invitation of a friend…..so let’s morph Mr Tinubu into…
As soon as the event was over and Mr Tinubu had given the obligatory interviews the man switched personas. I have never been near Mr Tinubu before so this was an interesting observation for me. First of all, there were plenty of heavy hitters from the ACN in his entourage. Chief Bisi Akande, Aremo Olusegun Osoba, Mr Ben Akabueze, Governor Kayode Fayemi, Prof Yemi Osinbajo (more on him below), Alhaji Lai Mohammed and Tokunbo Afikuyomi. I will resist the temptation to say something uncharitable about Mr Afikuyomi but suffice to say that in observing him throughout the evening, it is an awesome wonder that the man was not only once a Senator but actually aspired to be Lagos state governor in 2003. Amazing. There were also plenty of former commissioners all around as well.
When General Buhari was around a few weeks ago, I observed him at close quarters and generally watched his mannerisms. So for example after the event and everyone was getting ready to leave, General Buhari politely asked Mallam El-Rufai which car he was to leave in and the Mallam pointed to a silver 4 wheel drive. The General then walked over to the car, sat inside and waited quietly to be driven off as well as other people joined him in the car.
Not so Jagaban. He runs the show. When he stands up and moves, everybody moves. No one tells him what car to enter, he enters a particular car and everyone else scrambles to get in. This ‘Jagaban Movement’ was really interesting to watch. He could be walking very briskly like a soldier in one direction and all of a sudden he’d stop. The entourage would stop as well. He’d then do a 180 degree turn and sharply head back in the direction he was coming from, leaving several flustered aides in his wake. Jagaban is the center of attention at all times. In other words, there can be no mistaking even in the mind of a casual observer that Mr Tinubu is the leader of the ACN. All this of course happened with men like Chief Bisi Akande (presumably the ACN Chairman) and Aremo Osoba as well. They followed him too….rode in his car with him and went everywhere he went.
I observed all of this and I could not help but cast my mind back to 2003 especially when contrasting Messrs Akande and Osoba with Mr Tinubu. These men were contemporaries and all came into office together in 1999. Yet they all fell in 2003 as the PDP machine beat the AD into the Atlantic Ocean before a spirited rear guard action by Mr Tinubu salvaged Lagos. This was the making of Mr Tinubu…Jagaban was made in 2003. He turned the AD lemon into the current ACN lemonade.
But I couldnt help but wonder, how do these guys get anything done under this type of seemingly chaotic arrangement? How do you make things work with such stop start motion? I have no idea. Maybe (as I suspect) Mr Tinubu was just trying to shake off some people on that particular night hence the whole ‘movement’.
But does this all matter? Personally I don’t think so. The possibility of failure of the ACN is very real and their fall from grace would be spectacular indeed if the party does not get down to brass tacks. I wonder if they know this. The party’s swagger is unmistakeable….everyone seems happy and the unhappy ones mask it very well patiently waiting their turn to eat lest a sad face postpones their meal.
There really can be only one type of opposition in Nigeria and it is performance in office. End of. Everything else is nothing but a redundant appellation. Nigeria has been subjected to terrible leadership all through her history therefore anyone who does differently from the norm is automatically in the opposition. The battle is not between PDP and ACN or CPC….it is between Governor Amaechi of Rivers and Governor Theodore Orji of Abia (both PDP). Governor Fashola represents the opposition to a man like the former Governor of Jigawa, Alhaji Saminu Turaki (both ACN). Anything else is irrelevant. The issues facing our country are so dire that an attempt to define someone as the opposition simply because they belong to the party out of power will miss the point completely.
The ACN as a (smaller) party has an incredible chance as a party to move as one and do differently. I am not 100% confident that this will happen. I hold on to that freely given thing that everyone else has in abundance; hope.
They say it’s always dangerous when you get to physically meet people you’ve admired because it’s possible that you might be disappointed. I have always admired Prof Yemi Osinbajo from his days as Attorney General of Lagos. I got to meet him yesterday and I wasnt in any way let down. I was introduced to him along with Governor Fayemi by my friend. Perhaps the best compliment I can pay Gov Fayemi is that once you start talking to the man, in approximately 10 seconds, you forget that he’s the Governor of some state. Zero airs about him. For his own sake, I hope he does well…in 2015, the South West electorate will be unforgiving.
Back to Prof Osinbajo (the highlight of my evening); We ended up talking about power reforms in Nigeria. The man evidently knows his N6/kw from his N10.40/kw. I was hugely impressed as he took us on a whistle-stop tour of power reforms in Nigeria since 1999. He used the word ‘order’ (interchangeable with organisation) around 8,758 times and the phrase ‘the truth is stranger than fiction in Nigeria’ only about 5,627 times in total. His opinion is that we have turned power reform into such a big deal in Nigeria that it has become a masquerade which must be appeased plenty of sacrifices (read: billions of dollars). He spoke about how Lagos got 270MW up and running in less than a year in 2001 and how the Ikeja Industrial Area consumes 40% of the electricity generated in Nigeria. He reckons that the deregulation of the GSM industry which worked so well when it was thrown open to the private sector can work for the power sector. He couldn’t understand why everything about power reform is being ‘planned’ centrally with some parts of the power infrastructure (transmission) being ‘held back’ by the govt for now. He wondered why we couldn’t just build small plants all over the country and get our capacity up and running that way.
He isn’t 100% optimistic about the current reforms for this reason and he says this is why Governor Fashola has decided to embark on building very small power generating plants e.g a 10MW plant to service the high courts in Lagos and another 27MW to service the water works. Some things he said I am not sure they are appropriate to repeat here without his permission but suffice to say, you hear things that make you want to weep for Nigeria. He said their petition had just been dismissed in Akwa Ibom that same yesterday so they were heading to the Appeal Court. He laughed after he said it saying ‘we are used to that anyway…we are going to collect our stolen mandate from them’. He’s partly the reason I said I wont bet against the ACN kicking the Sovereign Wealth Fund into touch.
What I found most interesting about him was how he clearly distinguished politicians from everyone else. I asked if he was every going to run for office and he shook his head vehemently and laughed, ‘I am not a politician now’ he protested. While we were talking there was a ‘Jagaban Movement’ and we all chuckled as Mr Tinubu confused everyone who was following him with another abrupt turn. Clearly those were the politicians.
It’s impossible to mistake the respect the ACN guys have for Prof Osinbajo. As Mr Tinubu wrapped up his speech at Chatham House, he tried to get the moderator to let Prof Osinbajo and Gov Fayemi say a few words, this was refused.We poked fun together at the inability of Nigerians to be orderly in their ways and he went on to describe how the Chatham House event might have turned out if it had been held in Nigeria….if we were lucky, the event would have kicked off ‘only’ 3 hours behind schedule.
In conclusion he said Nigeria does not lack ideas, they infact abound. Executors are however as rare as gold dust. People who can get a project from start to finish while scaling all the stranger than fiction obstacles in their way.
We spoke for more than an hour before it occurred to me that we had been standing right in front of very comfortable chairs and my legs were hurting. At the end, he politely took his leave, we saw him to the door, he hailed a cab and went to his hotel. Alone.
I like the man.
DISCLOSURE: As I was looking for the hotel where everyone had moved on to, I ran into Mr Lekan Fatodu of Checkout Magazine at Waterloo Station and a couple of his friends. He hailed a cab and asked me to come with them as we were all going to the same place. Inspite of my protestations, he refused to allow me pay the ‘transport fare’. You must thank him for me 🙂