Again, a Lagos original
By Sam Omatseye
He is rich. He is powerful. He has influence. He has changed lives. He transformed a city. Made men and women. Yet he attracts quite a few adversaries. The scriptures say when Isaac roared into success, the Philistines envied him.
They deny him the right to be human. When he is sick, some wish him dead or eternally crippled. When he is not seen, some conjure his ghost as a dead soul. When he reappears, they won’t even credit him as a revenant, a man who came back from the dead. Rather, they wait for another date with the grave – in their imagination. Through the primaries, he gulped up mileage against his opponents’ little acreage. In the elections season, he bounded from huge crowd to huge crowd with breathtaking regularity. His opponents, including the “youth” among them, waited to take a breath and measure the breadth before the next flight.
When he makes a mistake, they raise the stakes of sin and he becomes Satan. When he does a saintly thing, they turn either blind or amnesiac. When they are around him, they flatter and lick his boots. A minute after they leave his ken, they snarl and huff.
His traducers are like the characters in the proverb that says, “Haters don’t really hate you, they hate themselves because you are a reflection of what they want to be.”
Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu knows this. Hence, he has never had an enemy in politics. Rather he has rivals. He can joust, even if he may not always be just. He has had many, some over money charges, often on matters where he is just. Others over drug charges where they thrash about like a ram even though he was long ago declared sin-free by the number one nation in the world in the rule of law: The United States.
But he has never maligned nor spat malice. Hence, when some of his associates left, he often welcomed them back and elevated them, causing those who are at home to feel left behind. Before him, Jesus had dispensed the parable of the prodigal son who overtook the homeboy. Tinubu has never abandoned a prodigal. He understands the human conscience, the tendency to fall and faint, and he is ready to embrace and give an opportunity for rebirth. I have seen a few bow before him for pardon in private after shooting him with bows and arrows in the public square.
Few in politics have this gift. They know it is one of his staying privileges and virtues. They hate him and try to tell a story of original lies about this Nigerian original.
They won’t tell the story that he was the one who fought for this democracy when they were galivanting with soldiers in the military era, when June 12 fumed. They hid in shadows and fear. They say he is rich, so he must be a crook. Yet he fought in the trenches home and abroad, sacrificing his personal treasures for some of those who now tar him with lies. I saw an article in ThisDay on Sunday refer to an episode when Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka narrated how Tinubu begged the bard, because of his global credibility, to sign a paper for him to import Taiwan rice to fund the struggle. The gifted writer obliged. He knew the value of the fruits to dethrone the dark-goggled brute in Aso Rock, and the soldiers paid him back in ruthless kind chasing after him in western countries. They forget he was rich before he mounted the governor perch.
It will make sense for them to know his many firsts in the republic, some in Nigerian history. They forget that the idea of revolutionizing the electric power architecture, and challenging the monolithic hold of PHCN began under Tinubu when he rattled OBJ as president to free us from the stranglehold of ‘NEPA’ monopoly. It began with Enron, and it has set the dialogue in motion to challenge the constitution.
They forget he was the John the Baptist of financial engineering. Lagos could not pay its workers because of gnomes on the payroll. He combed out the lies in the accounts like lice in infected hair. He saved the purse. From less than a billion Naira in internally generated revenue, it was humming in the region of N9 billion a month. Today it is about N60 billion. Some say he merely unearthed what was there. I reply, when Jesus pointed the fish area of the river to his followers, was that not genius? Why are others not doing so. Some states earn in one year what Lagos swallows in a month.
When other governors said they were sending their men to learn from the Lagos experiment in making money, they were giving a tribute to the genius that made it happen. They hate to go like mendicants to Abuja for bailouts. They want to be like Lagos. Yet, some of them curse their source of blessing.
His detractors balk at his wealth. They forget that he is often called Robin Hood, the man who takes from the rich and gives to the poor. It derives from his worldview not only as a liberal spender but his background among the poor in Lagos. Segun Ayobolu reminded us in his column of the same attacks on Awo over Maroko lands. The great Nigerian was called a thief. Awo said: “In Nigeria, if a poor man is fighting for the poor, they will claim he is only jealous of the rich and if a rich man is fighting for the poor, they will ask him to first of all go and commit economic suicide and join the poor before he can pursue their cause.” Is that why Jesus said the poor will always be with us?
This campaign has exposed the hypocrisy of many. When you accuse their candidates of their financial shenanigans, like the one who sold off our properties for nothing as vice president and the one who invested his state money in his family business, they say it is normal. All these with evidence. But when it comes to Tinubu, they say it is different even when they have no proof.
Some have asserted that financial engineering was Asiwaju’s capital legacy as governor. They may be right. The premise is that the flow of funds engendered the transformational projects in the state. Money is also the mother’s milk of development. But that is only one perspective. He has a background in finance, and as internal auditor in Mobil, he overhauled the purse of the oil mogul. For appreciation, they made him in charge of finances, and he became treasurer.
I would say his best gift is his imagination. The story of power is one. What of security? While the rest of the nation crawls in fear today, Lagos is a strong tower. Many run there and are safe. He signposted an answer with a security trust fund that secured an architecture for peace. That arrangement has only grown stronger from one successor to another and aped, if imperfectly, in Abuja. This is no great hour in the nation’s security. But Lagos remains a city on the hill.
Two other points. One, lekki. Jakande pave a road there. Tinubu launched a city – the estates, the free trade zone, the Lekki port and airport, the flyovers, the refinery, et al. As they say of Erasmus and Martin Luther, Jakande laid the egg, Tinubu preserved and hatched out a big bird, but it was not of the plumage Jakande envisioned. Two, Bar Beach. Soludo complained gullies have taken up 40 percent of Anambra like moths. Obi was there when it was going on. He claimed to have spent billions there in budgets. No vision, no action. Forget where the money went. In Lagos, Ikoyi and Victoria Island may have submerged when OBJ’s men were spending N4 billion – like 20 billion today – every year on sand to save water encroachment. It did not work. Tinubu came with a new idea: turn it into a city. Here we are. Eko Atlantic generates more money a month than some states.
Some say his great gift was the fight for federalist causes for which he used now vice president Yemi Osinbajo to head a team to fight a number of causes, including the allocation of revenues for all states in the nation. Lagos has followed that step, especially when a lawyer, now Trojan of works, Babatunde Raji
Fashola (SAN), succeeded him. The battle is still on the burner. The BOS of Lagos Babajide Sanwo-Olu and the uproarious Nyesom Wike took on the tax matter last year. We can see his legacy now on the naira crisis as states on their own are taking on Buhari for flouting the Supreme Order and making himself a dictator in a democracy. Forget the facile ululation of intellectual fraudsters like one Chidi Odinkalu and J.B. Daudu, who clutched at straws as salesmen to defend their principals, who are, like Nero, fiddling why Nigerians burn with hunger, and groan. Anyway, playwright Arthur Miller announced the death of salesmen long ago.
On social issues, he, a Muslim, gave public schools back to the missions. A visionary step that will continue to shield Lagos from the maelstrom of bigotry that obsesses other parts of the country. This essayist reminded the nation that Tinubu, a Muslim, unfurled the Christian tradition of new year service every January in Lagos. In an age when politicians fall into a straitjacket of zealotry, Tinubu is wearing a garment of peace. Those thumping bishops and pastors who now cavil at him once nodded to the same innovation before they stopped hearing the whisper of the holy ghost.
Others say his best quality is as a leader of leaders. He has given quite a few talents to the country, and I need no roll call here.
Tinubu’s biography distinguishes between a leader and a manager. Some managers are great, but they can only accomplish set goals. A leader of this sort is a visionary, who turns ideas into a soup of charisma to stamp a profound, if revolutionary change on a generation. That was the difference between Awo and Akintola, between Mandela and Mbeki, Between Churchill and Macmillan, between Washington and Adams, etc. After Charles De Gaulle left office, one of his cabinet ministers said the “story of De Gaulle is in his legend.”
Since he declared to run for president, Tinubu has been offering himself as a Lagos original. If no one can deny that Lagos is the best–run state in the nation by a mile, then, no one should look askance at an opportunity to rewrite Nigeria on a national scale. Tinubu arises today as David in Bible times arose to the low rung of the demographic of desire: “And everyone that was in distress, and everyone that was in debt, and everyone that was discontented, gathered unto him and he became a captain over them.” This is the closing argument.