A new dawn literally broke for Nigeria as a new president assumed office on May 29. Nigeria has been swearing in new presidents over the years, of course. Bola Ahmed Tinubu is the 16th president. What is really new about this handover is that this is the first time since the 4th Republic which started in May 1999 that we are having a president who is prepared and yearned to be the nation’s number one citizen. Former President Olusegun Obasanjo had hardly come out of prison, had hardly savoured the air of freedom, so to speak, when he was more or less ambushed by the powers that be, to enter the political fray, made a presidential candidate and declared winner of the election by the electoral umpire then.
At end of his constitutionally permitted eight-year tenure, spanning 1999 to 2003, he was succeeded by Umar Musa Yar’adua whom he handpicked and who, of course, won the election. Yar’adua a former lecturer and governor of Katsina state did not aspire to be president as such. He was more or less hijacked from his comfort zone in Katsina state where he was serving his people at state level as a governor.
His deputy, Goodluck Jonathan, was reportedly chosen by the then President Obasanjo. Erstwhile Rivers state governor, Peter Odili, who had campaigned vigorously for the ruling party’s presidential ticket, was widely believed would be Yar’adua’s vice. But, it was not to be; the lot instead fell on Jonathan. Jonathan had just won election as Bayelsa governor and was looking forward eagerly to his first full term as governor (having succeeded his boss DSP Alamieseigha who was impeached midterm) and had mapped out what he would do during this tenure. Then, like his second boss, Yar’adua, he was suddenly catapulted to the post of vice president of Nigeria.
The former president passed on unexpectedly and then Jonathan accidentally became president. Muhammadu Buhari had, to all intents and purposes, vowed never to contest anymore to be Nigeria’s number one citizen, after three unsuccessful attempts. However, he was cajoled out of retirement to join the race, And he succeeded at the fourth try, becoming Nigeria’s 15th president, served out his two terms, totalling eight years and formally bowed out on Monday.
All of the above stumbled unto the presidency rather unwillingly. It is different with Tinubu. For the first time, Nigeria has a willing man on the saddle as executive president. President Tinubu had been longing to be president, had been preparing to be president for decades by building bridges, human capital, collaborations and structures over the years. And now the time has come for him, he has now achieved his apparently long time ambition of becoming president. He is now the 16th president and commander-in-chief of the most populous black nation on earth. However, would his presidency be fulfilling to him? President Tinubu is taking over the mantle of leadership at a most difficult time in the nation’s history and the challenges confronting him are rather difficult and herculean.
The economic, social and other indices are not bright. Consider that he is inheriting record levels of debts, unemployment, inflation, pervasive poverty, rising number of social deviants, deep seated hatred, and mistrust among the populace and so on and so forth. One is inclined to feel sorry for him, given that these problems look insurmountable. President Tinubu is hyped by his supporters as a man with a midas touch who can cure all of Nigeria’s problems. There is, of course, no such man in Nigeria. There are, therefore, high expectations from him. Out gone President Buhari did his best but Nigerians are expecting President Tinubu to not just perform better than his predecessor in terms of delivering the dividends of democracy but to perform BEST overall. A tough call, this is, given the circumstances under which he is stepping in. This high expectation derives apparently from what has been described as his exceedingly high performance in Lagos state where he was governor for eight years. We are expecting him to replicate such ‘exceedingly high performance’ in Lagos state at the national level.
It is true that Lagos state is like a mini Nigeria, a melting pot of people from all parts of our country and classes. But the times are different, they are two different kettles of fish. He was governor between 1999 and 2003, over two decades when many Nigerians would say, ‘things were relatively better’. Much water has passed under the bridge as there have been many changes at regional, national and international levels since then. President Tinubu is credited with having laid the foundation for a flourishing Lagos state with a long term master plan that governors coming after him are mandated to adhere to. It has in the last 25 years been governed successively by a progressive party, now metamorphosed to APC. Can Tinubu replicate such long term master plan and its faithful implementation at the federal level, except to turn Nigeria into a one-party state?
Having set rather high expectation for his presidency, I am afraid that he would be judged by higher standards every step of his presidency. He and his team should have moderated the expectations or warned Nigerians enough about the difficult times ahead, at least, in the initial years and so lessen whatever disappointment there may be. As it is, President Tinubu’s announcement of immediate suspension of fuel subsidy has hiked retail price of petrol to N500 per litre in the East.
And it is bound to have spiral effects on prices of other goods and services, leading to further rise in inflation rate. Would the opposition exploit this to instigate discontent against the government so early in the day? Already, experts hint that the nation is technically broke.
Edo state government had said that governments would be unable to pay salaries by this month. Ironically, the past government, despite the paucity of funds, increased salaries of federal public servants on the eve of its departure. It seems, therefore, that President Tinubu has a mountain to climb, so to speak. Yet, he has been saying all along that he would not disappoint Nigerians. In fact, President Tinubu says without equivocation: ‘’Don’t pity me. I asked for this job, I campaigned for it. I will not let you down”. This confidence is amidst daunting problems laid before him.
Ikeano writes via [email protected] 08033077519