The presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Bola Ahmed Tinubu, is a man challenged by age, fragile health, and memory lapses. Yet he insists it is his turn to become Nigeria’s president. That is where the problem starts. No one should be deluded that the presidency belongs to them. Nigeria’s presidency is not assigned or allocated to anyone on the basis of their wealth, their assumptions about their entitlements, their region of origin, and the sacrifices they made to sustain the current government.
What is it that Tinubu wants to accomplish as president at the risk of his failing health and other major health difficulties? Tinubu is ambitious. Everyone knows that. He has already communicated his aspiration to the nation months ago when he claimed, ahead of the APC presidential primary, that it is now his turn to become president (emilokan).
The problem with ambition is that once it is kickstarted, it is harder to control. From the realm of surrealism, dreams mature and take on the elemental force of unquenchable fire known as ambition. Dreams change the mindset of men and women and catapult their views into the world of make-believe or fantasy. The good thing about dreams and ambition is that none of them is considered a cardinal sin or a crime against humanity. Everyone is free to dream. And everyone is free to have political aspirations.
At a lower level, Tinubu has dominated politics in Lagos State, ever since he served as two-time governor from 1999 to 2007. He also served as Senator for Lagos West during the Third Republic. Perhaps it is the power he held over those years that swelled his head to believe that it is his turn to become Nigeria’s president. Since that time, he has dominated Lagos political space to the extent that he could single-handedly determine who should be governor or not.
It is said that anyone who wants to be governor of Lagos State, including sitting governors who want to seek re-election, must seek the special blessings and support of Tinubu. Akinwunmi Ambode who was elected Governor of Lagos State in 2015 ignored this point. The immediate consequence was that his path to re-election was blocked effectively because he fell out with Tinubu. He was swept off his executive seat during the party primary. As a result, he served for one term only, from 2015 to 2019.
Despite his power in Lagos, Tinubu has struggled to spread his influence to other southwest states. So, he is not the almighty kingmaker in all the southwest states.
In the past few weeks, Tinubu has been trending on social media because of his precarious health condition that has exposed his physical, psychological, emotional, and mental state. At public events, he struggles to remember key events and people’s names. His speech is slurred as he wrestles with how to pronounce some words. His blunders have continued to multiply. Every new day provides insights into the deteriorating cognitive condition of the man who wants to be president.
By defying his health, age, and mental state, and by pushing on as APC presidential candidate in the face of all the public embarrassments, Tinubu has given Nollywood actors material they use to reduce him to the butt of criticisms. On social media, he is depicted as a sick man and mocked openly for his inability to pronounce common words. While it is not good to taunt a man or woman on account of their declining health, Tinubu has made things difficult for himself, his family, and his party leaders by committing blunders on a regular basis.
If he is not fit enough to withstand the physical strains of election campaign travels and public speaking, he should quit honourably. No one wants to see a Nigerian president commit embarrassing slipups in international fora attended by world leaders. Every day, Tinubu’s handlers are challenged by the uncertainties of how to ensure that his mistakes are curtailed to the minimum, so that he does not make Nigeria an object of international scorn.
Tinubu’s public appearances that result in disasters at home could be managed and tolerated but not blunders he would commit at international events. The risk must be reduced. The danger therefore is that if Tinubu wins the presidential election next year, he could export his gaffes in Nigerian public spaces to overseas countries where people would ridicule Nigeria. We can deal with Tinubu’s embarrassing struggles with wrong pronunciations and memory lapses and his fragile health while he is still in Nigeria but how do you control or restrain him from committing avoidable errors above the capacity of diplomatic officials and APC leaders in overseas countries?
Surely, no one can stop or prevent Tinubu from committing major bloopers during appearances at global conferences and international intergovernmental meetings featuring presidents and prime ministers and other heads of governments. No one can predict what a man with failing cognitive health condition can do or say in a public forum.
Apart from uttering unintelligible words that his closest aides could hardly decipher during his campaign appearances, there is nothing that Tinubu says during public addresses that makes sense to anybody, despite the fact that his leading supporters applaud him even when they know the man has made major mistakes. You must wonder why APC men and women who surround Tinubu during political party rallies clap for him even when it is obvious to all of them that Tinubu’s words were unfathomable and meaningless.
When Tinubu addresses an audience, he equivocates. He hesitates. He pauses in the middle of sentences. At other times, he appears lost about what he was going to say. How do you revive such a man? The APC minders who are tasked with looking after Tinubu have devised a solution. For example, on one occasion when Tinubu could not pronounce the word “umbrella”, a woman serving as a prompt beside Tinubu uttered loudly “umbrella” and Tinubu chorused immediately after the woman had muttered the word.
In addition to issues relating to Tinubu’s health, debate has persisted over the demographic details relating to the correct year of his birth and his current age, his educational qualifications and the institutions where he received his qualifications, and his original hometown. Uncomfortable and troubling questions raised in the public sphere over all these issues have tended to distract public attention from Tinubu’s messages during his presidential campaign rallies. People are no longer asking questions about how Tinubu plans to govern as president. Instead, people are asking questions about the year the man was born, his state of origin, his educational qualifications, and the institutions that awarded him the qualifications.
Tinubu’s responses to questions during his campaign rallies, and even his public addresses are combative, confrontational, and sometimes bellicose in tone and language, making him appear like a man at war with himself. Tinubu needs to understand he can answer questions in a civil manner without insulting his audience. He can be diplomatic, thoughtful, and judicious in his responses to questions.
So far, his biggest character flaw and undoing is the demeaning language he uses sometimes to describe Nigerian youth pejoratively as hungry, bored, and ready to be recruited to do menial jobs that require non-nutritious food to compensate them. Putting down youth is politically disastrous. That error would haunt Tinubu one day during and after the 2023 presidential election.
You cannot belittle a powerful force that has the capacity to determine the outcome of the presidential election. Two years ago, President Muhammadu Buhari described Nigerian youth as lousy, pampered, lacking initiatives, and purposeless. Today, they have not forgiven Buhari for the insult he heaped on them in a foreign land.