You would notice that the speech delivered by the presidential candidate of All Progressives Congress (APC), Bola Ahmed Tinubu, at Chatham House, London, earlier in the week, has been drowned by criticisms trailing his outsourcing the question-and-answer section to his cronies. That is not without reasons. It falls into our position here, some time ago, on the need for the flag bearers to assume their offices and speak directly to Nigerians on their agenda for the nation and how they intend to go about them.
Our observation then was that the presidential candidates carry on their shoulders the burden of marketing themselves and their political organisations. In other words, they are the faces of their parties, their poster boys. That is why being the standard-bearer of a political party, is a big deal – a contest for serious minds. It demands a lot. To paraphrase Gerald R. Ford (38th U.S. President) the presidency is not a prize to be won, but a duty to be done.
It is the hardest job in the world, says American essayist, John Dickerson, in his piece on the White House. According to Dickerson, when the national fabric rends, the president will administer needle and thread, or at least reach for the sewing box of unity. You can then appreciate the advice by Harry Truman, the 33rd President of the United States, that ‘If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen’. It indicates that if one is unable to cope with the pressure of a certain office, he should leave it to someone else who can handle it.
Chatham House provided Tinubu the opportunity to sell himself and his programmes to the international community. It gave him the chance to address nagging questions on his health, his past, his academic attainments and his real identity – issues that his opponents have serially feasted on in mocking him. Such windows do not come frequently and when they come, they are grabbed with both hands. But Tinubu did not do so. He rather ducked and directed the questions to his stooges.
The London episode was not the first time Tinubu would be running away from critical interrogation. He has done so severally in the country, dodging television debates and town hall meetings with other contestants. Perhaps unknown to him, each time he evades such meetings, he ends up demonstrating poor knowledge and demands of the office he is running for.
A presidential candidate is like a glass house in a market square which everyone likes to see its contents. He is seconds away from power. If he is elected president, he becomes the repository of the nation’s sovereignty. In boxing, he is the one in the ring. Others are spectators who at most, are limited to the ring sides. Supporters of a candidate deserve to know who they are electing and what he is capable of doing. There is therefore, no hiding place for him.
By evading the questions thrown at him in Chatham House and delegating them to surrogates, Tinubu has unwittingly confessed his lack of capacity and preparation for the presidency. What he has done is nothing other than mockery of leadership aspiration. By that poor outing, he has simply demonstrated that he is merely interested in satiating his ego of being the president without the readiness for the corresponding responsibilities. How, for instance, would the Women Leader of a party be the one to explain to Nigerians and the international community the candidate’s agenda for health, if elected?
Any Nigerian that does not feel sufficiently horrified by the Tinubu charade at Chatham House, deserves pity. Even the people with him – the governors, ex-governors who fawned and clapped while he goofed, do not mean well for the country. There is need for the APC flag bearer to come clean on his thoughts and intentions for Nigeria. He has to explain if he intends to run a communal presidency without precise obligations to the electorate or govern as an executive president with defined duties and privileges. That assumption of entitlement that he earlier advertised in his absurd “Emi l’okan” (it is my turn) mantra, must give way for addressing the real task ahead. The Nigerian presidency is not a retirement home.
I am not among those that gloat over Tinubu’s perceived frailties. We are humans and are prone to occasional health issues. History has good record of leaders who provided impactful governance to their people despite their physical challenges. Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR), the 32nd US President, who won a record four presidential elections was paralysed at the legs by polio but was able to lift his country from the great depression of the time to the leading power in world events in the 20th century. His profound reforms in finance, communications, labour and economy, encapsulated in his New Deal, provided the platform for the US to announce its leadership of the world.
A very recent experience of Ecuador’s paraplegic president, Lenin Moreno, who governed on wheelchair and gave the country a sense of direction, clearly showed that physical disability cannot be an obstacle to governance. The job is more of brain than brawl. But when the degeneration tilts to obvious cognitive impairment as Tinubu constantly manifests, to the point of not being fully in charge of his immediate environment, men and women of good conscience should take note and step in before further harm is done to the polity.
Nigeria has had the misfortune of being mismanaged by presidents that were not mentally and physically prepared for the office. There are still chances to ensure that we do not fall into the same pit in 2023.
It is not enough to say let the people decide. In a normal setting, that is what it should be, especially as in the current contest, where there are options in other political parties. It is, after all, not for nothing that they say power belongs to the people. But beyond that ideal of optimism, is the reality of the unique absurdity of our setting that is underlined by the abuse of the so-called incumbency factor – a euphemism for vote manipulation by the incumbent or ruling party. There are already pointers to that effect going by utterances and body language of key members of the APC. This seems to be what Tinubu handlers are banking on. It also informs the concern being expressed by many on the gaffes by Tinubu at Chatham House.