Memo to the President-elect, By Olawale Olaleye
With the 2023 elections wrapped up two weekends ago, following the concluding supplementary polls across 24 states, in addition to the governorship exercises in Kebbi and Adamawa States, all is now set for the formal handover of power on May 29, from the outgoing President Muhammadu Buhari to the incoming President-elect Bola Tinubu.
Although the elections have generally raised some dusts, which have largely propelled the defeated to challenge some of the outcomes, none of these will stall preparations for May 29, as plans are said to already be in top gears – from military parade, to security arrangements and other inauguration activities. The committees are reportedly steaming.
Interestingly, Nigeria’s political history – old or contemporary – has no record of any presidential election ever upturned by the courts of the land. Ko sele ri (never happened before) and this is common knowledge. Such developments are privileges enjoyed at other levels of political leadership – governorship, senate, House of Representatives and so on.
Once a winner is announced by the statutory electoral body in a presidential run, it is usually game over in Nigeria, and unfortunately so. This is why those waiting on the Supreme Court to do some magic in this year’s election and perhaps, remove the President-elect may wait endlessly to no avail.
This is not to discourage or abuse their confidence in the judiciary or impugne the integrity of the courts; it is because even the winner, whose victory and mndate are being challenged has the same level of confidence, if not more, in the same judiciary. That is where the challenge is.
Therefore, in court, it is never about what you think is right or wrong in an electoral dispute, but the case presented to it by the lawyers of the disputing parties and how they presented it, beyond all doubts and with the facts laid bare on the card.
In other words, what the court does with the dispute is dependent on the submissions of the lawyers engaged by the parties involved and the facts put forward. And since the court is by no stretch a “Father Christmas”, it would not award what is not before it or prayed for by any of the parties. This, of course, underscores a standard logic upon which the law stands and functions.
The 2007 general election that brought former Presidenr Umar Musa Yar’Adua to power, and which the late Nigerian leader admitted was a “monumental fraud” should have been reviewed and upturned. That, too, was not touched by the courts, because the president’s lawyers did a good job, and not because the justices actually thought that the poll was credible, free and fair.
Convinced that the election that brought him into power was a palpable mess, Yar’Adua had immediately commenced the process of an electoral reform. It was a brain child of his administration, even though death refused for him to drive it to a logical close.
The point here is that this presidential election is already won and lost, and everyone will move on to the next phase – governance – in no time. Like the Americans are quick to say soon after their often testy presidential poll – no matter how chaotic – and a winner is announced: “We are more than just the red and blue states; we are Americans.”
It is also why attempts to discredit the election on account of the presidential leg of it is considered disingenuous by other interested parties, since the same exercise, which ran side-by-side with the national assembly polls, produced federal lawmakers for a number of the different political parties across the states. Many states were also lost and won at the second leg of the elections.
In the same presidential election, the president lost his state. The president-elect lost his too. The party’s chairman, Abdulahi Adamu also lost. The APC campaign DG, and Plateau State Governor, Simon Lalong was defeated as well. Many governors lost their bids to the senate and a majority of them were unable to have choice successors put in office. It was a radical election that defied many lucidities. And should there be a problem with the presidential poll, then, it’s a no-brainer that other legs of the elections too were flawed.
However, moving forward is why a memo to the president-elect on some of the first steps expected to be taken on assumption of office, becomes imperative in larger and collective interest. For Tinubu to battle and earn the requisite credibility for his mandate to sail safe, he has to be different in form and content. But the legitimacy of his government could remain controversial for a long time.
Unfortunately, Tinubu took part in no debate at all, let alone an electrifying public engagement, where his ideas could have been properly juxtaposed with those of the other candidates, notwithstanding the organised flashes. Yet, it is understandable that the Nigerian problems have remained the same for many years as though a recurring decimal.
What, therefore, could mark Tinubu different is approach and the result thereof. After all, every leadership is distinguished by style. But these are crucial signs that must be evident from the first day – right at the Eagle Square, where he would be administered the oath of office, on May 29.
First, this year’s election ranks as the most divisive in the history of the country. And for a man, who despite running on a Muslim-Muslim ticket, still won the election, unifying the people of Nigeria in every way possible is clearly not negotiable. It could mark the beginning of the credibility journey for the Tinubu presidency.
Two, to see Tinubu announce some personal and major but basic appointments that do not require legislative approval the same day he assumes office is a sign he would hit the ground running. But if the Lagos style is to be reckoned, then many of the appointments may not come months after assuming office. Muhammadu Buhari probably learnt from him.
Otherwise, many would have thought that the office of the Chief of Staff, for example, should have been long announced, even before his inauguration, to give a sense of organisation through the calendarisation of his activities and movements. But the man has not even deemed that expedient, and on the contrary, appears to be enjoying the controversy about who might have been favoured for the office.
Three, his government has to move away from the timeworn practice of just sending names of ministerial nominees to the Senate for orchestrated clearance, a development that always ends up making the red chamber seem like a circus show promoter than a lawmaking body that it is.
What does this mean? It means Tinubu would do well by not just sending names of prospective ministers to the senate, but attaching their intended portfolios, so screening would be portfolio-specific and interesting. At that point, what you see is what you get at the get-go.
In addition to these, how soon he makes these appointments is as important as the appointments. Time is of the essence and he must act in strict understanding of this. It would be sad and disappointing to wait several months after inauguration and still see a list of the same faces clustering around him before, during and after the elections, when the country is already at precipice.
Doing the same thing time and time again and expecting a different result is seen in the medical line as an indication of mental instability. Whether this mental challenge is “hereditary” from government to government or party to party, Tinubu has to prove different to earn the trust and confidence of the people.
Tinubu must ensure that the election of the principal officers of the National Assembly is crisis-free. With various tendencies from other parties, a majority of whom are first timers, he must manage this phase so well that his hands must not be seen in the intrigues that would ultimately dot the process, even though he can’t be completely aloof from how that pans out. All eyes will be on him. Definitely!
It is no secret that Tinubu has always battled personal image crisis accentuated by a staggering corruption perception, although nothing has been established against him. Thus, while many of his ardent followers believe he has the “magic wand” to fix the economy and enhance the ongoing infrastructure renewal of the outgoing government, how he tackles corruption – Nigeria’s age-long existential cancer, on the other hand, remains to be seen. Many people are waiting on this and he can’t afford to fail.
Another critical challenge is security. Sadly, his co-pilot, Kashim Shettima, has yet to be exculpated from the Boko Haram blame. Yes, it is a perception, but it can’t be wished away except through action and results. This is not going to be easy but also not negotiable. Security must be fixed as soon as the government takes off. It is the only thing that can guarantee change and improve the economy as well as other critical facets of the system.
When it eventually sets afoot, the success or failure of the Tinubu presidency would be examined against its disposition to the much-touted restructuring as the one way out of the nation’s quagmire. Clinging to this one idea, of course, are a legion others, including fiscal federalism, multi-level policing and resource control, among others.
While the debate about what restructuring actually means has always been tossed against its unceasing clamour, that Nigeria needs to activate a true federal system, is not arguable. This, perhaps, can help the Tinubu presidency situate the argument to help fix an ailing nation in obvious sectors.
Conversely, a man who seeks to unite the country for the peace and progress of his own administration cannot be seen as vindictive. There is no doubting the fact that the campaigns generally thrived on finger-pointing and subtle division along religious and ethnic lines, even within the party, where allegations of betrayal are now rife.
But with victory now in his grip, Tinubu has to rise above the prevalent pettiness and narrow-mindedness of the current mood, bring everyone together in a fatherly manner and push the agenda of “One Nigeria” with all seriousness, even if some still think one Nigeria is a fluke.
It is important to further note that in spite of the misgivings about Tinubu’s victory in some quarters, he honestly worked hard and seemed to have been miles ahead of his competitors as far as the election strategies were concerned.
Without a doubt, he might be a critical lesson in leadership at the end of the day. He was disparaged, reviled, punched in the face, and humiliated repeatedly, but he remained focused with his eyes on the ball. That’s definitely something to learn from, and discuss exhaustively some other time.
On that note, congratulations to the President-elect of Nigeria, and may the people not regret their divided support for you at the end of the day. Amen