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State House Marina as an Allegory for President Tinubu (I)

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By Ahmed Yahaya-Joe

Currently, President Tinubu is like Mike Tyson in his prime. Unbeatable, unstoppable, unfazed but soon enough every hero becomes a bore which politically begs the question: can one man change the system from within?

According to Machiavelli, “Necessity is what impels men to take action, and once that necessity is gone, only rot and decay are left.”

Without cyclic reinvention that necessity which made him such a formidable champion’s champion, “Iron” Mike Tyson gradually lost perspective and then his boxing crown.

Similarly, former President Buhari his mandate’s focus, purpose, and direction to the extent that even as Commander in Chief, he had to rely on a non-state actor like Asari Dokubo to secure huge swaths of the national constituency.

Only time will tell if the kingmaker-king currently chief tenant at the Villa would succumb to a similar lackadaisical attitude towards reinvention.

Machiavelli goes on, “There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more certain in its success than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things.”

Simply put, the dynamics of running for presidential office are fundamentally different from running for that office.

The one that matters most in helping presidents keep their jobs is aptly summarized by the 33rd US President Harry Truman in office from 1945 to 1953, “Being a president is like riding a tiger. Keep on riding or be swallowed. A president is either constantly on top of events or events will soon be on top of him.”

While Mike Tyson puts it, “Everyone has a plan ‘till they get punched in the mouth,” the man formerly known as Sanusi Lamido Sanusi (SLS) on July 22, 2002, specifically admonished General Muhammadu Buhari from any bid to become president, “Buhari waged a battle against Second Republic politicians, but he is joining this generation. Anyone who rides a tiger ends up in its belly and one man cannot change the system from within.”

Sanusi had prior asked, “Do I support Buhari’s decision to contest for the presidency of Nigeria?”

Eventually, in office, former President Buhari not only got politically punched in the mouth but got swallowed by the systemic Nigerian tiger thereby validating Sanusi’s advisory issued more than a decade before the general first got sworn into office in 2015.

While SLS had responded to his question, “My answer is no,” he nonetheless added, “If Buhari gets a nomination he will have my vote.”

Leadership is beyond ideas and programs. It is also about the leader and what is in him. No leader can give those he leads what he does not have. Between 2015 and 2023 it was not exactly exemplary. Instead, it was more of a diminished capacity.

What then is the moral for incumbent President Tinubu?

Any leader that wants anything significantly done under his watch constantly needs the space to plan, strategize and ruminate far away from public glare, overzealous aides, and the endless flow of visitors, hangers-on, quislings, Trojan horses, and scallywags including carpetbaggers.

Leading a diverse and complex entity like Nigeria requires continuous improvisation. And a safe bolt zone, even.

The 32nd US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt held his first cabinet meeting when he was first sworn into office in 1933 at Camp David in the state of Maryland away from the capital, District of Columbia. For the next 12 years of his unprecedented three terms in office to 1945, that was his den. His political workshop of sorts. Like clockwork, subsequent American presidents have closely followed suit to escape the lethargy of governance by constantly gravitating to Camp David.

Former President Obasanjo’s proclivity to similarly head for Ota while in office was not necessarily “to see his chickens” as he often joked. It was likely to among others rejuvenate his leadership role and gain more perspective.

Mr. Adeniyi succinctly recounts on page 178 of Power, Politics & Death: A Front Row Account of Nigeria Under the late President Yar’adua, “In the course of the reception for the president’s daughter, Nafisat, who had earlier in the day gotten married to Governor Isa Yuguda of Bauchi State, the president beckoned to me, since I was seating at the next table. He asked, “What is the weather like at Obudu Cattle Ranch now?” I told him I had no idea but could find out. He nodded before he added: “If you can confirm that the weather is not so cold, let us go there,”

Clearly, Nigeria’s then-leader needed the psychological space in a distant setting to plot, relax, unwind, or reflect. Or even all. He never went to Obudu as a myriad of events in Abuja became too unsurmountable for him further deteriorating his fragile health in the process.

When crowded in, politics becomes like a brawl requiring the creation of space for proper maneuvering to give a good fight back.

So, one does not need to be a political clairvoyant to discern President Tinubu would require a very convenient save bolt zone to properly grapple with his mandate as political events unfold.

What was formerly Government House Lagos was fully completed in 1886 in a tropical neo-classical form with expansive grounds as can be clearly seen in the first attached picture circa 1929. Formal, rational, symmetrical, shutters et al. It was renamed State House Marina after national independence in 1960.

From within its premises, the Treaty of Cession between the British and Oba of Lagos, Dosunmu (then spelled Docemo) was formalized on August 6, 1861, “wherein the Dosunmu, under the threat of British bombardment, ceded Lagos Island to Britain, whilst retaining the title and powers of Oba, subject to English laws.”

To the Awori the 8.7 square kilometers island was “Oko” before the Benin Kingdom renamed it “Eko” with the Portuguese that arrived in 1472 calling it “Lago” (de Kuramo) which the British anglicized to Lagos.

The attached picture depicts the State House Marina as of 2017 when the Federal Government ceded its erstwhile ceremonial seat to the Lagos state government.

The first substantive tenant of the temporary structure of Government House, Lagos was the Royal Navy Captain John Carter in office from 1863 to 1872.

According to his wife Lady Glover in her 1897 book entitled Life of Sir John Hawley Carter;

“A description of Government House, where Captain Glover spent so much of his time, is alluded to by the late Sir Richard Burton in one of his books, as an ‘ iron coffin with generally a dead consul inside.’ It was made of iron and was exceedingly hot. To obtain sleep at night in it was difficult, almost impossible……”

She goes on, “Government House in the morning was indeed a busy scene. After breakfast for two or three hours, ‘Obba Golobar’ (as his people called him) was to be seen sitting on the verandah smoking a cigarette and listening to their grievances. He had always been a native interpreter and patiently listened to both sides of the question being explained to him amid the loud clamour of the aggrieved parties. Here, as in the (Orient), every native speaks in parables, and in the most extravagant poetical language……”

Captain Glover built modern Lagos under whose watch it came to be known as the “Liverpool of West Africa.”

He created the bustling enabling environment under the watch of a certain Governor Tinubu, a century and decades later for the fortunes of Lagos to steeply rise in IGR.

While The Examiner newspaper edition of Wednesday, April 1 1903 describes Kano as “The Manchester of Nigeria”, Leigh Clair in the Manchester Courier newspaper edition of November 5, 1872, wrote;

“Lagos, as you are aware, is the great port for cotton and palm oil on the West Coast of Africa. Situated in a Lagoon in the Bight of Benin, it is the chief port for the large and rich country between the Bight of Benin and the River Niger.

It has a British governor and a Legislative Council, and it has hitherto been a prosperous and progressive colony, as is shown by the following statistics: —1864 the Customs revenue was 9,039l. 16s. 6d.; in 1871, 33,264l. 4s. 11d. In 1864 the value of its imports was 120,796l. and in 1871, 391,553l.

In 1864 the value of exports was 166,093l. 8s. Id. in 1871, 589,802l. 9s. 6d. The great increase in its prosperity is owing to the judicious government of Captain Glover. He, to my certain knowledge, has spent not only his official pay but also his private resources in furthering the prosperity of the colony. Lagos is surrounded by three coast tribes— the Porto Novians, the Egbas, and the Ijebus—who wish to keep all the trade in their own hands.”

Does the last sentence of Mr. Clair give us any insight on the control of the Lagos economy (and even politics) beyond the recent “Thank you visit” by Mr. President to the Alake of Egbaland and Awujale of Ijebuland respectively against the background of the simultaneous talks led by Imo Governor Uzodinma and Deputy House Spear Kalu over the demolition threats at Alaba International Market?

It was then Governor Tinubu who introduced into Nigeria’s political lexicon, “First Hundred Days” – a direct legacy of FDR as the 32nd US President is still fondly referred to. The following account from 48 Laws of Power is instructive in decoding much of President Tinubu’s current political modus operandi;

“At the time of his 1932 election, the United States was in the midst of a dire economic crisis. Shortly after winning the election, Roosevelt went into a kind of retreat. He said nothing about his plans or cabinet appointments.

In his inaugural address, Roosevelt shifted gears. He made a powerful speech, making it clear that he intended to lead the country in a completely new direction, sweeping away the timid gestures of his predecessors.

From then on, the pace of his speeches and public decisions – appointments, bold legislation – unfolded at an incredibly rapid rate. The period after the inauguration became known as the “Hundred Days,” and its success in altering the country’s mood partly stemmed from Roosevelt’s clever pacing and use of dramatic contrast. He held his audience in suspense, then hit them with a series of bold gestures that seemed all the more momentous because they came from nowhere.”

Another adaptation in President Tinubu’s political template from the same source;

“Rely on the team you have assembled, but do not be its prisoner or give it undue influence. Franklin D. Roosevelt had his infamous “brain trust,” the advisers and cabinet members on whom he depended for their ideas and opinions, but he never let them in on the actual decision-making, and he kept them from building up their own power base.” – 33 Strategies of War by Robert Greene (2006) page 64

Arguably, no governor or political leader of the 1999-2007 generation can boast of Mr. President’s formidable array of influential but politically toothless successors to present-day anywhere in Nigeria.

How can Mr. President shift the paradigm and change the dynamic to reposition Nigeria under his watch?

It is difficult, in fact, near impossible to disagree with Dr. Lasisi Olagunju;

 “Tinubu is leaving Bourdillon, Lagos, and will be the Lion of Aso Rock for four years – or for eight years – at the end of which a Daniel will come to judgment. He will be judged not by the number of roads or bridges he built; he will be judged by how well he tamed his personal foibles; how he got the entire country rebuilt for the wellness of all. If the country, however, remains, its odious, unwashed self after Bola Tinubu’s regime, he would have tragically proved right the millions opposed to his person, his politics, and his methods, particularly the feudal rungs he took to the throne.”

….to be continued.

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