Abimbola Adelakun: The Columnist as National Affliction

Abimbola Adelakun. Photo credit: The Punch

By Ayo Oladele Peters

Virtually every sentence in Punch columnist, Abimbola Adelakun’s piece of 13th January, 2022, can be faulted either in terms of logical rigour or factual accuracy. The column was titled ‘Tinubu’s presidency: Affliction must not rise a second time’. This columnist seems to believe that if assertions are repeated often enough with seeming athoritativeness, it acquires the garb of truth. But no. The toga of a columnist is no Magna Carta for mandibular wakaabout (apologies to the late Gbolabo Ogunsanwo). She begins by asserting that “We always knew the day would come when former Lagos governor, Bola Tinubu, would declare his interest in running for president”. If so, why is she just writing this piece after Tinubu’s public announcement of his aspiration? It was this announcement that made the previous possibility a certainty and thus worthy of sustained national discourse. Adelakun seeks to portray herself as a skilled futurologist but she falls short – badly.

Again, she states that “In a country where politics is about seizing power, his presidential ambition has been especially obsessive”. Despite the all too obvious limitations of our democracy, politics in Nigeria is not about ‘seizing power’. It is about contesting and winning elections that have become more and more transparently and credibly conducted as the country’s democracy evolves. Furthermore, Adelakun avers that “After leaving government in 2007, he has been calculatedly amassing the resources that will land him in Aso Rock”. This is interesting. So it was after Tinubu left office that he began amassing the resources for his presidential ambition? The truth is that Tinubu did not enter politics as a pauper. He had been a success in the private sector before rising to become Treasurer of ExxonMobil as an accountant. Before then, he had worked in several Fortune 500 companies in the US as a lead auditor.

What Adelakun ignores is that Tinubu is a gifted investor and skilled businessman. During the pro-democracy struggle, it is well known that he was one of the major financiers of the fight to dislodge military rule. He had petrol stations in US, proceeds of which he used to sustain the struggle. Nobel Laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka, writes in his authobiography, ‘You Must Set Forth at Dawn’ that Tinubu once approached him to participate in rice importation business from the Far East when they were in exile during the struggle. Of course, the Nobel Laureate declined as he was not that business-oriented. However, Tinubu continued with the business as part of the bid to raise money to support the struggle. Adelakun must know that just as she is talented in fictional writings, others like Tinubu may be gifted in turning opportunities into money.

Having served as governor of Lagos State for eight years, should Tinubu have retired into inactivity? Is it a crime for him to pursue his passion for business and investment? If you are opportuned to be governor of a state like Lagos for eight years, do you need to steal to be wealthy? What about the legitimate opportunities, connections and influence the position affords? Adelakun asserts that Tinubu “does not represent the future”. She does not think she should tell her readers why so. Interestingly, Adelakun attempts to anticipate possible rejsponses to the loopholes in her article. Thus, she makes two concessions. First, she admits that Tinubu has the constitutional right to contest for any elective position just as “we too retain the right to point out that his candidacy is unproductive”. Again, we are not told how and why she arrives at this conclusion.

Secondly, she admits that “We also know that he has not yet been convicted of any crime, especially criminal self-enrichment”. Yet, she goes ahead to constitute herself into a court of law and pronounce magisterially on what she calls “the heavy weight of his moral baggage”. She submits that “Everything about his persona is shady, from his parentage to his age and educational history”. But she does not furnish her readers with what she considers to be the real facts as regards these issues. According to her, “Not only has the destiny of Lagos revolved round him since 1999, but he has also plugged his immediate family members into powerful positions just so he can control governance resources at all levels”. To the best of my knowledge, Nigeria runs a constitutional democracy. It is impossible for anyone to become governor of any state including Lagos without going through general elections. All elections in Lagos since 1999 before the 2019 polls were conducted by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) controlled by PDP governments at the centre. Adelakun does not furnish us with names of Tinubu’s family members whom he has put in powerful positions, what those positions are or whether they qualified to hold such positions in their own right. Should Tinubu’s family members abandon their own skills, talents, careers and vocations simply because their relative is a prominent Nigerian politician?

Amazingly, Adelakun seeks to play down Tinubu’s widely admired ability to identify brilliant minds and utilize their skills in key positions in public office. According to her, “If anything, Tinubu’s judgement on leadership selections is more than enough proof of his lack of managerial acumen… We would be better convinced if they highlighted the substantial results of this cadre of leaders he graciously implanted in key places”. This reasoning is childish and ridiculous. The major problem with Nigeria at the centre in 1999 was former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s inability to ensure the emergence of capable successors who could build and improve on whatever accomplishments his administration achieved between 1999 and 2007. It was a question of incompetence and lack of vision from the late Umaru Yar’Adua to Dr Goodluck Jonathan. This has not been the case in Lagos. You may disagree with their politics but no one can question the competence and suitability for office of Tinubu’s successors in Lagos. – Mr Babatunde Raji Fashola, Mr Akinwumi Ambode and now Mr Babajide Sanwo-Olu.

Trying in futility to disprove Tinubu’s success story as a performing and path-finding governor of Lagos State, Adelakun describes Lagos as “A concrete jungle and veritable hell on earth, the city is regularly categorized along war-torn cities and poverty capitals of the world”. One thing is clear, this columnist is totally unaware of what Lagos used to be as at 1999 and what tremendous progress the state has made since then in all sectors. For instance, in his ‘Etiko Revo Wetin?’ album released in the second republic, Professor Wole Soyinka writes the following verse referring to Lagos:

“The Russian astronauts flying in space
Radioed a message to their Moscow base
They said, we are flying over Nigeria
And we see high mountain in built-up area
Right in the middle of heavy traffic
Is this space madness, tell us quick!
These facts were fed to the Master Computer
Which soon analyzed the mystery factor.
That ain’t no mountain, the Computer said, snappish,
It’s just a load of their national rubbish”

The literary genius was referring to the mountains of refuse that dotted the entirety of the Lagos landscape from Ikoyi to Ikeja, from Ajamgbadi to Alimosho and Ikorodu to Badagry before 1999. Adelakun may be unaware that at that time most Lagos roads were crater-filled, children carried desks and chairs from home to school and back daily, school walls routinely collapsed wounding and killing children, hundreds of Lagosians could be seen on the streets carrying all sizes of containers in search of water, banks were robbed and cars snatched in broad daylight just to name a few. It was the establishment of LASTMA among others that helped to substantially reduce the chaos that daily used to be the Lagos traffic.

Yes, Lagos is not yet where she ought to be, but she has made tremendous progress on all fronts since 1999. The Internally Generated Revenue of the state then was a meager N600 million per month. It rose to between N8 billion and N10 billion under Tinubu and now stands at over N40 billion per month. This is not due to chance or happenstance. It is a function of deliberate, systematic and methodical planning. Adelakun asserts that the governments in power in Lagos since 1999 have been “unaccountable in their financial dealings”. She has a responsibility to alert the anti- corruption agencies of whatever infractions she is aware of by government officials in Lagos State since 1999 or forever keep her peace.

Displaying gross ignorance, Adelakun writes that “in the stretch of time that Lagos entered one man’s pocket, the founding fathers of places like the United Arab Emirates advanced their societies from barren deserts into modern cities. China pulled hundreds of millions out of poverty and Singapore transitioned from a backwater into a modern society”. It is quite amusing here that the all-knowing Adelakun does not know the difference between sovereign nations and Lagos State as a sub-national. The fact that Adelakun expects Lagos State and UAE or Singapore to perform at same optima level reveals a columnist cocooned in her own alternative reality. The potentials of Lagos have largely been stalled and curtailed by the inequities and dysfunctions of the Nigerian skewed federation. Against this context, the state has done remarkably well since 1999.

Adelakun writes most curiously that “Those who believe that Tinubu has a peculiar skill for selecting worthwhile leaders should at least account for his prudence in fostering a crassly incompetent leader like Buhari, not once but twice! Buhari turned out to be a disaster during his first term, but Tinubu promoted him for a second term”. I am unaware that Tinubu put a gun to anybody’s head to vote for Buhari in 2015 or 2019. Neither did he cast a spell on the electorate to vote for his candidate except Adelakun can prove otherwise. Without Buhari’s solid base of electoral support in the North, it is difficult to see how the PDP could have been dislodged from power in 2015 and won victory again in 2019 no matter what starry-eyed armchair analysts like Adelakun may write.

It should be said that ever since Punch newspaper indulge her with column writing, Adelakun has been nothing more than a self-conceited rabble rouser whose only stock in trade is constant demolition of people and institutions for no other reason than to satisfy her sadistic impulse. Abimbola is one columnist that exhibits poor understanding of issues she magisterially pontificates on. When a columnist writes either out of ignorance or just plain mischief and prejudice like Abimbola does, she becomes a dangerous affliction on public discourse. She has become all too predictable as a columnist – a closed mind and pitiable one tracker. Being a closed mind is not a trait of a genuine intellectual.

*Ayo Oladele Peters, a public affairs analyst, writes from Lagos