A Philosopher’s Imaginary Dialogue with President Tinubu on Nigeria’s Future

Professor Tunji Olaopa

Tunji Olaopa


Dialogue has always been a fundamental means by which philosophers communicate philosophical ideas. One reason for this might be the sometimes obtuse nature of these ideas that most people find too difficult to handle or make sense of. And the literary form comes in handy in allowing the philosopher to speak the deep and fundamental thoughts to humans. And so, we have the great dialogues of Plato, David Hume’s Dialogue Concerning Natural Religion, Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations, The Analects of Confucius, and more. Dialogues also serves as a methodological tool that allows for interlocution and questioning. No one will forget Socrates in Plato’s dialogues. The dramatic framework allows Plato to deploy Socrates as the instigator of series of questions that would have been difficult to enact if the works have been written in the normal prose form. The Socratic method has come to mean a method of soliciting ideas through the means of questions and answers in ways that draw out assumptions and ideas behind them.

In this piece, I will be experimenting with this method of philosophical dialogue by bringing the helmsman of the new administration in Nigeria, President Bola Ahmed Tinubu, into conversation.This dialogue concerns those issues pertaining to his personality and character, the new administration and his governance and policy objectives inrethinking the future of the Nigerian state. I agree this will be a daunting exercise since it involves teasing out philosophical “responses” to philosophical issues from the literary representation of someone who has several figurations in the public and political spheres.

President Tinubu is several things to several shades of Nigerians. He has been praised and blamed for so many things. And yet, he has become the president of the Nigerian state, and has been burdened with the responsibility of transforming the quality of life of Nigerians. It is the responsibility of every Nigerian now, and especially the sacred duty of anchange agent-reformer-partners, to facilitate such transformation. This is the fundamental rationale for teasing out specific ideational figurations that could serve as templates for proceeding with the critical task of democratic governance.

Question:Your “Emi Lokan” proclamation has developed a life of its own that has radiated popular culture and the social media sphere since it was dramatically uttered in the run-off to the elections. There is an existential audacity to that proclamation that transcends its popular iteration. On the one hand, it speaks to a conception of a self that is undaunted by the herculean—a person who willingly throws himself into a space where even angels fear to tread. On the other hand, the “Emi Lokan” statement situates your person and politics within the political trajectory of a country you have engaged with for as long as anyone can remember. What does “Emi Lokan” reveal about your sense of self and your political location in Nigeria?

These are deep and multilayered questions. Let me say that my now acclaimed declaration derives from not any sense of entitlement, but rather a deep sense of patriotic affiliation with the Nigerian state, and my prolonged and ongoing engagement with her. This is not to say that there is anything wrong with entitlement. Words mean many things; and for me, I see no wrong in being entitled to contribute my own quota to Nigeria’s greatness. That is where that declaration came from.

There was a point in the trajectory of my becoming that it seems that my entire adult life has been taken over by my sense of what Nigeria can become. The self is not one single stream of consciousness. It is defined by many attachments and encumbrances. Nigeria, in a manner of speaking, defines me and my life purpose in many fundamental ways.

Question:This leads to the second node of dialogue, still deepening the understanding of the self. Here, we should connect the self as political with the self as existential. Given the multiplicity of storms and political intrigues attached to your person, you personify the very essence of resilience. From several conflicts, betrayals to the presidency. What aspects of your preparation in life built in you such measure of charisma and stamina?

The point actually is that no one will ever do any great thing in life—or put himself up for other-regarding endeavors like leadership—without getting stoned. And not the least in a political space like Nigeria where a politician faces the toughest scrutiny especially for something as life-defining and as transformative as governance. And who can blame Nigerians? All the scrutinies and stoning are worth it to the extent that Nigerians deserve only the best from anyone who is worth his or her onions. I believe that, having being in the public glare for as long as I have, and having weathered so many public investigation into my intents and efforts and achievements, there is nothing else but to develop stamina, especially now that what I will do to alleviate the suffering of Nigeria will either make or mar me forever. The little achievements I have had so far in my political vocation have only serve to keep pushing me to do more. Nigeria and Nigerians deserve that. Resilience only matters when it translates, especially in political terms, to betterment for Nigerians. Permit me to borrow the wisdom of Elizabeth Edwards, the American attorney: “Resilience is accepting your new reality, even if it’s less good than the one you had before. You can fight it, you can do nothing but scream about what you’ve lost, or you can accept that and try to put together something that’s good.” This is what this new administration is determined to do. And I am putting my last blood into it.

Question:Your first few days in office has been tagged “the season of suspension” by Nigerians. There is an electrifying string of tough decisions that you already alluded to before the inauguration. From the fuel subsidy removal and its myriads of fall-out to the signing of the student loan act, you have communicated one of the most singular axioms in reform and change management—we cannot eat omelet as a nation without cracking some eggs! What dynamics of policy and praxis are we expecting? How can this momentum be sustained?

Let me answer with an insight from Yoruba philosophy. When there is a profusion of trees fallen on one another, you resolve the matter by removing those on top. Nigeria’s post-independence predicaments are many, enormous, complex, protracted and traumatic. But they are not irresolvable. The idea is to first manufacture the political will to take the tough decisions, starting from the low-hanging ones that could clear the way for attending to the deeper issues. I have in mind, for instance, a deep-seated reform of the policy space without which this administration will fail woefully. But we have to get there steadily. Good governance does not happen in a rush.

I ask for more patience. I ask for critical but patriotic engagement. I ask for your support without which we will not go far.

Question: Be sure that the entire nation is anxiously waiting for you to unfold your first eleven team, administrative and economic. From what we have seen so far, what will be the leadership philosophy you want to deploy to galvanize the momentum you have generated that ought to lead to good governance?

Good governance demands, as an imperative, teamwork within the context of a change space where a singular vision, policy intelligence and a collective energy will saturate the network of likeminded leaders to generate the governance spark Nigeria needs. I am a team player with a good eye for what can work and who can make them work. Good governance will not fly outside the dynamics of competences and skills—administrative, economic and institutional—that will drive the change management. And we are committed to look far and wide for those blessed Nigerians, at home or in the diaspora, to donate their expertise, experience and wisdom towards resurrecting our national greatness. We cannot afford any longer to play bad politics with the future of our children. Nigerians can make Nigeria great.

Question: This brings me to a strictly ideological question. What would need to change in the nature of engagement with external partners, development agencies and their ideological assumptions and economic conditionalities?

In a world that is inextricably global and conjoined, no nations can ever hope to succeed outside of the many significant bilateral and multilateral relations that keep the world running. However, no nation can also ever hope to succeed if it submits its sovereign autonomy and puts itself on an ideological leash for other nations. Nigeria must eventually arrive—and I am determined it will be under this administration—at a governance juncture where its policy architecture will determine and condition its global relationships. Who we want to become should determine the type of global relations we should have. We cannot ever hope to regain our strength if we keep operating according to other people’s vision and concept of us.

Question:What reassurance will you want to leave with Nigerians as your administration gather steams?

I think Nigerians want tangible and rewarding governance results rather than reassurances. Let me just simply say the ship of state is already out of the dock, and I definitely see some storms ahead. But we cannot scale through on leadership alone. Nigeria needs Nigerians too. This administration needs all hands on deck. I assure you that we will not be afraid to act fast, and surely and decisively on matters that will qualitatively transform all your lives for the best.  

*Tunji Olaopa, a retired Federal Permanent Secretary, is a Professor at the National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies, Kuru, Plateau State.