By Rudolf Ogoo Okonkwo
Irrespective of what happens in our world, Saturday, February 25, 2023, will come and go. In the absence of unforeseen circumstances, Nigeria’s election for president will occur on that day. A day or two after, we will know the winner. It cannot be anyone other than one of the eighteen contestants. The top two will go for a rerun if none achieves an outright win.
These are what we know. The things that we do not know are many. But those can wait for another day.
Thank you, Mr. Bola Tinubu, for throwing your hat in the ring. Despite numerous people who tried to talk you out of it, you did what you must. They said that you should give room for your prodigies. You insisted that you still had something to give to the nation. They talked and talked, but you dismissed them, stating that “when the premise of an argument is wrong, the conclusion is also wrong.”
You went further by insisting that you are best suited to lead Nigeria at this time of great national challenges. As one of the architects of the fight that brought us democracy, you knew what many latter-day saints do not know. The nation is better off today because of the choice you made.
You did not just reluctantly get into the race for president. You put everything you have into it. I appreciate that commitment. You have shown young people a great example of how determined people get things done. You were not half-hearted like your boy, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo. You jumped in fully. It is the only way.
You did not give any room for excuse. Those who suggested that you have come of age did not dissuade you. There are examples of people older than you leading different nations worldwide. Those who murmured that your health might hinder you from giving the job your best received a well-deserved beat down. They are not God. You and your associates reminded them that being president does not require lifting Olumo Rock. Without knowing it, you inspired a whole generation of elders in Nigeria to get out of retirement and find ways to contribute one more time to Nigeria’s greatness.
I especially thank you for your uncompromising stance on protecting your privacy. That you are running for president does not give the citizens of Nigeria the right to know everything about you. What do the names and addresses of your primary and secondary schools have to do with the miracles you performed as governor in Lagos State? Aren’t Lagosians enjoying the fountains of life flourishing in the state because you were there? Yes. So?
Those who want to know what you did in Chicago in 1993, what does that have to do with the gridlock at Apapa port? You gave pipe-borne water to everyone in Lagos, making overhead tanks a thing of Mobolaji Bank Anthony’s past. You brought natural gas lines to all homes in Lagos, no matter how remote or poor the people are. While Nigerians in other parts of the country carry gas cylinders around like people from some third-world countries, you made life easy, peaceful and organised for Lagosians. These things matter to people, not how much money the US Justice department confiscated in your account in the 90s.
Because you stood your ground despite the attacks by misguided elements, you preserved room for credible individuals with the capacity like you to aspire for higher offices in the land. We look forward to seeing many of them in years to come to jump in to build on the foundation you will lay in the next eight years. Thanks to you, those with EFCC convictions, FBI indictments, and NDLEA arrests have nothing to worry about. When troubled by the inquisitive type, they can always refer to you and move on with their campaigns. Now that is a legacy to be proud of.
Have I mentioned how grateful I am that you carried on with your campaign in the most gracious manner? Despite the personal cost, those who provoked you received prayers from you. Those who abused you with vulgar allegations had their sins absorbed. You were kind to your most vicious critics out there who went as low as questioning your name, date of birth, and if your mother was the woman you said was your mother. Imagine the audacity! When you get slapped, you do not just turn the other cheek; you dab oil and powder on the cheek and move closer for them to get a good view. You were the lamb in a field of wolfs. Like all chosen lambs, your chi was always there to protect you.
What did they not throw at you? They blamed you for an empty bullion van that missed its way and ended up in your driveway. They wanted to know how much of Alpha Beta’s billion Naira monthly profits from collecting Lagos State taxes come to you. As a wise man, you ignored them. You even dismissed their yearning to hear you debate. It is for a good reason – not when they do not want to talk about substantive issues. You have always wanted to talk about how you single-handedly pulled Lagos out of the mouth of the Atlantic Ocean and transformed Ajegunle into a resort town.
This is something underappreciated about you. You came out of a comfortable retirement to help Nigeria crawl out of the valley of death it has fallen into. When you say Nigeria is in the valley of death, you make sure you do not blame President Muhammadu Buhari for Nigeria sitting in an abyss. It is very important.
How many men will leave the enormous retirement package that the Lagos state government has been spending on you since 2007 to bring themselves out for small children to make fun of on social media? How many? Posh houses, expensive vehicles, paid vacations, overseas medical treatments, protective services, etc., all signed into law by nobody else but you. For you, no pain is too much sacrifice if you will save the unborn children of that giant of Africa. Your unequal morality will not let you stand aloof while calamity overwhelms us. What is the point of owning one-third of Lagos when the poor children of Zamfara have no food to eat? What is the meaning of life if not to share what you have acquired and leave the world as naked and empty-handed as you came?
How impressed I was that you picked former governor Kashim Shettima of Borno State as your vice? It was a masterstroke. Once and forever, you settled all the old questions about Nigeria’s unity. In that single move, you placed competence over ethnic and religious considerations. You have said no to federal character. You have declared an end to the ubiquitous Nigerian factor. You are pointing in the right direction – merit is king. History will remember you for your boldness and foresight. It takes a genius like you to move a sluggish country like Nigeria toward compassion and empathy. For heaven’s sake, we are in the 21st century, not the dark ages. Those with nothing to offer should stop clogging the wheel of those who have the fortitude to drive our nation to its ultimate destination.
Thank you, sir, for your steadfastness as a faithful servant of the people. They threw voodoo at you, mangling the words that came out of your mouth. Still, you stand. They blew otumokpo at you, crippling your renowned swift steps. Still, you stand. They emitted hypersonic waves, attacking your bladder and other sensitive organs in your stomach. Still, despite the little leak, you stand. Not everyone will be pushed around by earth, wind, and fire, and he will remain kampe. It is living proof that God is with you.
As we go into the last days of this campaign, I want you to know that the ultimate gold crown is descending from heaven. I see it breezing toward your head. Do not shake. Keep the little cabals inside Aso Rock from making you shift and miss the divine spot destiny has reserved for you to receive your reward. I know it can be irritating, but those ants are impotent in the face of a mighty statesman like you. As the great philosopher said, “If you chop alone, you will die alone. He did not chop alone. So it is his turn to chop, too.”
Who cares if you don’t know the first line of the Quran? What matters is that you know the way. How did the holy book say it? My people perish for embracing the F8 class laboring in vain.
I don’t care what anyone else says. You are a blessing to Nigeria. Your impact on the land called Nigeria and the well-being of the 200 million people in it will outlive that of Olusegun Obasanjo, Pa Ayo Adebanjo, and Edwin Clark put together. Since we may never see another honorable man like you, I want to thank you for exposing our naïve compatriots to George Bernard Shaw’s philosophy: “I have to live for others and not for myself: that’s a middle-class morality.” Hence, the aptness of your philosophy, Emi lo kan.
Whatever happens on February 25, you, the Jagaban of all Jagabans, have done it all. You have restored our trust in the ancient adage: “a grasshopper that a noisy bird kills has a collapsed ear.”
Rudolf Ogoo Okonkwo teaches Post-Colonial African History at the School of Visual Arts in New York City. He is also the host of Dr. Damages Show. His books include “This American Life Sef” and “Children of a Retired God,” among others.