Nigerians have had different sorts of presidents and heads of state in which they can make a variety of comments on their nature, character, sense of responsibility, and style of governance. As opinionised by John W. Gardner, leaders come in many forms, with many styles and diverse qualities. Some found strength in eloquence and could be heard in the next compound, some in judgment, while some in courage. Some were good in crafting and setting goals and agenda, but not in delivering on those commitments. Altogether, the citizens’ lives today are the sum total of their leaders’ brands of presidency.
But come May 29 2023 to 2027, Nigerians will witness another kind of president that has promised not to squander the mandate they gave him because it was a dream he has spent his life perfecting. While some groups are praying for him, others are setting agenda for his government. Nevertheless, anticipations are high, and they are worth examining given past experience. Hence what kind of a president and commander-in-chief of the armed forces will the President-elect, Bola Ahmed Tinubu be? About four weeks to be sworn in, it is appropriate to envision the kind of president everyone is talking about to bring relief to their lives and civility to systems, and begin to address the deep-seated causes of their national problems.
Of course, a lot has been said about his patriotism, personality, wisdom, conscience, empathy, doggedness, achievements, mentorship, style of governance in Lagos State, and elsewhere. I am sure his core philosophy and principles, pragmatism and skilful political powers that will be deployed to tackle major problems facing this country have earned him the election victory. Some conversations among friends, colleagues, tweets on social media and others are imagining the kind of president they are about to experience with questions such as: What is he bringing to ameliorate their social, economic and security hardships? How does he plan to achieve his campaign promises? Will his age and health going to be a challenge during his presidency? Is he going to be different from his predecessors? Will his government blame the past administrations for failures and intractable challenges they encounter? How is he going to unite the country? Will he follow up on his “competent” appointees to achieve shared prosperity and development for all? How are the governors going to cooperate with him?
Tinubu must be a problem-solver going by some glimpses of his personality and leadership qualities close associates and keen watchers of the president-elect offered. For example, President Muhammadu Buhari in a released statement on March 28 assured Nigerians that they would experience effective governance under Tinubu because of “his political pedigree and experience.” Likewise, the Minister of Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola, in an interview three weeks ago disclosed on Channels TV reasons why Tinubu could never be like Buhari in style of governance. According to him, Tinubu is “very detailed and micromanages more than Buhari.” He advised that, “For those who are going to work with him, let me warn them, he is very nocturnal and I hope he changes, so he will wake you up, he does his best work in the dead of the night, unless you can push back and claim your space at night, he will encroach it.”
As a team player and a tutor, Fashola then likened Tinubu to a football coach as Mourinho who would not only delegate but also stay with his players during games. His revelation corroborated what I had heard about Tinubu’s nocturnal work habit and as a workaholic. History has it that the former Prime Ministers of Nigeria and Britain, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa and Sir Winston Churchill had this nature, like other great leaders. Tinubu’s deep work ethic indicates that Nigerians are to expect a workhorse and thorough president that fit for breakthroughs in policy and project implementation. Lack of a sense of duty, close supervision and accountability has contributed to executive failures. Nigeria needs a kind of president that can rally his team towards a goal.
Action is needed to make his Agenda of Renewed Hope meaningful to the ordinary Nigerians. For someone who has been widely described as a noble manager of human and material resources, Tinubu promises to be a president that will bring his work ethos and influence to bear on the administration and management with a view to make Nigeria great again. Tinubu’s uniqueness means that he would be a president not only in wording but also in substance.
No doubt, he is becoming a president at an unprecedented time in Nigerian history, and also in the context of the shifting global order. His touted exceptional abilities fit for a leader that will be a president over people that are struggling and reeling from the disruptive covid-19 pandemic, inflation, daunting debt profile, high rate of unemployment, Russia-Ukraine war, CBN’s cash policy crunch effect, multi-front violence, post-election political fault lines, deteriorating social values, and the looming subsidy removal. All this requires the remarkable leadership qualities that will go not only beyond competent officials but also uncommon public trust and confidence. If he brings his unique style that reflects his character, then it means Tinubu will be one-of-a-kind-president Nigeria has ever had.
Nigeria is changing very fast amid local and global dynamics. Like he has said on the occasion of his 71stbirthday, “I have prepared for this moment all my life, I will not fail.” The steps he takes in his first 100 days in office and to stabilize the economy as soon as possible will indicate whether or not he will put Nigerians at the centre of his administration and renew their hope and dreams. For a man who has survived in politics, and formed large numbers of enduring relationship with followers is expected to speak truthfully to the Nigerian people who will further support him to succeed. It also means he will be the kind that will not blame past administrations for his failures or difficulties but be honest with his shortcomings. Once he gives orders or directives to his “competent” officials, he would see through (monitor) to the conclusion of their mandates.
The same is applicable to our foreign policy and relations. Tinubu looks like a president that will be resolute with world leaders desirable in this era of multipronged geopolitical rivalries. Pragmatism should define our bilateral and multilateral cooperation so as to bring back our former glory and respect. In a time when terrorism, human-made problems and recurring crises contribute to multifaceted and complex emergencies nationally, it is suitable to have a leader with multidimensional understanding of these problems. Tinubu’s aura of success will the kind that will surround his presidency expecting to address the escalating insecurity that has been detrimental to Nigerians’ lives and livelihoods. He looks like a president that will place more recognition to soft power security approach as against the previous hard power strategy in confronting the menace of the multi-front armed groups. That is, he will bring renewed effort to bear in understanding the systems that are sustaining conflict in Nigeria, and how best to address them.
Adding his voice to this approach last week was the Italy’s Ambassador to Nigeria, Stefano De Leo, who said that the Nigeria’s insecurity, could only be tackled by addressing the root causes, and not by military action alone. Nigerians hear almost on weekly basis that insurgents are bombed and killed in their enclaves, but wonder why the threat remains unabated. Existing recommendations including the draft National Peace Policy put forward to higher offices to prevent, resolve and manage conflict including the long-term processes of building peaceful, stable communities and societies are the kind of initiatives Nigerians are expecting their president to consider. His assurances mean his presidency would be grounded in a firm foundation of justice, reconciliation and human rights. He will have the courage to fire appointees whose programmes are bungled or conducts unethical or indecent.
No doubt. The tasks ahead are enormous and daunting, but are doable. Nigerians are highly expectant, but should moderate their expectations. The masses should be open to unexpected detours as Tinubu’s presidency will not be the panacea for all their problems. Nevertheless, I foresee a president who will instil order and discipline within the nation, and also cultivate a public image of a father figure to get a lot of things done. Tinubu will be a transactional president by connecting with people. His kind of leadership means he will engage and communicate more with the Nigerian people by speaking truthfully to them. Candour and honesty is key.
Likewise, he would moderate opposition’s concerns as both a moral imperative and a matter of strategic interest for Nigerians. As a pro-democracy activist, and given our democratic experience since 1999 on the persistent acrimonious disputes between the presidents and state governors, it is hoped that Tinubu’s presidency will be restrained in rhetoric and find a common ground with the Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF) and the National Assembly, so that it will reinforce confidence in people who sometimes wonder if ours is a democracy. Some problems need to be jointly fixed with state and local governments.
Given his boldness, articulacy with charisma and the exemplary leadership qualities that the president-elect has demonstrated in the public eye, Nigerians can only expect a president that will be different in kind from any in the past. As Nigerians have given the man known for building success “the greatest gift” of his life, he should not waver in his promise and commitment to improving their welfare and security. They cannot wait to see the kind of president that promised to rebuild and renew their hope amid layers and layers of national problems. Though he is not expected to solve all of them in four years, but his style of governance will tend to be an opportunity to begin to build systems practice, champion their aspirations and to bring about the Nigeria of their dreams. The moment to lead and fulfill destinies is here. Just like many African state builders, Nigerians expect the kind of president that will focus on leaving an enduring legacy.
Babatunde, PhD, is a peacebuilding strategist at the Institute for Peace and Conflict Resolution, Abuja; writes via [email protected]