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Strictly Personal

On campaign gaffes, missiles and banters by Simon Kolawole

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The best way to enjoy electioneering seasons is to be emotionally detached. The moment you are a player — or you are emotionally invested — you cannot have fun to the fullest. There will be too much tension and excitement racing through your blood. Too much prejudice will block your sight. You will cry when you should be laughing and laugh when you should be crying. Although I can bet that everybody (including myself) has a soft spot for one presidential candidate or the other, everybody’s emotions are not on the same wavelength. There are levels to these things. Less than 10 weeks to the presidential election, I can bet that most people already know where they belong.

The campaign season has given us plenty entertainment and worries. Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, the APC presidential candidate, has been under the spotlight for his gaffes. And there are plenty of them, the chief being his closing prayer at the flag-off of his campaign in Jos, Plateau state, on November 15. He was saying “God bless PD…” before changing his supplication to “God bless APC”. This was particularly strange. He has been an opponent of PDP since 1999, so I would not expect him to invoke God’s blessings on them, not when he is the APC candidate. Except, of course, he meant to say “PDM” which his political associates in 1991/92 formed ahead of joining the PDP in 1998.

One of those associates was Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, the vice-president from 1999 to 2007 and the presidential flagbearer of the PDP in the 2023 elections. Atiku was the brain behind PDM (Peoples Democratic Movement) made up of several political associates of the late Maj-Gen Shehu Musa Yar’Adua, the former chief of staff, supreme headquarters who was second-in-command to Gen Olusegun Obasanjo as military head of state (1976-1979). PDM was the strongest faction of the PDP from 1999 to 2003 before Obasanjo, now civilian president, dealt a fatal blow on it while disrupting Atiku’s plan to unseat him. Obasanjo went on to make sure Atiku did not succeed him in 2007.

Why would Tinubu want God to bless PDP or PDM, no matter how close he was, or is, to Atiku? They are now political rivals, for crying out loud! Well, one good turn deserves another. Atiku repaid Tinubu’s friendship with his own prayer on December 13 — also in Jos! There must be something about Jos. In his remarks at the rally, Atiku was shouting “God bless A…” before saying “I mean PDP!” Nigerians are making much of the fact that both gaffes happened on a Tuesday, but I am not aware that Tuesdays carry any significance in superstition. I know of Mondays, which foretell how the week would go. Caution: I am not an expert on superstitions, so don’t trust my analysis.

One gaffe that did not trend was committed by Mr Peter Obi, the presidential candidate of the Labour Party, in nearby Lafia, Nasarawa state, on October 13. This preceded the “God bless” syndrome. Speaking at his rally, Obi said: “Nasarawa is big… it is a great country.” His supporters said he meant Nasarawa can be a great country if it were on its own, since Israel is not as big. Nice one! After all, Nasarawa, like Israel, is rich in agriculture. And Israel is a great country. Don’t you just love the Obi-dients! But, seriously, given that Nasarawa was created out of Plateau in 1996, are there demons of gaffe in that axis that we need to cast out? Hint: some pastors can make money from it.

Another interesting thing this season is the townhall meetings and TV debates. The trailblazing THISDAY/Arise group is organising a series. I hereby confess that I love debates. I enjoyed the 1993 face-off between Chief MKO Abiola and Alhaji Bashir Tofa. However, Tinubu has ignored invitations by THISDAY/Arise — and the group has in turn accused him of trying to undermine free speech. A full-blown war has now ensued between both camps. Tinubu’s media managers have maintained that their principal has his own media engagement plan and excluding THISDAY/Arise is not the same as excluding the entire Nigerian media. That is the matter we have been trying to settle since.

But why do favourite presidential candidates shun debates? Ahead of the 1999 presidential election, a TV debate was organised between Obasanjo, the PDP flagbearer, and Chief Olu Falae, the joint candidate of the Alliance for Democracy (AD)/All Peoples Party (APP) which you can easily call the APC of today. Obasanjo, who was generally believed to be the candidate of the establishment, did not turn up for the scheduled two-hour debate. A disappointed Falae said: “It is an understatement to say I am embarrassed to sit alone and be debating with myself.” It had to be reduced to one hour, more like a TV interview. Obasanjo’s handlers said he was not aware of the well-publicised event.

The conclusion in the AD/APP camp then was that Falae, an economist trained at the University of Ibadan and Yale University, was going to tear Obasanjo to pieces. There were a few people who believed that the Abiola/Tofa debate played a major role in the way Nigerians voted on June 12, 1993 and Obasanjo did not want to be outshined. I don’t know how true. All these were conjectures. Whatever the case was, Obasanjo did not attend the 2003 debate either. That one could be explained this way: he was the sitting president and his record was going to be savaged by his opponents, including Maj-Gen Muhammadu Buhari, Dim Emeka Ojukwu and Pastor Chris Okotie.

While what Obasanjo did in 2003 was basically an interview with a panel of journalists, Alhaji Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, the PDP candidate, did not even make media appearances in 2007. I remembered he only visited Mr Nduka Obaigbena, THISDAY chairman, at his Ikoyi home and granted something like an interview. He fell ill during the campaign and some rallies went on without him. When rumours started circulating on the internet and via SMS (there was no WhatsApp then) that Yar’Adua was dead, Obasanjo had to call him on live TV to ask, rather hilariously, “Umoru, are you dead?” Yar’Adua went on to win the election which, even in his own opinion, was a shambles.

The conclusion of many analysts was that Yar’Adua would still have won without the performance-enhancing drugs administered by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) under the leadership of the inimitable Prof Maurice Iwu. Sadly, Yar’Adua was not alive to run for a second term. Dr Goodluck Jonathan, his deputy, took over. He too did not participate in the 2011 TV debate. At least he had a PhD, so the Falae scenario could not have been his worry. And he had only been in office for one year, so there was not much to criticise him for. The NTA finally organised what was really an interview for him. He still won the election, like Obasanjo and Yar’Adua did before him.

Ironically, Jonathan badly wanted a debate with Buhari in 2015. Even though his own five-year record as president risked coming under attack, including issues of corruption and Boko Haram insurgency, Jonathan was obviously finally confident that Buhari would not outperform him in a debate, so he wanted it. Buhari, who debated Prof Pat Utomi in 2007, declined. Jonathan, instead, had to debate with Mr Godson Okoye of the United Democratic Party (UDP), Mrs Remi Soniaya of the Kowa Party, Chief Chekwas Okorie of the United Progressive Party (UPP), and Mr Martin Onovo of the National Conscience Party (NCP). Need I remind us that Buhari went on to win the election?

In 2019, Buhari copied Jonathan by refusing to turn up for the debate. His record was going to be under attack, obviously, with Atiku tipped to do better in a televised debate. That Buhari went on to win the election without debating might have strengthened the unwanted tradition in our presidential electioneering where sitting presidents or bookmakers’ favourites do not turn up. Tinubu’s media managers have made it clear that he would not attend the THISDAY/Arise series because there is a plot to embarrass him. I do not see Tinubu participating in any debate either — if history is anything to go by. Should we, therefore, conclude that presidential debates are jinxed?

My sense is that those rated as favourites do not want to debate because, while there is a consensus that debates don’t determine how most Nigerians vote, a slip of tongue may have a negative effect on them. It is more about not wanting to surrender the advantage so as not to lose the momentum. This has been recurring. Also, all the other candidates will be focusing on attacking the so-called front-runners. In the process, their opponents may say something really damaging that will cost them some votes. Some

would prefer to be attacked in absentia than being embarrassed on air by their opponents. From where I am watching proceedings, that is my usual reading of the reluctance.

Putting all the brickbats and missiles aside, we are faced with the reality that there is no Nigerian law compelling candidates to debate. It is more of a tradition. I love debates particularly because you can gauge the level of knowledge and composure among the candidates. However, I cannot vouch that debates will determine the outcome of elections. Just like the issue of vote-buying, my understanding of the Nigerian electorate is that elections are won more based on political networks, affinities, and primordial sentiments rather than academic credentials such as PhD and ability to debate. More so, you may speak smooth English during debates and still be a disaster in office.

All said, though, I am enjoying this campaign season without tears. The cheeky rascal in me is loving some of the missiles being exchanged between Tinubu and Atiku. They are comical. I love the Dubai digs and the Chatham House taunts. I am not enjoying much of the Obi vs Tinubu jibes because I feel they are too deep. Not surprisingly, there is little or nothing in the Atiku vs Obi axis, probably because until a few months ago, Obi was a PDP member. He was Atiku’s running mate in 2019. The affinity is too fresh to be discarded just like that. I can understand. But that would not stop me from enjoying all the drama this electioneering has to offer. I need another bag of popcorn, please.

Strictly Personal

Tinubu and ghosts of fuel scarcity, new naira notes, By Festus Adebayo

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In a piece I wrote entitled A O M’erin J’oba At Tinubu’s Colloquium(April 1, 2018) I warned that the man who has now become the presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress, (APC) Bola Ahmed Tinubu, was making a strategic mistake in assuming that Buhari loved him. Or that he would probably want to relinquish power to him. Using a famous folklore rendered as tale told by the moonlight in traditional African Yoruba, but which Chief Obafemi Awolowo’s Minister of Works and folklorist/writer, Joseph Odunjo, brought into vivid perspective in his Alawiye Yoruba literature series, I explained how Tinubu, resting his belief on a mistaken belief that Buhari would requite the good done him in making him president, would make a fatal fall.

Using the animal world as a motif, Odunjo told this story which ancient Yoruba belief used to depict gross human deception and how human beings are easily susceptible to and capable of mischief. Represented as a character with power, majesty and acclaim, the mammoth-sized Elephant, the beast, was the untouchable king of the jungle and lord of the manor whose humongous size was a huge bother to other animals in the jungle. Several efforts were made to oust his prowess, to no avail. So, a plot was hatched using his majesty as his destruction. Tortoise, a cunning and serpentine animal, was procured to do the hatchet job. Tortoise resolved that, given Elephant’s size and height, violence would not bring him to his hilt but a seemingly innocuous strategy of deception, praise-singing and bootlicking.

Tortoise then went into the cave of the Almighty Elephant. His message was that, all animals had purposed to make him their King in the jungle. Elephant was to come to the palace adorned in the full regalia of a King. Prior to the day, Tortoise had dug a very deep ditch that could swallow Elephant’s elephantine and mammoth size by the palace. He however decorated it with a beautiful wool carpet worthy of a king’s royal feet, complete with an ornamented chair just at the edge of the royal carpet. Encircling the carpet, all the animals in the town clapped and hailed the new King dressed in flowery royal robe as he walked majestically towards the royal carpet. They cheered the Elephant on, shouting a o m’erin j’oba, eweku ewele. The Elephant, in turn, fascinated by the splendor and cheer, walked majestically to be crowned and fell into the ditch and unto his death.

My conclusion in that piece about the Tinubu-Buhari silent tango was: “The President is thus prepared to play the Tortoise, sing a o m’erin j’oba and fawn Tinubu the Elephant so as to humour his ego. The strategy would be that, by the time it would be too late for Tinubu to make a U-turn, the Hannibal and Chaka the Zulu would lift up his scabbard, draw out his dagger and skewer the flesh of an Elephant who cannot see that he is on a dangerous path.” Is this folklore apt in the description of what is playing out between the duo today?

As they say in legal parlance, the most recent outburst of Tinubu in Abeokuta, Ogun State, last Wednesday has provoked issues for determination. The issues are in the form of rhetoric. You will recall that Tinubu, on a campaign train to the ancient city, had stirred the hornet’s nest when he alleged that the currency re-design policy of the Muhammadu Buhari government and the current fuel scarcity that has literally turned Nigeria into a Dystopian disaster were orchestrated by a veiled God-knows-who, with the aim of ensuring that he didn’t win next month’s presidential election.

To be sure, the allegation of a conspiracy theory was already in the public domain, long before Tinubu made that allegation. With this final Tinubu affirmation of the ploy woven masterfully in high places against him, the headline of this piece should then have been The Columnist As A Seer. In previous installments entitled Emefiele’s Terrorism Mess (December 25, 2022) and Buhari and Emefiele’s Buga Handshake (January 20, 2023) except for the fuel scarcity addition to the conspiracy theory, I submitted that the Naira re-designation policy could be targeted at the APC candidate.

In Abeokuta last week Wednesday, Tinubu mortally bit the bullet again. In his now familiar drawl, delivered in Yoruba, he hit his bare knuckles on the spatula. “If they like, they can change the ink in the naira note, we will shock them, we will win the election; the opposition (the umbrella party) will be defeated… We will take over the government from them; they are traitors that want to wrest the government from us…We will use our PVCs to take over the government from them, if they like, let them say there is no fuel, we will trek there. They are full of mischief, they want to create fuel crisis, they have started creating fuel crisis…Let the price of fuel continue to increase, they are the ones that know where they are hoarding it. They are hoarding naira notes, they are hoarding fuel, we will vote and we will win,” he told a jubilant but rowdy crowd of supporters. He thereafter revved the people up to a revolution.

The issues for determination from this outburst are tripodal. One is the domain that Tinubu always chooses to rouse Nigerian people to militant action and provoke the beast in them, apologies to Fela Anikulapo-Kuti. Why the choice of Abeokuta? Is it deliberate? Was Tinubu doing this, conscious of the historical signification of Abeokuta or it occurs by mere happenstance?

Second, who exactly were these arrows shot at? Forget the very jejune and I dare say, lacking-creative-acumen press release issued by the Directorate of Media & Publicity of the APC Presidential Campaign Council. In the statement, it hung on the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) the arrows shot by Tinubu.

“For the records, Asiwaju Tinubu during APC campaign rally at Abeokuta on Wednesday, in his statement, did not mention, blame or accuse President Muhammadu Buhari for the current challenges in the country… (he) was only adverting government’s attention to the sabotage being carried out by some Fifth columnists in the system, possibly working in cahoots with the PDP…Tinubu is aware of the salutary efforts by President Buhari to end the fuel queues, by chairing a 14-man panel…How does an advisory genuinely made by Asiwaju Tinubu to protect and create goodwill for the government of his party become an attack? It can only be so in the jaundiced view of the PDP,” the office said.

But for the dog-eat-dog mentality and saber-rattling deployed as language of communication and accepted as part and parcel of the political language and temperature of Nigeria, the APC PCC should be scandalized nationally by this barefaced cookery. It is a very tame effort at assuming that the Nigerian is a fool and has a very low reasoning capacity. The reasons are obvious.

Was Atiku Abubakar the “they” who wanted to “change the ink in the naira note”? Is the PDP currently in government, to whom Tinubu swore that “we will take over the government from them”? Is Abubakar the “if they like, let them say there is no fuel…they are full of mischief,” and who “want(s) to create fuel crisis” and “are hoarding naira notes, they are hoarding fuel,” to whom he promised that “we will vote and we will win”?

A few days after the Tinubu outburst, media reports claimed that the man, famously dubbed the Landlord of Lagos, made a nocturnal sneak into Daura, Katsina State home of Buhari, in company with three APC governors, on a “fence-mending” with the president. As at the time of going to press, this alleged sneak had not been denied nor, as usual, attributed to the “handiwork of PDP and Labour Party sympathizer” journalists by the Tinubu Ananias and Saphirra clown in the APC PCC. The question I ask is, what is responsible for this sabbatical that honour has taken from political parties’ communication machinery in Nigeria? Methinks that, rather than make mockery of oneself and the decades that one had put into journalism practice, deep thinking should show journalpreneur wolves in sheep’s clothing currently speaking for politicians that they should not allow reversible politicians tarnish what is left of their perceived honour?

Now, was Tinubu right in assuming that “they” are fighting him? I think he was. I had always argued that, rather than basing his political tomorrow on Buhari, Tinubu should have cleaned up his Yoruba home and won its confidence while using it as a bargain for 2023. He rather believed that it was more expedient to do obeisance for the Cow in the hope that he would honour him with his chunky meat. For instance, in another piece I did which I entitled Tinubu the Ap’ejalodo and His Strange Fish Friend, (September 16, 2018) using an ancient tale told in traditional African pre-colony which helped to tame the greed of pre-and post-colonial Yoruba society, as well as any tendency within it to play God, I argued that, as the Yoruba would say, constant removal of perceived bad woods from the log of woods under a cooking pot would boomerang. It was the time Tinubu was said to have made up his mind to remove Akinwumi Ambode. Now that Buhari is playing God with Tinubu’s presidential aspiration, that piece makes sense now for its Karmic significance, doesn’t it?

Even a fool knows that Buhari does not want Tinubu to succeed him. Second is that there is a mutual disdain between the two which both have clothed in shawls over the years. Buhari has, over the decades, built an impregnable moral universe round himself; a universe whose precinct was delineated by him, membership of which he defines from his narrow conception. Tinubu does not fit that definition. Tinubu is also too agitative, too Alutaic, perhaps in the mould of MKO Abiola; too much of a disrupter of long-established rulership codes, in spite of the contradictions of his being a member of that same ruling caste. Atiku Abubakar is a lesser evil for the president and occupiers of his fiefdom to banter with.

The third issue for determination is whether Tinubu deliberately spins those nukes or they are mere Freudian slips. Mainly used in psychoanalytic theories, Freudian slips, also called paraptaxis, was authored by Sigmund Freud. It is defined as an error in speech, memory or physical actions which occur due to interference from an unconscious or subdued mind with or an internal train of thoughts. You will recall that, in June, 2022, hours before the APC congress, Tinubu had made similar spark where he literally called Buhari out.

Considered a denigration of Buhari, he narrated how, without him and God, Buhari could not have been president in 2015 after he lule-edthree times in his bid for the presidency and had to weep on national television. Tinubu concluded that it was his turn to take over power. It was a daring speech which many thought was derring-do that would finally collapse his presidential aspiration. Unexpectedly, that speech finally became a deus ex-machina of Tinubu’s aspiration, giving it a huge leap, we were told. From that speech was extracted the most notoriously mentioned phrases in social and political discourses of today – O lule and emi lo kan.

Finally, should Tinubu have been making those off-the-cuff outbursts when he knows that he would eventually crawl on his belly like a coyote to beg Buhari? I don’t think so. Is it an effective strategy to tame Buhari with revelations of his nocturnal political gambles so that he can be railroaded from his preference of a successor? Maybe, but in war, which Tinubu’s current quest for the presidency can be likened to, you don’t half-decapitate your enemy. You slash their necks with deft, brutal precision. If Buhari holds the key to Tinubu transmuting from the Lord of Lagos to Lord of Aso Rock, those revelations should have been guided confidentially like a licked bowl of soup which the Yoruba say does not make a pendulum-like swing and sound in the bowels of an elder. Revealing them publicly and seemingly making mockery of an unforgiving General like Buhari could be a fatal blow to his presidential ambition.

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Strictly Personal

Umeme, grain and coffee: Why Kenya should fear Uganda’s economic gamble, By Charles Onyango-Obbo

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Uganda, the 1990s shining Africa poster boy for privatisation, is engaging in what could be East Africa’s biggest economic liberalisation reverse gear. Last year, the Uganda government formally announced it would not renew the contract of electricity distributor Umeme in 2025, when its concession expires, and that it will form a state-owned entity to take over its business.

The government’s main criticism of Umeme is its margins are too high, so it has failed to lower electricity costs, and the expensive rates have hobbled Uganda’s industrialisation ambitions. Umeme counters that it is just a distributor, and the high electricity costs are passed on from the power generators.

In two years, the debate will be resolved. Uganda will be in the midst of campaigns ahead of the January 2026 election, when President Yoweri Museveni, weighed down by the wear and tear of 40 years in office, will likely be bidding for a record-shattering ninth term, with his son, Gen Muhoozi Kainerugaba, among those trying to wrestle the crown from his head. It will be the worst possible timing because incumbents rarely make the most enlightened decisions during heated election campaigns. As the West Africans say, there will likely “be a lot of cry.”

Distribution concession

Umeme was formed in 2004 when the government of Uganda granted the distribution concession to a consortium belonging to Globeleq, a subsidiary of the Commonwealth Development Corporation of the UK, which held 56 per cent, and South Africa’s now inept utility corporation Eskom, which had 44 per cent. In 2006 Eskom exited the consortium, and Globeleq became the sole owner of Umeme.

The regional impact could be significant because, among other things, Umeme shares are cross-listed on the Nairobi Securities Exchange. If it unravels, Kenyan shareholders would be left crying in their bowls, and we could be back to the feud over regional assets that followed the break-up of the first East African Community in 1977.

Too messy to swallow

The renationalisation of Umeme will not be unique. Kenya just tried to renationalise cash-haemorrhaging national carrier Kenya Airways but found it too messy to swallow. The recently elected new government of President William Ruto has decided to throw it back on the block.

The difference in Uganda is that Umeme is just the shallow end of the pool. There are other moves to renationalise the very lucrative liberalised coffee sector by granting a near-monopoly to a Vinci Coffee Company, owned by controversial and shadowy Italian “foreign investor” Enrica Pinetti, to process and export Uganda’s coffee. That would take Uganda back to the early 1990s when the disastrous Coffee Marketing Board was disbanded.

A similar move is being made to give the Grain Council of Uganda, on paper a non-profit membership organisation, the kind of sway over the country’s grain last seen in the colonial era.

The force behind the Grain Council is the otherwise amiable president’s younger brother, retired Lt-Gen Salim Saleh (Caleb Akandwanaho), a sly operator who is the second most powerful figure in the land. A nationalist and statist, Saleh has led a quiet but effective assault against laissez-faire liberalisation, which he argues has mostly benefited foreigners and left Ugandans with only holes in their pockets. He has taken over a large chunk of the country’s agricultural budget and several “development” functions under the amorphous state-created vehicle Operation Wealth Creation (OWC) that he heads and inserted disciples in key national economic institutions.

Return to old roots

This state of affairs is a dramatic return to old roots. Uganda launched the first of a series of economic liberalisations in the 1990s that were deemed impossible in Africa at the time and anathema in the hyper-nationalist traditions that were entrenched in post-independence Africa.

It was the first country in Africa to radically liberalise its foreign exchange market and still maintains one of the least-interventionist approaches to the money market on the continent. It was also the first in East Africa to pass laws that gave the central bank extensive independence.

It was the first on the continent in the early 1990s to liberalise the fuel market and scrap fuel subsidies. Again, in East Africa, at least, it is the government that meddles least in setting the price of gas at the pump. When fuel prices skyrocketed everywhere following the Russian invasion of Ukraine last year, it alone was the East African government to flatly refuse to even consider a fuel subsidy and price cap, as all the rest of the EAC states did.

Price of food

Uganda, too, is the country where the price of food is most considered none of the government’s business. When Ugandans read stories and political fights over maize in Kenya, and the government setting the price, to some of them, it sounds like a tale about an alien planet.

The country and economy that Uganda is today are about to change. Some of the changes have to do with the politics of the Museveni succession and how the family and vested interests that have coalesced around the State House view their future security. A lot of it, though, is because of some good things: the rebirth of the EAC; the end of the wars in Uganda and the ushering in of the country’s longest spell of peace; the rebound of a post-KANU Kenya; and the Rwanda post-genocide recovery.

If there are two people in East Africa outside Uganda, who have edged Uganda to the fork in the road where it is today, they are Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame and former Kenya president Mwai Kibaki.

The author is a journalist, writer, and curator of the «Wall of Great Africans». Twitter@cobbo3

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