Whose Turn?

Adéwálé Májà-Pearce

Most of the results from Saturday’s presidential and national assembly elections in Nigeria are in and it seems that Bọ́lá Ahmed Tinúbú, of the ruling All Progressives Congress (if only!), has secured the necessary majority in 24 of the 36 states plus the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, to become our next head of state. The general consensus among both Nigerians and the foreign observers who descend on the country every four years to monitor our progress since the end of military rule 24 years ago is that the voting was rigged.

The EU found the exercise ‘not credible’ and the US called it ‘deeply troubling’, which is itself progress given their previous willingness to paper over the cracks in order to give what passes for democracy a chance in Africa’s most populous nation. The (supposedly) Independent National Electoral Commission was criticised for failing to adhere to the latest technology and upload the results in real time from the 176,846 polling units, but now a number of results are still unannounced because the software – which cost N117 billion – apparently broke down at the last minute for the presidential (but not the national assembly) elections. This meant the INEC was ‘forced’ to revert to the tried and trusted method of manual counting.

The two credible opposition parties – the People’s Democratic Party and the Labour Party – are calling for the presidential election to be cancelled but this is not going to happen. They have been told to go to the courts but the judicial system is hostage to the dictates of the party – and therefore the man – at the helm. This was bad enough under previous incumbents but will be worse again under Tinúbú, a former two-term governor of Lagos State, the commercial capital (where, incidentally, he lost), whose antecedents are murky, to put it mildly.

Tinúbú claims to be a descendant of the most successful indigenous slave trader in 19th-century Lagos, after whom a prominent downtown square is named (it says something about our warped sense of history that nobody has yet suggested renaming it). He also claims to be seventy years of age and yet his first child, Fọláṣadé, celebrated her sixtieth birthday two years ago with all the fanfare of a self-respecting Yorùbá chief. (She now claims to be 46; her Wikipedia page has been altered at least three times since then.) Tinúbú’s education is also a matter of controversy. Nobody has been able to unearth which secondary school he attended, and he once claimed to have graduated from the University of Chicago (which everybody had heard of) until the ‘error’ was discovered and it turned out he had meant Chicago State University (which nobody had heard of).

What we do know is that he has a lot of money, most of it dating from his time as Lagos State governor. His fortune includes a fabulous property portfolio – he may be the biggest landlord in the country after the federal government – but also a 10 per cent cut of all Lagos tax revenue which is collected by a company, Alpha Beta Consulting, registered when he assumed office in 1999. Although he left in 2007 after his mandatory two terms, the company is estimated to have earned him $176 million in 2021.

Before the 2019 presidential election, which saw Muhammadu Buhari and the APC hold onto power, Musiliu Akínsànyà, a notorious agbèrò aka MC Oluomo (among many other aliases), was filmed telling his opponents to get more guns because his gang was ready. Oluomo has described Tinúbú as his ‘father, leader and mentor’.

To put it bluntly, we now have a thug as our head of state, yet there was a genuine alternative in the person of Peter Obi, the 61-year-old Labour Party candidate. (We can discount the 76-year-old Atiku Abubakar of the PDP, a former vice-president who is himself part of the same-old-same-old, having been found by the US Senate to have used ‘a network of accounts at US financial institutions to bring over $40 million in suspect funds into the United States, through multiple wire transfers supplied by offshore corporations located in Germany, Nigeria, Panama, the British Virgin Islands and Switzerland’.)

A former two-term governor and successful businessman widely known for his humility in a country where any self-respecting Big Man cannot be seen carrying his own suitcase, Obi emerged unexpectedly as the candidate of the young: of Nigeria’s 93.5 million registered voters, just over 37 million are aged between 18 and 34 (the over-fifties number fewer than 24 million). These are the same young people who rallied peacefully around the #EndSARS movement in October 2020, demanding an end to the stupefying levels of corruption that have left the ‘giant of Africa’ with as many destitute people as India, which has more than six times our population. They were tolerated for two weeks until the army was unleashed on them.

Obi’s rallying cry, ‘it’s time to take your country back,’ resonated with the so-called ‘coconut-head generation’, the mostly urban under-thirties who consider themselves strong-willed and independent-minded, and are openly contemptuous of their entitled ‘elders and betters’ who unashamedly boast, as Tinúbú did, that ‘it’s my turn.’

And yet two questions remain. Why did so many vote for Tinúbú in the first place, irrespective of any shenanigans deployed by the INEC? And would an Obi presidency have put an end to the downward spiral? Regarding the first, many people blindly vote for their ethnic ‘brother’ whatever his politics, but there is also a willed naivety, which saw Buhari triumph in 2015. Here was a former military dictator, reviled by Wọlé Ṣóyínká as a slave driver for such abominations as causing three young men to be executed by a retroactive decree, who was now, somehow, a ‘born again’ democrat, a view shared by enough of his compatriots to win him two terms.

This is allied to our second problem, which is that we keep hoping for a messiah who will come along and magically solve our myriad problems. But the country’s problems are systemic. There is nothing organic about Nigeria, which was fashioned by a foreign conquering power for its own economic ends. With more Muslims and more Christians (in roughly equal numbers) than any other country in Africa south of the Sahara, it also has over 250 ethnic groups, of which three constitute roughly half the total population.

When the country was granted its so-called independence in 1960, the first thing the constituent parts should have done was sit down and discuss whether they wanted to remain together and, if so, how. Instead of which we, like the rest of the continent, went along with the UN Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and People – ‘Any attempt aimed at the partial or total disruption of the national unit and the territorial integrity of a country is incompatible with the purposes and principles of the charter of the United Nations’ – which contradicted the UN’s Covenant on Human Rights: ‘All peoples and all nations shall have the right of self-determination.’

In that sense, it really doesn’t matter who is declared winner, only instructive that it happens to be someone who would never have been considered in a country with a more wholesome sense of itself. The only miracle will be if Nigeria survives this decade intact.


  • 1 March 2023 at 9:00pm
    Idowu Omoyele says:
    Thank you, Mr. Adéwálé Májà-Pearce, for a characteristically candid and compelling article on your country — and mine.

  • 1 March 2023 at 10:07pm
    Cezary Bednarski says:
    Some years ago, as an architect, I had the 'pleasure' of dealing with Ashiwaju on a couple of projects in Lagos. This was when Fashola was on his first term. None came to anything and I lost lots of money. I shall say no more...