Bola Tinubu’s biggest shortcomings are rooted in his debilitating intellectual laziness. Two months in office have brutally exposed this.
Bola Tinubu has guile, he is cunning, and is blessed with significant street smarts, but he is not an intelligent man. Ibrahim Babangida while corrupt was very intelligent. It might be an oversell to describe Olusegun Obasanjo as intelligent but he was thoughtful and intellectually curious. He respected knowledge and sought to improve himself by acquiring it.
Tinubu has no regard for knowledge which like many ‘technocrats’ he sees as an unnecessary accessory. He believes in “getting things done’ a task the street smart operator assumes he is fully equipped for as these men of the world see wide, albeit not deep. The problem with that approach is breadth does not equate to depth. Geography explains what an earthquake is, you need geology to predict it. Tinubu is a geography teacher marooned on a reserachers chair in the department of Geology.
Tinuhu’s intellectual laziness and incuriosity, his contempt for knowledge and the skills to effectiveky acquire, analyse and process it has now caught up with him with alarmibg speed in the two areas of governance where his cynical and world view and shallow personality were always likely to be found out – His fiscal and foriegn policy responsibilities. The two critical functions that were conspicous by their absence in his suite of responsibilities during his much vaunted tenure as Lagos state governor.
State governors don’t determine economic policy, nor do they declare war. Presidents do. A certain level of thoughfulness, a grasp of theory and history, impossible without an intellectual bent is required at the federal level in a way they are not in the more administrative state leadership role.
Babangida’s relatively successful intervention in Liberia in 1990 worked because he understood that Charles Taylor’s failure to quickly seize Monrovia, as Yoweri Museveni advised him to offered a window of opportunity to intervene and capture the Liberian capital before the rebels did, denying them the vital oxygen of political legitimacy inspite of their military success. If Taylor had seized Monrovia rather than merely threatening to do so, there would have been no intervention from Ecomog as it would have divided the sub region, as Tinubu’s cack handed threat to intervene in a country where the ‘rebels’ who control the capital Niamey are the de facto government in a way Charles Taylor never was. Babangida thought it through. Tinubu hasnt.
Babangida an observant and well read man also understood the politics of the West African sub region in a manner clearly beyond the reach of Bola Tinubu who is niether observant or well read. History to him is probably a subject kids take in their O’levels. Nigeria could intervene in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Gambia because like Nigeria these countries are English speaking. The francophone countries might grumble in private but they would ultimately acquiesce.
For Nigeria, an English speaking regional power to lead an intervention in a french speaking West African country sets off every political alarm bell capable of being set off. One of the shortcomings of ‘technocrats’ or empiricists like Tinubu is their lack of a broad political vision anchored in ideology means they magnify and deify ‘reality’. To Tinubu the support of great powers like France and the US was enough to act out in front. To him having these major western powers behind him would be sufficient to declare an intent to intervene militarily in Niger and have opposition fade away.
A leader with a firmer intellectual grasp of world events and their interplay with local reakity would have been more circumspect. The US and France are no longer the forces they once were with America in particular in retreat across vast swathes of the global south. On the global stage the dominant whiff from the west is now one of weakness, not strentgh.
The greatest event of the day is the Ukranian war and there is an undeniable link between this conflict in eastern Europe and events thousands of miles away in West Africa as the war has laid bare to many in the global south the gradual decline of western power.
The western powers never intended to intervene militarily in Ukraine if the Russians invaded because of the clear risk of a military escalation with a nuclear power that would have posed. The strategy was to use the west’s global ecomonic dominance and control of the worlds financial systems to collapse the Russian economy and effect regime change in Moscow. The unprecedented ecomonic warfare launched against Russia after its February 2022 invasion of Ukraine was designed to achieve exactly that, but it has failed and spectacularly so. The Russian economy has thrived while the western European economies especially Germany’s have tottered with sky high inflation and surging interest rates.
The sanctions failed for a number of reasons; Russia’s limitless resources, in food, oil and gas, fertilisers and other critical minerals the world needs and China, India and Brazil stepping in to replace western customers. These events have not gone unnoticed in Africa where many now see a way of thriving economically without remaining permanently tethrred to the west. This is what explains the increasing defiance of countries like Guinea, Burkina Fasso, Mali and now Niger in the West African sub region. A cleverer and more thoughful leader would have considered these factors before launching a western pleasing campaign to militarily intervene in Niger. Obasanjo would have. Tinubu did not. Expertise in foreign affairs requires more intellectual subtlety and sophistication than that required to paint bus lanes on Lagos roads.
Bola Tinubu’s fiscal policies are characterised by the same thoughtlessness, laziness, adventurism and lack of foresight as his foreign policy blunders. Like him Ibrahim Babangida too was a right wing neo liberal fanatic, but a far cleverer one. Babangida read and re-read ‘The Prince’ Niccolo Machievelli’s great 16th century masterpiece on political chicanery. Before imposing the IMF diktat on Nigerians Babangida launched a phony debate on it, drawing and exhausting his opponents fire before the battle was joined meaning when it was in a different guise they had nothing left in their amoury and what they did was vulnerable to his counter battery fire as they had already revealed their positions. Tinubu doesnt read and his supporters probably think Niccolo Machiavelli refers to a rare italian wine. He launched his economic war on Nigerians during his innaguration speech before his own forces had been assembled let alone deployed. The result has been an economic melt down of epic proportions and an avoidable galvanisation of opposition too early in his administration.
Tinubu clearly understands human emotions and needs which allows him to manipulate them but the complex social patterns and interplay of unseen forces that inform them, a firm grasp of which only comes through serious study, patient analysis and an affinity for abstract knowledge is beyond him.
The intellectual ability to engage in abstract thought, to formulate broad perspectives and forge a vision that will allow him navigate the treacherous course of political leadership, that will enable him anticipate events rather than merely react to them is something which his personality and mind set will always prevent him from acquiring.
Politically he is the equivalent of an acclaimed local street fighter now in contention for the world heavy weight boxing championship title. Way out of his depth.