The Return of the Jagaban: Matters Arising?


By  George Samson, the deputy editor

My daughter of 10 years had innocently asked me this question: “Sir, who is Jagaban?”  I was taken aback at first but decided to ask her why the question. She replied that the man was all the time in the news and wanted to know if he was the President of Lagos State. I said no and went on to tell her that he is just an ordinary politician; she stubbornly added that she saw and watched a video in which an obvious sycophant had said to him” See you soon Mr President!”

Then she asked me further what his real name was to which I said I do not know. I did well to tell her that from what we hear, his name appears to be Alhaji Bola Ahmed Tinubu. Very clever girl; she followed that question by asking me where he came from. Puzzled, I replied frankly that I do not know, although I ventured to say I read in Wikipedia that he is a Lagosian to which she promptly said no, insisting that her friends had told her that he is from Osun State, outside Lagos State. Phew! As if she was a police officer probing deeper, she threw a bombshell at me saying that she had also seen a video that went viral disputing his age. These kids of nowadays! They certainly know their game! That’s what social media thus anyway. Aghast, I then stopped her in her tracks and politely changed the topic.

Why this preamble? Well, the truth is the Jagaban is no small figure in Nigeria. By all standards today, he is arguably a very important personality. The governor of Ondo State had alluded to him as “the Capone”, that is, as the head of the “mafia” or a powerful body that wields so much influence. Yet, he remains a mystery. Everything about his biodata is shrouded in seeming controversy. There is even a dispute about his real mother—not to mention where he schooled.

But the truth is that he occupied high positions including being a senator and two-time governor!  Indeed, he has done so well for himself that political office seekers have no alternative than to call him “The Lion”. The Igbo proverb has it on record that it is prestigious to be named after powerful animals such as the Tiger, Lion and Elephant! So, if the Jagaban is presently called “The Lion”, he must have shown some prowess and some sagacity—not in real fighting though. But he has held the Lagos State power structure for nearly 20 years! This is a record.

To be called a “lion” obviously mean that such a person must either be dead or have a magical potion.  The Jagaban must have been “deadly” in muscling the State into parting with some hefty “commission” as is widely known It is said in the same political circles that the fear of this “Capone” is the beginning of wisdom. How true! For such a man, whatever happens to him on the wrong side is bound to shake the political terrain as was shown in his recent health challenges. While recuperating in London, the movers and shakers in the society fell over themselves to pay homage to him in his London abode. Before then, he had been strident advocating his interest in the 2023 presidential contest. So strong was the campaign, a lot of people actually prayed that this would not be the case of the Antelope who danced herself lame before the real dance was to come! Described as the “National Leader” of the ruling party, the “Asiwaju” was everywhere in the newspapers; though it is whispered secretly that he is a leader without troops judging from the way crucial decisions are taken behind his back, that is however subject for another day. The way he bragged and carried himself, you actually believed that, indeed, come 2023, this “lion” would really occupy Aso Rock.

In trying to foist this impression on the rest of us, the entire machinery of Lagos State –including the treasury–was turned into massaging his ego. One man! No wonder there is this belief that the keys to the political and financial fortunes of the State are in his pocket! No one dared challenge him. No decision is considered worthy without his stamp of authority. The governor of the State is not bold enough to openly confront him. So his breath elicits fear and trembling.  At least as his pen name connotes, the presence of the “Lion” makes the weak scamper for safety. There is this joke making the rounds that in the recent ward congress, the ‘governor” had begged profusely to be allowed to nominate his ward councillor and chairman; he was said to have been rebuffed and left to rue his ugly fate. Such is the toughness of the “Jagaban”, that many would have expected him to draw a line when the ovation is loudest and turn a new leaf—or flow with the tide. He appears not to know this.

Maybe that is why my daughter asked: is he the president of Lagos? Nevertheless, looking at the group photograph he took on his return from London with close associates, one of those described as “Tinubu boys” is actually close to 80 years! His new identity becomes evident. It was clear that this “Lion’ was apparently getting old; let’s hope that it is not too late for this “Leader” who takes so much delight in promoting his private values ignoring the wish of millions of Nigerians. In that group photograph, one would have expected the entire Southwest governors to be in attendance. Or is he expecting only “Gbaja”, “Adebule”, “Sanwo” and the feeble Tinubu boy to deliver the ticket to him?

It is even complicated for him now that the senate has adopted “direct primaries”, thus eliminating the crooked delegate procedure where corruption is rife! You could see that gradually his wings are being clipped—by nature! Coupled with electronic transmission of results, the powers to dictate and install stooges has abruptly been removed.  Surely, these are not the best of times for this ageing Lion. His 20 years’ supreme reign in the State has completely alienated him from the grassroots; he has been too busy “running deals” for himself and his family leaving the entire state shortchanged. How can someone be happy if he is described as “richer” than the State?

No wonder, on a recent visit, this writer found squalor, stagnation and nothing else. The rumour has been that the governor’s hands were “tied”; you don’t want to ask by who. And I asked myself: Why do we allow this? And someone responded that a former governor that tried to look at the Jagaban in the “eyes” was prevented from completing his second term! Nevertheless, this is the year 2021—not 1999 and the world is moving. It is time for stocktaking. What would the Jagaban be remembered for? Will he be regarded in the same mould as the Awolowo’s, the Abiola’s? The late Abiola won an election nationwide; he was an enigma, a political icon; on a muslim-muslim ticket, he did the impossible winning by clear margin although the election was later annulled. The late Obafemi Awolowo is till this day a reference point in general welfare and development.  Does the Jagaban honestly qualify to be compared to them?

As a leader who is said to command so much influence, can he measure up with the late Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore? If in the last 20 years Lagos had actually been turned into mini Singapore it would have been visible to ordinary eyes. At last, all we hear of this Jagaban is the huge financial war chest amassed by allegedly turning the State into a cash cow! This is why notable scholars have searched his achievement which his lieutenants say revolve around humanity but found nothing on the ground—save his skyscrapers, mansions, chateaus and limousines.

They found no ideology that would lead the Yoruba into the next decade—nothing intellectual—no vision whatsoever. Surely that is not the way to play the politics of the present millennium. The old Lion has left it too late. The photograph featuring a handful of “Tinubu boys” with no worthy men of repute in attendance tells it all; it is clear that the All Progressive Congress party has moved on. The train has since left Bourdillion and those hangers-on still playing the ostrich; all those in that group photographs are there for themselves —-not the Jagaban. They are playing politics to the detriment of the overall welfare and progress of the State. Lagos State must be liberated from these charlatans. The game is up for them and in case they don’t know, they should go and read the story of Ichabod; no one needs any handwriting to know that the glory has departed from Bourdillion! If a man whose age is in dispute, his state origin as well as certificates, then we must be extremely careful. But, do we learn? Time will tell,