Tinubu: A leader and his wealth of wits

Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu




Not given to easy predictability or bandwagonism in thinking or acting, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu  hardly makes the list of early commentators on issues. Often triggering deep reflections and occasionally stirring up pun where suitable, his interventions, whenever they come, however, get to register profoundly in the public space.  This gets done often with their consistency in focus yet with uncommon depth, bothering on historical substance, reliable data and or uncommon comparative analogy.

The consistency in Tinubu’s focus preceded by focused political leadership in the southwest region of Nigeria compares with that of his advertised heroes of Mahatma Ghandhi of India and Obafemi Awolowo of Nigeria. For the duration of his eight year tenure as governor of Lagos State, a bold board displaying the photos of Ghandi, Awolowo and himself stood conspicuously within the government secretariat complex, Alausa, where he called the shots.


Defying all the overwhelming odds in colonial India, Gandhi, renowned for his peaceful advocacy, remained unbent in his commitment to the decolonization of India in his more than five decades of political career.  Like Ghandhi, Awolowo, beyond being part of the tedious anti-colonial struggle in Nigeria till date, stands, perhaps most memorable for the inimitable leadership he provided for the southwest region of Nigeria.  This posthumously earned him immortality with the renaming of the former University of Ife after him.  So much has Awolowo’s pronouncements been trans-generationationally treasured that they have been published.   The three most visible ones perhaps are the trilogy, Voice of Reason, Voice of Courage and Voice of Wisdom.

Like his proclaimed mentors, Asiwaju Tinubu’s seeming casual comments are hardly any less potent than event-induced speeches, expectedly well prepared for target events.

For instance, perhaps out of some respect for his political contemporary and a 2019 presidential hopeful, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, who was President Obasanjo’s deputy in office between 1999 and 2007, Tinubu held back on Atiku’s inter-party  shuttles in the recent years.  Atiku, described as Nigeria’s most visible political prostitute, had done these between his first political party, the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, and the All Progressives Congress, APC, only for him to return to PDP when he realized that he might not get the APC ticket to contest for president  in 2019. After numerous comments by other analysts came Tinubu’s.  He told the world that Atiku had garnered so many party membership cards enough to probably build a house!    He later promised to ensure his loss in the forthcoming presidential election as the co-chair of the presidential campaign council of the APC candidate, President Muhammadu Buhari.

But Tinubu’s ingenuity in good governance was not readily revealed when he became governor.  His ascent  to the governorship saddle of Lagos State of Nigeria almost affirmed poet Kalu Uka’s claim of the “happiest moment as the saddest encounter” on account of the sloppy take-off.   Lagos State, with about the highest population kept piling up governance pressure in different forms including deficient education sector; bad roads, “mere consulting clinics”, public sanitation to mention only three.



The military government had been in power in the country for almost a decade until 1999 when Senator Tinubu, alongside other  elected politicians assumed  office.  The military clearly left the country far worse than they met it and so citizens were excited that a change for the better had come.  But the political nay-sayers were also hardly amused.

Tinubu’s profile, characterized by his antecedent as an avowed antagonist of military rule, endeared him to the people having spearheaded transnational campaigns for the restoration of democracy in Nigeria.  It was inevitable for him to sustain the high expectation.  It turned out that the best opportunities he had and still has till date is public communication.  Eastman (2009) explains that by making speeches alone, an average individual accomplishes three main functions namely, locutionary, illocutionary and perlocutionary impact.  These functions respectively encompass actual utterance with some sense or reference; the act performed by virtue of the locution and finally the act performed by what is said.

Based on these dimensions of speech making, public communication of notable politicians can hardly be bereft of style especially such as of a distinctive one like Asiwaju Tinubu.  Here is a man whose attention to details manifest even in his public appearance, particularly, with the unique design on the caps he wears.  It is only logical therefore to reasonably ascertain the specifics of the style that characterizes his public speeches as may inspire upcoming politicians and even trans-disciplinary researchers in future.  The imperative of this has been well envisioned by Osundare (2008) who argues that style is hardly ever an accident.  Osundare (2008) goes on to assert that it is both a configuration and a consequence of such interrelated factors that may be historical, cultural, social, and ideological. According to him even when the what is constant, the how varies in different ways to modify or change it.

It is important to note that Nigerian politicians who still constitute reference points especially in intellectual discourses are those of the pre-colonial era as well as those of the First and Second Republics.  Although the hiatus created by the military rule might have impacted on the oratorical or rhetorical capacity of the contemporary politicians, a few of them including Tinubu,  still know their onion.  This is the immediate reason to focus on selected  speeches of the former governor of a state reckoned with as one of those with largest economies in Africa.  If this study ranks as one of the earliest studies on the speeches of the nation’s contemporary politicians in his category, it may probably spur some others in future
The specific objectives of this study are:

To appreciate the main concerns of Asiwaju Tinubu as a Lagos State politician and national leader.

To investigate his style and preference in language use as manifest in his public communications

To examine the policy and law making values of his public communication

Scope of Study
This  study will concentrate on speeches Asiwaju Tinubu made during  the eight years he spent in office as the governor of Lagos State from 1999 to 2007.    These will include  those induced by inauguration of projects, launch of  schemes   and allied functions across assorted sectors during  his governorship years.

Regrettably, missing conspicuously from the speeches focused on here are the budget speeches of the eight years Asiwaju Tinubu spent in office, which would have assisted most profoundly to achieve the objectives here. It is another pathetic evidence of indifference to efficient record keeping, even by statutorily mandated government bodies.  Not being online, it was most frustrating that dedicated agencies were equally not readily helpful in this regard pleading non availability simplistically.
The study will essentially be a qualitative content analysis of the selected speeches cutting across assorted themes of education, health and other general concerns.
It will, hopefully, offer a reliable guide to state governors aspiring to be relevant to public affairs even after leaving office as it still currently applies to Asiwaju Tinubu more than a decade after leaving office.  It will as well avail enthusiastic patriots with possible insight or background on some contemporary developments.

Literature Review
Although definitions of communication by different scholars and professionals often reckon strongly with feedback, public communication, including religious sermons   enjoy, at least, immediate unidirectional advantage with the audience responsibly obliging attention without the opportunity of raising any issue within or outside of the presentation.   However, sensitive public speakers, especially politicians who always want to be persuasive as they seek to extend their spheres of influence usually make effort to imagine likely queries for their listeners.  Thus, they don’t wait to be reminded of the need to indulge in robust explanation of their intention and their wishes.
According to Tubbs and Moss (2008), public communication is distinguished by three features.  The first peculiarity is that it usually has a specified location or venue ranging from auditoriums to conference halls.  It is also exemplified by its formality than most other variants of communication. This accounts for its relatively better structure and arrangement.  No less striking for public communication are the specific norms and behavioural patterns.  The speaker is usually guided by specified time limitation.  All the three characteristics listed here apply to the speeches examined in this chapter even as the maker of the speeches is renowned for exciting extemporaneous comments never devoid of suitable accompanying gestures.  Indeed, the formality feature of prior preparation for the speeches in focus has rendered them to be publishing-friendly enabling enduring shelf preservation and ageless access for researchers.
Meanwhile, on account of bourgeoning technology supportive of communication in the recent time, there is a renewed attention to communication research as, in addition to the pre-existing radio and television, the combination of telephone and computer together with satellite alongside globalization of politics and business keep transforming the world as a whole.  Communication is therefore so important in this age that one can only ignore it to one’s peril (Littlejohn and Foss, 2005).
Such is the contemporary pervasiveness of communication that even leaders around the world now use such supposedly democratized electronic platforms as Twitter and other social media platforms, even as its obvious that they are susceptible to hacking and other forms of violation.  The reality is that communication is indispensable. As if conceding to the pressure of the indispensability and humans’ insatiability, Twitter, for instance has had to relax its initial restrictiveness to the quantum of possible characters of messages for entry for users.  Communicating via Twitter is more or less conversational but not lacking in style, all the same.
To accomplish a good, clear and fluent speech such as may have been helpful for Asiwaju Tinubu, Adedimeji (2017) identifies four distinct dimensions namely, delivery, voice production, articulation and enunciation.  Delivery describes the origination of the message including the flow of the message to the audience as well as how it is controlled and modified.  Good delivery, in turn, comprises “phrasing pace, stress and rhythm, intonation and general attitude of the speaker” (Adedimeji, 2017:30).  Good delivery stands highly indispensable to politicians like Asiwaju Tinubu whose assertions, followers, surprisingly, may choose to mimic and or act upon as soon as he is done with his presentation.  Indeed, mimicking of politicians is now common.  The remaining dimensions of fluent speech listed would do more to endear professional broadcasters and masters of ceremonies to their fans.  Together with good delivery, they help to register locutionary, illocutionary and perlocutionary effects as earlier on hinted.
But to accomplish effective persuasion and go on to cultivate and sustain influence as often desired by politicians require elevated speech making otherwise known as rhetoric   which has three types.  The most relevant to the politician is the epideictic oratory the two others being judicial and deliberative.  Like good speech making, rhetoric as an art is divided into five indispensable categories or cannons.  These are invention, arrangement, style, memory and delivery.  These have served both the dual purposes of providing a template for criticism as well as a pattern for education.   Invention describes what to say such as focusing on cause and effect as well as comparison and so forth.  Arrangement concerns the ordering of the constituent elements of an average presentation. Arrangement of a classical presentation comprises introduction, statement of facts, division, proof , refutation and conclusion (rhetoric.byu.edu)
Politicians and activists have deployed oratory to further partisan and patriotic interests around the world as manifest in the speeches in focus in this study. Mahatma Gandhi, renowned for his peaceful but persistent advocacy against colonialism in India deployed so much of this.  He addressed series of public sessions and wrote several open letters to the concerned authorities.  A total of 24 letters on the whole, published under the broad title of Famous Letters of Mahatma Gandhi, the editor describes the letters as some kind of advisory notes, petitions and ultimatums to the viceroys of India and other British statesmen.  The longest of them addressed to Lord Linlithgow titled “Who is Guilty” stretches through eight pages.  Emotion laden, it concludes thus:
It causes me deep pain to have to send you this long letter. But however much I dislike your action, I remain the same friend you have known me. I would still plead for reconsideration of the Government of India’s whole policy. Do not disregard the pleading of one who claims to be a sincere friend of the British people. Heaven guide you. (Gandhi, 1947:120)
Gandhi’s letters signpost chronological survey of political landmarks in India combining elements of the biography of the author, the country’s political history together with patriotic exhortation.  Indeed, Gandhi’s letters are said to be capable of serving as emotional stimulants to otherwise weary Indian youths.  Formally named Mohandal Karamch and Gandhi, it was the strength  of endearment his conversational engagement with fellow Indians earned him that made fellow citizens gave him the appellation Mahatma. (Khipple, 1947)
Like India, like Nigeria, perhaps. Based on the admiration the Yoruba nation cultivated and sustained for the pioneer of free education scheme in southwest Nigeria, a variety of mythological narratives have evolved. For the mass of the illiterates for instance, Awolowo had the capacity to appear in the moon!  The brilliant philosopher and lawyer that he was, Awolowo is hardly any less esteemed by the literate elite. His governance erudition which earned him this vast admiration had its highlights recounted much later by Asiwaju Tinubu at the Pinnacle Publications Symposium on 50 years of Education for All thus:

Introduction of voting by symbol into Nigeria in 1953

First use of steeballot boxes and security-printed ballot papers

First motion for the creation of a new Region was moved by Action Group members in the Western House of Assembly

Facilitated election of the Leader of Opposition as Deputy Speaker of the House

Only in Western Region were the Finance Minister and Works Minister withdrawn from Tenders Board while only civil servants were members

First Region to introduce Agricultural Settlements and Institutes

First Region to introduce a minimum living wage for workers

Introduction of First Television in Africa

First Sports Stadium-Liberty Stadium-in Nigeria in 1959

In 1952, government of Western region became the first to to award 250 university scholarships in one year to students of the region.

First Free Universal Primary Education and Free Health care for children up to age 18

First region to introduce a six-year primary education course instead of the previous eight –year course. (Tinubu, 2012:7)

Till date, he remains the most often quoted Nigerian politician, even as the use of some of his quotes may not necessarily apply to politics but to other facets of life.
Revered till date as the central issue of the politics of Southwest of Nigeria, he is probably credited with the best intellectual output in the history of the nation’s political activism.
His speeches have attracted intellectual analyses of varying dimensions at various levels.  One of such is “a stylo-rhetorical analysis of Obafemi Awolowo’s ‘It is not life that matters” by Oluremi, AOC (2013).  In that study, the scholar found out Awolowo’s indulgence in robust deployment of style. That speech alone combines direct use and adaptation of technical terms otherwise known as register which goes a long a way at enabling diverse professionals and others to familiarize with the issue in focus. She equally noted rich foregrounding for persuasion and historical invaluability.  Not the least are the use of parallelism, biblical allusion and metaphor as well as other  emotional strategies and motivational appeals.
Quite inspiring also is the fact that Awolowo’s speeches  appeared to have been seminal manifesting in the oratorical excellence of some of his direct followers as exemplified in Late Chief Bola Ige.  With a first degree in Classics obtained from the nation’s premier university, University of Ibadan, later enhanced with a degree in Law, Bola Ige’s command of language which earned him substantial influence and respect, ‘gave’ him the name Cicero, after the classical poet. Like Gandhi, Uncle Bola, as he was otherwise affectionately known, also wrote a classical letter to school pupils when he became the Governor of old Oyo State in 1979. The letter, without a parallel in Nigeria till date, still enjoys applause.
Theoretical Framework
This thread of rhetoric dating back to the classical era of philosophers Aristotle and Cicero of the ancient Roman civilization, apparently ‘handed down’ to Asiwaju Tinubu, as earlier indicated, has been a subject of interest to scholars through generations giving rise to theories.  Of particular interest here is the John Genung’s Theory of Persuasion. It is a late 19th century literary theory of oratory  which subordinates oratory to literature and emphasizes that eloquence is an indispensable feature of oratory. He reckons that true eloquence rests on the character of the orator, his skill in swaying the emotions and sentiments of an audience, the greatness of subject and occasion.  According to him, speakers should offer simple arguments in which lies only one step from premise to conclusion adding that example and analogy are most typical of oratory. Political speaking to Genung is a sub-classification of legislative oratory, although sometimes more potent.  Asiwaju Tinubu’s rhetorical indulgence clearly belongs here.  As a former senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, he distinguished himself as a regularly visible member especially with his views on fiscal federalism in line with the federal structure that the country operates as specified by the Constitution. Years later, when Tinubu became the Governor of Lagos State, he revived his campaign for fiscal federalism.  This recurred several times in many of his speeches and interviews as we shall see later in the course of examining the speeches.  Genung concludes that “the… orator‟s field is by no means closed, nor will it be, so long as men delight in the living voice, the warmth of eloquence, and the presence of influential men” (Harpine, 2004:16 citing Genung, 1887:474).
The Witty Voice
This section focuses on the substance of selected speeches of Asiwaju Tinubu in line with the objectives spelt out earlier in the chapter.  Following the non availability of the budget speeches and other important speeches he made while in office as Governor of Lagos State, as also stated earlier, this study settled for the published collected speeches of Asiwaju Tinubu titled The Presiding Genius: Select Speeches of Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu  in commemoration of his 60th birthday celebration. This, indeed, provides a logical follow-up to the said collection of texts as is usually done with pronouncements of such great minds.  Asiwaju Tinubu’s major focus in the collected speeches covers general governance issues as well as specifics relating to education, health, environment as well as the rule of law.
With deep consciousness for his background and his proclaimed political mentor, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Tinubu delightfully, on January 17, 2005, spoke at The Pinnacle Publications “Symposium on 50 Years of Education for All: Advancing the Legacy of Educational Excellence in Yorubaland.”   The occasion was to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the introduction of the Free Universal Primary Education in the Western Region of Nigeria.  Tinubu states pointedly that he has been inspired by Awo, as Awolowo is fondly called, to conclude that “the desire to do good and benefit people matters; courage matters, structure matters.  At that event, Tinubu hints on true federalism, that has since become a most enduring issue for which he has to advocate in his political career.  In what appears like bracing up to sustain the legacy of Awo, he  pledges:
We will continue the march of progress in all areas of life. We will shame the forces of evil.  We will uphold the right of Lagosians to education, health, meaningful work and decent living.  We will be able to say as Awo did after 8 years of his leadership of the Western Region, that we have advanced the good of humankind; we have kept the faith of Awo and we have been true to our convictions and to our God.  For now, we say as Awo did in 1966, that “only a truly federal constitution can unite Nigeria and generate harmony among its diverse race and diverse linguistic groups”. (Tinubu, 2012:10)
Tinubu’s direction of governance thus set with the guiding spirit of Awo, he went on ceaselessly to impress his commitment to education of Lagosians across all tiers in spite of conspicuous artificial inhibitions.  On the occasion of the 11th convocation ceremony of the Lagos State University on September 2, 2000, he laments that Lagos State is the most deprived, marginalized and deliberately disadvantaged State in Nigeria.  His account:
We have the deplorable situation, in which this State contributes over 70%  of Value Added Tax (VAT) collected in this country but receives less than 10%  of this amount.  In the same way, the bulk of the Petroleum Tax Fund (PTF) which goes to the Federal Government is generated in this State.  Again, Lagos State contributes over half of the total amount collected as Education Tax Fund (ETF) but does not receive a share commensurate with her immense responsibilities in this sector.  Indeed, it is difficult to believe that going by the current sharing formula, some States which do not have as many schools as even one Local Government Area in Lagos State will benefit more from the ETF. (Tinubu, 2012:23)
In spite of the conspicuous funding deprivation in the face of mounting educational demands in the State, Asiwaju Tinubu chose to forge on.  At the same convocation ceremony he confessed his dream for LASU as that institution which will be regarded as a model for all others in terms of its structural finesse, intellectual and academic freedom, quality social life and a source of productive thoughts for the State Government.  He sums it up arguing that “my own idea of a state university is one whose contributions to knowledge and role in the polity will become a challenge to other existing institutions.  To this end, I have begun a process of systematic development at all levels for Lagos State University.” (Tinubu, 2012:19)
Still on education, Asiwaju Tinubu argues that it is bad enough that the Federal Government of Nigeria does not subscribe to the UNESCO recommendation that 15% of GNP should be expended on education. This, according to him, has given rise to lots of challenges especially at the level of primary school.  He regrets that a State like Lagos with over one million primary school pupils was being given allocation far lower amount of money than for States with fewer numbers of pupils but with more local government councils.  This was his comment during the 2005 nationwide strike of primary school teachers.  But he would not be deterred.
On January 30, 2001, he turned the sod for the millennium classroom blocks at Ojodu Grammar School.  At that event, he notes that his administration has taken giant strides at evolving highly qualitative education system aimed at ensuring continued excellence in the educational system of Lagos State.  After recounting the highlights of his government’s expenditure on education, he goes on to conclude with a clarion call to the Federal Government to “ …give special allocation to Lagos State to finance education for the pressure that the status of Lagos State as the former Federal Capital and industrial nerve centre of the nation put on our infrastructure…Lagos State is the only State that does not discriminate against non-indigenes in the execution of our free education program in our schools.” (Tinubu, 2012:37)
Governor Tinubu’s commitment to the health sector was not any less.  Health care delivery across primary, secondary and tertiary health establishments concerned him almost equitably even as the challenge of HIV/AIDS bothered him.  Lagos State, under him, was the first to set up the inter-ministerial committee on HIV/AIDS.  According to him, government’s good disposition to public health is an asset for all.  At the 2004 convocation ceremony of the National Postgraduate Medical College, he recalls a particularly pathetic death of the Health Commissioner of a State.  The Commissioner had just closed from work when he suddenly began to experience health complications. He was rushed to government hospital which unfortunately was under-resourced. He breathed his last in that same facility which, ironically, he had the opportunity to make functional but hardly received any serious attention.
Betraying serious concern, Tinubu recalls that the first diagnosis of AIDS in Nigeria happened in 1986 and has since remained another major disease burden. At the One-Day Workshop on HIV/AIDS for Policy Makers on September 22, 1999, he further notes that HIV has been detected in 4.5% of pregnant women in addition to 5-8% of Nigerian populace , both urban and rural.  Also, no fewer than 10% of school children between ages 15-10 years were infected.
For the governor however, it was not enough to raise alarm with the disturbing data even as his government was barely steering to a balance.  At the same workshop mentioned above, he announces that teaching of methods to prevent HIV/AIDS in the schools would be strengthened even as  his administration would, in the face of stigmatization of HIV –positive persons, do everything possible to support them by not discriminating against infected persons in its employment and other policies.
More fundamentally, Tinubu avers that “…our teaching hospitals, while providing conducive environments for teaching and research , should give a pride of place to the provision of services.  The present situation….whereby patients are seen more as guinea pigs for teaching or research…should be discouraged.” (Tinubu, 2012:55) He adds:
I speak about a deliberate integration and development of the primary, secondary and tertiary tiers of health care to the highest possible levels. It has to be like this because the fortification of the primary level of health care will necessarily take care of over 80% of cases which would otherwise have sought no health care at all or flooded the secondary and tertiary centres.  (Tinubu, 2012:54)
Discussion of Findings
Surely, beyond the dual sectors of education and health, Tinubu’s speeches on other sectors are by no means such that could be ignored by anyone, experts or laymen.  This is especially in relation to his other pioneering efforts in the realms of transportation and environment.  From the samples in this study however, the focus or concerns of the senator-turned governor is not in doubt.
From the perspective of rhetoric, he calibrates his messages his  from the broader outlook level through the details in each of his presentations focusing at different themes at different events. This is so much in conformance with the scholars’ prescribed orderliness from both the generalist (communication) and rhetoric-specific perspectives. The rhetoric experts list ideal components of a persuasive rhetorical presentation as comprising invention, arrangement, style, memory and delivery.  Invention describes what to say such as focusing on cause and effect as well as comparison and so forth.  Arrangement concerns the ordering of the constituent elements of an average presentation.  At least from the presentation in the collection of  Tinubu’s speeches focused on here, Governor Tinubu began his public communication from the generalist to the specific.  His speech at the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Free Universal Primary Education is indisputably foundational, signaling the direction Tinubu’s government in Lagos would head.  In that speech he recounted the major accomplishment of the Awolowo’s premiership in the Western Region same way Awo had recalled them in 1980 at a public function.  Following that speech in the same volume are others in which he has had to address each of the issues  considered fundamental to good governance in the same manner as his Nigerian mentor, Awolowo.  They include education, health, transportation and the environment.
As if to demonstrate his inspiration by the persistence of Gandhi who was persistent in his push for the exit of British imperialism from India, Tinubu repeatedly laments the unfair financial deprivation Lagos State was suffering due to lack of fair fiscal federalism in the Nigerian Federation. At every possible event of either laying the foundation of a project or commissioning a completed one, he reinforces this challenge as regularly as possible.  Often, he describes it as smacking converse proportionality even as it also ignores the reality of the status of Lagos as the former federal capital.
This he also does with what appears to be some deference to aspect of Genung’s theory of persuasion asserting that speakers should offer simple arguments in which lies only one step from premise to conclusion adding that example and analogy are most typical of oratory.  .  In the realm of education for instance, to justify his advocacy for fiscal federalism he singles out Lagos as the only State in the Federation that does not discriminate against non-indigenes in school enrolment and related details. Incidentally, it is the most populated of all the federating states, coupled with its status of former federal capital and ironically the source of the bulk of the tax revenue shared by all. But not to worry, he assures Lagosians in another breath,  that his vision for LASU is that of a university that would emerge a global brand explaining that his government had concluded a review of its current performance and would do the needful in the course of time. He also states the readiness of Ford Foundation to support the university with as much as $300,000 following his engagement with the foundation.
In the face of his perceived insufficient funding for health by the Federal Government and the consequential burdening of the modest health facilities run by the states, Tinubu conjures another solution in one of his speeches cited earlier.  He argues for the necessity of the integration of the three tiers of health institutions to make for decongestion of sophisticated facilities even as health services would be more accessible with such approach.   It is gladdening that today, primary health care centres are being accorded enhanced attention and support by the Federal Government.
Genung’s assertion that oratory concerns “matters of personal import” further manifests clearly in Tinubu’s relentless advocacy for fiscal federalism. Before becoming Governor of Lagos State, he was in the Senate, indeed as the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Banking, Finance, Appropriation and Currency.  The immense knowledge