Immediately Prof. Mahmoud Yakubu, Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) announced Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu of the All Progressive’s Congress (APC) in the little hours of Wednesday, 1st March 2023 as the winner of the presidential election held on Saturday, 25th February 2023, I knew it was a closed case for the other two major contenders, Atiku Abubakar of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP); and Mr. Peter Obi of the Labour Party.
I needed no soothsayers or Senior Advocates of Nigeria (as Nigeria’s senior lawyers are called) to tell me that the Supreme Court would not upturn the result of the election as announced by INEC. Given our level of political development, it would be suicidal for the Supreme Court to unseat a sitting Nigerian President. It is trite to argue that the Nigerian presidency is perhaps the most powerful in the world. Just count the number of appointments that President Tinubu has made since he assumed office last May. And he is not done yet; just as all of those appointees have come into office with an average of ten appointees of their own.
Just as has been demonstrated in the last few months, not many countries would have their presidents remove and lockup their Central Bank governors, and their economic and financial crime czars just by a stroke of the pen without any qualms. With the way things had happened, even the bravest of the Supreme Court justices could feel afrighted; especially when Nigeria’s presidency decides which court judgment to obey or not to obey (El Zakzaki and Nnamdi Kanu are vivid examples). So, it would not matter if the losing parties have lorry loads of proven evidences against the defendant and INEC. Which explains why I was the least interested in all the goings on at the trial court and the summersaulting that happened in far away United States of America. I knew they would amount to nothing as far as the Supreme Court ruling was concerned. Which is not to say that the aggrieved parties and their candidates did wrong by approaching the courts for redress of perceived wrongdoing by INEC and the winning party.
Even President Tinubu, within one month of his inauguration had appeased the Western World and their Brettonwood Institutions (the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund), by removing fuel subsidy and by thoughtlessly liberalizing the foreign exchange market (two policies these two institutions had been hammering on for decades) even if it meant throwing millions of his people under the bus. The West is so happy with Mr. Tinubu so much so that it will be unthinkable to them for him to be unseated.
I am not in any way saying that President Tinubu did not win the election (though, if you ask me, I think none of the three major candidates won the election; a rerun would have been more like it than an outright victory in the three horse race that was the election) nor am I suggesting that justice was not served last Thursday (don’t ask me why the winning party and its supporters did not celebrate the “hard fought ”victory; not even in Lagos, Tinubu’s political headquarters). I am postulating that given our level of political development, the Nigerian Supreme Court has not developed enough balls to upturn a presidential election result no matter how flawed it may be. Even the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua admitted that much when he said in his inaugural speech in May 29, 2007 that the electoral process which threw him up was flawed; he was humble to add that he would work to fix it. His untimely death scuttled his plan. And the Supreme Court then did not deem it fit to dethrone him. There is only one scenario by which our Supreme Court can annul the election of a president; which is that all presidential election matters are resolved by the Supreme Court before a winner is sworn in. Once the Chief Justice of the Federation swears in a President, hahahaha; even the Chief Justice is all but a senior aide of the President in Nigeria! And this has nothing to do with who the Chief Justice is and who the President is; it just speaks to how far we have gone with our brand of Presidential Democracy.
But what caught my fancy was not so much the predictable outcome of the Supreme Court judgment; no, it could not have been. Did you notice that there was hardly any one in government and the ruling party who looked perturbed or confused days to and even hours to the Supreme Court judgment; everyone went about their usual businesses as if nothing important was going to happen. I even behaved like them too! What caught my attention was the following day’s newspapers. The front pages of our national dailies on Friday, 27th October caught my attention in no small measure. A very sad day, if you will, for the print media in Nigeria, and for journalism generally.
On that very day, the print media in Nigeria worshipped the god of money; they sold the substantial portion of their front pages to Tompolo to congratulate the President on his victory at the Supreme Court. It was not so much that Tompolo, (his real name is Government Oweizide Ekpemupolo) congratulated President Tinubu for his victory at the Supreme Court on the pages of the newspapers but that almost all national newspapers in Nigeria stooped so low as to sell their front pages to a Tompolo. Here is the roll call of the dailies I saw falling down at Tompolo’s feet: The Punch, Daily Independent, The Nation (that’s to be expected and even forgiven), Nigerian Tribune, Leadership, New Telegraph, Daily Trust, Daily Sun, and Vanguard all draped in Tompolo‘s colours! Ah! Not even the Nigerian Television Authority (except perhaps under the rule of the dictator General Sani Abacha) would start its 9PM network news with a Tompolo’s congratulatory message.
We do our national psyche more harm than good when we push the boundaries of our values beyond limits; we tell those coming after us that nothing is sacred; that we can live our lives just the way we like and that there is no accountability anywhere; that we are like a city without walls. Just so we know, one of the subsisting problems we have as a nation is that we no longer have national icons; we no longer have genuine role models; we no longer have national institutions; that we are a nation where anything goes. The Gen Zs and those coming after them have never witnessed good governance; it is this muddled up system of governance that we are dishing out and entrenching.
For the uninitiated, it was these same newspapers that ‘introduced’ us to Tompolo: a warlord, a militant commander of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, the chief priest of the egbesu deity, and one declared wanted in 2015 by the Muhammadu Buhari regime for alleged economic sabotage. Toward the end of that same government, the wanted man resurfaced waving a N40 billion government contract to protect the oil pipelines he was said to have been involved in breaking up. Today, the 52 year old Tompolo is both a visible government contractor and on the most wanted list of government anticorruption agency! That’s because this is Nigeria!
It necessitates mentioning that The Guardian and BusinessDay were two newspapers I saw that refused to be bought; they consoled me to no end. Whether they were approached or not, they got my spirit lifted somewhat; they let it be known that even in the land of dryness, oases do exist.
One can argue that newspaper houses are businesses and that they need money to survive. Fair point. But they’re a different kind of business; they are not called the fourth estate of the realm for nothing. Also businesses have souls, and operate within minimum standards. They should have resisted the temptation to sell their front pages to Tompolo, and refer him to the inner pages of their newspapers. To the ordinary eye, what do we think Tompolo sought to achieve by buying the front pages of almost all the national dailies to congratulate the President? Just to illustrate what the front page of a newspaper is: these products are called newspapers, meaning they are to produce news that sell their papers. That role is played most on the front/cover page of a newspaper because it is the page that attracts potential readers and buyers to the product.
Newspaper advertisement rates do not reflect the cost of their front pages (except for ear pieces), so advertisers don’t go there. And when an advertiser (in this case a Tompolo) decides to buy the front page of a newspaper, the price is negotiated. It is even more expensive when it has to do with a stop press advertisement such as the coloured congratulatory message that Tompolo had which appeared just the morning after the Supreme Court judgment.
It was not until the Soludo-induced banking consolidation era of the early 21st century that newspapers in Nigeria began to sell their front pages. Then, banks, in trying to undo each other, bought newspaper front pages to woo investors into buying shares in the frenzy that was the (initial) public offerings of banking stocks.
Since then, appetite for newspapers to make extra bucks by selling their front pages has not waned. But this should be done sparingly and not to every Tom, Dick and Harry, and not for lesser courses.
No matter how it is sliced, the Tompolo front page newspaper advertisements assailed my sensibility. Full stop.
Esiere is a former journalist