By Ayo OLADELE Peters
There is no doubt that Arise TV’s ‘The Morning Show’ is the programme to beat on the morning belt of Nigeria’s competitive television business today. Of particular delight on the show is the deep erudition, fascinating elocution and sheer oratorical mastery of one of the presenters, Dr Reuben Abati. It is, however, unfortunate that the handlers of the show sometimes allow persons who are no more than anarchists and rabble rousers to take advantage of its wide viewership to peddle half-baked ideas, unrealistic theories and outright falsehood on air. Of course, such persons have a right to their views. But the presenters also have a greater responsibility to rigorously interrogate their guests’ assertions, correct clear falsehoods and expose obvious illogic reasoning. Television and radio talk shows, at least the ones that desire to be taken seriously, are not just avenues for the entertainment or amusement of their audiences. They are, more importantly, platforms for rigorous intellectual exchanges and robust engagements that will contribute meaningfully to public discourse and consequently national development as a person like Dr Abati knows all too well.
It is thus unfortunate that on one of its recent shows, one Dele Farotimi introduced as a lawyer was given the latitude to engage in utter rascality, wild and unsubstantiated claims and peddling of insults on air. The topic of discussion was supposedly the advocacy in some quarters for restructuring in Nigeria and the capabilities of some of those who have so far declared their interest in contesting for the country’s presidency in 2023. Since he is obviously the frontrunner in the race so far, it is perhaps understandable that Dele Farotimi spent the considerable part of his time on the National Leader of the APC, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu. Yet, in doing so, the anchors allowed him to get away with with arbitrary claims and assertions backed neither by logic nor by empirical facts.
For instance, he was of the view that he does not consider Tinubu a candidate yet. But there are no candidates yet so far on the platform of any party. All we have are aspirants jostling for party tickets after which they will become candidates. Again, he declared magisterially that Tinubu has enough impairments to render his candidacy a non-starter and also that he is incapable of withstanding the rigors of the office. He was not asked to elaborate on his claims and the basis for these. Arguing that Tinubu lacks the capacity to transform Nigeria in any way, shape or form, Farotimi repeated over and over that Tinubu has had 22 years of unchallenged hegemony in Lagos and there is nothing to show for it.
To his credit, Dr Abati reminded Farotimi that Tinubu had only two constitutional terms of eight years as governor in Lagos State. However, Farotimi insisted, incredibly, that Tinubu’s word is law in Lagos and that he controls the executive, legislature and judiciary in the state. It is scandalous that a supposed lawyer could make such utterly ignorant, even insane, claims. Yes, the AD, ACN and APC, parties to which Tinubu belonged, have been in power in Lagos since 1999. But were there no democratic elections in the state in 2003, 2007, 2011, 2015 and 2019 all won by these parties? All these elections were conducted by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), which is an agency under the control of the Federal Government. Thus, the 2003, 2007, 2011 and 2015 elections won by Tinubu’s party in Lagos were supervised by the PDP controlled Federal Government! It was only the 2019 elections that was conducted with an APC government in power at the centre. Tinubu has been out of power since 2007 and has never held public office since then. So was Tinubu as a private individual between 2007 and 2015 more powerful than the PDP- controlled federal government in those years?
It is unfortunate that the anchors of the programme did not ask their guest, a lawyer, to prove his claim that Tinubu controls the judiciary in Lagos State or, failing to do so, to withdraw his statement. Of course, he is supposed to know that Nigeria runs a complex judicial system where appeals lie from lower courts to higher courts going from customary through magistrate, state high courts, federal high courts and courts of appeal right up to the Supreme Court. The principle of Separation of Powers among the executive, legislature and judiciary makes it difficult to even claim that any level of government is in control of any court as Farotimi so cavalierly implies in a way that seriously calls to question the validity of the legal degree he claims to have.
After Tinubu, Mr Akinwumi Ambode, Mr Babatunde Raji Fasola (SAN) and now Mr Babajide Olusola Sanwo-Olu, respectively, have been governors of Lagos State. All these are accomplished and successful professionals whose records and attainments are in the public domain. I make bold to say that Farotimi does not measure up to these accomplished men in intellect and capacity.
The fact that there have, naturally, been disagreements sometimes between Tinubu and some of his successors on issues in the process of governance is well known and makes nonsense of Farotimi’s claim “Tinubu’s word is law” in Lagos. It is unfortunate that by the level of his reasoning, Farotimi comes across more as a motor park tout than a lawyer.
Farotimi tried desperately to rubbish and denigrate the developmental strides achieved in Lagos over the last two decades since 1999. In the process he claimed that nobody attends any public schools or government hospitals in the state! This is incredible and yet the anchors of the programme did not question his facts. There are at least 349 junior secondary schools and 322 senior secondary schools in Lagos State. And there are no less than 1,045 public primary schools in the state. While there are over 497,318 pupils in public primary schools, there are at least 567,704 students in public junior and secondary schools. In the same vein, there are over 26 General Hospitals in Lagos and over 329 Primary Health Care Centers. All these facts are in the public domain, including the number of teachers and health care workers in the public social service delivery system. How then could Farotimi have been allowed to get away with such an illiterate claim?
When he delivered an address at the Ehinbgeti Economic Summit organized by the Lagos State government at the Eko Hotel & Suites last year, governor Nasir ‘el Rufai of Kaduna state publicly said that Lagos has been lucky to have performing governors since 1999 and that his administration is following the developmental template of Lagos State. El Rufai is not known to be a Tinubu supporter. Unlike Farotimi, he was only being intellectually honest. When there was a dispute between Labour and workers over the minimum wage some years back, the then governor of Zamfara State, Abdul’aziz Yari, who was also Chairman of the Nigeria Governors Forum (NGF) at the time, stated publicly that only Lagos State was buoyant enough to pay the minimum wage of N30,000. This was not by chance or luck. It was due to the financial engineering efforts of the Tinubu administration, which has been steadily built upon and improved by succeeding administrations, through which a solid fiscal base has been laid for the state.
From an Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) base of N600 million monthly in 1999, the Tinubu administration had grown the IGR to over N8 billion monthly by 2007 and it is over N40 billion monthly today. Of course, the Farotimis of this world can keep on living in denial. Lagos State will continue to grow in leaps and bounds in spite of them. Unable to deny the phenomenal achievement of the Lagos Light Rail project, which will be delivered later this year, Farotimi sought to raise questions about the cost. If he has alternative costs for a project of such magnitude, he should put such in the public domain and also prove the source, credibility and reliability of his figures.
Farotimi propounded some half-baked ideas about restructuring Nigeria into regions stressing that is the only way that Nigeria can develop. He says he does not believe that personnel changes is what will take Nigeria out of the woods but rather structural changes. He is entitled to his fantasies even as he should be aware that there are hundreds of contending ideas of what a restructured Nigeria should look like and nothing makes his own view sacrosanct or better than others. Those who do not believe in restructuring, whatever it means, are also entitled to their views as Farotimi is nobody’s Kabiyesi. Someone posted Farotimi’s interview online and requested that his assertions be debated. The lone response to the post that I saw simply read: “There is really nothing to debate. So long as saints haven’t offered and subjected themselves to their respective parties’ nomination processes for selection or annointing, it is fait accompli that Nigeria’s president-in-waiting would emerge within the next 90 days. The February 2023 election will be just to crown the fellow”. Chikena!