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Tinubu’s worst nightmare

4 min read

Bola Ahmed Tinubu

By Emeka Ugwuonye


Tinubu’s biggest problem today is not whether he will be sworn in as the President of Nigeria tomorrow. Everything points to his scheduled inauguration as an inevitable event. The formal processes and procedure for him to be sworn in are all in place, well-rehearsed and ready. But Tinubu’s greatest problem shall only begin the moment he is sworn in, and that is his problem of illegitimacy.

Knowing that a majority of the citizens of Nigeria believes that he did not win the election, but rather benefited from a manipulated and compromised process is a burden too heavy for most leaders to bear for a long time. Being widely perceived to have rigged an election is just like being believed to have cheated in your final exam. Whatever grade you earn in such exam is never going to be looked at as deserved or legitimately earned. Being sworn in as the President, Tinubu would wish the situation were different and that he were seen as having legitimately won the election.

To assess how Tinubu would be feeling about this burden of illegitimacy, which he bears, the reader should cast his mind to that occasion when Tinubu admitted during his campaign that he no longer went to social media because of the level of rejection he experienced on social media. To realize that the level of rejection has deepened and worsened due to questions about rigging of elections must be giving Tinubu sleepless nights.

Illegitimacy can refer to a number of different things, including lack of legal or social recognition as the valid President, lack of moral or ethical justification to hold the title and office, or lack of popular support. In the context of the presidency, illegitimacy can have a significant impact on the President’s ability to lead the country effectively, to unify the country, to build trust among Nigerians, to formulate and effectively implement policies, to calm down the separatist agitations, to defend Nigeria against its enemies, to defend the constitution, to command our armed forces and to inspire the citizens, to give hope to millions of the people, and to command the respect of the world so critically needed to build a Nigeria the people could be truly proud of. Lack of legitimacy can only breed a brooding sense of injustice, a worsened state of discontent and ultimately violence and instability. Hence, any significant feeling of lack of legitimacy or diminished legitimacy is a nightmare for every leader.

If a leader lacks legal or social recognition, he may face challenges from rival leaders or factions who dispute their legitimacy. This is exactly what the ongoing petitions mean. Though as regards legal legitimacy, that was almost achieved with INEC declaring him the winner of the elections. However, the pending petitions have rendered that formal legal question inconclusive intuitively. The petitions were calculated to deny Tinubu the benefit of a closed case on the legal validity of his mandate. In my earlier post, I had predicted that Tinubu would win the cases in court for reasons I mentioned. Indeed, it is a tragedy to have a person sworn in as the President while the legal validity of his victory in the election is being challenged in court. Without that basic legitimacy test being decisively concluded, there is no basis to hold the office or to exercise the powers and authority of that office.

Beyond the legal legitimacy, you have moral and ethical legitimacy. If the President lacks moral or ethical justification to hold the office, he may struggle to earn the respect and trust of the citizens. He may be seen as corrupt or immoral, which can undermine his authority and make it difficult to persuade others to follow his lead. This can lead to a lack of cohesion within the country, and can make it difficult to achieve shared goals or objectives. Tinubu bears this burden and it is a burden of illegitimacy too. To think it does not bother him to know that the world perceives him to have had something to do with drug trafficking, regardless of whether he actually once had a case in America or not is to ignore the importance of moral authority to lead.

If the President lacks popular support, he may face opposition or resistance from the citizens. This can make it difficult for the leader to implement policies or initiatives, and can lead to a lack of progress or stagnation of the country. In my previous post, I had argued that the court-based challenge of the legal legitimacy of Tinubu was most likely going to be resolved in his favour. Yet, I did not rule out the effect of peaceful civil protests to drum up resistance against Tinubu. While the Nigerian security forces have been well-tuned to violently crush any violent protest, peaceful, non-violent resistance to Tinubu’s presidency will be the nightmare he dreads the most.

Overall, the burden of illegitimacy can be a significant challenge for the President of any country. It can make it difficult to exercise authority, earn respect and trust, and achieve shared goals or objectives. Leaders who are able to overcome these challenges and establish a legitimate basis for their authority are more likely to be successful in their roles. Tinubu may still succeed if he moves away from relying solely on the authority he got from the much discredited INEC and proactively seek to win the hearts of Nigerians. President Yar’Adua did it. Upon taking office on 29th May, 2007, the first thing he did was to publicly admit that his party rigged the presidential elections, but he asked for forgiveness and understanding. And Nigerians forgave him and stood with him.

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