Analysis & Opinion: Of Ambition And National Interest

By Sunny Awhefeada,


When, a few days ago, Bola Ahmed Tinubu (BAT) waddled into the precinct of Aso Rock, Nigeria’s rocky seat of power, to brief his leader, President Muhamadu Buhari of his intention to succeed him, he let unbridled ambition to blind him against Nigeria’s national interest. That act beyond being servile, going to get Buhari’s permission, plummeted whatever fragile ranking Tinubu had enjoyed in recent times.

It is no longer a hidden fact that while Buhari’s attitude is akin to that of a supercilious camel, Tinubu’s equate that of a puppy wagging its tail to attract the master’s attention. True, Tinubu rallied forces to help enthrone Buhari in 2015, but it ended there. What has been at play is a master and serf relationship. Buhari’s handlers did a clinically perfect job in confining Tinubu to irrelevance to the extent that Buhari once said that there was nothing like the “national leader of the APC”, the honorific that Tinubu wore like an ornament. Since then, Tinubu and his band of acolytes have had to struggle to make sure he remains within limelight.

Tinubu as a citizen has a right to aspire to any office in the land. However, a lot of critical thinking and consideration need to come to the fore. One of such considerations is the place of the Igbo in the affairs of Nigeria, especially as it relates to their legitimate aspiration to have one of their own become president of the republic. Ordinarily, healthy competition which ultimately throws up a popular choice should be the order of the day in a democracy. But our peculiar history has foisted on us certain tendencies that bequeathed hegemony and marginalization.

The quest to dismantle the hegemony and the need to remedy marginalization led to the introduction of rotational presidency as a concept in Nigeria’s political narrative. The proponents of the idea were goaded by Nigeria’s national interest. This has been so since 1999 when the current dispensation was inaugurated. And who was the first beneficiary? Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, a Yoruba from the South-West. Obasanjo’s emergence in 1999 was to assuage the Yoruba feeling of marginalization arising from the June 12 fiasco that not only denied one of their own, Chief M. K. O. Abiola, of the presidency which he won, but also cost him his life.

The June 12 crisis remains a sore point in Nigeria’s sojourn to nationhood. The climax of that episode was the annulment of an election in which over 14 million people participated by a band of a few men who vowed that only their section of the country can rule Nigeria.


Of course the annulment was met with a long drawn resistance with tragedies thrown up. In the end, the benighted power mongers reached for a compromise after the death of their linchpin and ceded power to the Yoruba poorly represented by Obasanjo who was not their choice, but a creation of those who held the knife and yam of power. Obasanjo ruled for eight years to satisfy Yoruba’s aspiration to national leadership, something that was the lifelong desire of the sage Chief Obafemi Awolow, but was denied him.


Before 1999, the Igbo shared the misfortune of marginalization with the Yoruba. Both groups never had the opportunity of one of their own presiding over the affairs of Nigeria under a democracy. The father of Nigerian nationalism, Nnamdi Azikiwe, an Igbo, was confined to the unenviable seat of ceremonial president after fighting for Nigeria’s independence. Awolowo not only became leader of opposition after all he gave for Nigerian independence, but was jailed barely three years into the freedom for which he fought.

The thread of the narrative and how it ruptures national interest inheres in the immorality of Tinubu’s declaration to become president after Buhari. Where then is the idea of equity, fairness and justice around which nations revolve and evolve? The North dominated by Hausa/Fulani has had more than a fair share of ruling Nigeria. The old West now the South-West has had its pains of marginalization ameliorated through Obasanjo’s eight years in office under a civilian dispensation in addition to an earlier four years as a military dictator.

Where then is the old old East, the core of which is now the South-East made up of the Igbo in the affairs of Nigeria? Does it ever bother Tinubu and his co-travellers that the continuing relegation of the Igbo to the status of second class citizens can spell doom for Nigeria? Does he and his spin doctors ever think about the ideals of equity, fairness and justice as the basis of cohesion, stability and development? What Nigeria is he hoping to preside over if the Igbo restiveness implodes? This is the crux of Tinubu’s moral burden highlighted by the conflict between ambition and national interest. The tendency by individual ambition to erode national interest has been one of Nigeria’s major undoing since independence.


Many of the politicians in the First Republic put their personal interest over the nation’s collective good and in no time Nigeria became the pot of corn that tumbled for chickens to feast on. The civil war that ravaged parts of the country was in part a product of individual ambition. One of the key players had told his graduating friends that his ambition would be to return home to rule Nigeria. He joined the military on seeing it as the shortest route to power in Africa. He nursed the idea of a coup as early as 1964, but didn’t get the support he needed. So, the crises that attended the events of 1966 provided a ready opportunity for him to declare a republic to fulfill his ambition. General Yakubu Gowon had promised to handover to civilians by October 1970, but power tasted too sweet. He stayed put until he was booted out.

Gowon’s military successors played dice with Nigeria as personal whims and caprice subverted statesmanship. The boys who removed him begrudged the incumbent governors and wanted their own share of the national cake. General Murtala Mohammed who replaced Gowon was killed by disgruntled soldiers who felt marginalized in the scheme of things. The next soldier to rule Nigeria after Murtala was Major General Muhammadu Buhari who was inspired to plot his own coup after a subordinate told him about a dream in which he held a sword and mounted a horse. That dream was interpreted to mean him ruling Nigeria and not Daura where he would have rode a horse as a district head. General Ibrahim Babangida also came to power driven by ambition. The same factor gave General Sani Abacha the gusto ride roughshod over Nigeria.

Let Tinubu and others angling to rule Nigeria have a rethink and adopt the wisdom of “let the kite perch and let the eagle perch too…..if one says no to the other, let his wing break”

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