I read with relish Asiwaju Bola Tinubu's speech at the just held National Convention of his ACN party signalling its transmutation to the newly formed All Progressive Congress. But how I wish I were there to listen to it (or watch it on TV).
I wish so just to know how much he did (or failed to do) justice to that speech by his delivery for as political speeches go, I have not come across a better crafted, more evocative, more suitably succinct speech in a long time. And, I should add, not only of any Nigerian leader, of a leader anywhere else for that matter.
I must congratulate the speechwriters who penned that masterpiece, but knowing Tinubu as I do, he would have participated equally in the substance. And, give or take a few pronunciation challenges, he is not a bad deliverer either; occasion-grabbing, mood-reading, and punch-jabbing.
He began by putting the present situation of the country in context:
"Rich in manpower and material resources, Nigeria should set the agenda for economic development and broadly shared prosperity on the African continent. Today, the opposite is the case. Instead of having a wealth of domestically produced goods in our manufacturing basket, we hold a virtually empty basket. As such, we have become a basket case."
With his peculiar figure of speech, he lamented further that though joblessness is the order of the day, yet for those who manage to be employed, the wages are so meagre and the end of the month for another pay is far too long: "With too little food and more tears in their eyes than drinkable water in their cups, they stare into the darkness of despair on a constant basis.
"This is not the way of a great nation," he added. "It is the way of heartless and mean governance that puts the interests of small elite above the interests of the common working man and woman who are the soul and backbone of this nation."
Here, of course, the question would rise in the minds of the millions of poor "working man and woman" out there: Aren't these moving words from a member of the same elite class, the other side of the same coin? But that would not be reason enough to dismiss it for history is replete with instances where revolutionary changes are wrought through such elite class-disavowal.
Not done with the situation the present PDP-led government has left Nigeria, Tinubu went on: "Where the road is bad, they budget for it, still the road gets worse off. Where the road is impassable, they offer excuses and empty promises. The touted improvement in electricity supply is now a mirage. In the midst of petrol dollars and abundance of natural gas Nigerians are without a commensurate standard of living. Our billions are embezzled and shared to cronies. The slogan of the ruling party is power, but corruption is the fuel that powers their government."
And here's a characteristic Tinubu-speak: "If they want to stand still, that is their right. However, they have no right to force the whole nation to stagnate with them. We have things to accomplish and progress to make for the good of the people." That is hard to beat. Sounds much like the memorable Thatcher punch line of "If you want to turn you may turn, but this lady is not for turning."
Then the nuncdimittis of ACN: "I stand to tell you that for the good of Nigeria this must be the last and final convention of the Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN."
He knew it could bring tears to some eyes and choke some throats, but he rose to it to stoutly reassure his multitude that the "brewing storm" is for the better: "Don't be frightened. It is a positive storm with a positive wind," he said. "Those things that have no roots and offer no solution to the plight of the people shall be swept away. This storm will change the political terrain forever. I am not afraid of this storm. I welcome it because the storm is us – our new vision. Our new party."
He went further, "As one of the national leaders of this party, I have dedicated myself to our political collaboration. I am attached to it in the strongest way. I am proud of what we have accomplished. Had we not held fast in the South-West against onslaught and intrigue, Nigeria would effectively be a one party state. When history writes its tale of the past decade, it will say the ACN preserved Nigerian democracy when it came under great threat."
Pressing further on the rationale for the dismantling of ACN to form APC, he spoke with conviction:
"Weighing all things in the balance, if I must decide between the existence of this party and the improvement of Nigeria, I must choose the improvement of Nigeria. That is our duty and responsibility. While it would be most comfortable to remain with our party as is, with its unique symbol, manifesto and constitution, we are not here to do what is comfortable. We are here to do what is right for our people and our country.
"I ask you my brothers and sisters to take pride in what ACN has accomplished but to have the vision and courage to see that our national imperatives require us to enter a new phase of political maturity, sacrifice and cooperation in order to bring an era of progressive governance to the whole of Nigeria and not just part of it."
"If we must end the ACN identity to form a new party so that Nigeria can survive and our people can live better life and face a rewarding future, then so be it. We shall do this with serious yet happy purpose and no regrets."
Summoning the power of a statesman he added, "May your chests fill with pride at what we have done and may your hearts fill with optimism at the better future that we shall create."
Of the bigger APC he assures: "It shall be this family that saves Nigeria by bringing to the people the creative policies that promote wide prosperity, employment, infrastructural overhaul, education, health care, civil rights, peace, stability and justice."
And of the ending of ACN: "For us this is not a sad ending, it is but the beginning of a great beginning. Let us do what is right so that when history writes its account of this day, it shall write that we lived up to our moral duties by doing what the moment required."
Although the speech was great and rousing, as I have said, one felt there was the need to have enumerated what his about-to-be-dissolved ACN could proudly lay claim to, if only for the records.
Ascribing the moment to the call of history that must be answered he stated: "All the prior achievements and feats we have recorded in the past will matter little unless we now answer the challenge now facing us" - the challenge of killing ACN to give birth to APC. But what were those "achievements and feats?" It couldn't be that he didn't want to blow the party's trumpet, far from it, that's what politicians do best.
It is true, neither good deeds nor good leaders good speeches necessarily make; but, for Christ's sake, at least let's have something to stir our weary souls. In the eyes of many, Tinubu may not be the messiah we are looking for, nevertheless that speech of his is messianic! Bravo!