By Lasisi Olagunju
Our president has charm. “Charm is seduction without sex,” says Robert Greene, author of ‘The Art of Seduction’ (2001). The president is a poet; metaphor is his refuge. Before the election, Bola Tinubu made a vulture of himself with a declaration that he had been eating sacrifices before his enemies were born and he would continue to eat the dreaded. When he met the 1999-2007 set of governors last week, Bola Tinubu was in his poetic best: “We went into the pond and wrestled with a pig. We got dirty, and cleaned up. That is why I am here today.” That is how our president poeticised his journey to the presidency. He said he fought a pig, he got dirty but cleaned up and found himself “here”. Where is ‘here’? His choice of enemy – dirty, clumsy pig – just as his choice of metaphor, thrilled me. His choice of audience too – he was addressing his colleagues, 1999-2007 governors who snatched the Nigerian bone from the jaws of the military. His audience were the Orwellian super boars who taught this democracy how to bite, and chew, and swallow, and digest all on behalf of the people. “My doors are open; you are my advisers,” he told them. They were happy.
Tinubu, president of subtlety, had other things to say; and he said them: “I understand that our people are suffering, (but) there can be no childbirth without pain.” His animated voice rang round the hall. Great metaphors are Tinubu’s balm of Gilead for hungry, hopeless folks, victims of a government that woke the sleeping dog before thinking of what to do with the consequences: “The joy of childbirth is the relief that comes after the pain,” he said as if he did not know that some clumsily handled childbirths end in horror with the gourds broken and their water spilt. The president went further and announced with joy that “Nigeria is reborn already with fuel subsidy removal. It is a rebirth of the country for the largest number over a few smugglers…” The man may be more than a poet; he reads and must have read every line and chewed on every letter of Robert Greene on how to charm and sedate trouble. That is what charmers do. Greene says they “are consummate manipulators…They understand your spirit, feel your pain, adapt to your moods. In the presence of a charmer, you feel better about yourself…” Ibrahim Babangida said something like this years ago: “I understand the psychology of Nigerians.” Our two-month-old government withdrew subsidy on petrol and defoliated the forest. The poor cried; the rich cried. The president heard their cries and intervened; he renewed their hope and, in Ngugi Wa Thiong’o’s voice, he told the Nigerian child to weep not: “Please, tell the people to be a little patient. The palliative is coming. I have done the arithmetic. But I don’t want cash-transfers to fall into the wrong hands. I know it pinches and it is difficult…In the end, we will rejoice in the prosperity of our country.” Very reassuring. The palliative truly came a day after those analgesic words. Everybody got something; the parliament got billions; the judiciary got theirs, and the president shoved N8,000 per month into the mouth of aching households. Painkiller is a synonym for palliative; it cannot cost more than N8,000.
Tinubu is a very lucky politician. He seduces without failing – because what beats in him is the heart of the art. Seduction, Kenneth Minogue (2006) says, is the central idea in political life. A man who boasted that he fought a pig and came out smelling sweet deserves attention. It takes more than courage to wrestle the mud with a pig. Critic, playwright and polemicist, George Bernard Shaw, called himself a “world betterer.” He made several interventions on the imperative of cleaning and cleansing the polity. He was totalitarian in his suggestions but he was careful enough to warn that you must “never wrestle with pigs.” He said if you do, “you both get dirty and the pig likes it.” Tinubu is a student of Greene: seduce your target by entering their spirit; adapt yourself to their moods; they will follow you even if you are going nowhere. He is also Niccolo Machiavelli’s Prince: “Whosoever desires constant success must change his conduct with the times.” That is why just last year, Bola Tinubu appeared fascinated by Bernard Shaw’s wise counsel on avoidance of wrestling with the pig. He told a town hall meeting in Calabar, Cross River State, in December 2022 that nothing, including provocation from his opponents, would make him fight a pig: “No other person is running like me. They have no facts, they have no experience. They have no track record. They have no degree of honesty. They can’t keep their promises. They resort to insults and abuses to detract. No, it doesn’t catch me; to divert, I say no, I’m from Tinubu Square; to wrestle, I’m a wrestler, but I don’t wrestle with the pig.” That was the poet at his seductive best seven months ago. Now we know that people change their minds; and those include wrestlers from Tinubu Square.
But I agree, and seriously too, that only cowards run away from fights – with anyone, with anything, anywhere. It is the weak who chooses where and who to wrestle (Àìlejà níí jé won ò bí mi ní’lè yí). But the flexible is the skillful. This president has shown what is possible with a mind that is rock solid and fluid at the same time. That is called mobility. World boxing champion, Mohammed Ali, was mobile; he pulled punches, and he pulled no punches; he floated like a butterfly and stung like a bee. And that explains his becoming the Greatest of All Time. Last year, Tinubu wouldn’t fight a pig; this year, he fought a pig, cleaned himself up and became president of Africa’s most populous country. That is what shifty, sneaky courage does; the more the dirt, the healthier the seed. Our president has a brother in Iraqi war veteran, Burl Randolph Jr. who once gave the formula that saw him rise and become a colonel in the United States’ army: “I am often asked: ‘Burl, why would you wrestle with a pig? All you get is dirty and the pig enjoys it’…My answer is always the same: How do you think I made Colonel?” This American asked the one who would win anywhere to “learn to outmaneuver the pig.” He says he has never “encountered a neat, clean, problem…” True. No one has. And that is a lesson for all conformists and enablers of bumbling regimes. People who suffer and smile and even hail their tormentors can’t get better until they know that fighting to live is wrestling down the pig, the dirty.
Seduction is a sibling of deception. He who seeks to deceive will always find someone who will allow himself to be deceived (Machiavelli). But everything that has a beginning has an end. Deception is like a drug; its effectiveness ends at its expiry date. With the palliative books reading billions for politicians and other specialists while the people are yawning for life, there is a simmering stirring in town. The president needs to reexamine himself and his regime of ‘renewed hope.’ His family and friends need to pray if they are not praying; they should intensify prayers if they are already praying. The sharks that used SAP to drown Ibrahim Babangida’s government appear to have sucked in this president and his government. And they haven’t yet spent 60 days in power. If IBB’s SAP was a hole, what we are seeing at this moment is a deep ditch. And the unfolding tragedy is not just that our man is in there and digging, it is that there are other holes ‘they’ are helping him to dig to fill the subsidy-withdrawal hole. It is not funny. The result is terrible devastation and ugly blisters on the face of the Nigerian earth.
We have a government that is determined to sweat the people like Orwellian Napoleon. It announced two weeks ago its plan to double its tax revenue. Do people pay tax from poverty? Digging holes to fill holes; the palliative from this government is N8,000 per household per month mixed with tax and rumours of more tax. The regime has slapped on us payment for Proof of Ownership papers for our vehicles every year. The price is N1,000. It started as a rumour but it is true and it is not funny. Fiscal Policy Partner and Africa Tax Leader at PwC, Taiwo Oyedele, was one strident online voice against this tax. He described it as “retrogressive…ill conceived and poorly designed.” He said “it is illogical to have to prove annually that you own a vehicle for which you already have a certificate of proof of ownership issued by the government.” Oyedele counseled that the tax “is wrong both in terms of signaling from a multiple taxation perspective and in terms of timing given the recent fuel subsidy removal…” He advised that the tax should be set aside in the interest of good order and to prevent setting a bad precedent. Then, he threw a snide remark: “Who says we cannot be asked to also renew our birth certificates, C of O, etc on an annual basis if this succeeds?” Valid questions! But, you know what? The very week Oyedele expressed those strong views, Tinubu appropriated the man. He gave him an appointment as the head of his tax reforms and fiscal policy committee. Seduction. ‘Why not sleep with the enemy? Politics is all about seduction.’ That provocative headline was cast by Suzanne Moore, columnist of The Guardian of the UK on 10 February, 2016. The Facebook wall of Oyedele, the latest catch of Politician Tinubu, has since been flooded with congratulations and felicitations in various flowery words and expressions. Interesting times. I congratulate him, too.
But, shall we ask: How much tax is enough for this government? When is it going to tax the super-rich who freely destroy our roads with their trailers and tankers? Hope is the food of the poor; sacrifice is the sacred duty they owe the state and its billionaire custodians. Like Lawuwo in Oladejo Okediji’s ‘Rere Run’, it is almost certain that we will all go bald – courtesy of the granite loads the Nigerian government daily heaps on our bare heads. Beasts of burden. That is an appropriate metaphor for the Nigerian poor. We pay taxes and overpay rates, explicit and implicit. Implicit taxes are unseen, unrecorded levies. You and I bear and pay them daily without complaining. It is our lot; the price for choosing to be born here. We think it is normal because we’ve been paying them from our mother’s wombs. African Development Bank (AfDP) president, Akinwumi Adesina, about two months ago hinted in Abuja that because our governments are historically asleep, the people sulk not, they provide public services. He made a lot of sense. He made even greater sense when he stressed that while tax payment was desirable, “it is not the amount of tax collected, it is how it is spent, and what is delivered.”
At the first national tax dialogue organized by the Federal Inland Revenue Services (FIRS) in Abuja in January 2021, the same Adesina doubled down and said Nigerians were among top implicit tax payers in the world: “Truth be told, Nigerians pay one of the highest implicit tax rates in the world — way higher than developed countries. Think of it: they provide electricity for themselves via generators; they repair roads to their neighborhoods, if they can afford to; there are no social security systems; they provide security for their own safety; and they provide boreholes for drinking water with their own monies.” The man repeated himself in May 2023 (this year) at the inauguration lecture of Tinubu in Abuja. There, the man amplified his 2021 thoughts on what Nigerians suffer at the hands of their government with a warning that “…simply raising taxes is not enough, as many question the value of paying taxes, hence the high level of tax avoidance. Many citizens provide their own electricity, sink boreholes to get access to water, and repair roads in their towns and neighborhoods. These are essentially high implicit taxes. Nigerians, therefore, pay the highest implicit tax rates in the world.”
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