Tony Elumelu
Tony Elumelu

Is Tony Elumelu Right Or Wrong?

7 mins read

A video of President-elect Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s visit to the home of Tony Elumelu, the Chairman of the United Bank for Africa (UBA), has been trending online, sparking off divergent speculations.

While many accused the banker of sabotage (as if he’s a member of a political party), others insist that Elumelu was wrong to have allowed the video recording and subsequent release of such a private visit by the President-elect whose declaration of victory by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) remains a subject of controversy.

The common strand in all of the arguments regarding Tinubu’s dramatic visit to Elumelu is the assumption that the Africa’s foremost banker must, of necessity, be member of a political party and show open loyalty anchored on tribe or creed. Nothing can be farther from the truth.

One major take-away from the viral video and the reactions that now trail it is the fact that Elumelu, as corporate banker and philanthropist, enjoys the trust and respect of many Nigerians. Love him, loathe him, he has managed to keep his head above water and successfully navigated the labyrinth of Nigeria’s banking space to put his entrepreneurial  stamp of authority on the shores of Africa. He has successfully managed his integrity despite the storms in Nigeria’s banking sector,  and his sustained commitment to driving Africa’s developmental goals through his Tony Elumelu Foundation lends credence to his track record of good corporate governance. Understandably, he will be the bride of many politicians seeking power. Many of his peers failed on the path which he successfully trod with dignity.

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Perhaps, a key success factor in his journey as private sector leader is his refusal to be partisan. He is seen to  face his business and pays no attention to political distractions, the reason he’s had no brush with any of the administrations – from President Olusegun Obasanjo to the incumbent Muhammadu Buhari. I’m sure Elumelu would have expected the divergent reactions to the images he probably permitted on the Internet.

Viewing the trending video and reading through the reactions that followed, the first instinct I had was to examine the setting which confirms that the whole episode actually took place in Tony Elumelu’s home, a good sign that it was not a politically instigated meeting in the raw sense of it.

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While the President-elect is seen in the video stepping out of his SUV, Elumelu is seen waiting to receive him. “The last man standing,” he’s heard hailing Tinubu and giving him a hug as he reached out for a handshake. They immediately move into  what looks like Elumelu’s sitting room as the philanthropist calls out to his household to “come and greet” his guest.

In other words, while other private sector players like Aliko Dangote and Femi Otedola reportedly visited the President-elect to felicitate him, Tinubu chose to visit Elumelu in his own home. It would have, therefore, been unthinkable for him to have given a cold shoulder to such a great honour. In that circumstance, one expects that the host must offer utmost reception to such a guest, the president-elect, irrespective of the fact that his victory is still a subject of controversy.

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I have listened through the audio. Smart as ever, Elumelu appears to have passed the test: He kept referring to the President-elect as “the last man standing” in  obvious recognition of his right to the title of “President-elect” but also in veiled allusion to the controversy now trailing INEC’s declaration.

That was pretty smart!

On that score, Elumelu obviously proves that he understands the limits of his public utterances as Africa’s leading investor, entrepreneur mentor and philanthropist, whose support and patronage all politicians, including the President-elect, must naturally covet and seek. He probably understands the rules much more than suggested in the submissions of his critics and supporters.

I wouldn’t know if Tony has any affinity with or publicly supports any political party or candidate – that, obviously, would be antithetical given the continent-wide philosophy he pushes across the world. That would have negated the dictates and ethics of his banking profession. Even if that was the case, the minimum expectation of the public would be that he engages subtly.

The Tony Elumelu many Nigerians and Africans know, is not frivolous;  As a business celebrity, he appears to have been conscious of the controversy surrounding INEC’s announcement of winner in the February 25 Presidential Election and the ensuing public outcry.

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I would probably have had a different interpretation of the Tinubu-visit scenario if Elumelu was the one that visited the President-elect, which wouldn’t have been entirely wrong of him anyway, considering that as private sector player he’s expected to be non-partisan, irrespective of who he prefers. INEC having wrongly or rightly declared a winner, the leading entrepreneur’s role in that video cannot legitimately be said to have been questionable.

I would argue that Tony Elumelu did no wrong in receiving the President-elect as guest; the fact that the video was shared publicly probably attests to the fact that the visit was not political, however contrary the circumstances tend to suggest.

Dr Marcel Mbamalu, a journalist, lives in Lagos.

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