Over the last few days, several video clips of Bola Tinubu’s disturbingly cringeworthy verbal mishaps during speaking engagements have flooded social media platforms and have caused me to wonder if we’re witnessing the real-time mental decline of Nigeria’s leading presidential candidate who could be president next year.
Because Tinubu has also been the victim of a well-coordinated blizzard of carefully designed falsehoods in the last few days, I wasn’t sure if the videos I saw were digitally manipulated to undermine him. So, I decided to look up the longer versions of the videos on YouTube on Friday before writing this column.
The clip that particularly provoked intense feelings of anxiety in me was one in which Tinubu momentarily departed from his prepared speech in Owerri, Imo State, on Thursday and spoke in a language that was neither English nor Yoruba, the only two languages he speaks.
I didn’t believe the clip was real, so I checked TVC News’ live feed of the event, which has been curated on YouTube. TVC News, as is well known, is Tinubu’s TV station, which has zero motivation to put him in an unflattering light.
At the 03:29 - 03:49 mark of TVC News’ curated YouTube video of Tinubu’s Owerri speech, he said, in praise of Plateau State Governor Lalong’s leadership of the APC presidential campaign council, “You see the innovation. If we lend ourselves to innovation, we can create wonders. Here is a successful, again, a townhall different from balabloo bloo blu bulaba.”
What was that? Balabloo bloo blu bulaba? I understand enough Yoruba to know that that isn’t Yoruba. I asked Igbo people if this was an approximation of something in the Igbo language since Tinubu was speaking in Imo. They said it was gobbledygook. Or was he speaking Goemai, the dominant language in Shendam where Governor Lalong is from? No chance. And he was certainly not speaking English.
This wasn’t one of Tinubu’s familiar dizzyingly incomprehensible verbal whirlwinds. It was pure, unmistakable gibberish. So, what happened? Was he in a momentary trance? Was this babytalk instigated by a stuporous, narcotized state? Or was it the public indication of a cognitive decline?
This is important because, whatever you may think about him, Tinubu is intelligent and used to be articulate up until 2019 or thereabouts. His speech impediments and cognitive decline started—or became noticeable— in early 2021. I first called attention to this in my April 10, 2021, column titled "Tinubu: A Presidential Disaster Waiting to Happen?”
I wrote: “Anyone who has watched Bola Tinubu closely and dispassionately can’t help but notice that the man is not well. He is a walking psychedelic calamity. His endless verbal miscues and nonverbal cues constantly conspire to construct the profile of a man who is battling a troubling internal turmoil, who is held hostage by disablingly malefic inner demons.
“He appears to revel in his own self-created alternate universe that is always lightyears away from ours. When he speaks and walks, he strikes the observer as a man in a daze, in a cripplingly drunken or narcotic stupor. He slurs his words, slacks his attention, blanks out, has awkward gaits (which caused him to trip at Arewa House in Kaduna recently), and seems impervious to the world around him. That, for me, is the outward manifestation of an inner turbulence.”
But spouting literal mumbo jumbo in the middle of a campaign speech is a whole nother level. This is a low-water mark of mental deterioration. Now, I am both worried for Nigeria and sorry for Tinubu. I don’t know what ails him— or if he’s merely the victim of the ravages of dotage—but the presidency would exert more stress on him and worsen his condition. Nigeria would be the worse for it.
Neither Umaru Musa Yar’adua nor Muhammadu Buhari was this evidently ill before ascendance to the presidency. Yar’adua died in office and Buhari is a caricature of his former self who started to shirk the responsibilities of governance to tend to his health from his second year in office. A sick country like Nigeria does not deserve that kind of double whammy of tragedies.