Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu : As Asset, By Yomi Badejo-Okusanya
The name Bola Tinubu first came into our national consciousness when he contested and won a senatorial seat from Lagos Sate under the defunct Social Democratic Party (SDP), during Nigeria’s botched 3rd Republic. In the aftermath of Babangida’s nullification of the June 12, 1993 elections, Tinubu naturally identified with the Progressives and along with his colleagues in NADECO became a thorn in the flesh of the military junta of Abacha. Needless to say, he paid the price by suffering several spells of incarceration, going ‘underground’ and was eventually hounded into self-exile from where he continued the struggle for the re-enthronement of democracy by calling for the validation of the elections won by Chief MKO Abiola. The popular saying then was “On June 12 we stand!”.
After the death of Abacha and the transition mid-wifed by the Abdusalam administration commenced, Tinubu like many of his comrades ‘in the trenches’, returned to participate in the unfolding democratic process. Rumour has it that all he wanted was to return to the senate while late Senator Wahab Dosunmu was tipped to run for the office of Governor of Lagos State. However, by some stroke of luck or should i say divine intervention, Tinubu was the one who ended up contesting for the ticket with late Engineer Funso Williams. The latter who was the preferred choice of the founding fathers of the Alliance for Democracy, must have grossly under-estimated the potential of Bola Tinubu in winning political battles as he was later to discover to his chagrin after losing the ticket.
By reason of how Bola Tinubu emerged as governor, he literarily had no political structure. He had come to power on his democratic and NADECO credentials riding on the tailcoats of the fathers of the party. But he quickly realized the very vulnerable position he was in and set about commandeering the party structure. Very deftly, he went about peddling his influence and power from the state house of assembly to the local governments, to the ward levels such that by the time the founding fathers wanted to engage those structures for the 2003 General Elections, they were in the firm grip of the Asiwaju. The rest as they say is history. Post that election, he pulled out the structure from the Alliance For Democracy leaving it an empty shell, and formed a new party which he christened Action Congress the forerunner of Action Congress of Nigeria. To Tinubu’s credit, he was the only governor in the South West who was not consumed by Obasanjo’s 2003 Tsunami as he refused to be baited by Baba Iyabo’s overtures.
Tinubu had the onerous task of rebuilding opposition in the South West from his operational base in Lagos and credit must go to him for standing strong in his belief against the onslaught of federal might including the seizure of the federal allocation for Lagos for several years by the Obasanjo administration. It seems the more that was thrown at him, the stronger he waxed. He was therefore able to marshal the return of of opposition government in virtually all the states of the South West including Ondo which is governed by the Labour Party, an allegation Governor Mimiko has never denied. Even Edo State the home of ‘Mr. Fix’ fell to the political machination of theTinubu supported Oshiomole.
Tinubu was definitely an asset to any a politician who needed to fight the central ruling PDP government especially in the various states, Many considered the PDP government as reactionary and highly corrupt while Tinubu’s brand of politics was tagged progressive especially by the media who Tinubu had so cleverly courted and won over. He became the rallying point for serious opposition to the government at the centre and was often referred to as ” Ekun oko Obasanjo”, meaning in yoruba, “the lion that keeps Obasanjo in check.” Or “the man who gave the then President consistent sleepless nights”. Those that did not know him collided with him, while those that knew him, made sure they never collided with him”. A lot is said about his political sagacity and ability to emerge victorious even in the most dire political battles. Asiwaju became an enigma of sorts and the mere mention of his name evoked passion one way or the other, depending on which side of the divide you stood.
I personally have had a few encounters with Bola Tinubu and each of them left me marveling as to what a remarkable man he is. Early in his first tenure as Governor, i had been contracted by a few of his friends including Otunba Gbenga Daniel to do some work for him. Even though he had initially resisted, he soon bowed to the compelling argument of his friends and co-operated fully. He stuck me as a listening-governor who will always submit to superior argument. My second significant encounter with him was still as a sitting governor, we met at a friend’s event in Ghana and he actually vacated his hotel room opting to stay in the lobby overnight, in deference to Chief Mrs Bisi Abiola who had arrived late into Accra with her daughter, and had therefore lost their hotel booking. My most recent encounter was a chance meeting few years ago at the Awujale of Ijebu’s palace where he virtually told my wife and i what we were up to as that time. I wondered how come he knew so much of little me and caught a glimpse of how he was able to so successfully warm himself into the hearts of his numerous supporters.
Bola Tinubu is no stranger to controversy as it has dogged him severally in his political journey. From speculations about his ancestry, to secondary education and even university degree, but he continued to forge ahead appearing mostly unperturbed by them all.
But lately, the name Asiwaju has more than ever has been invoking increasing public odium. Even his most ardent fans and admires are no longer immune to the numerous allegations labelled against him. They range from high level corruption, to nepotism, to self aggrandizement, dictatorial tendencies, lack of integrity, un-paralleled acquisition of property, meddlesomeness, siphoning of public funds etc. Even though some of these accusations are not new, the extent to which they are gaining ground should be alarming to him and his advisers. All the woes that may befall or threaten APC states in the southwest are often linked back to Asiwaju in one way or the other. All the PDP needs to say in order to win a state election is to pose the question to the electorate if they are now ready to be Tinubu’s slaves and or have their state treasuries channeled to Lagos. It works like magic! Many do not like PDP but they even like Bola Tinubu less. This has forced them to either go or stay in the PDP in their quest for political relevance. The last three gubernatorial elections namely Ondo, Anambra and Ekiti were decided against the background of strong anti-Tinubu sentiments. In the recent past, all Tinubu needed to have done is to mention his preference for a candidate and he was as good as elected. However, recent happenings have shown that all is not well even within the camp of the so-called progressives. Many have begun querying Tinubu’s penchant for imposition of candidates. They seek for a more level playing ground. The result is that Asiwaju’s image despite previous challenges has reached an all-time low especially among his own people and has the potential to plummet even further. Asiwaju has not helped matters by refusing to respond to the allegations, giving the impression that they may be true or at best, he does not care what people say about him, none of which can be good for his image.
So how did Asiwaju squander so much goodwill that it has ended up in him applying for a good-will overdraft? First, Asiwaju and by extension APC have left Nigerians thoroughly disillusioned. Nigerians were eager to embrace a viable alternative to the marauding PDP but have found out that it is a case six pence and half a shilling. As the National Leader of APC, Tinubu has failed to market the party to majority of Nigerians. Nigerians do not trust PDP but trust APC even less. Two, many purported actions of Tinubu now and in the past have not endeared him to a significant number of Nigerians especially outside the South West enclave. As a democrat, Tinubu must know the importance of building and nurturing democratic processes as against selection . Tinubu should promote equal opportunity as one of the legacies he intends to bequeath. Thirdly, even though there have been unsubstantiated allegations of corruption and massive acquisition of government property, interest and contract-grabbing, Asiwaju has never addressed the issue. It has now festered and it is becoming an open sore that he will only ignore at his own peril. While in the past the people were willing to overlook those allegations, their sheer weight is fast erasing whatever good he has previously done.
So what must Asiwaju do? He needs to reinvent himself. He needs to communicate more directly with his people rather than just through his structure which gives room for distortions of his original intention. As a national political leader of a radical bent, Tinubu needs to be more transparent and accountable in his business dealings. My findings have shown that a number acquisitions credited to him are inaccurate but he has allowed the rumors to linger so much that they have become the truth. However, I say this without prejudice to what he may actually own or may have acquired in the recent past, which a lot of people consider quite obscene and covetous.
Tinubu must clearly show that his personal interest is secondary to the overall interest of a greater Nigeria. Tinubu must walk his talk of being a democrat which means he must be seen to promoting democratic principles and ideals even at the risk of his own personal gain. He must urgently be seen as a true builder of a democratic process that will outlive him, that consistently produces the best among his team to face opposition at any point in time.He must be able to inculcate in his followers the habit of selling manifestos to the electorate as against holding vigil at ‘Bourdillon Palace’ in order to curry his personal favor, as the easiest route to gaining political office. Tinubu must let them know that it is hard work and deep knowledge of the people’s desires and wishes that offers the winning edge and not political god-fatherism. It is important that for the Jagaban of Borgu to become the rallying point for the real and desperately needed change in our political firmament, he must be seen to come to ‘equity with clean hands’. He must make Tinubu-nomics have a higher voice than Tinubu-politics as the former will position him as a principled politician while the latter a self-seeking person he is presently being portrayed as.
In my own assertion, we desperately need Tinubu to remain an asset. APC needs for him to remain an asset so that it can continue to benefit from his political sagacity. His followers need for him to remain an asset to impart knowledge for a better future for our nation. The Southwest need him to remain an asset in the search for ethnic definition in an emerging Nigeria. Even the opposing PDP needs him as an asset so that he can provide virile opposition without which, it may implode and they start to eat each other up as it has happened in the past. Nigeria needs for Tinubu to remain an asset so that he can join hands with politicians of all shades and hues to fix this ailing nation. Africa needs for Tinubu to remain an asset to show the entire world that the black man is capable of governing himself and ours is not a continuous tale of corruption, social injustice, poverty and general backwardness.
Tinubu has a unique opportunity to write his name in gold in the sands of Nigeria’s political time. But the choice is really his to be a liability or an asset going forward.
Yomi Badejo-Okusanya is Public Relations Consultant and writes from Lagos, Nigeria.
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