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Tinubu: Bridge builder at 64

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he All Progressives Congress (APC) National Leader, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, is 64 today. Group Political Editor EMMANUEL OLADESU writes on the struggles and ideas of the former governor of Lagos State, who spearheaded the titanic battle for power shift in last year’s general elections. 

It is another day of honour for Bola Ahmed Tinubu, Third Republic senator, former governor of Lagos State and National Leader of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC). The eminent politician will receive a standing ovation as a kingmaker as he celebrates his 64th birthday with a difference. To mark it, a colloquium is being organised at the International Conference Centre, Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory (FCT). It will be chaired by President Muhammadu Buhari. It is the first time a party leader will be so honoured.

Many observers expect the event to achieve two objectives. Governors, ministers, legislators, other top government officials, businessmen and technocrats will  brainstorm on the imperative of the diversification of the economy and the prospects of agriculture as an income-yielding and employment generating venture. Also, the ceremony is expected to unify and fortify the APC as it confronts the inevitable challenges  imposed by its status as a ruling progressive party and builds support for the Federal Government’s agenda for change and renewal.

Besides, many admirers now want the Lion of Bourdillon  to write his memoirs between now and when he will be 70. To them, young generations should be able to drink from his fountain of wisdom. This becomes more compelling in view of the fact that the memoir of a statesman represents an epoch.

Since 2003, Tinubu has been the main issue in Nigerian politics. As the most colourful Yoruba actor in the post-Ige era, he is a cynosure of all eyes on the podium. Although he has never vied for president, he was widely acknowledged as the national opposition leader between 2003 and 2015. In his Southwest base, he has filled the vacuum created by the demise of his two leaders; the sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, and the slain Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, Chief Ajibola Ige. Both of them laboured for the enthronement of a people-friendly progressive government at the centre, but without success. But, with Tinubu, the dream has been fulfilled.

The former governor has remained a reference point in the battle against stagnation. The opposition has described him as a courageous and fearless fighter. According to his followers, he is a patriot, motivator, strategic thinker and risk taker. Although a cosmopolitan politician, Tinubu has always leaned on the grassroots. As a grand master of grassroots politicking, he could always feel the pulse of the down-trodden. His style of administration in Lagos cast him in the mould of a humanist and visionary leader. Tinubu, the crowd puller, has raised a generation of able politicians, technocrats and competent administrators who are national assets.

Under the military, he started his political career as a crusader for change and the enthronement of the rule of law. Tinubu and other compatriots made enormous sacrifices for democracy, especially under the banner of the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO). Yet, what was restored in 1999 by the departing military marauders was not democracy, but a semblance of civil rule, Thus, the pro-democracy struggle was elongated. When the ballot box was subverted by the PDP-led Federal Government, Tinubu challenged it to a duel. He became an advocate of electoral reforms, justice, good governance and development. Asiwaju is a great apostle of power, which, in his view, is never served a la carte. Always exuding charisma, carriage, dignity and sheer native wisdom, Tinubu has inner eyes, which often assist him to see a way where pessimists think there is none.

Brave and bold, Tinubu is never intimidated by the federal might. Whenever his territory was targeted for liquidation, he always anticipated the danger and put the enemy on the defensive. As a politician, he has never slept on guard. Neither would he allow his right to be trampled upon by foes. When the political General was framed and arraigned before a Code of Conduct Tribunal, he leaned on the law for survival. His triumph was celebrated by his followers. Endowed with a rare organisational ability, mobilisation prowess, uncommon acumen, masterful logic, and foresight, Tinubu’s pastime is strategic thinking.

Nigeria reaped bountifully from that problem-solving approach in the last general election. Thirty three years ago, the late Chief Awolowo had predicted the installation of a humane and progressive government at the centre through combined efforts. Yet, in 1959/60, 1964, 1979, 1983, 2003, 2007 and 2011 general elections, the scattered progressives worked at cross purposes, despite their numerical strength, intellectual bent, ideological similarity and vision of a better society.

The onus to break the jinx fell on the Jagaban Borgu. Urging the opposition leaders to sink their minor differences, he said they should make a sacrifice and float a mega party to confront the PDP. Tinubu re-invented the theory of the slaughter’s slab  to suit the collective aspiration of the opposition. In his view, there will be no going back for the defunct Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) led by Buhari and Prince Tony Momoh,  the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP), led by Dr. Ognonnaye Onu, the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), led by Chief Bisi Akande and a section of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), led by Imo State Governor Rochas Okorocha, if they agreed to merge into a single party that would lead to the permanent withdrawal of their certificates by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). In that period of anxiety, storm and stress, Tinubu, the acknowledged party financier, provided selfless leadership for his compatriots to weather the storm. The road was laced with thorns. The challenges included the APC registration hurdles, the tension unleashed by intra-party struggle for party offices and  the anxiety over presidential primaries.

Tinubu’s role during the critical electioneering was consistent with his antecedent. In the private sector, he was a hardworking accountant. In fact, reflecting on his success in the private sector and as governor, he fondly described himself as a financial surgeon. His strength lies in his ability to discover egg heads and make use of them to run an efficient administration.  Since he crossed the bridged from the boardroom to politics, Tinubu has also acquired other skills. These include political tolerance and a sense of accommodation. He is conversant with the limitation of  nursing grudges against perceived foes, who are likely to become compatriots and allies, based on the simple dictum: there is no permanent friend or foe in politics, only permanent interest. Thus, according to observers, he has lived to expectation as a consummate politician, consistent democrat, tested and trusted leader and seasoned administrator.

Paying tribute to Tinubu, Second Republic Secretary to Lagos State Government Olorunfunmi Basorun said the former governor represents the pursuit of ‘life more abundant’ in the post Awolowo era.  He recalled that his administration in Lagos was bothered by the lack of good roads, electricity, employment, good health care system. “Asiwaju Tinubu is an exemplary leader, whose philosophy is deeply anchored on the tenets of Awoism. Tinubu’s mere cough or sneeze makes some people severely panicky and jittery. He is the contemporary Awo of our time, who is destined to complete Awo’s unfinished business,” he added.

One of Tinubu’s disciples, Hon. Jide Jimoh, a member of the House of Representatives from Lagos Maainland Constituency, described Tinubu as “the Tutor-General of the Nigerian politics.” He said the APC leader has demonstrated that Nigeria is his constituency, thereby building bridges of unity and understanding among the diverse people.

Tinubu is not a prophet without honour at home. Between 1999 and 2007, he presided over a model administration in Lagos, the Centre of Excellence. When the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) invaded the Southwest, only Tinubu survived. Therefore, he kicked off the liberation struggle from the region. Tinubu successfully coordinated the battle for the restoration of progressive administrations in the five states of Ondo, Ekiti, Oyo, Ogun, and Osun.  To displace the progressives from regional power, PDP sharp shooters and hawks had penetrated the Alliance for Democracy (AD). They succeeded in crippling the platform, ahead of 2007 polls.  The house was in ruins. But, Tinubu was undaunted. He spearheaded the formation of the defunct Action Congress (AC), which later metamorphosed into the ACN. Under the guidance of the quintessential soldier of democracy, the party reclaimed Ekiti and Osun States from the PDP in 2010. A year later, PDP was also sacked from power in Ogun and Oyo states. But, PDP later regained control in Ekiti.

When he writes his memoir, students of Tinubuism will be anxious to know the impact of his parental upbringing on a political career that has blossomed. Undisputedly, Tinubu grew up in a political family. Her mother, the late Alhaja Abibat Mogaji, the Iyaloja-General of Nigeria, was a popular politician and women mobiliser in the days of the defunct Action Group (AG), the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) and the Social Democratic Party (SDP). But, little did he guess that he will also become a political colossus. Tinubu attended St. John’s Primary School, Aroloya, Lagos and Children’s Home School in Ibadan. He went to the United States in 1975, where he studied at Richard J. Daley College in Chicago, Illinois and later at Chicago State University. He graduated in 1979 with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Accounting. Tinubu worked for American companies-Arthur Andersen, Deloitte, Haskins, & Sells, and GTE Services Corporation. After returning to Nigeria in 1983, he worked with Mobil Oil Nigeria.

The auditor became a politician by accident. He was dragged into the fray during the long military interregnum by some old breed. His cousin, Kola Oseni, claimed that he purchased the senatorial form for him. However, when he entered politics in the aborted Third Republic, he took the polity by storm. As a people’s politician, the senator became a thorn in the flesh of the military.

When Tinubu informed his colleagues at work that he was throwing his cap in the ring, his decision to abandon his lucrative job as an auditor with Mobil Oil was confounding to them. One of them, Chief Pius Akinyelure, who incidentally is now the APC National Vice Chairman (Southwest), urged him to rescind his decision, saying that he had a better prospect in the oil industry. But, Tinubu insisted on moving on.

The Mobil accountant braced the odds to become the SDP senatorial candidate for the Lagos West District. He was perceived by party leaders as an upstart. But, the green horn dazed the screening committee headed by Chief Lanre Rasak when he scored the highest mark. Not only did he demonstrated ability, he exhibited an understanding of the dynamics of politics. Tinubu answered highly technical questions with immensurable wit from the panel. There was a sort of tension between the old and new breed in those days. But, old politicians on the panel, who had written off the new breed, had to change their mind. Reflecting on the screening, Rasak said: “We predicted that Tinubu will shake Lagos politics and it has been so.”

The Lagos West Senatorial District is the largest in the country. It spread from Olusosu/Oregun to Badagry. During the historic contest, Tinubu defeated the National Republican Convention (NRC) candidate, Mrs. Kemi Nelson, who later served under him as commissioner, with a wide margin. In fact, he scored the highest number of senatorial votes in the country. His colleagues in the Upper Chamber, including Dr Iyorcha Ayu, Ameh Ebute, Abu Ibrahim, O.J. Adewumi, Tony Adefuye, Jibril Martins-Kuye, and the late Emir of Borgu, Dantori, often marveled at his sagacity. Tinubu aspired to the Senate Presidency. But, he was persuaded to step down for Ayu. He was the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Finance. As a senator, he was widely acknowledged as a high flyer, prolific analyst and tactician. The Lagos boy was always on the firing line, challenging the Babangida Administration to a duel. However, following the fall of the Third Republic, his career in the Senate was aborted.

Tinubu was the arrowhead of senators seeking an end to the military rule. It was a very difficult choice. As a pro-democracy crusader, he objected to the annulment of the historic June 12, 1993 presidential election won by the SDP candidate, the late Basorun Moshood Abiola, the Aare Ona Kankanfo of Yorubaland.  At home and abroad, Tinubu was a pillar of support for the inspiring and principled fight for justice anchored by NADECO. His dedication, courage, sense conviction, untiring fighting spirit and financial backing for the noble cause sustained the crusade. Thus, Tinubu, along with other leaders of the struggle-Prof. Wole Soyinka and Gen. Alani Akinrinade-were marked down for liquidation. They escaped abroad. From there, Tinubu fired salvos at the military. He inspired many pro-democracy groups, whose activities led to the restoration of civil rule in 1999.

When Abacha’s successor, Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar, unfolded another transition programme, Tinubu returned home. He told his supporters that he wanted to return to the Senate. But, the Lagos-based Afenifere leaders of Ogun State origin, including Pa Adesanya, Chief Ayo Adebanjo and Sir Olaniwun Ajayi,  insisted that he should run for governor. The lone voice against Tinubu’s ambition was the late Chief Ganiyu Dawodu, who sponsored the late Mr. Funso Williams of the Network Alliance for the position. But, Tinubu emerged as the AD candidate and defeated the PDP flag bearer, Chief Dapo Sarunmi during the governorship election. In 2003, he was re-elected, defeating Williams, who had defected to the PDP.

Tinubu made history as the governor of the Centre of Excellence for eight years. The shrewd administrator was on top of every situation.  Although his attention was diverted by litigation over his university certificate, he triumphed over his detractors.  Tinubu years were remarkable for progress. He jerked up the internally generated revenue from the N6000 monthly to billions of naira. Tinubu fought the infrastructural battle in the city state. He constructed roads, built hospitals and schools, created opportunities for employment and re-energised the transport sector. He initiated the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) project. The judiciary reforms he introduced were legendary.

The former governor also created additional 37 local councils, based on popular demand. When the allocations to the councils were seized by the Federal Government, his team of experts, which included former Accountant-General and Permanent Secretary, Mr. Akinwumi Ambode, who is now governor, invented a creative financial engineering that made the councils to survive. But, the greatest achievement of Tinubu was that he handed over to a competent successor, Babatunde Fashola (SAN), who built on the foundation he laid.

In politics and private life, Tinubu is reputed for philanthropy. He is a cheerful giver, benefactor, godfather and defender of the oppressed. He shared these traits with his friend, MKO Abiola. But, more than that, Tinubu has joined pro-true federalism crusaders in raising the national question. Although he objected to the National Conference set up by the Jonathan Administration, describing it as a decoy and a Greek gift, he believes in the restructuring of the polity.

Tinubu’s political career has also been turbulent. He has been dragged before  the Code of Conduct Tribunal for allegedly operating illegal foreign accounts. Also, agents of the PDP-led Federal Government were always monitoring his activities as an opposition leader. Whenever he was abroad, stories would be cooked about him. Rumours will be peddled about his health. At a time, his media office raised an alarm that assassins were after him. Even, as the National Leader of the ruling party, there have been attributions aimed at damaging his reputation. Whenever crisis hits the APC, detractors would be quick to paint a picture of Tinubu’s involvement. Thus, the Asiwaju has been paying the price of leadership.  f As the leader of a formidable political family, Tinubu has managed to put his house in order by moderating conflict of interests among his disciples in the quest for power. But, it has not been an easy task.

Reward for politics and community service have come for Tinubu in torrents. various dimensions. He has received many honorary chieftaincy titles. They include the Asiwaju of Lagos, conferred on him by the late Eleko of Lagos, Oba Adeyinka Oyekan, the Jagaban of Borgu Kingdom, the Aare of Ile-Oluji and the Aare-ago of Egbaland.

Today, Asiwaju Tinubu stands before the mirror of history. Following the power shift at the centre, he ceased to be the opposition leader. As the midwife of the new era, the praises and blames would be shared by him and the President. As the APC leader, the house must not fall. Thus, Tinubu should be at the forefront of the resolution of crisis affecting the party at the federal and state levels.  At a time Nigerians are calling for a new economic direction, his advice could be useful. The problem confronting the APC now is nit the PDP. According to observers, the strife and rancour in the ruling party could resolved by the same leaders who worked together for the new dawn.

The APC National Leader should also bear in mind the unfinished business of the party. To critics, the APC needs a crisis resolution mechanism. Also, the party needs to adopt a clear ideology that will distinguish it from the opposition.

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