Tinubu: Fearless kingmaker by Emmanuel OLADESU

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ON May 29, when the President-elect, Gen. Muhammadu Buhari, takes over from out-going President Goodluck Jonathan at the handing over ceremony in Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), the National Leader of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, will also be the cynosure of all eyes.

He will receive a standing ovation as a kingmaker, courageous and fearless political General, patriot, motivator, strategic thinker, risk taker, grand master of grassroots politicking, humanist, visionary leader, crowd puller; a crusader for change, the enthronement of the rule of law, electoral reforms, justice, good governance and development; and a great apostle of power, which, in his view, is never served a la cart. Always exuding charisma, carriage, dignity and honour, the ceremony will be the crowing of his efforts as an indomitable opposition leader, a man endowed with sheer organisational ability, mobilisation prowess, uncommon acumen, masterful logic, foresight, and the most colourful politician in the post-Awolowo era.

Thirty two years ago, the indomitable leader, the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo, predicted that progressive forces would float a formidable opposition platform that would win federal power in Nigeria. Although the former Premier of the defunct Western Region tried in vain to bring the scattered opposition figures under one umbrella to confront the conservative bloc that had held the country to ransom, his efforts were fruitless. In 1959/60, 1964, 1979, 1983, 2003, 2007 and 2011, progressives worked at cross purposes, despite their numerical strength, intellectual bent, ideological inclination and vision of a better society.

However, ahead of last week’s presidential election, Tinubu swung into action. He made a passionate appeal to progressive arrowheads in the opposition parties to sink their minor differences and pull their resources together. The National Leader of the defunct Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) argued that if the leaders of like-minded parties could make sacrifice and float a mega party to confront the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), which, in his opinion, has lost steam, Nigeria will be better. The elder statesmen-Buhari and Prince Tony Momoh(Congress for Progressive Change, CPC), Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu (All Nigeria Peoples Party, ANPP), Chief Bisi Akande (ACN) and Governor Rochas Okorocha, who led a section of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) in the merger talks, bought into the vision.

The road was laced with thorns. But, the leaders weathered the storm. After surviving the registration hurdles, the tension unleashed by intra-party struggle for party offices, the anxiety over presidential primaries and the inexplicable eligibility question hanging on its standard bearer, APC went into the historic poll with confidence. In all the stages, which were characterised by storm and stress, Tinubu provided selfless leadership. He is also acknowledged as a top party financier. At the presidential primaries of the party in Lagos, he reflected on the enormous sacrifices made by the party leaders. He said they sacrificed their ambitions to rule to enable Buhari fly the flag of the party because they had confidence in his ability to rescue Nigeria from bad governance.

Asiwaju’s role in the polity is consistent with his antecedent. Since he crossed the bridge from the boardroom to politics, he has placed his hand on his plough and he has not looked back. At various times, since his foray into politics, he has lived up to expectation. “He is a consummate politician, consistent democrat, tested and trusted leader, seasoned administrator, financial surgeon, powerful organiser and mobiliser, defender of the oppressed, foremost philanthropist, and citizen of the world,” said one of his disciples, Hon. Olatunbosun Jeje, Lagos State Commissioner for Housing, who added: “He is always thinking about Nigeria and how to make life abundant.”

Paying tribute to Tinubu, Second Republic Secretary to the Lagos State Government, Olorunfunmi Basorun, described him as a man of immense political stature. He said the former governor has been bothered by the lack of good roads, electricity, employment, good health care system and security. “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.

Tinubu’s 63rd birthday almost coincided with the general election. Thus, in the opinion of another of his disciple, Lagos State Commissioner for Special Duties, Dr. Wale Ahmed, Gen. Buhari’s victory at the poll was a sort of birthday gift to the leader, who had worked tirelessly for power shift. “What the leader stands for is a paradigm shift in governance at the centre. He has deployed his mega capabilities as he spearheaded the legitimate agitations. He has sent the clear message that change is possible in the national interest. His place in history is that of an oak tree offering protective shades to progressives nationwide. He earned the position of leadership through the dint of hard work, resilience and commitment to the ideals of democracy,” he added.

House of Representatives member-elect from Lagos Mainland Constituency, Hon. Olajide Jimoh, described Tinubu as “the Tutor-General of the Nigerian politics,” adding: “He has raised many leaders who are serving society at the various tiers. He is a leader who does not discriminate. He has a milk of human kindness.”

Tinubu kicked off the liberation struggle from his Southwest base. Thus, according to observers, he is not a prophet without honour at home; 2003 was a turning point in the region. The former governor had agonised over the loss of the region to the conservative interlopers. Except in Lagos, Southwest suffered major reverses. Indeed, progress was at a standstill for the next four years. Tinubu successfully coordinated the battle for the restoration of progressive administrations in the five states of Ondo, Ekiti, Oyo, Ogun, and Osun.

The liquidation of the progressive bloc in the Southwest AD was carefully planned. Former President Olusegun Obasanjo wrote the script, which was acted by his regional surrogates. To displace the progressives from regional power, PDP’s sharp shooters and hawks penetrated the Alliance for Democracy (AD). The platform was crippled ahead of 2007 polls.  It was in ruins. But, Tinubu was undaunted. A man of foresight, Tinubu rallied like minds and spearheaded the formation of the Action Congress (AC), which later metamorphosed into the Action Congress of Nigeria (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, last year, PDP regained the control of Ekiti.

Tinubu grew up in a political family. His mother, the late Alhaja Abibat Mogaji, the Iyaloja-General of Nigeria, was a popular politician and women mobiliser in the days of the Action Group (AG), the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) and Social Democratic Party (SDP). But, little did he guess that he would also become a political colossus. He attended St. John’s Primary School, Aroloya, Lagos and Children’s Home School in Ibadan. Tinubu 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. When he entered politics, he took the polity by storm. It was in the aborted Third Republic. He became a people’s politician and a thorn in the flesh of the military as a senator.

His decision to abandon his lucrative job as auditor with Mobil Oil was confounding to his colleagues. His former boss, Chief Pius Akinyelure, had discouraged him, saying that he had a better prospect in the oil industry where he had risen to the top. But, Tinubu insisted on moving on. Therefore, Akinyelure assured him that he was free to retrace his steps, if the political field proved to be hot. Ironically, Akinyelure himself later became a politician. He is now the Southwest APC leader.

The Lagos West Social Democratic Party (SDP) senatorial form was obtained for Tinubu by his cousin, Alhaji Kola Oseni, a grassroots politician. At the screening, the green horn dazed the screening committee, headed by Chief Lanre Rasak, when he scored the highest mark. He answered highly technical questions with immensurable wit from the panel. Old politicians on the panel, who had written off the new breed, had to change their mind. “We predicted that Tinubu would shake Lagos politics and it has been so,” recalled Rasak, now an APC chieftain.

His senatorial district, Lagos West, was 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, with a wide margin. In 1999, Mrs. Nelson served as a commissioner in Tinubu’s administration. Tinubu scored the highest number of senatorial votes in the country. His compatriots in that turbulent Third Republic Senate of Dr Iyorcha Ayu and Ameh Ebute often marvelled at his sagacity. Tinubu was the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Finance. He was widely acknowledged as a high flyer, prolific analyst and tactician. He was on the firing line, challenging the Babangida administration to a duel. With the fall of the Third Republic, his career in the Upper Chamber was aborted.

As a senator, Tinubu was the arrowhead of senators seeking an end to the military rule. Brave and bold, the pro-democracy crusader had objected to the annulment of the free and fair 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, he was a pillar of support for the inspiring and principled fight for justice anchored by the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO). His dedication, courage, sense conviction, untiring fighting spirit and financial backing for the noble cause sustained the crusade.   But, the battle was not totally won. It was distressing to Tinubu and other freedom fighters that the annulment was not reversed, despite the cries of despondency. But the military was forced out of power.

During the June 12 crisis, the leaders of the struggle, including Tinubu, 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.

In 1998, the former military Head of State, Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar, announced a transition programme. Tinubu returned home, but he did not meet Abiola alive.  It was painful to him that the symbol of the struggle was not released by the former military leader. He died in mysterious circumstances in detention.

When he returned, Tinubu told his supporters that he wanted to return to the Senate. But, 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. He disagreed with their colleague, the late Chief Ganiyu Dawodu, who sponsored the late Mr. Funso Williams of the Network Alliance for the position. He emerged as the AD candidate and defeated the PDP flag bearer, Chief Dapo Sarunmi, at the election. In 2003, he was re-elected. He defeated Williams, who ran on the platform of 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.  His attention was diverted by litigation over his university certificate. But, he triumphed over his detractors. Tinubu’s years were remarkable for progress. He was a model governor. 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 running for governor in APC, invented a creative financial engineering that made the councils to survive. Tinubu was involved in a struggle with the Federal Government over whether Lagos State had the right to create new Local Council Development Areas (LCDAs) to meet the needs of its large population. The controversy led to the seizure of funds meant for local councils.

When Tinubu’s tenure was about to expire in 2007, he groomed a competent successor, Mr. Babatunde Fashola (SAN), who also won re-election in 2011.s

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 is a national property and detribalised apostle of national unity. He is an apostle of true federalism and Sovereign National Conference. Yet, he objected to the National Conference set up by the Jonathan administration last year, describing it as a decoy and a Greek gift. The conference ended up as a jamboree.

Another issue dear to Tinubu is electoral reform. Thus, he gave support to groups canvassing the sanctity of the ballot box. He had hailed the work of the Justice Muhammadu Uwais Panel on Electoral Reforms. But, in his view, electoral reform is an unfinished business.

Tinubu’s political career has also been turbulent. Three years ago, he was dragged before the Code of Conduct Tribunal for allegedly operating illegal foreign accounts. He triumphed over his detractors. Also, agents of the Federal Government are 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. But, whenever entreaties are made to him to jump ship, he has always rebuffed the government. Few weeks ago, his media office raised an alarm that assassins were after him, following his rejection of the offer of the vice president under a proposed interim government. The allegation was, however, denied by the PDP.

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. This is not an easy task.     Reward for politics and community service has come for Tinubu 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 and the Aare of Ile-Oluji.

House of Representatives member from Ikorodu, Hon. Abike Dabiri-Erewa, described Tinubu as a caring and compassionate leader. He also praised him for mentoring the youths. The lawmaker said that many leaders of the Southwest owe their rise to power to the indefatigable leader. Tinubu, she said, deserves applause for political mentoring. She also hailed him for initiating the idea of regional integration, which may return the region to its glorious days.

Also eulogising the leader, Kosofe Constituency House of Representatives member-elect, Hon. Rotimi Agunsoye, described him as a mentor and role model to many politicians. “He has led the fulfilled part of his mission. He has led the APC to victory. His place in history is assured. When the history of the struggle is written, Asiwaju’s name will be written in the letters of gold,” he added.

Dabiri-Erewa said Tinubu played a great role in his emergence as a federal legislator. She said: “When I signified my intention to go to the federal parliament, there was still opposition to my bid. But he was discreet as a leader. He observed that, if I had been able to perform well as a broadcaster, I would surely do well in the House. I am happy that I have not disappointed him and other leaders.”

Taraba State APC leader, Senator Joel Ikenya, described Tinubu as an electoral reform curator, adding that he is passionate about the sanctity of the ballot box. He said: “Many people follow Asiwaju because he has the qualities of a leader. He is forthright, sincere, dedicated and committed to the cause of the common man.”

Lagos APC stalwart and  Chairman of Amuwo Odofin Council, Hon. Ayodele Adewale, lauded the disposition of Tinubu to the youths. He pointed out that as a leader, he has given opportunities to many youths to excel. “He has interest in the younger generation. That is why he always gives opportunities to youths and women to participate in politics and contribute their quota to development. He is a leader who is building other leaders for the purpose of the future”, he added.

views expressed are not necessarily the opinion of blog author.

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