The Verdict according to Olusegun Adeniyi. Email, firstname.lastname@example.org
Scene One: With the party congress evidently going against his plan, and sensing that his candidates might be defeated, Alhaji Lamidi Adedibu put in motion Plan B. He asked his men to disrupt proceedings which ended in a big scuffle. Following the stalemate, his supporters moved to his Molete residence. With everybody seated, Adedibu brought out the official result sheet for the congress he just disrupted and gave it to one of his men. After dictating the scores which awarded victory to his candidates for the critical offices, he asked his man to tear the result sheet into two. While the man hesitated, Adedibu provided insight into his plan. He said he had already intimated the party headquarters that when his opponents realised that his candidates had won, they disrupted the exercise and tore the result which he managed to retrieve.
With the result written according to Adedibu's instruction, the "returning officer" handed the torn paper to the willy old man who threw it on the floor and marched on the papers. Taking the rumpled papers, he said, "that way, they will believe that the result sheet was retrieved after a fight."
Scene Two: Gathered in his hotel suite were most of the Oyo States delegates who would vote according to his dictates. This was Jos in March 1993 and Chief Lamidi Adedibu had led the contingent to the Social Democratic Party (SDP) National convention for the nomination of the party's presidential flag bearer. Adedibu told his faithful disciples that Chief M.K.O Abiola had approached him to offer money for the delegates, "but I told him that we are not Yoruba bastards and that we would offer our votes to him free of charge. But I have managed to get money from some of my friends which we will share.
It may not be so much but we will make do with it if only to prove to Abiola that we are men of honour who can vote without being paid." With that Adedibu now brought out the money given by a prominent Northern aspirant and shared among his men. The next morning, with the election done, Adedibu went to meet an exultant Abiola: "I told you that my philosophy is to work before I eat and that I will deliver the votes.
Now where is the money for my delegates." It was with joy that Abiola concluded the deal he had with Adedibu to pay after the votes had been cast so effectively the godfather went home carrying the loot with him!
Scene Three: Informed of a big plot of land that had been lying fallow for years even after erecting foundation for a house, Adedibu asked that he be taken to the land on which he met a big signpost with the inscription: "This land belongs to Alhaji Lamidi Adedibu. Trespassers beware". Even though he could not remember when he bought the land or how the foundation came about, Adedibu was not someone who would forgo such Manna from heaven. Within days, he had mobilised workers to the site and he started building. But a young man came to see Adedibu shortly after work started. they exchanged pleasantries and the man narrated his story. He said he bought the said land several years before but couldn't continue building after foundation due to financial difficulty. Because of that, the land owners conspired with some area boys to take the land from him.
When he realised their plot, he met them to say he had sold the land to Adedibu after which he erected the signpost. He added that from the moment that signpost was erected, the landowners and area boys left him in peace while the land remained secured. The man said since Adedibu had started building there was nothing he could do again but would appreciate if the old man would refund what he paid for the land. Adedibu told him to go and come back a month later. Within the period, the house was completed. When the man came back, Adedibu handed to him the keys to the completed house and asked him to go.
Those three stories among many defined the essential Lamidi Ariyibi Adedibu. He was as ruthless as he was cunning. He was also mercantilist in his approach to politics. And he was a very generous man. His death in 2008, however, left a big vacuum in the politics of electioneering in Yoruba land. While alive, especially in the last two decades, he single-handedly determined who would be the Governor of Oyo State and for the unfortunates, it was always like a pact with the devil. But his influence went beyond the state because he had considerable following in Osun while he consulted for aspiring political leaders within his party in Ogun, Ekiti, Ondo and Lagos.
So with him out of the equation during the 2011 elections, it was very easy for a certain Bola Ahmed Tinubu to create a political machinery that would rout the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the South West. If Adedibu were alive, the configuration in the South west would today be different. Without any doubt, the former Lagos State Governor, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, is the most powerful politician in Yorubaland today. And in Nigeria, aside Major General Muhammadu Buhari, no other politician commands his kind of cult-like following. So it is understandable that as he clocks 60 there would be celebrations as we have been witnessing in the last one week. They are all well deserving, given his enormous contributions to our democracy and his personal charisma and generousity.
But beyond the adulation and merriments, today should also be a day of reflection for Tinubu not only on where he is coming from but also where he is going. Tinubu entered the political fray in 1991 upon his retirement from Mobil Producing Nigeria Limited, as Treasurer. He contested election into the Senate on the platform of the then SDP and secured the highest vote for any senator in the whole federation. At the senate, he was a close ally of then Senate President Iyorchia Ayu and the chairman of the Finance and Appropriation Committee. He was media savvy, brilliant in his articulation and very friendly.
But it was in the period shortly before and after the annulment of the June 12, 1993 presidential election that his star shone brighter when he led the charge against the self-perpetuation plot of the General Ibrahim Babangida administration. When the late General Sani Abacha took over, Tinubu went on exile where his name featured prominently in all the pro-democracy agitations. He returned in 1999 to contest the Governorship on the platform of the Alliance for Democracy (AD) and won. Tinubu, we must recall, started his administration on a very wobbly note. At a time the entire Lagos metropolis was littered with garbage and he was assailed as Lagosians began to doubt whether indeed they had not made a wrong choice. To compound the situation, the Chicagogate scandal broke out.
But even amid these challenges, Tinubu did not panic essentially because he had laid a foundation for his administration. Aside the transition committee members who came out with a roadmap, Tinubu had picked a cabinet of respected professionals: Oluyemi Cardoso, Olawale Edun, Yemi Osinbajo, Rauf Aregbesola, Oladele Alake et al. In a milieu where virtually all the other governors (and the president) were handing critical portfolios as ‘compensations’ to defeated politicians and sundry warlords, Tinubu had an idea of the kind of government he intended to run and followed his plan.
Tinubu also decided very early that he was not going to depend on doles from the federation account in Abuja to run Lagos. He reasoned, and very correctly, that when a government is based on taxation, the people rediscover a sense of pride which also enables those at the helm of affairs to put long-term success ahead of short-term gain. The course Lagos has decided to chart is one that stresses work as well as collective and individual responsibility rather than a dependence on rent. By dint of serious planning, he increased the internally generated revenue in the state and with that ran a modern government that has provided a model not only for other states of the federation but also for our country.
As governor, Tinubu constantly reminded us that what we have is a federal structure in which the federal government and the states are constituent units. He was ready to challenge any recourse to arbitrariness on the part of the federal government and he did. Tinubu also showed when it mattered most that standing alone is not necessarily a bad thing. In the run up to the 2003 general elections, his colleagues in the Southwest decided to play the ethnic card by joining forces with their kinsman president, Olusegun Obasanjo, who was in another party. Tinubu refused to play the game and that ultimately became his redemption as others lost their seats.
But what is perhaps Tinubu’s greatest achievement was picking a worthy successor in Babatunde Fashola, a demonstration of his capacity to recognize talent. At a reception organised in his honour at the weekend, Tinubu made allusion to his choice: “I moved around and saw the manifestations of achievements. And today we can claim successes together. When we were taking that decision, it was like a conspiracy. We had 15 potential governors and all were qualified.” It is an understatement to say that in 2007 only few people bought Tinubu’s choice but he kept saying at the time that he knew all the contestants and that there was no one more qualified than Fashola. His decision was not based on political permutation, it was a pragmatic choice based on the competences of the contenders and he has turned out to be correct.
Credit to Tinubu, he gave to Lagos a worthy successor in the man my late boss affectionately used to call “Governor Lagos”. All factors considered, Tinubu indeed has cause to roll out the drums and he deserves to be celebrated. And quite appropriately he has marked today as a day of prayers and reflection, especially given the mood of the nation. It is sad that 13 years of democratic rule have undermined the spirit of mutual dependence and obligations that bind us together as a nation. But in Tinubu we have been blessed with a politician who, though a member of the ruling class, still reminds those in power, especially at the centre, that they must govern in a manner that builds public trust and eliminate arbitrariness.
Tinubu has also demonstrated over the years that support for democracy serves our ideals and our interests as a nation. But there is an issue here. I started the piece with Adedibu who was for me a man exploited, essentially because he had a misconception of what politics was all about and those around him merely used his charisma to attain their own ends. Adedibu by dint of hardwork, force of personality and a measure of ruthlessness was able to build a political machine capable of putting people in power. That unfortunately became the end-goal as he couldn’t see how such power could advance popular good. Yes, Tinubu is not Adedibu in that he is well educated, he stands for certain ideals which he fights for and his followers are also not illiterates.
But because he also has the power to put people in office, many are already creating a cult of personality around him. That is where Tinubu needs to be careful. Despite mouthing all the correct platitudes about democracy anchored on the rule of law, the political party which Tinubu founded, the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), is fast becoming more a machine for putting relations, friends and all manner of people in power rather than a platform for democratic choice. This is a bad sign, not just because of the danger it portends for true democracy in our country, but also because it may eventually summarily annul the lofty focus that gave Lagos the type of governor it has today.
Tinubu's situation is worsened by the fact that his growing profile as the court of last resort in the ACN is creating ever fewer people who can tell him the truth and relate to him with an objective focus on the common good. The danger I see here is that of a respected politician who could end up as the Patron Saint of mediocrity, if he does not quickly refocus on the right leadership values. That is why I believe he owes himself the duty of learning from the tragedy of Adedibu. If he does, he may yet become one of the greatest sons of Oduduwa in national consciousness. I join millions of his supporters in saying 60 hearty cheers to The Lion of Bourdillon.