By Ibidapo Balogun
Former Lagos State governor and All Progressives Congress (APC) stalwart, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, has suddenly become the main issue in Nigeria’s politics. No issue seems complete until his name and stance, real or imagined, have been dropped into the mix. He has become the Obafemi Awolowo of our time, apologies to former military president, General Ibrahim Babangida, who once described the late sage as the main issue in Nigerian politics. To be sure, the late Chief Awolowo and Asiwaju Tinubu share many things in common. Like Awolowo, Tinubu subscribes to those noble ideals of progressive politics, such as entrenchment of rule of law in the land, representative democracy, fiscal federalism, social welfare policies and perhaps proper restructuring of the country.
Like Awolowo who believed in the cause of the Yoruba and fought for the emancipation of that race in national politics, Tinubu is also no less a believer in Yoruba nationalism. Along with some of his associates, the late sage formed political parties to advance the fortunes of the Yoruba in national politics. He did not stop there. Whether in the First or Second Republics, the late Awo also moved to replicate the widely-applauded cardinal programmes of his political parties in the West at the national level by seeking to be Nigeria’s president. Believe it or not, Asiwaju Tinubu is a progressive politician to the core. He ranks among the leading lights in the tribe of progressive-minded politicians in the country at present.
Whether in the defunct Social Democratic Party from 1991 to around 1993, in the Alliance for Democracy from 1999 till around 2006, the two political parties he belonged to then; or in the Action Congress of Nigeria, which he formed along with his associates around 2007 or the All Progressives Congress of Nigeria, whose formation he spearheaded in 2015, truth is Tinubu’s political parties have always been progressive at heart. Awolowo was betrayed and denied by some of his associates, but he triumphed over them in life and in death. Tinubu is also being pilloried and betrayed by some of his associates. He will also triumph.
Perhaps, that’s where the similarities between Awolowo and Tinubu end. It is common knowledge that Awolowo struggled to be president, but that ambition was beyond his reach. Tinubu is yet to indicate any interest in Nigeria’s presidency. It would seem that he loves to operate in the background, to play the kingmaker of sort. And when you are ordained to play that kind of role, it is bound to elicit all kinds of attacks and envy from many quarters – friends and foes alike – some of whom would want to be like him. Some would deliberately stoke the political fire to draw out the kingmaker, unearth his next political move and gauge his stand on issues or development perhaps to get their bearing or direction or to plan further hatchet work.
This leads me to recent reports, which tended to make wide assumptions and speculations on the relationship among President Muhammadu Buhari, Tinubu and APC. Two of these reports are particularly instructive here. The first one, published by a national newspaper on December 3, 2016, with a sprinkling of the report in some online platforms, gave the impression that some APC leaders were yet to agree on how to handle Asiwaju Tinubu’s “alleged role” in the just-ended Ondo State election. The other one published by one or two newspapers also gave the impression that the former Lagos governor, along with former Vice President Atiku Abubakar and a few PDP stalwarts were planning to form a new party to confront the governing APC in 2019. They insinuated that Tinubu was planning to exit the party and join the Senator Ahmed Makarfi-led faction of PDP to form a new mega party.
Taken together, the two reports are mutually contradictory. This is how. Tinubu, as alleged in one report, was going to be sanctioned by APC for his alleged role, whatever that is, in the Ondo election. In another report, the same Tinubu is considered a strong factor enough to be allegedly planning to exit APC and form a new party they described as a Third Force. One presented Tinubu as a political actor to be disciplined, sanctioned or dispensed with as it were for an alleged infraction. The other presented him as formidable enough to want to form a party to confront the same APC he helped to found.
But the good thing is the reports have been put down for what they are: mere speculations and rumours. Indeed, those who should know have already spoken out. President Buhari dismissed reports that he and the APC leadership were in dispute with Tinubu, describing them as unfounded and mischievous. He described the APC national leader as a priceless asset to APC. Speaking through his Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity Garba Shehu, President Buhari said he was highly embarrassed by such suggestions, explaining that he was in regular contact with Tinubu (who was abroad then) before, during and after the Ondo gubernatorial election. According to the statement, “Any suggestions that the president and the party machinery were working to destroy Tinubu have no foundation in truth or any credibility… the president was impressed by Tinubu’s assurance not to work against the party in Ondo and he honoured his words.
“President Buhari regards Tinubu as a priceless political asset to the party whose immeasurable contributions to the development and progress of the ruling party are known to all. Rumor mongers should stop spreading the seeds of discord and animosity between the president and Tinubu or the party. The president is proud of Jagaban and his pivotal role in the party and the movement. President Buhari commended Tinubu’s spirit of comradeship in promptly congratulating Rotimi Akeredolu who was elected governor. The president also noted that at a time his administration is preoccupied with governance issues, rumours of divisions and alleged scheming within the party are counterproductive to internal unity and cohesion in APC.”
Meanwhile, Asiwaju Tinubu himself had also laid to rest speculations that he was leaving the APC to form a so-called mega party. He said in a series of coordinated tweets that he would not engage in “destructive pettiness”. He said: “In our journey to national betterment, plans and policies will be made, then amended. Mistakes will occur and corrected. Through it all, I, Asiwaju, will remain true to the progressive ideals that fuelled the creation of APC. I have devoted my political life to achieve what has been achieved. My heart is too much of the people, and my mind too fixed on establishing positive historic legacy…rather than engage in destructive pettiness. This government, APC, is for the betterment of the people and the national purpose is bigger and more important than any individual’s desires”.
Needless to add that the Chairman of PDP Board of Trustees, Senator Walid Jibrin, had also denied reports that the Ahmed Makarfi camp was in talks with Tinubu and Atiku to form a mega party. He said in a statement in Abuja that the party had never contemplated partnership with Tinubu and other APC chieftains with the purpose of forming another political party. Jibrin said: “I salute Tinubu’s courage for coming out to speak frankly about his position regarding this unfounded rumour and for setting the record straight. In Tinubu’s reaction denouncing the report, he criticised the PDP and I can’t understand why anybody would think that we are going to form a new party with somebody who is condemning us. The PDP is a golden name, a party formed by respectable and dignified Nigerians like Alex Ekwueme, Jerry Gana, Solomon Lar, Adamu Ciroma, Aminu Wali, Sule Lamido and many others.”
Is there any need to add any more to demonstrate that there is no iota of doubt in the fact that Asiwaju Tinubu remains committed to APC and the ideals that birthed the party?
• Balogun, a political activist and APC member, writes from Abuja.