A Presidential Ambition Under Pressure

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Bola Tinubu

Bola Tinubu’s ambition to be the next president of Nigeria has been heating up the polity. Segun James takes a look at the man, his politics and the opposition to his dream

Lagos State has defied the calculations of many political pundits since 1999 as voters continue to accept whoever one man throws at them. Welcome to the world of Senator Bola Ahmed Tinubu.

He is adored with unrivalled reverence by not just the political class but also the voters in Lagos. Today, he is unarguably one of the political leaders who have created an empire and a cult-like following around themselves.

A defining feature of the Nigerian political system in the past 20 years is an unprecedented accumulation of political leaders who refused to retire. There lies a benign paradox at the heart of Nigeria’s approach to politics, it is far more devout than other countries in the continent.

Th most important change in Nigeria in the last 20 years has been the successful change from one government and party to another. The first time such activity will take place in the almost 60 years of its chequered history as a nation.

Another important political landmark beckons with the 2023 national elections.

It is fashionable to lament the vapidity and short-termism of the Nigerian political system; but without it, it is argued, Nigeria would have gone the way of many an African countries with one man ruling forever.

This was exemplified by the change from one government and one party to the other in 2015, even though a leader of the then ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) had boasted that his party would rule for the next 60 years.

Nigeria brims with colorful politicians whose showmanship cannot be equated. Among them, Tinubu, the famed national leader of the All Progressives Congress (APC) is in a class of his own.

Tinubu first tasted power as a senator between 1992 and 1993. He swept into fame during the time of NADECO as one of its leaders in exile. But his true worth became visible when he became the governor of Lagos in 1999. From that position, he projected himself to the leadership of the Yoruba nation, much to the chagrin of his enemies. But it is his sagacity that has kept him in political relevance since.

To a lot of Nigerians, both friends and foes, Tinubu is one man who must be respected or locked down, depending on the political divide you belong to. And if the truth be told, he is set to play another big role in 2023, but from all indications, it will surely be at a cost.

For over two decades, with a soft voice, he has held Lagos with an iron fist. As Governor, he survived the onslaught of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo as President who greatly decimated his them party the Alliance for Democracy (AD), leaving him as the only governor standing in 2003 out of five.

In the midst of these, he pursued his own economic and political agenda and strategy, keeping Lagos from being dependent on allocations coming from the federal purse, to the chagrin of Obasanjo who had vowed that winning Lagos was a “do-or-die”.

Under his watch, Lagos prospered from generating N600 million in Internally Generated Revenue monthly as at the time he took over to making over N7 billion monthly by the time he handed over to his successor in 2007.

He frustrated Obasanjo so much that he called the presidential bluff when the President refused to release local government council funds over the creation of new councils areas by the state government.

This view was not in itself unusual, but what made it remarkable and formidable, were the clarity, elegance, intellectual power and street sense with which it was carried out. Hence, he weathered the storm created by Obasanjo for which the former President never forgave him till date.

By 2023, Tinubu will be 71 years. He would not be the oldest Nigerian to contest the presidency, but he will be one of the strings of old men who have been ruling Nigeria recently, assuming he becomes president.

Although the strident call in recent times has been for a much younger man as president, which would be ideal, but some people are determined to ensure that he is not elected. These people are many and formidable themselves.

To his enemies, nothing is more important than seeing Tinubu go out of the political field, which could only be achieved by the unyielding exercise of brute strength. This view was not in itself unusual. What makes it reasonable and formidable are the intellectual power with which they are fighting, but they have met a match in Tinubu.

The first law of diplomacy according to a diplomat, is that “it is not the other side you need to worry about, but your own.” This saying is not lost to Tinubu as he finds some of his supposed loyal lieutenants, blinded by ambition, now betraying him. Hence, he has purged his political machinery, disbanding every group and their associates. It was a clean sweep.

If nicknames marks the measure of a man, then, Tinubu would be a giant. Over the years, he has been called Jagaban, Yoruba leader, APC national leader, the unelected but still continually ruling governor of Lagos state, Enfant Terrible of Nigeria’s politics, the most dangerous man in politics and most endearingly, the Asiwaju.

This multitude of names reflect something of the controversy that has long surrounded the populist radical, who is suddenly the one person that must not be allowed to take power because of his perceived interest in contesting the 2023 presidential election.

Following the routing of his loyalists in the recent crisis rocking the All Progressives Congress (APC), the believe is that Tinubu may jump ship to another party. Although he has never done this before, except when he left the AD for death with his departure in 2003 to form the Action Congress (AC).

In the Nigerian political field, the gulf between sentiment and reality is thin, very thin indeed. Politics encourages participants to move across the political divides without emotion. You can go and come back as you pleases. What matters is your interest at any given time.

Examples abound, since 2007, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar has traversed many political parties and returned, all in the bid to actualize his greatest desire of ruling Nigeria.

To the followers of Tinubu, Nigeria is facing a crisis, a crisis of effective leadership. Today, decisions are being made based, sadly, on political dogma. The guiding principles, they insist, that can make a country great – competence, capacity, capability, which will foster innovation, create jobs and provide more economic opportunities for the people have been overtaken by mindless tribalism, policies based on ethnic and religious considerations and unrealistic beliefs while the nation’s competitiveness in the community of nation weakens. This, they reiterated is what Tinubu represents.

If there is one person opposed to the Tinubu presidential project, it is Mr. Yinka Odumakin, the spokesman of the Yoruba foremost socio-political group, Afenifere. To Odumakin, Tinubu sold out the Afenifere on the alter of political ambition. He echoes the mind of some Yoruba leaders like Chief Ayo Adebanjo who believe that Tinubu sold the Yoruba people’s porridge to the Fulani in his dream to become president and that he should not be allowed to achieve this dream at all cost.

This was also reiterated by Chief Bode George, a former governor and former deputy national president of the PDP who denied that he is working with Tinubu in his quest to become the president.

“We have nothing in common. Maybe there is a clone body that looks like me. To go and do what with APC? Is that a political party? I am sorry my Oga is their leader, however, we call Bola Tinubu the leader but we have a president. That doesn’t happen in our own party. The constitution we are running is tied to the American system. The leader of the Republican Party is the President of the United States of America. He (Tinubu) is sitting on a false chair.

“I had always criticised the APC, that it is a political party with strange bedfellows. I come from a solid family in Lagos. My great grand uncle was the first Nigerian politician, Baba Herbert Macaulay. He started the first political party in 1920 something and kept on struggling, going from the north to the east and everywhere trying to pull Nigerians together against the colonial people.

“I came from that stock, what am I looking for that me and Asiwaju, in which corner, which house? In fact we have never made any statement to have a meeting. They should come to let us save Nigeria, we have seen their style of management, we have seen the weakness in their management. We have seen the kind of attitude they have in a political party, it is not a private company.

“That is why we are fighting now in our party so that we don’t drift to that kind of direction, where the party will now be held as a private enterprise, no. Let’s follow the laws of the party, so for me, like I said in our party, we cushioned up and once the governor says look this is the south west zone, of course he is no more the governor today, he is the leader, he is not saying to everybody today that he has the absolute power. But he is the leader and if he can come and say, sir, please lets come down a little bit, correct the ills, ameliorate the pains created by the mistake made at the higher echelon. It is not my private company.”

Today, Tinubu has not volunteered any opinion on his political future, and no assessment of where he sees the nation and the economy going; yet he has continued to be the issue in the polity.

The history of Yoruba politics in the past 60 years is that of a people who thrive better as opposition. The coming of Buhari which was principally engineered by Tinubu was the first time the people will participate in mainstream politics. Is Tinubu a de facto leader in the Yoruba political field? That is the question as the nation races towards 2023.

The mood of members of the APC is changing in the wake of the recent crisis that rocked the party. This may be exemplified by what is going on in Ondo state. This may be a reflection of the mood of the Yoruba people on the political situation in the country.

The Ondo election may be only “local”, but it is being portrayed as a vote on the continuing leadership of Tinubu in Yoruba land and the future of the APC. It is certainly the biggest celebrity contest in the recent history of the southwest region.

A strange atmosphere has enveloped the nation. For the first time in its political-economic history, the nation is experiencing a radical shift – the complete takeover of the political system by the north without regard to the constitutionally sanctioned affirmative action which respects the spread of strategic political offices across the different ethnic nationalities to ensure the continued growth and unity of the country.

To achieve their aim, ambitious southern political leaders like Tinubu must be put in their place. This is the paradox of the Asiwaju’s quest, however lofty.

QUOTE

Tinubu has not volunteered any opinion on his political future, and no assessment of where he sees the nation and the economy going; yet he has continued to be the issue in the polity. The history of Yoruba politics in the past 60 years is that of a people who thrive better as opposition. The coming of Buhari which was principally engineered by Tinubu was the first time the people will participate in mainstream politics. Is Tinubu a de facto leader in the Yoruba political field? That is the question as the nation races towards 2023