Tinubu, Aregbesola and South West Politics

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Adewale Adeoye argues that only unity of purpose in the South can win it presidential laurels in 2023

In the last few weeks, the social media has been filled with speculations that a rift exists between two important figures in Yorubaland, Asiwaju Ahmed Tinubu and his soulmate, Comrade Rauf Adesoji Aregbesola. Cynical cheers, glee and a sense of remorse, in some instance have seized the cyber space.

There are people who wish to see the two in a boxing ring. In fact, in many instances, the spectators have been obtaining tickets for what they imagine would be a political rumble in the jungle. I begin with an impressive chronological account in Yoruba bygone. It has to do with the glorious era of the old Oyo Empire, when she had a formidable army with over 100,000 in numerical strength, at a time that no force in the Sahara could measure up to her feet.

In the later part of the 15th century, there was a certain man in the palace of Oyo. His name was Okolo. Tutored in native wisdom, driven by timeless tradition to sit at the feet of the king, observe the (Oyo Mesi) Senate take decisions on crucial state matters, but never to be heard. He was a palace courtier, a leech who earned his living by defending every word of the Alaafin, either false or true. He was destined to be a tick, accustomed to living like the king’s extra-ordinary flatterer. One day, the Alaafin had addressed his Senate briefing them on reports from his Defense Minister (Aare Ona Kakanfo) as Oyo prepared to wage yet another battle. Detailing the highly confidential military tactics and strategy to be employed, releasing the training manual and the budget needed to wage the battle, Alaafin then closed his remarks. Surprisingly, Okolo who by tradition was not permitted to speak in the royal court, raised his hands for comments.

The leader of the parliament (Senate President) ordered him to shut up, charging at him “Ta ni mon Okolo l’oyo” meaning “who knows an insignificant Okolo, a wretched of the earth in this Republic.” The next few days, Okolo set a part of the palace ablaze. For the first time, Okolo gained fame, albeit a very loathsome one, but he became known nevertheless. It was not clear what punishment was meted out to Okolo, but the damage had been done, Okolo had proved to the world that he could make himself known even though he was previously a footnote. This sums up the danger of what the people in the gallery could do to disrupt the stage where they are not the main actors but trivial spectators. There is a growing perception of a rift between two of the most dominant political figures in Yorubaland, Asiwaju Tinubu and his godson, Ogbenin Aregbesola. This has been fueled by certain developments which the many ‘Okolos’, the spoilers within the political circle have tried vehemently to link with what they see as a brewing storm between the two soul mates. Why is the issue important to us? As indigenous people of the South West with a deep sense of history, we have always known that spectators have a devious way of igniting fire where there is none and could fuel the embers into a dangerous peril which may affect peace and stability of the dominion.

Promoters of this cite the dissolution of the Mandate Group and the Justice Forum. The action has been described as a plot to cut the wings of Aregbesola in Lagos politics. To be sure, though the two groups are domicile in Lagos, members cut across the entire South West. The activities of members reverberate in and out of Lagos localities, making the two groups a resounding model for regional political transfiguration.

The other event was what they describe as the “missing name of Aregbeola” in the list of Governors Advisory Council, (GAC) in Lagos. Again, why are these issues important to us? Let us face it, all over history, there have been disputes that began as a minor disagreement between two people that later spiral into a mass conflagration, consuming the actors and then the spectators leaving only the bias referees to their glee. These developments are local but have far reaching regional and national implications.

No serious people will ignore real or imagined dispute between some of her most outstanding political figures who are also co-captains in the most influential political party in their protectorate.

However, the deliberate (mis)interpretation of these developments should be understood in content and form. There are forces feeding on the figments and realities. There are three tendencies involved with different goals, not really the same in character. First is the politics of Lagos.
No doubt, Comrade Aregbesola has a charm grip on the dynamics of Lagos electoral politics, not being his own creation alone, but courtesy of the responsibility placed on him as far back as 1999 by Asiwaju, backed by Aregbesola’s own power of insight and his knowledge of dialectics which enriches his understanding of Lagos political phenomenon. There is a small but vocal group in Lagos that wants to severe the Tinubu-Asiwaju almost blood-bound ties. They have overt reasons but a covert agenda. They argue that Tinubu may have been giving too much of influence to Aregbesola. But there is a covert game: to weaken Asiwaju’s technical strength and reduce his grandeur by cutting off a major of his roots making him more vulnerable to their concealed assault. In reality, it was not the first time non-party based groups were dissolved in Lagos. Bola Ahmed Tinubu Campaign Organisation, (BATCO) was dissolved. From all indications, the recent dissolution was by leadership consensus.

The other antagonists are equally within the APC and even beyond the party. Yet, a state governor in the North leads her own garrison, a plot. On his visit to Lagos few years ago, Kaduna State Governor, El- Rufai called for an end to ‘godfatherism in Lagos’ teaching his audience on the tactics and strategies of how to defeat the “Lagos godfather.” He suggested raising some billions to fuel the project. If there is a godfather in Lagos politics, what does Mallam El-Rufai stand to gain by being part of the group that seeks its destruction? Does it mean he loves the people of Lagos more than themselves?

Only recently, during an event in Lagos involving Aregbesola, the same El- Rufai said he does not admire Tinubu but that he has fallen in love with his godson. Literarily, he does not admire a king, but he loves his first son. There cannot be a posture as divisive. Let it be admitted. El Rufai is a typical Fulani intellectual: brilliant, intelligent, as calculating as a stealth tiger, surgical in manners of scrutiny and essentially primordial. What then is the game plan? Simple: El-Rufai appears to represent a tendency within the APC that is obsessed with strong regional power blocs different from that in the armpit of his camp, or any other one unless it is subservient to it.

Outside his domain, El-Rufai’s group detests an organized political structure that cannot be broken into pieces, but wants each isolated and weakened. His tendency would love to determine the custodian of political treasures in each regional bloc, its shape, its content, its form. This caucus would love to determine the substance of political relationship across the country. I first met Tinubu in 1992 as a Correspondent with The Guardian. During the anti-June 12 struggle, I watched him closely. In 1999, I also had series of interviews with him while in The Punch. But I have never been intimate, not to the extent of calling or receiving his calls. Yet, I sum up his strength as fierce courage and indomitable will. He has weaknesses, like all humans.

So, it is not that the El-Rufai group hates Tinubu’s intimidating eyeballs, neither his mode of dressing, but rather detests his sheer courage, his lion-heart, his network of intelligence, to bestride over an intimidating political machine, his dexterity, his influence across the South West and even West Africa and beyond and the fact that the region cannot be accessed in piecemeal but in whole, and best through him. Under the British, it was called ‘divide and rule.’

Having fired many arrows at Asiwaju, including taking the ladder off his feet after his huge labour in the last two elections, the forces seek to varnish him not for want of love for the people he represents, but to viciously clear the strongest mortar, difficult to manipulate, to their establishing an unquestionable political garrison. So, it would be in the interest of the hegemony, to demolish what appears to be the most formidable political structure in the South West, supplant it and dissipate its strength. In doing this, having succeeded in creating two blocs in the SW, it will be necessary to strengthen their stronghold by first dismantling one before seeking the destruction of the other. It was thought Aregbesola would be a pun.

But this appears to be a huge blunder, for here is a man with a Marxist background, a dogged defender of his values whose most cherished quality is loyalty to friendship and his never-bend posture in matters of bond. In all, it is all about the 2023 Presidential ambition. If any of the regional blocs in the South remain factionalised, bruised and broken, with each seeking salvation in the undoubtedly outside its zone, I foresee a situation whereby the North again will produce the 2023 Presidential candidate in the two most dominant political parties, APC and PDP. If the Southern elite genuinely want the Presidential trophy in 2023, only a unity of purpose, irrespective of their tendencies, within and outside party politics, can ever save them from self-destruction. Even then seeking the trophy is not enough, Nigerians must be convinced that the next President of Nigeria will create a real paradigm shift from the past to build a status of democracy that cannot be demolished by the current whirlwinds of poverty, violence and threats to the livelihood of millions of Nigerians.

––Adeoye is a journalist