Sheyi Money argues that Bola Tinubu’s political trajectory places a huge burden on him
Regrettably, we live in a society where history is not accorded pride of place.
Not many may recall the momentous events that preceded the June 12, 1993 presidential poll and its aftermath, and the many struggles against the military, which led to the current democracy; an unbroken 24 years of civil rule. Some compatriots sacrificed their comfort, their freedom, their personal liberty, their peace of mind, their family bond, their lives, in order to enthrone civil rule in Nigeria.
During the inauguration of the National Assembly in 1992 by the military president, Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida, in the short-lived Third Republic, Bola Tinubu, the current president, spoke on behalf of the Social Democratic Party (SDP). He urged IBB not to miss the lifetime opportunity to hand over to a democratically-elected president. As that military regime began to shift the handover date, ban and unban politicians, the strange idea of diarchy was flown as a kite. Tinubu was one of the arrowheads that mobilised for a joint session, across party lines, of the Senate and House of Representatives, which made a historic resolution against elongation of military rule and indicated the National Assembly would not be used nor accept a diarchy. Through his activities in those days, Tinubu became a persona non grata in the military presidency.
Events moved fast. By the time the IBB regime reluctantly committed itself to holding a presidential election in June 1993, it turned out to be the most outstanding success of the administration. It was the first election that saw some members of the same family lining up for SDP and others lining up behind the National Republican Convention (NRC) and both supporters of the two parties returning to the same roof after the election. It was equally historic that Bashir Tofa, the candidate of NRC was defeated in his home state, Kano, by MKO Abiola of SDP.
Then out of the blue, IBB announced the cancellation of the watershed election. The political temperature rose to the boiling point. According to Nelson Mandela in Long Walk To Freedom, “For to men, freedom in their own land is the pinnacle of their ambitions, from which nothing can turn men of conviction aside.”
The military government dangled carrots and sticks and divided the ranks of the political class. Tinubu, with others, openly appealed to IBB to rescind the annulment. It was well reported in the media how Tinubu, a man of conviction, took along his aged mother, now of blessed memory, to Abuja to appeal to Babangida to preserve the sanctity of the presidential poll.
An interim government was installed, headed by Earnest Shonekan, previously head of Transitional Council. Tinubu was offered a ministerial appointment, which he flatly rejected, insisting on restoration of the June 12 mandate of MKO. Suddenly Generals Abacha and Diya came into the mix, promising to shove out Shonekan and install Abiola as president. It turned out as a hoax. Tinubu, a man of conviction, mobilised his fellow senators to openly pronounce Abacha government as illegal, whereupon he was declared wanted along with others. He initially went underground to continue his mobilisation against the military government, attracting international media attention to the plight of Nigeria.
Not many may recall that Tinubu was incarcerated for weeks in a cell in Alagbon police station in Lagos, where he was maltreated along with his colleagues. They were accused of treason by the Abacha government. The military men later broke into his home in Lagos, ransacked everywhere and carted away his property and vehicles; his mother’s house was equally ransacked; the same treatment meted out to some other democracy fighters.
The irony of it all is that Tinubu had the opportunity to return to his plump job at Mobil Nigeria! He was actually on a rare leave of absence because of his enormous value to the company. I guess only a few are aware that Tinubu had made his mark in the corporate world. As a matter of fact, Mobil was reluctant to release him to participate actively in the still birth Third Republic politics. Hence rather than allow him to disengage from the company, he was rather given a leave of absence, the top management of Mobil possibly believing that he would not be able to stay for long in the Nigerian politics. How wrong they were!
Tinubu was hounded into exile by the Abacha goons; he only escaped death by the thin of his skin; a few others were not so lucky. For two years, he did not set his eyes on his family on account of the struggle against military rule in Nigeria. The Abacha agents were everywhere, both in Nigeria and abroad, and ready to strike the democracy activists. In one or two incidents, Tinubu was nearly arrested in Benin Republic. Even while in the thick of the struggle in the United Kingdom and America, life was not exactly safe for Tinubu and other democracy icons.
The president was one of the arrowheads and financiers of the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO), a body demanding return to civil rule. NADECO succeeded in installing Radio Kudirat and Radio Freedom in the fight against military rule in Nigeria.
It is not common in Nigeria that those who struggled for freedom and expansion of political space lived to reap the fruits of their selfless sacrifice. Today, by the design of fate, Tinubu, the democracy icon, is now the elected president of Nigeria. Unknown to many, his political trajectory places a huge burden on him. It’s no wonder after his election as Lagos governor, he revolutionized the landscape of the state both financially and structurally, and set it on the path irreversible success.
As I noted in my earlier article, “Tinubu, Hope Renewed Indeed,” in June, 2023, “As governor of Lagos State, he changed the face of the megacity through innovative security architecture, transportation, judicial reforms and friendly business environment, which led to massive leap in the Internally Generated Revenue of the state and better life for its citizens. There is no doubt that he will replicate at the national level the Lagos success story.”
Tinubu, a leader with such democratic antecedents, is what this nation mostly desires and mostly deserves. Given sufficient time and cooperation across the country, Nigeria will realize its potential under the current administration.
Money, a social enterprise development consultant, writes from Lagos