A Colossus At 62
Asiwaju Bola Tinubu continues to be a study in democratic idealism, philanthropy and good leadership
As he clocks 62, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, the national leader of the All Progressives Congress, APC, has remained an enigma; a phenomenon worthy of study. He stands firm in his resolve to change the sorry state of the country through his party, APC; yet his loyalists, friends and even enemies can only struggle for the best compilation of adjectives to paint his true picture.
Governor Abiola Ajimobi of Oyo State, for example, summarises the life of the Jagaban Borgu Kingdom as a man of destiny, an enigma and political giant. Hear him: “Tinubu has redefined the concept of politics, especially progressive politics, bringing humanity to the fore of politicking, given his imprint on the sands of time in his not too long foray into political activism. One can safely infer that he has greatly delivered in the task of liberating his people from the fangs and stranglehold of conservatives whose politics has greatly devastated their people.”
Odia Ofeimun, a prominent poet and political analyst, paints the former governor of Lagos a hero of some sort. Though he is quick to inform that he is not a card-carrying member of the APC or the old Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN, Ofeimun likens the Asiwaju of Lagos to a defender of the masses. “In relation to the ruling party of the time, he built a very strong wall that ensured that this city (Lagos) would not fall into their hands. I don’t know what I would have done as a dweller in the city if I had to live under a political party I could not relate to, a political party I knew was destructive of some of the things I liked best about this city…In defending this city against the rude tackles of the ruling party, he was defending people like me,” he said of Tinubu, when the latter clocked 60 two years ago.
Very well so. History recalls how in 2003 the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, upstaged the then Alliance for Democracy in the south-western zone of the country, winning all the governorship seats in the zone except Lagos. Then, Tinubu became a bone too difficult to crack by then President Olusegun Obasanjo over his creation of 37 local council development areas in Lagos State. After every effort to get him to dissolve the LCDAs failed, Obasanjo thought the best thing to do would be to starve the state of its legal entitlements to the 20 local governments he said the federal government recognised. It was a turbulent period only the courageous could survive. Tinubu did, and laughed last when the late President Umaru Yar’Adua eventually ordered the release of N10.8 billion to the state.
Politicians have never shied from mentioning some major lessons learnt from the tussle between Tinubu and Obasanjo. First, Tinubu proved his political maturity by showing that Lagos is strong enough to remain financially independent of the centre. Again, in spite of the heavy political might wielded by the centre against him, he remained steadfast and, instead of being overwhelmed by the troubles of that period, strategised on the best way to spread his tentacles and expand democracy. Many states of the federation, including those that were opposed to it, are now creating local council development areas in their bid to fast-track development.
Today, APC holds sway in the entire South-west, Edo, North Central and even the north-western parts of Nigeria. In the country’s National Assembly, as well as various state Houses of Assembly, the APC has become the latest bride, currently giving the PDP a run for its money ahead of the 2015 general election. Ofeimun puts it more succinctly: “I must say that what is exciting for me about the way Tinubu set out as governor of Lagos State was that he had a big dream and he went after it steadily. And in spite of the effort made by former President Olusegun Obasanjo and his thugs to destroy the state, he stuck to his guns and he had the very good high sense not to join in the fictitious Yorubaness that Obasanjo explored against all of the others.”
Ask Governor Rauf Aregbesola of Osun to describe Asiwaju Tinubu. Without hesitation, he would call him the reincarnation of Oduduwa. “As a Muslim, reincarnation is not acceptable as part of Islamic system. But I am almost forced to believe that Oduduwa had reincarnated himself in two forms: first as Awolowo and then as Asiwaju Bola Tinubu,” he once said.
While the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo, as politician, united the Yoruba using his Action Group, and later the Unity Party of Nigeria, Tinubu has used all he had, from a single state, to mobilise and revive his political party and counter the PDP forces.
Aregbesola says Tinubu would rather remain bruised trying to remain loyal to a friend than be seen as a traitor. A true leader, who fixes the right peg in the right hole, he would monitor the output of those he has fixed and correct their mistakes “with love” where possible.
From the humanitarian angle, Senator Babafemi Ojudu is always prepared to list the many ways he has received the blessings of the former governor. While in power, Tinubu helped to ensure that Ojudu’s son, who had acute malaria, was effectively treated even without discussing with the boy’s father.
During the fight against the military, to restore democracy, Ojudu said, “Any journalist or pro-democracy activist under the jackboot rule of General Sani Abacha will attest to Asiwaju’s generosity. Let him just know that your life is at risk, a flight ticket would be awaiting you in Accra and a house on Georgia Avenue in Washington DC, where you could cool off till Abacha goons forgot about you and moved on to another prey.”
Until he died, Tinubu’s generosity reverberated in the heart of the late Fatai Rolling Dollar, who became a landlord at 85, courtesy of an apartment donated to him by the former governor. Civil society groups, students, wives of fallen pro-democracy activists and indigent Nigerians have been touched by him, not because they are his relations, but simply because they are Nigerians who have been left in deprivation by failure of government.
Tinubu, in spite of his deft political actions, is an embodiment of emotions. This was portrayed in his assistance to the widow of the late Col. Adekunle Fajuyi, the first military governor of the old Western State who spent six months in office before he was murdered at 40 in the 29 July, 1966 coup. The poor woman was living in a house that could collapse any moment and this was published in a newspaper. Tinubu took it upon himself to build her a befitting house, even when the late Fajuyi’s two sons were in PDP.
Apart from residents of Lagos who are appreciative of Tinubu’s effort at ensuring continuity of good governance in the state, one man that would remain grateful to Tinubu is Babatunde Fashola, his successor as governor. “I think how I became governor is public knowledge. Nothing could put pressure on me than the commitment in pursuit of [Tinubu’s] decision in 2006 that I was the candidate he was endorsing for governor and the cost in terms of stress, disagreement, fights and long-drawn emotional arguments. Of course, immediately I won the election, the biggest pressure was to ensure that he didn’t regret his decision,” Fashola said concerning him.
Lai Mohammed, Interim National Publicity Secretary of the APC, sees in Tinubu a strategist but Senator Remi Tinubu, Asiwaju’s wife, says he remains the best husband in the universe. His liberal nature shows in the fact that he is a Muslim while his wife is a Christian. Even with complaints that he often forgets her birthdays and celebrations like the Valentine’s Day, she maintains that “he is a soft man”.
For Mr. Bayo Onanuga, Managing Director and Editor-in-Chief of TheNEWS and P.M.NEWS, Tinubu is one who possesses a very sharp analytical mind and every seasoned newsman’s instinct: the ability to scent what is news. “When he was in exile during the Abacha years, his homes in the UK and Maryland in the USA were points of convergence for many emigrants. In my own case, he accommodated me in one of his flats in Washington DC for all my eight months in the USA, arranging that I applied for asylum and ensuring that some allowance in hundreds of dollars was given me by his gas station in Washington DC, then being managed by his wife,” he recalled.
Tinubu has come a long way, bracing major odds to become a champion of democratic ideals. And like Governor Fashola has maintained, he alone can effectively write his own story. Maybe, a memoir would just do.
Born on 29 March 1952 in the city of |Lagos, Tinubu attended St. John’s Primary School, Aroloya, Lagos and Children’s Home School in Ibadan. He later proceeded to the United States in 1975, where he studied first at Richard J. Daley College in Chicago, Illinois and then at Chicago State University, graduating in 1979 with a Bachelor of Science in Accounting. Tinubu worked for American companies Arthur Andersen, Deloitte, Haskins, & Sells, and GTE Services Corporation after graduation. Upon his return to Nigeria in 1983, he joined Mobil Oil Nigeria, becoming an executive of the company. In 1992, he joined politics, getting elected as Senator for the Lagos West Constituency in 1993, just before a military take-over in December 1993.
A founding member of the National Democratic Coalition, NADECO, which mobilised support for the restoration of democracy and recognition of the 12 June 1993 election victory of late Chief Moshood Abiola, he went into exile in 1994, returning in 1998 after the death of military dictator Sani Abacha. He was again elected in 1999, this time as governor of Lagos State when the military finally relinquished power, and was re-elected in 2003. Since he left office in 2007, his trajectory in politics has continued to soar.
…Published in TheNEWS magazine