BY DELE MOMODU
Fellow Nigerians permit me to say, it is no longer a secret that the former Governor of Lagos State and easily one of the most influential politicians in Africa, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, has his gaze firmly fixed on the Nigerian Presidential seat in Abuja. Let me put it more frontally, Tinubu will love to drop the Chieftaincy title, Asiwaju, for that of President Bola Ahmed Tinubu. Who wouldn’t, anyway? I once tried my luck despite not having ten percent of Tinubu’s stupendous resources, extensive networks, public service experience and achievements and so on. I know that some will think it is too early to be talking about a successor to President Muhammadu Buhari given that his second term is barely six months old. Nevertheless, the political gladiators are already baring their fangs and showing their hands and flapping their wings. It would be silly of anyone to shut their eyes to such developments.
The debate is already raging, as always. We love to talk. Don’t we? That’s our pastime, sadly or joyously. The naysayers are having a field day with a plethora of reasons and questions on why he cannot succeed. What does Tinubu want again? He can’t win! He is not fit enough! He is too tainted and tarnished! The Hausa-Fulani will never give him power. How can he think he can attain what Chief Obafemi Awolowo and Chief Moshood Abiola failed to get? Why can’t he field one of the people he empowered in the past? Too many questions begging for answers.
I often wonder what exactly the matter is with us we practically groan and grumble over anything and everything. Someone once wrote that we all have the Abacha traits in us. We are all autocratic and oppressive in nature, the reason Democracy is not working here and may never work in most parts of Africa. We are just too intolerant and too dismissive. But for me and my house, I’m a consummate Democrat. I believe everyone has the right to aspire to any height in life, especially in politics. Political leadership is not the personal property of any person, dynasty or group!
If you ask me, I will tell you, unequivocally, and repeatedly, that Tinubu is eminently qualified to contest. If you ask me if he is a saint, I will say no. None of us is. Not even Buhari. Not you, not me. Nations are not governed by saints but by performers. That is one of the recurring theses that I regularly propagate in my musings and reflections. I have no illusions that Tinubu will definitely perform as President of Nigeria, if he ever contests and wins. He has a knack for identifying brilliant minds and fertile brains, and the ability to nurture them to greatness. He has demonstrated this repeatedly and almost endlessly. Examples abound without doubt.
Does Tinubu suffer from excesses and shortcomings? Perhaps, again like all mortals, he does. This does not diminish his greatness. His excesses are mitigated by several strong and positive qualities. He is generous to a fault. He has lifted many souls, old and young, from penury and perdition. He is a classic example of the Good Samaritan. We all have our shortcomings and why should Tinubu be an exception. Too many unprintable rumours, myths and comments have been circulated in writing and also spoken about him, some bordering on character assassination and unverifiable vilification, but God chooses and anoints those he wants. And no one can challenge God. It is obvious that Tinubu has been richly blessed, despite his apparent foibles. Such is life.
I have followed his trajectory for close to three decades. His story is a stuff of fairy tales. All those who have disparaged, derided, denigrated and despised him have not been able to bring him down, despite their monumental efforts to achieve this. When you think he is supine, broken and out, he rises, like the Black onyx and soars again. I witnessed this, live and direct, during our exile days. Many times, we all felt down and out but Tinubu’s passion and influence re-engineered things and made us redouble our efforts. The reason is simple. Tinubu has an uncommon audacity. I believe his bravery has taken him beyond his own imagination. A man who has survived too many tribulations like him cannot be an ordinary soul. God must love him dearly and extraordinarily. He has fought many battles that he won, spectacularly. He is naturally smart and adequately fearless. A mutual friend once told a few of us that he is very sure Tinubu would still take the risk even if you say a particular venture will kill him. He has such kamikaze instincts. You can’t go far in life, if you’re too squeamish and Tinubu is a living proof that courage conquers all.
It is wrong to say Tinubu has no right to run for the Presidency in 2023. Who are those who will run if he does not? How are they better? What qualifies them to run that disqualifies him from running? Yes, I may prefer younger people to take over but many of them we have seen have not justified the noise about “not too young to rule,” by ruling senselessly and recklessly. I’m now convinced that age should not be a deliberate barrier; track record of achievements should be the priority. I welcome all those who want to run and believe that they should be allowed to run without hindrance. It is wrong to muzzle the opposition, or even an opponent, because any nationalist and patriot will want the best for Nigeria and so long as the people express their preference for that person, he should be given the opportunity. Nigeria has suffered and continues to suffer because Murtala Mohammed, Chief M. K. O. Abiola and, to a lesser extent, Chief Obafemi Awolowo were not allowed to rule Nigeria by the selfish manipulations and evil machinations of incurably selfish and obviously misguided elements.
Let’s now take on the issues I earlier mentioned, one by one. Those who are petrified, or just being cheeky, that the Hausa/Fulani will never hand over power to the South and, by extension, to Tinubu, and others, really baffle me. Self-doubt is one of the biggest afflictions of the Southerners. Too many people suffer from inferiority complex. They have resigned themselves to slavery and servitude, voluntarily, in their own country. This is one of the reasons the Tinubu experiment and controversy is ‘sweeting’ me. If Tinubu cannot be supported by the North, despite all he did for Muhammadu Buhari to become President, after chasing the shadows for three record times, then there is no hope for Nigeria. In any event, I must stress that it is an insult to other parts of Northern Nigeria to suggest that there is a monolithic and homogenous North. We all know that is far from the truth. There are diverse and disparate tribes in the Middle belt. Even within the core north there are several minority tribes who do not share the same aspirations as their more visible and vociferous neighbours. We must discourage the notion of master-servant relationship in this country. We must promote unity and uphold the rights of every Nigerian citizen. Personally, I don’t care where the next President comes from, North, East, South or West. All aspirants are welcome. The more, the merrier.
That is why I’m not for zoning, in any form. I want aspirants to contest on their disastrous or meritorious records. Let the electorates be the judges. But to say someone is automatically disqualified on account of ethnicity, or even religion, is so unfortunate and so not right and definitely unacceptable, at this time and age. It is one of the reasons that we have been robbed of stellar leaders in the past and the present. Are we not tired of this intractable backwardness?
On Awolowo and Abiola, it was the same myopia that made some powerful forces to gang up against them. What did the enemies of progress then gain after all? Let’s concede that Awolowo did not win, what of Abiola who was robbed in broad daylight and even paid the supreme price! Who knows if Tinubu will finally cross the bridge and finish the final lap of this marathon? No one knows God’s plans. Goodluck Jonathan never dreamt of being Deputy Governor, talk less of becoming President of Africa’s most populous country. Yemi Osinbajo had resigned himself to Law and Pastoral work but suddenly and unexpectedly became Vice President, almost effortlessly. He was probably home, arms akimbo, when he was called and annointed from the blues. Also, his helicopter crashed one terrible afternoon on his way to some political rallies in Kogi State, yet none of the passengers died. Many have died in less chaotically dangerous circumstances, and not a scratch on these children of God. Was that not a powerful sign and testimony that these are not mere mortals to be rubbished or traduced.
Some contend that Tinubu should not contest but instead allow one of his proteges to run instead. However, it is my belief that such a decision is solely his. It must always be remembered that he had the chance to be Vice-President and could have put his foot down to make the coalition work. On that occasion, for the good of his Party and the Nation, he gave up his dream and ambition and put forward another spectacular candidate, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, who has not let his mentor down and has shown admirable comportment and grace. I believe there must therefore be some cogent reasons why he feels the time has come to be the king rather than a Kingmaker in perpetuity. There is nothing wrong in him making such an informed decision. He should be allowed to exercise his franchise and bet on himself again. Tinubu is an enigmatic calculator who knows how to permutate the game and stun his opponents. Like Buhari, I want to assume that Tinubu had planned this journey for a very long time. All the steps he has taken since 1999 obviously point to this fact. The kind of political and social machinery that he has built is probably only matched and surpassed by those of great leaders that nurtured and forged our Independence, like the Owelle of Onitsha, Chief Nnamdi Azikiwe, the Sardauna of Sokoto, Sir Ahmadu Bello, the Odole of Ife, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, and the Aare Ona Kakanfo of Yorubaland, Chief Moshood Abiola. The rest is in the hands of God.
For me, Tinubu’s ambition is not an impossible mission. He is a master strategist who has acquired the templates of others like Major General Shehu Musa Yar’Adua, Chief Moshood Abiola, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, plus being one of those who ran Buhari’s campaigns, substantially. He knows the Nigerian terrain very well and even his enemies respect him tremendously.
For me, what gives Tinubu pre-eminence over most of the others who are contending for the crown but presently hiding behind one finger is his glittering records and achievements in both the private and public sectors. I really do not care about his past because as a Christian, none of us can judge anyone, and I have ample examples of the possible transformation and transfiguration of human beings, as the Lord pleases. That is a long time ago and gone with the winds. He has done more than enough to remove that from his narrative. Whatever his background was, he cannot be robbed of his victory and glory perpetually. Yes, it is clear that he came from very humble beginnings of deprivation and chronic need but he sought to improve himself by seeking the golden fleece. He succeeded in his quest attaining a Bachelor of Science degree in Accounting. His success in this regard can be measured by the fact that he was head hunted by top accounting firms like Arthur Andersen and Deloitte, Haskins and Sells. He eventually joined Mobil in Nigeria where he excelled spectacullarly and rose to become a top executive in the company. His should thus be a veritable inspiration to majority of those in similar circumstances today, that anyone can rise up from the pit of hell to any heights, by dint of hard work and uncommon sagacity and determination.
His political career started in 1992. He was elected to the highest legislative house in the Nigerian Senate. When that ill-fated experiment by General Ibrahim Babangida went the way, it was programmed to go, Tinubu fled Nigeria and regrouped with like minded patriotic Nigerians to form the external wing of the pro-democracy National Democratic Coalition (NADECO). After the death of General Sani Abacha, Tinubu returned home to contest as Governor of Lagos State and won a convincing victory.
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It is Tinubu’s achievements as a two-term Governor of Lagos State that has projected him to the prominent and exalted position that he now occupies in the Nigerian political sphere. He began the systematic and robust increase of the internally generated revenue of Lagos State which his successors have had no choice but to emulate, and sustain incrementally thus making Lagos State one of the richest self-sustaining ‘governments’ in Africa. His indomitable and indefatigable spirit led him to challenge the Federal Government headlong and succeeded in standing tall as he fought President Olusegun Obasanjo to a standstill. Despite not having access to funding for his local governments, Tinubu single-handedly revived and revamped Local Governments in Lagos State and brought tremendous developments to practically every part of Lagos State. His other great political prowess is in identifying quality and talented leaders from hitherto political obscurity and foisting them on the people to great effect.
I strongly believe that Tinubu should be given a chance on the merit when, and if, he eventually proclaims his candidacy. Others will eventually come forth and should also be considered on their merits. As they do, we will have cause to revisit their suitability. Our country can only gain from such robustly healthy competition. We have a preponderance of brilliant men and women who can take Nigeria to the zenith of greatness but they are usually wasted on the altar of greed and selfishness.
What is clear to me is that it is only a matter of time before events begin to unfold.