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Saturday, 21 September 2013

The Asiwaju factor in the nation’s evolving democracy

•Ayo OYOZE BAJE periscopes the passion and pedigree of Ahmed Tinubu in the evolving democratic dispensation and urges him to bring his wealth of experience to bear at the national level…


It came like a bolt from the blue, sending shockwaves reverberating across the nation’s variegated political spectrum and beyond. Justice Ayo Salami, leading four other judges  at the Appeal Court in Ilorin, Kwara State had on October 15, 2010 proclaimed Dr. Kayode Fayemi of the Action Congress (now ACN) the eventual winner of  the long-winding, gubernatorial battle for the soul of Ekiti State. He beat Dr. Segun Oni of the Peoples Democratic Party by 10,965 votes. By that singular pronouncement, he finally emerged the true choice of the good people of Ekiti State by the mandate they gave him freely on 14th April, 2007. But the profound effect of that judgment would be a reference point for decades to come; and for some salient reasons too. 

To millions of true lovers of democracy, outraged by the persistent violations of the ethos of people-driven governance, the judgment was like an exception rather than the rule. Truth, has, however, proved to be the long-distance runner over falsehood. Sheer persistence, perseverance and patience not only on the part of Fayemi but his stout supporters have won over the odium of might-is-right. The pendulum of power has finally swung, for once, in favour of the masses -as against the formidable, intimidating force of a power-hungry cabal.

As doubts gave way to wild jubilation, the salient message and import of the historic judgment started sinking into the psyche of Nigerians. It elicited several questions as well. How was it possible for AC, a political party, which, in numerical strength and geographical configuration, is far less than the PDP to wrestle political power in a state considered as one of the former’s strongholds? How was Dr. Kayode Fayemi able to muster the huge fees to sustain the legal battle for some 42 arduous months? What and who provided the pillar of support, the moral and financial bulwark to keep the dream going against the ogre of night, until it eventually saw the light of day? 
Agreed, Fayemi was more or less like the Biblical David pitched against the giant of a Goliath that the PDP has come to symbolize  in the minds of millions of Nigerians. But then, no one goes into a battlefield without some form of support from his base. There comes in Asiwaju Ahmed Bola Tinubu, the erstwhile Governor of the Centre Of Excellence- the commercial nerve centre of the country, Lagos.
Of all the prominent politicians now parading the nation’s landscape as democrats, Senator Bola Tinubu is a first among equals. He has stood firm and resolute in ensuring that the people’s political choices, aspirations and desires are given the fertile ground to flourish. At least in Lagos, Edo, Ondo and, most recently, Ekiti states. But for his steadfastness, doggedness and firm commitment to the ideals of democracy those who were never elected by the people would continue to hold the levers of political authority at the state level. And of course, feel no allegiance to serve the interests of the people but to the cabal and godfathers on whose shoulders they climbed to office.
It was that never-say-die spirit of Tinubu that must have kept Dr. Fayemi going from the  17th May,2007 (petition at the Election Petition Tribunal), through the 28th August,2008 (Justice Usman Bwala’s controversial judgment in favour of Oni), to the  17th February,2009 (Appeal Court’s cancellation of election results in 63 out of 177 wards). After these came the 2nd June, 2009 (petition against the disputed 27th April and 5th May, 2009 re-run polls) that eventually led to the 15th October, 2010 landmark judgment in favour of Fayemi. In all of this, lesser minds would have either capitulated or simply joined the PDP fray. But he stood his ground. Such indefatigability for a Tinubu who has no military background still baffles and indeed, inspires not a few aspiring politicians who want to throw  their hats into the ring for the 2011 electoral contests. 
From Tinubu, such rookie politicians would have to emulate the leadership qualities of vision, courage, candour, compassion and clout. These, he has amply exhibited  by identifying the likes of Governor Babatunde Fashola of Lagos state, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole of Edo State  and of course, Dr. Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti. This singular attribute can be compared to that of the late sage, Chief Obafemi  Awolowo, who, in his political wisdom, was able to fish out the likes of Chief Lateef Jakande, late Pa Adekunle Ajasin and late Chief Bola Ige, who similarly excelled as state governors during the Second Republic. 
Nigeria is truly desirous of people who, buoyed by their inner conviction, feel that only the best, in terms of men and materials, is good enough for this country. Few they are, but they still hold aloft the torch of hope in the dark firmament of mass ignorance, political apathy and ignorance. They are the ones who point the way forward to what true democracy represents, or should. One great factor that marks the Asiwaju out as the beacon bearer is his proud pedigree as a consistent fighter for the cause he believes strongly in. This rare attribute of stick-to-itiveness is what Albert Einstein, the late great physicist/mathematician,  identified as one of the unfailing ingredients in the potpourri  of greatness. Yet, for Tinubu, it started years ago. Not a few friends of his would for long remember and of course, remain grateful for the unflinching moral and financial support he offered the pro-democracy activists who were in exile during Abacha’s rampaging dictatorship.
Yet, the challenges he would face in his defence of democratic values would still be put to test. Becoming the governor of Lagos state in 1999 was one thing, having to keep the flame of democratic principles burning was quite another. Beyond laying the template for the infrastructural and institutional achievements that have been recorded in the over a decade of democracy, Tinubu’s administration stood resolute against the refusal of the Chief Obasanjo-led administration to release funds meant for local government councils, for years. Political pundits and economists still wonder how his government was able to weather the storm, taking great strides in infrastructural development, in the fields of education and health as well as political re-engineering during that delicate period of crass illegality.
It was such that has added to the beauty of democracy in Nigeria in recent years with the influence of the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), led by Tinubu. The party has stood its ground against the one-party monopoly of the PDP, foisted on us by the eight-year rule of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo. Close watchers of the nation’s hard-won democracy have often wondered at the series of socio-political aberrations that have characterized the polity and asked when we shall ever get it right.
However, Nigerians have the ACN to thank for rising to the occasion each time the nation was confronted with such anti-democratic forces. From 1999 till the moment, we have had querulous issues such as massive electoral fraud, the use of anti-graft agencies for politically-motivated witch hunt and undue altercation between the executive and the legislative arms of government. Others include the clarion call for electoral reforms by supporting the Justice Uwais-led Electoral Reforms Committee’s position for true independence for INEC. Following the protracted illness of late President Yar’Adua, the AC was at the forefront of those who clamoured for the current President Goodluck Jonathan to be empowered in line with constitutional provisions. And it also raised justifiable alarm over the short-time INEC under Jega would have to achieve a credible voters’  register and conduct free and fair poll.  
Similarly, the AC under the guiding steps of Tinubu, has shown a commendable sense of history. It has been consistent in canvassing that Nigerians learn lasting lessons from the free and fair elections of June 12,1993 and be ready to replicate or surpass it. Nigerians should also glean lessons from the crude annulment that trailed it. Delivering a lecture entitled: June 12: The obligations of electoral reforms at the instance of Independent Newspapers Limited on June 10, 2010 at Ikeja Airport Hotel, Tinubu had this to say: “It was on June 12 that Nigerians from every part of this country rallied to pronounce that this country can be truly united, truly free, truly democratic, truly just and truly equitable.” 
Noting the grave implications of the annulment, Tinubu said: “Seventeen years after June 12, 1993, we have witnessed the political cruelties, the economic adversities and the social disasters that can be caused by the annulment of a people’s mandate.” As a true patriot, he does not want us to tread that thorny path again.  Said he, “I have joined with other democratic forces and patriots to mobilize our people to ensure electoral reforms as the basis of re-creating, re-building and sustaining our democratic heritage. Without that what we have  and what we will continue to have is mere civil rule and not true democracy.”  
On that score, many of Tinubu’s admirers have seen the need to bring his clout and charisma to the federal level. Hence, they have mooted the idea of him joining forces with one of the credible candidates such as General Muhammad Buhari to breathe life into the aberrant democratic structures on ground. By that, the duo would give Nigerians  not only a sense of direction but harvest the much-delayed fruits of democracy, which he, along with other patriots, have fought assiduously to realize. Some of them, however, feel that Tinubu should take the lead in enthroning internal party democracy in CAN. The recent reported altercation between Tinubu and Governor Fashola paints a disturbing picture about the internal party mechanism. Perhaps, those managing the image of the party still have a lot of work to do.

•Baje is a member of the Editorial Board of Independent Newspapers Limited.   

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