Tinubu: THISDAY Man of the Year – The Man Who (Re)Built Nigerian Opposition
He might not be the darling of all, but Bola Ahmed Tinubu, a two-time governor of Lagos State, has carved a niche for himself in the 14-year history of the rebirth of democracy in Nigeria. His persona excites as much awe as fear from the people, especially the political class.
He has through his doggedness and can-do spirit earned a name for himself as one of the foremost politicians of the nation’s fledgling Fourth Republic. Although Tinubu’s participation in the politics of the Fourth Republic was not his first foray into politics, it was in the current dispensation that he made a name for himself.
As a senator representing Lagos West Senatorial District in the aborted Third Republic, the dispensation did not last long enough for him, just like many others, to make his mark. The annulment of the June 12, 1993 election by the Gen. Ibrahim Babangida-led junta, put paid to efforts to return Nigeria to civil rule after almost a decade of military interregnum. In the heat of the civil protest that trailed the annulment, he teamed up with others in the defunct National Democratic Coalition (NADECO) to rally the people behind the campaign to force the military back to the barracks. Like many leaders of the anti-military group, he was forced to flee to exile, especially under the late Gen. Sani Abacha dictatorship that resorted to state brutality to subdue the opposition.
Whatever Tinubu might have done to advance the cause of democracy before the Fourth Republic, has paled to insignificance with his avowed commitment, in the extant dispensation, to champion the cause of sustaining one of the cardinal principles of democracy: the people’s right to choose. In this quest, he has become the face of the alternative force in a nation that for all intent and purpose, has been tending towards a one-party system since 1999.
With the return of democracy in 1999, Tinubu joined his comrades in NADECO and others in the now comatose Alliance for Democracy (AD) on whose platform he won the Lagos State governorship election. The AD was the ruling party in the South-west, controlling the administration of the six states in the region. It was a domination that brought the party under intense pressure, especially given the fact that the then President Olusegun Obasanjo of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) got into power without the support of his Yoruba kinsmen. Like AD, Obasanjo, whose presidency was hobbled by its lack of support from his kinsmen, was also under pressure to redress the situation.
Obasanjo bid his time and in the run-up to the 2003 general election, he deployed guile and diplomacy to outwit the leadership of the pan-Yoruba group, Afenifere, to ensure that the Yoruba supported his re-election. In the election, the PDP swept the polls and of the six AD governors then, only Tinubu returned for a second term in office. Tinubu survived the Obasanjo onslaught as he saw through his shenanigans during his negotiations with the Yoruba leaders such as the late Chief Abraham Adesanya, Chief Ayo Adebanjo and Chief Olanihun Ajayi.
His victory was to redefine the relationship between the duo during their second term. A chagrined Obasanjo never forgave Tinubu for outfoxing him. At every point in their official interaction, he did all he could to frustrate the Tinubu administration. When Tinubu made moves to build the first independent power plant in Nigeria, the Obasanjo administration frustrated it.
The frosty relationship between them was to further deteriorate when Lagos made moves to create more local government areas in deference to the yearnings of the people. The state, after going through the constitutional process, finally created 37 additional local government areas, which the Obasanjo administration refused to recognise. The creation of additional local governments in the state turned out to be a battle of wits between Obasanjo and Tinubu. To force Lagos to revert to its 20-local government structure, Obasanjo directed the seizure of funds to local governments in the state, totalling over N10 billion, from the Federation Account. Not even a Supreme Court judgment, which described his action as illegal, could make the former president back down.
The duo were to be locked in a fresh political battle, reminiscent of that of 2003 in the 2007 general election. By then, Tinubu had pulled out of AD to form the Action Congress (AC), which later metamorphosed into the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN). Obasanjo, as the outgoing president wanted to ensure the continued domination of the PDP in the South-west, to consolidate his position as a respectable leader of the party.
On the other hand, Tinubu was set to reclaim the geopolitical zone from the rampaging PDP machinery. In the end, PDP retained its five states with ACN retaining Lagos. But it turned out to be a pyrrhic victory for the ruling party because with an uncommon determination, Tinubu engineered and encouraged the legal battles that finally led to the reclamation of Ondo, Ekiti, Osun and Edo States from the PDP.
From the scratch, he built the ACN to a formidable political party that within a short time became the major opposition party in Nigeria. He deployed his resources, energy and political acumen to give the ruling party a fight in the political space.
In his avowed determination to ensure the defeat of PDP, he tried to form an alliance in the run up to the 2011 general election with Gen. Muhammadu Buhari, another respectable opposition leader. Under the scheme, the ACN and Buhari’s Congress for Progress Change (CPC) were to work together. But the alliance, which began rather late, failed due to irreconcilable differences between the two party leaders.
Nevertheless, they were not discouraged. What Tinubu and Buhari failed to pull off in 2011, they did in 2013. With their encouragement, focus and determination, they were able to bring the major opposition parties in the country to come together. They adopted a novel, though complicated process that eventually led to the formation of the All Progressives Congress (APC), which in its short existence has been nibbling at PDP’s stronghold.
Starting out with 11 governors after its formation, APC recently increased the number of governors in its fold to 16 following the defection of five aggrieved PDP governors to the party. APC has since turned the PDP, the behemoth that had a stranglehold over the political space in Nigeria since 1999, into a minority party in the House of Representatives. Effectively, as the PDP grows weaker by the day, the APC waxes stronger.
As the nation approaches another election year in 2015, the electorate is assured of a choice: it is either PDP or APC. This largely has been due to the unwavering commitment of Tinubu who has given his all to nudge the opposition in the right direction. For his foresightedness and unrelenting determination to deepen Nigeria’s democratic space, Bola Ahmed Tinubu is THISDAY’s Man of the Year.