In Retrospect With Bucky Hassan: Bola Tinubu – Political Genius?

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Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, is a complex man who straddles Nigeria’s political landscape. Within a few years, he has carved out a name for himself and changed the political face of the South West. A man who stirs up great passion – he is loved by his supporters and loathed by his detractors. Everyone agrees however, that he has left outsize footsteps in Nigeria’s political history. Larger than life, he is called the godfather of South-West Politics.

His many detractors point to his financial activities, many of which are extremely controversial. Some regard him as wanting to have the entire South West in his pocket and it is rumoured that he owns a huge swathe of Lagos State. Many openly accuse him of corruption. An investigation by the Economic and Financial Crime Commission, EFCC and subsequent trials found him not guilty but it hasn’t quelled any of the rumours. 

His supporters however, point to his party’s pass-mark performance in the states that it governs. The now defunct Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) did not have open primaries, and it is believed that Tinubu singlehandedly imposed the candidates of his choice upon the party, but many agree that the candidates he chose as Governors are doing a better job than the previous ruling party in those States. 

Clearly an intelligent pugnacious man, Bola Tinubu showed his mettle and strength of character when he withstood Obasanjo in 2003, and refused to deliver Lagos to the Peoples’ Democratic Party, PDP. While all other South West States agreed to “Obasanjo’s coup d’etat”, Lagos remained the only South West State not under the ruling PDP control. Not only did Tinubu withstood all attempts to brow-beat him into submitting, he went ahead to launch a campaign to beat Obasanjo at his own game, built a new party almost from the ground up, and won back control of the South West. In 2011, Asiwaju Tinubu did the almost impossible. His party, ACN, swept through the South-West, winning back control of every state except Ondo State. 

Snatching the South-West from the ruling PDP in the 2011 elections was probably a feat that many thought incredible, but his greatest legacy arguably will be doing something that no other Nigerian politician before him has been able to do. In 2013, Tinubu is largely credited with being the brains behind the building, forging and merging together of Nigeria’s 4 largest regional opposition parties into a brand new party, the All Progressive Congress, APC – the creation of a true opposition – a 2nd National Party to take on the PDP (hitherto Nigeria’s only national party), and at Nigeria’s helm since 1999. 

A formal coalition of opposition parties is something almost unknown in Nigeria’s history. Nigeria has had informal mergers of political parties in the past, but to bring together a working coalition of different parties filled with Nigerian politicians with big egos and expectations, must have taken a great deal of skill, charm, humility, quiet ruthlessness, and a huge likeability factor. Asiwaju Tinubu must have had to subjugate his own ego to get General Buhari of the CPC, The ANPP, and Rochas’s faction of the APGA to join him on what was then a journey fraught with controversy and the huge chance of failure. In putting together this grand coalition, Asiwaju Tinubu must have realised that he was probably saying goodbye to his desire to ever become president of Nigeria. The merger would never have happened if Bola Tinubu had made it clear that he was going to be the APC’s presidential candidate. 

The APC has gone a step further in its fight to beat the PDP – it has managed to entice a break-away faction of the PDP to join it. With some erstwhile governors from the nPDP now members of the APC, and legislators in the house of Reps defecting to join the APC, the APC which was mocked, derided and considered dead-on-arrival when it was first mooted, has now became a formidable opposition. Nigeria now has two National parties to contest the next elections. 

Whether the APC is the change desired by most Nigerians, is still a question to be answered. However, as there are no saints in Nigerian politics, it is highly unlikely a party, filled with ‘pure’ politicians, and having the financial muscle and geographical strength needed to take on the PDP can be built before the next election. The APC is far from perfect, but it offers Nigeria the chance at the beginning of a real democracy – two national parties, battling for votes, and understanding that unless they deliver while in office, they can lose elections after being voted in. 

If Nigeria’s Fourth Republic ever becomes a proper working democracy with a two or three National parties, each with a chance of winning National elections, then the one man who above all helped in the creation of this will be Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu.

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