ON Tuesday this week, notable members of the Nigerian elite gathered in Abuja for the Bola Tinubu Colloquium, which annually commemorates the politician’s birthday. This year, Bola Tinubu turned 64, and give or take a few sour notes, this must be a very happy year for a man that has become the indomitable figure of contemporary Nigerian politics.
Bola Tinubu, more than any other individual, has to be credited for the change that we now have in our country. This is because he was the one who moved decisively to embrace General Muhammadu Buhari, after the debacle of the 2011 election, which saw the two sides (CPC and ACN) unable to find a median point of agreement.
Tinubu would eventually cast his lots with former President Jonathan and almost immediately there came a realization that a very serious mistake had been made in the choice of president.
Bola Tinubu was not going to make the same mistake a second time. A very close observer of the earlier meetings between President Muhammadu Buhari and Bola Tinubu, express his surprise and admiration, having been shown a huge tome, which was a painstaking study that had been commissioned by Bola Tinubu, on the possibilities of a Buhari presidency by 2015.
Those early explorations moved fast, because it seemed barriers of prejudice were broken early enough and the two individuals, Muhammadu Buhari and Bola Tinubu, had discovered themselves and the fact that working together, might be the major step that Nigeria needed to make, in order to avoid a catastrophic failure.
So from those early exploratory meetings in London, the mustard seed of change was planted by these two gentlemen, and the eventual recruitment of other notable political actors and tendencies, were merely the final pieces in an elaborate jigsaw; once the two major individuals were singing from the same hymn book, we seemed destined for a major historical turning point in Nigeria.
For all discerning observers, the work that Bola Tinubu did with Muhammadu Buhari, helped to break a jinx and righted a major worry of our national history. It was the two gentlemen that successfully helped to achieve the elusive political alliance of the North and Southwest, which for long was the missing piece in our national political evolution.
We cannot underrate the importance of the achievement, because from the pre-Independence election of 1959 right up to 2015, a re current problem has been the strong suspicion, bordering on animosity, between the political elite of the North and Southwest.
And for as long as that continued, it seemed as if Nigerian progress was always likely to be tenuous and fleeting at best; the mutual suspicion which in many cases, came from throwbacks into pre-colonial Nigerian history, made things uncomfortable for any combination of the Nigerian political elite that was at the height of power, for as long as the Southwest remained the outsider.
This was afterall the region of remarkable political, economic, media and cultural power, and the most consciously modernist of all the elite groups in post-independence Nigerian society. It was very clear that Nigeria needed that remarkable wealth and talent inside, not outside, the loop of power.
From Awo to 2015: And from Chief Obafemi Awolowo’s political years, till 2015, it was clear that the necessary political chemistry was not sufficiently in place, for us to achieve the levels of trust and political understanding to help effect the symmetry of thought and praxis that could deliver a successful political alliance that would then translate into victory.
That moment arrived only with the 2015 elections and the remarkable work that Bola Tinubu did with Muhammadu Buhari. But 2015 was never likely to have come to fruition, without the near miss of 2011, and especially the manner that the Goodluck Jonathan presidency, threatened not only the ruling class project, but also the manner that it endangered the existence of Nigeria!
There was the need to work fast to prevent a hurtling into perdition.
Luckily for Nigeria, many things had come together to strengthen the pan-Nigeria element to the Bola Tinubu worldview. For far too long, he played his politics very much within a secessionist perspective and the bitterness which was associated with the military’s annulment of the June 12 1993 elections, had not only created a massive structure of resistance, a resistance which Bola Tinubu actively participated in and financed; but as much as there was a determined effort to end military dictatorship, there was also an underlining tendency that wanted to work for a Southwest secession from Nigeria. That tendency oscillated between demands for “True Federalism” and the breakup of our country, and Bola Tinubu was one of the patron saints of the agitation.
But winning power from 1999 in Lagos state was also the platform of a new set of struggles; struggle against a suffocating centre under President Obasanjo; struggle to ensure survival at the regional level and struggle for party building which necessarily meant that the Bola Tinubu Tendency must become more national and begin to embrace the country as a whole constituency of political action.
There was also the fact that this combination of factors was also exposing the limitations of the provincial and ethnic parochialism that was for too long presented as a “progressive” approach to politics.
Tinubu’s new approach
More than most, Bola Tinubu was quickest to understand the limitations of the old approach to politics; the cul-de-sac it led to and the need to reach out. He had an incredible network of friends across Nigeria; had limitless funds to finance new pan-Nigerian ambitions; had built a formidable network of intellectuals and technocrats able to study and analyze the portents of politics and he has the charisma that matched his vision along with a relentless and dogged ability to keep eyes on the ball to sustain and retain victory.
This rich background came into play as Nigeria itself was undergoing a truly remarkable demographic change, where old values have gradually become irrelevant for the majority of the citizens of Nigeria. These were mainly young people under the age of 25, who are now 63% of our population and when stretched to the age of 35, are 75% of the population. Those who have dominated the values of politics, were sixty years old and above, and incidentally, that age bracket represents only 4% of today’s Nigeria.
The Ayo Adebanjos, Olanihun Ajayis, Tanko Yakasais, EK Clarks, Alex Ekwemes, had become truly passé, despite their best effort to keep the narratives of the 1950s to the 1970s alive. Bola Tinubu’s strength is to be able to think in new ways that can keep him relevant within the contemporary political space.
Building political relationship
By being able to build the political relationship with Muhammadu Buhari, that eventually galvanised the political space in a manner that gave opposition politics a huge lift and ferried them into power, while expelling an arrogant PDP, that had boasted a 60-year hegemony in Nigeria, Bola Tinubu made a major contribution to national development. He fully embraced not just Nigeria, but made it clear that the way to be progressive was to build the Nigerian house for all our peoples. This new phase is strengthening Bola Tinubu’s political role within the currents of Nigerian history. They are nevertheless also the most difficult, because he has to face a new set of adversaries with equally determined ambitions to fulfill on the national scene.
I have only ever met Bola Tinubu once and for just about twenty minutes. And what I asked of him was that whatever politics might come to throw at him, he should please ensure that the relationship he has built with President Muhammadu Buhari was not destroyed or weakened.
For me, that relationship has unique values, associated with the symbolic element that is nevertheless poignant within the flows of history; and that is the fact that it is within that relationship, that a North-Southwest alliance was finally successfully built; and eventually able to win power at the centre.
It is a fitting tribute to the political sagacity of the man, Bola Tinubu and his partner, Muhammadu Buhari. The moment in history found its truly remarkable individuals.
Of course, this narrative has not sought to underplay the roles of other individuals and political tendencies, in the change at hand, and indeed they all are collective heroes in this endeavour, but on the occasion of his 64th birthday, I think that Bola Tinubu has earned a truly remarkable place in contemporary Nigerian politics. A combination of vision; hard work; doggedness; team building and patriotic commitment can work wonders in politics!