By Femi Aribisala
OVER the past few years, Bola Tinubu has made himself something of a colossus of South-Western politics in Nigeria. Against the onslaught of vociferous PDP electoral manipulations in 2003, Tinubu drew the line in the sand and held on to the biggest prize: Lagos. He became, in effect, the lone survivor of his party in the South-West. By 2007, using just Lagos State as his stronghold, he fought back to wrest ACN control back in all but one of the South-western states. By 2011, he had consolidated his hold in the region. With 2015 looming, it would appear to be high time for Tinubu to unfold a national, as opposed to a merely regional, agenda.
Accordingly, Tinubu has now become the grandfather of the All Progressives Congress (APC); a coalition forged between his ACN party, Buhari’s CPC, the ANPP and Rochas Okorocha’s wing of APGA. But the question needs to be asked: what is in this new-fangled APC for Bola Tinubu?
Politics without principles
Tinubu’s midwifery of the APC is conclusive proof he is anything but a progressive politician. The APC is an all-comers alliance of strange bedfellows without any defined policy objectives. No one can tell what is progressive about this new cocktail. Former arch-enemies of the ruling PDP, hitherto derided as corrupt and incompetent by Tinubu, are now courted and welcomed in APC with open arms.
Since 1999, Obasanjo has been Tinubu’s public enemy number one. In 2011, Tinubu said: “(Obasanjo) should go away and retire in shame politically. He brought a whole salad of corruption, manipulation and failures.” However, more recently, Tinubu was part of a delegation of APC leaders who visited Obasanjo at his residence in Otta, pleading with him to decamp from the PDP to the APC. The nation watched with incredulity as Tinubu was quoted as saying to arch-enemy Obasanjo: “We’re resolved and determined to rescue Nigeria. We want you as navigator.”
Such duplicity is par for the course with Tinubu. He cut his political teeth as a NADECO politician in the heydays of the annulled June 1993 elections. In consonance with his NADECO colleagues, Tinubu is on record in insisting repeatedly that: “Because of the multiple issues surrounding our skewed federalism and constitutional flaws, the Nigerian nation is weak… We must convoke a national conference.” Fast-forward to 2013, after President Jonathan decided to convene the requested national conference, Tinubu started singing a different tune. He declared: “The national conference is by whom, for whom, and at what stage? How many levels of deception? I see a contradiction. I see diversion. I see deception, lack of honesty and integrity.”
The contradiction, deception and lack of honesty that is evident to all are on the part of Bola Tinubu.
Tinubu has controlled South-West politics not because he is popular in the region, but because he has been allowed to get away with anti-democratic tendencies. His ACN party made no pretenses to be democratic. Candidates for elective offices did not come from any democratic processes; they were chosen in Tinubu’s bedroom. There was only one discernible requirement for qualification: total allegiance to Tinubu and the acceptance to do his bidding.
It is to Tinubu’s credit that the candidates he chose undemocratically have tended to do better than others. Justifying himself, Tinubu said: “I play god-fatherism in the South-West for the good of our people. My god-fatherism is for progress.” However, his blatant “all in the family” nepotism can hardly be said to be in the interest of the South-West. Tinubu crowned his daughter the new Iyaloja of Lagos. He installed his wife, as a Senator for Lagos State. His wife’s sister is apparently a member of Lagos State House of Assembly. His daughter’s husband is a member of the Federal House of Representatives. This is unacceptable.
The APC is likely to produce a Northern candidate to compete against Goodluck Jonathan in 2015. Tinubu calls himself the leader of the APC, and his alliance partners seem readily inclined to humour him with that inconsequential title for the time-being. But as the so-called leader of the new coalition, he is not going to be able to handpick the presidential candidate in the same undemocratic way he does in the South-West. One thing is for sure, that decision will not take place in Tinubu’s bedroom.
In 2011, President Jonathan supported Mulikat Akande of Oyo State for the position of Speaker of House of Representatives. But Tinubu corralled ACN representatives to defeat his candidature in favour of Aminu Tambulwal of Sokoto. He did this so he can play a South-West marginalization card against Jonathan’s PDP government in subsequent elections. He was also mindful that a Yoruba Speaker should not provide a rallying point for the PDP in the struggle for supremacy with his ACN in the South-West.
By 2011, Tinubu’s ACN already had twelve years experience of perfected vote-rigging in the South-west. No matter what INEC says or does, the elections could always be relied on to conform to Tinubu’s permutations. The South-West public was not particularly bothered about this because the ACN was preferred to the only other viable alternative; the PDP. But with ACN now merged into the APC, we have a new political dynamic especially at the national level. The question that now arises is this: Can South-Western votes be successfully rigged in favour of a Northern presidential candidate, according to the requirements of Tinubu’s new APC alliance? I doubt it very much.
Let me say something here about the peculiarities of Nigeria’s “rigging democracy.” In Nigeria, every election is rigged. The question is to what extent or to what degree. Nigeria’s rigging rigmarole also has some paradoxically inbuilt democratic tendencies. The capacity to rig and get away with it is linked to actual support on the ground. In short, the efficacy of rigging lies in the ability to exaggerate the margin of victory. Put in the national mix, this might conceivably distort and even determine the eventual outcome. But when an election is rigged to the extent that the eventual winner in a particular constituency bears no relation with the real choice on the ground, it is likely to result in riots and protests.
The South-west is still the only region in Nigeria that votes ethnically. In the history of Nigeria’s democratic experience, the North has voted for Southerners. The South-East and the South-South have voted for Northerners. But the South-West has never voted for a Northerner. Therefore, Tinubu is going to have a problem convincing South-West voters that they vote for a Northerner in 2015 if, as is true to form, they are not inclined to do so.
Northern APC president
Tinubu’s political career would be greatly endangered were he to presume he can, at his discretion, manipulate South-West votes for a Northern presidential candidate. Should he make that mistake, he might just end up as another Samuel Ladoke Akintola of South-Western politics, accused of selling out his people to the North. The outcome of that in 1964 was widespread rioting in the West, which prefaced the 1966 military coup.
For his APC alliance with Buhari to work, Tinubu would have to become what he is not: a democrat. He will have to convince South-West voters to vote for a Northerner. That will require a lot of leg-work and campaigning that has not even started, with the elections only one year away. Even then, it is not likely to work. When Tinubu chose Ribadu, a Northerner, as the ACN presidential flag-bearer in 2011, Ribadu still did not receive South-Western votes. The votes went, instead, to Goodluck Jonathan of the PDP and the South-South
Moreover, a Northern president portends nothing but disaster for Tinubu’s political ambitions. No president of Nigeria will kowtow to him the way his South-Western governors currently do. Tinubu might want to learn from the experience of the “navigator” of PDP politics; Olusegun Obasanjo. That “navigation” came to grief once Yar’Adua became president; and then again, once Goodluck Jonathan was installed in Aso Rock.
Therefore, if Tinubu has ears, he should use them. The Northern politicians clamouring for power after being starved of it for 16 years are not dying to do any favours for the South-West, given the eight years of Obasanjo’s presidency. They are dying to do favours for themselves. Once a Northern president is firmly installed in Aso Rock, they are going to stop returning Tinubu’s phone-calls.
Of course, one way out is to balance the APC ticket with a Yoruba vice-presidential candidate. However, Tinubu himself is not viable in that capacity. I daresay, Nigeria is not ready for Vice-President Tinubu. I know of no great desire in the land for the nation’s economy to be mortgaged to the Tinubu family according to the format currently prevailing in Lagos especially where, among other sharp practices, his Alpha Beta outfit gets a fixed percentage of all internally-generated revenue.
One of the more plausible configurations I have heard is a Kwankwaso/Fashola ticket designed to bring into the APC mix the two more popular governors of the two most populous states. However, Tinubu may have a problem with that because it will signal his death-knell politically. A Yoruba vice-president would be an even greater threat to Tinubu’s South-West supremacy than his earlier fears of a Yoruba Speaker.
In any case, in Nigeria, nobody votes for a vice-president, even though he is on the ballot. Everyone knows that a vice-president plays second-fiddle to the president. He is only as relevant, or as inconsequential, as the president wants him to be. With all the clamour at the moment by the Northern political elite for a Northern president, it is easily forgotten that the current vice-president is actually from the North. This is because the vice-presidency is not the issue. The critical factor is the presidency.
This, therefore, is my position. The APC adventure marks the end of the road politically for Tinubu. It is downhill all the way for him from now on. The very things that made Tinubu successful in the South-West are bound to shipwreck him in the APC.