By Muyiwa Adetiba
As conventions go, most people do not roll out the drums on a sixty-fifth birthday. The conventional landmark birthdays being 21st, 40th, 50th, 60th, 70th etc. But then, Senator Bola Ahmed Tinubu is not ‘most people.’ He is, whether we like it or not, a celebrity; or even a royalty in our part of the world. This class defies convention. Besides, nobody has a right to begrudge anyone the prerogative of celebrating their birthday whenever and however they want.
Bola Tinubu at 65. He seems pretty young for what he has achieved politically since the famed NADECO years. He seems pretty young for all the reverence he commands from the young and old. He seems pretty young for the level of maturity he has displayed when his person and ideas have been vociferously and rabidly attacked by ‘informed and knowledgeable adversaries.’ He also seems fairly young when compared with his contemporaries in the private sector. However, his age is his age and we can only envy—not begrudge—what he has overcome and achieved at such a relatively young age given especially, the circumstances of his birth and the controversy around his education.
What comes to one’s mind these days when one hears his name? One can think of the incredible amount of money he is reputed to have made and conclude, cynically, that politics has been good to him. But then, he didn’t exactly enter into politics a poor man. And he, more than most, would have realised by now, that there are many things in life that money can’t buy. But then in politics Nigerian style, there are lots of things it can buy. It is arguable whether there would have been APC without his money and his willingness to part with it. He is acknowledged by friends and foes alike, for his strategic understanding of the Nigerian political landscape. Part of that understanding is that he believes every Nigerian—from Journalist to Judge, from Policeman to Politician, from Soldier to Statesman—has a price. And he is more than willing to call that price should it be necessary. Another part is that he understands the system; how it works and uses it adroitly. A close friend handled his two gubernatorial elections and when he told me a bit of how Tinubu was able to avert the storm that was PDP in the 2003 elections, one could not but admire his courage and brinksmanship. It is to his credit that he realised quite early, that you need money, lots of it, to effect any meaningful change in the political structure in Nigeria. Chief Obafemi Awolowo whom I was privileged to have interviewed, realised this as well. The only difference is that Chief Awolowo empowered people who largely funded his electioneering forays while putting himself above board. Asiwaju Tinubu cannot be said to have followed that particular footstep. Perhaps he’s learnt a lesson or two about ‘putting your trust in man.’
I have been around a while as a journalist and I have seen mergers and alliances among the political class. None to the best of my knowledge, has produced a winning ticket largely because the main actors were never willing to subsume their personal ambitions for the greater good. Tinubu’s willingness to look at the larger picture and sacrifice his personal ambition for it must therefore be seen as a bonus when one is evaluating him. It is also this focus on the larger picture when political developments within the APC family did not favour him that has further earned him the respect of many political watchers. If it is frustrating to Tinubu that many within the party were so determined to ‘cut him to size’ that they did not bother about the effect it would have on the loosely forged party, it must be even more frustrating that those who did not spend either money or resources like he did are the ones controlling the reins of power in the country. His restraint and dignity in this respect must be commended. It is obvious that the political arrangements within the party would have been different had he had a larger say. It is also plausible that the party might have been more disciplined and cohesive. As it is, should APC self-destruct, Tinubu might emerge with very little bruises.
Another way to evaluate Tinubu at 65 is to look at Lagos State today. The same state that could not tar its roads during the era of Oyinlola; the same state that had heaps of refuse on almost every side road; the same state that seemed too helpless to confront the menace of traffic; the same state that depended wholly on hand-outs from the centre is today the largest economy in Nigeria and the sixth largest in Africa. Tinubu is largely responsible for this feat. He more or less, woke up the sleeping giant that Lagos State was in terms of its Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) and potential. Today, we talk about the Atlantic City, modern rail transportation and general urban renewal. Tinubu has a hand in all of these and he has fought many battles to ensure continuity in the pursuit of his vision of a mega city. Lagos works because it is ethnically blind. It is a land of opportunity for everyone irrespective of your tribe or religion. Kudos to those who have managed the affairs of Lagos in this manner. It is our collective loss that APC is unable to replicate the inclusiveness of Lagos at the federal level.
The flip side must be that Tinubu has also not been able to replicate the strides of Lagos in any of the South-West States where his influence holds sway. This includes ‘home’ in Osun State where charity should have started from. It could be because he is not as knowledgeable about the political terrain in those states as he is about Lagos. This is one of the complaints of his associates in the states. That said, people who accuse him of wanting to control everything choose not to acknowledge the sacrifices and investments he has made in nurturing the party or the reason he made them. The truth is that you cannot effect any meaningful change when you have no control. Buhari’s presidency and Saraki’s Senate are glaring examples.
At 65, Tinubu qualifies to be an elder. I hope he will now give more thoughts to his region and the country than to self. He has to dispel the notion that he ‘owns’ Lagos and that he has a finger in every juicy pie in the state as this perception will not help his legacy. He also has to be concerned about the moral fibre in the country especially among our leaders. He should now be in the vanguard of those who want to cleanse the system of myopic, self-serving politicians.
At 65, this is the right time for him to fine tune his legacy.