By Ibidapo Balogun
In his interview published on page 12 of the Sunday Punch of 15th October, 2017, elder statesman and Afenifere chieftain, Chief Ayo Adebanjo, not only proclaimed the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari a failure, he blamed the former two-term governor of Lagos State and frontline leader of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, for the emergence of Buhari as president in the historic 2015 presidential election.
According to Baba Adebanjo, “I warned Tinubu against supporting Buhari ahead of the 2015 presidential election. What is for Tinubu in this government? He has been sidelined. This government is all about Buhari. The greatest mistake made was for Yoruba to vote for Buhari.
The South-west is regretting voting for Buhari. Tinubu is regretting now – he and his supporters are now regretting helping Buhari to become president. It is Tinubu and all his supporters you should be asking: Are you regretting you helped to bring Buhari to power or you’re happy with his administration”?
Chief Adebanjo is absolutely right that Tinubu played a pivotal role in helping to shape the coalition as well as fashion the strategy that helped an opposition party to dethrone an incumbent government at the centre for the first time in Nigeria’s history.
There is no way the history of that epochal event in Nigeria’s political evolution can be told without Tinubu’s name enshrined in gold. But then, what explains the incomparable investment of Tinubu’s resources including time, political relationships, energy, passion, commitment and formidable reservoir of strategic expertise to facilitate the ascendancy of the APC and Buhari to power at the centre? Was it for self-serving interests as implied by Chief Adebanjo’s rhetorical question ‘What is for Tinubu in this government’? A cursory look at Tinubu’s political antecedents would surely suggest otherwise.
Even discounting the critical, and often existentially threatening, roles he played in the protracted pro-democracy struggles that helped usher in democratic governance in 1999, Tinubu has always been known to opt for the more arduous, tasking and challenging path in his defence of the rule of law, human rights, federalism and democracy in post – 1999 Nigeria. In 2003, for instance,
Tinubu was the only opposition governor standing in the South-west following the debacle that befell the then ruling Alliance for Democracy (AD) in the remaining five states of the region. Nothing would have been easier than for Tinubu to abandon the floundering ship of the AD and join the PDP behemoth that threatened to suffocate Nigeria in its one party grip at the time. It would have been the more convenient and certainly the more attractive choice in a pecuniary sense if material gain had been Tinubu’s primary motivation.
For 12 years after the 2003 electoral devastation suffered by his progressive political platform, the AD, in the South-west, Tinubu remained as constant as the northern star in the firmament of political opposition in Nigeria. He remained impervious to the admittedly enticing attraction of being part of the national cake-sharing gravy party at the opulent centre of the country’s politics. This was a temptation that most Nigerian politicians had always been unable to resist.
Tinubu remained a constant factor around which attempts to form viable opposition coalitions capable of wresting power at the centre revolved. He was in the thick of such political formations as the defunct Action Congress (AC), Advance Congress of Democrats (ACD) and Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) that made spirited but unsuccessful bids for power at the centre in 2007 and 2011 until the electoral triumph of 2015 through the APC.
This background shows that Tinubu’s thought and praxis in government have always been motivated by considerations larger, more expansive and altruistic than his personal interests, thus rendering Baba Adebanjo’s quip ‘What is for Tinubu in this government?’ redundant. The seismic change of guards at the centre in 2015 that Baba admits was largely the product of Tinubu’s exertions has had profoundly positive and irreversible implications for Nigeria’s political development whatever anyone may think of the performance of the Buhari administration so far.
It brought the progressives, no matter how loosely defined, to power at the centre for the first time in the country’s post-independence history. The 2015 political change of guards laid the historic precedent of an opposition party displacing an incumbent government at the federal level, a development which no doubt will have implications for future elections. Surely, Nigerian politics, particularly her elections, will never be the same again thanks to the gains of the 2015 polls.
Chief Adebanjo maintains that he advised Tinubu against supporting Buhari in the 2015 election and that could be true. What was the alternative to Buhari and the APC at the time? It was the continuation in office of the PDP government of President Goodluck Jonathan in all its gargantuan incompetence.
There is no credible reason to doubt that were Jonathan to have continued in office beyond 2015, the country would by now have collapsed. Incidentally, the likes of Baba Adebanjo jumped on the bandwagon of Jonathan’s National Conference in 2014, even when Tinubu had perceptively dismissed the exercise as a distraction at the time. Of course, there was nothing like restructuring on Dr. Jonathan’s mind and he simply kept the outcome of the conference under wraps even though he had no less than eight months to take concrete steps towards its actualization before his ouster from office through the polls.
It is difficult to understand what Tinubu and his supporters should regret about Buhari’s winning the 2015 election. Yes, Buhari was a military dictator in the past. But he contested and won election in a democratic dispensation. He has a fixed term in office and must seek a renewal of his mandate by the Nigerian people if he wants to continue in office beyond 2019.
Yes, Tinubu’s influence was critical to the support Buhari received particularly in the South-west in 2015. But that influence with the people did not come cheap. It was the product of a consistency in his politics and an often-demonstrated acumen that has enabled him win the trust and confidence of a wide cross section of the populace especially in the South-west. At the end of the day, we run a one-man, one-vote electoral system. Leaders may recommend to the people but it is the voters at the polls that ultimately determine the final outcome. It was so in 2015. It will be no less different in 2019. The electorate is in the final analysis king and there is little cause for alarm.
Said Baba Adebanjo, “If Tinubu had not gone into an alliance with Buhari, would we be in this position? Tinubu is the cause of Yoruba’s suffering now”. What exactly are the Yoruba suffering now that is worse than what they endured during the 16 years of the PDP in power and particularly the six years of Dr. Jonathan? What did the Jonathan administration do about the chronic infrastructure deficit in the South-west or the pathetic level of poverty and youth unemployment in the region?
In spite of whatever may be the perceptions of the Buhari administration’s disposition towards the South-west, at least illustrious sons and daughters of the region are manning critical national offices including the vice presidency as well as the Finance, Solid Minerals and Power, Works and Housing ministries among others. This may not be a guarantee or a sufficient condition for transformation in the region but it is a hopeful step forward.