By Rotimi Fasan
The candidacy of Chief Bola Tinubu for the presidency in 2023 was bound to attract not just interest but also controversy. So far it has lived up to expectations.
Of all the presidential aspirants, barring former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, Tinubu’s candidacy was destined to elicit the most passionate reactions for the very reason that his has been what he has rightly called a ‘lifelong’ ambition.
He has been in the public eye far longer than any of the present aspirants to the office of president – again with the singular exception of Atiku Abubakar.
He was in the first generation of governors that ushered Nigeria into the Fourth Republic during which he served two four-year terms as governor of Lagos State. As a member then of the Alliance for Democracy, AD, he was one of five governors that championed political activities in the immediate post-military years in the Yoruba country.
While all the others were swept out of office in the political gale initiated by President Olusegun Obasanjo in his bid to take over and consolidate his hold on politics in the South West, in an election he had memorably called a do-or-die affair between 2004 and 2007, Tinubu became the sole survivor of the retired general’s barnstorming.
This, in addition to being the governor of Nigeria’s most prosperous state, the country’s commercial capital, further brought him into limelight and head-on collision with an Obasanjo that would be pacified by nothing but the total extirpation of all vestiges of AD as a political organisation and its cry for fiscal federalism and restructuring, among other anathema subjects of socio-political engineering, it propounded.
It was indeed a do-or-die affair between Tinubu and Obasanjo who did everything in his power to bring Lagos State under Tinubu to its knees, at one time withholding its allocation for 17 whole months.
During this time, Tinubu’s status, first earned as a pro-democracy advocate in the NADECO years, was amplified as he was lionised as the David punching above his weight in his often-bruising encounters with Obasanjo’s Goliath-like federal might. Since leaving office as governor in 2007, Tinubu has remained something of a kingmaker, installing and dethroning political proteges and associates, whose allegiance he commands with all attention.
One and a half decades (2007-2022) is quite a long time to have been out of power, either doing next to nothing or mapping one’s way back to power. During this time, two relative dark horses, Umar Yar’ Adua and Goodluck Jonathan, would emerge from obscurity into presidential limelight.
Yet Tinubu remained on the sideline. And just when it seemed it was his time to shine in 2014 having midwifed a political merger that would transform a perennial presidential aspirant in the person of Muhammadu Buhari into the seat of power, just when he could have taken the decisive step to Aguda House, a door away from the inviting ambience of Aso Rock Villa, then did Nigeria’s geopolitical permutations rear its ugly head to upend a well-nursed ambition to have been vice president if not the president.
To add insult to injury it was his own protégé, a latecomer to the game of power, Yemi Osinbajo, that was asked to take his place beside Muhammadu Buhari, the main beneficiary of the new party in town that had displaced and cut short the imagined 60-year reign of the Peoples Democratic Party.
Eight years since that occurrence, it is also the same Yemi Osinbajo that Tinubu’s opponents are bent on using against him in his quest to occupy Aso Villa. Up until about two weeks ago, Tinubu had chosen to tantalise Nigerians with details of his political plans, recoiling from making any definite statement on whether he would be standing for president or not.
Nigerians were left guessing, wondering when he would actually give voice to his ambition with an open declaration of intent. All of this until two weeks ago when the one who is putatively seen as the “main issue” in Nigerian politics took off his veneer and announced his interest in the presidency, post-2023.
He did this by making a beeline to Abuja to, like a dutiful political son, inform his political father of his covetous plan to replace him as the leader and godfather of the All Progressives Congress party. Since then, all hell has been let loose. The attacks have been coming fast, thick and furious as both foes and friends alike take their place behind his opponents and supporters.
Buhari who at the best of times feigns disinterest in the murky details of party politics has taken a back seat to watch from the sides as the hounds of hell go after Tinubu. He is father to all and father of none. He would welcome all aspirants with neither love nor hate even as Tinubu fights to keep afloat.
While many are predicting that Tinubu’s ambition to be president is dead on arrival, others are waxing lyrical about the brightness of his chances. He has continued his visits to the so-called owners of Nigeria and the attacks on him have not abated.
While he may yet hold out against the attacks of his opponents, the known hounds of the political realm, the unkindest cut may be that of his closest friends and associates that appear to be leading the charge against him.
They are not stopping at shredding his eligibility to contest the presidency, they are questioning the basis of his personhood, his social and political make-up as a Nigerian of verifiable identity. Some of these opponents have expressed open preference for some of Tinubu’s less influential associates who, in fact, owe their prominence or emergence in the political sphere to their association with the Jagaba Borgu.
The one whose loyalty has been most sorely tested in the last few days has been Vice President Yemi Osinbajo who many supporters of Bola Tinubu now choose to see as a traitor even for his strategic silence, saying nothing about his future plans concerning the presidency.
His supporters see him as a more viable candidate than his erstwhile political leader and he seems doomed anywhere he turns.
These cannot be the best of times for the vice president as he is pitched against Bola Tinubu. But who can yet say what the pregnant silence of Yemi Osinbajo portends? Does his silence not tell us that he may after all be in the same boat as Tinubu and that despite the loud denunciation of his political benefactor (never mind who made who, where and when), this is one bandwagon he cannot join.
And after all is said and done,Osinbajo may remain not just a close ally of Bola Tinubu but one of his staunchest supporters in the no-man’s land of the 2023 presidential contest.