Tinubu’s Three Decades of Democratic Struggle


Kayode Oladele writes that the democratic pedigree of All Progressives Congress (APC) presidential flag bearer, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, stands him out as the best candidate to rule Nigeria come 2023

 I have a story to tell. It is one that is personal to me, unrelated to the rumours I have heard by word of mouth or on social media. This is my story of a Nigerian I have known for three decades.

I was thirteen years old in 1992, holed up in a boarding school in the newly created Kogi State, but still found ways to follow the exciting transition to democracy during this period. At that early age, I was a keen supporter of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and a progressive by default. It was an ideology passed through bloodline. Some of the SDP figures I admired during this transition period were Shehu Musa Yar’Adua, Silas Daniyan, Babagana Kingibe, Jonathan Zwingina, Dapo Sarumi, and then Chief Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola who came late into the party but took it by storm.

At this point and throughout the politics and drama of the Jos convention that produced MKO Abiola as the presidential candidate, I never heard of Bola Ahmed Tinubu. He was an SDP Senator but as a young boy in JSS3, I was more fascinated with names of Governors, presidential candidates, Senate President, Speaker and Chairmen of the two major political parties.

I was part of a generation that had never experienced democracy then, but strangely for me the 1993 electioneering campaign was a beauty to behold and experience. The annulment of that historic election hurt despite being too young to vote. It hurts so deeply I was helpless but still hopeful some patriotic Nigerians could help reclaim Abiola’s mandate of hope from Babangida and later Abacha. Patriotic Nigerians did show up and Bola Tinubu was one of them. Here began my story of the Bola  Tinubu I know.

Pro-Democracy Activism

In the months and years following the annulment of the 1993 presidential election, my late father would not spend a day without reading newspapers and would not spend a week without devouring the weekly newsletters. As he got done with one, I picked it to read. And as I read of the political struggles to reclaim the people’s mandate, the Epetedo Declaration, the arrests, clampdown on innocent protesters by the military and then Abiola’s incarceration, Bola Tinubu’s name and voice continuously came through.

It took me no time to add him to my list of those patriotic Nigerians I was looking for, joining Pa Anthony Enahoro, Professor Wole Soyinka, Dan Suleiman, among many others. As most of them moved to exile to escape the brutality of the military, I jubilated, knowing fully well they were safe to continue the fight. I was that happy when I read in the news that Bola Tinubu made it too.

The days of Abacha in power were dark, as dark as many nights without electricity in my village in Kogi State. Our only beacon of hope during this period was Radio Kudirat named after MKO Abiola’s wife who had been assassinated by the military regime. My father must listen to Radio Kudirat every night at around 10pm. He would tune and tune until he got the underground radio channel playing Fela’s revolutionary music to welcome us. I would join him to listen to the brave exploits of our pro-democracy leaders home and abroad. Sometimes the audio would be so poor he would have to place the transistor radio close to his ear and then relay the information to me. Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s name wasmentioned multiple times on Radio Kudirat over the years we tuned in. He was with NADECO in exile, championing and funding the cause of pro-democracy and the battle to reclaim Abiola’s mandate. It was not a two-week struggle. It lasted four years until Abacha and Abiola died in 1998. By this time, I was at the end of my teenage years and had come to know Bola Ahmed Tinubu, the pro-democracy activist, for four years.

Abacha died and Abdulsalami Abubakar took his place, promising a return to democracy in a year and creating the enabling environment for our pro-democracy fighters to return from exile. A promise he would keep. The joy of seeing them return was incredible. Bola Ahmed Tinubu was one of them and in no time joined the political process that would lead to the formation of Alliance for Democracy, a progressive party based on same ideology that late Chief Obafemi Awolowo lived for. He would later emerge as the Alliance for Democracy’s Governorship Candidate in Lagos State

Bola Tinubu’s victory was the most celebrated by me because he was the only exiled Pro-Democracy fighter elected Governor. He, among many others in NADECO, deserved to be elected to public offices, including that of the Presidency.

Nobody can erase the story of Bola Tinubu’s frontline fight for democracy between 1993 to 1999. It was a heroic story many of my generation experienced first-hand.

Tinubu’s fight for democracy and the drive to recognize the heroes of that struggle would continue for 19 years until the Federal Government moved Democracy Day to June 12 and the winner of the June 12, 1993, presidential election formally awarded the highest honour in the land. This would not have happened without Bola Tinubu.

The ruling party is APC, and he was a co-founder. It was a great victory for democracy and pride for the Abiola family who have been scarred not only by the deaths of their beloved parents but also by the disrespect and disregard suffered in the hands of those who profited from this tragedy.

On this historic occasion, a final closure was brought to a democratic struggle that had been active for 25 years! Who can last that long, sustaining the fight without wavering? That is the Bola Ahmed Tinubu I know.

The fight for true federalism and good governance

At the beginning of the Fourth republic, I was in Kaduna on an industrial attachment, and I had no reason to visit or follow events in Lagos. But Bola  Tinubu ensured Lagos took the front page in Nigeria for the next eight years. I was old enough to see Tinubu take on a new battle for true federalism and good governance. It was a tough one, the opponent being a former military ruler who had never functioned in a democratic setting and was still raw in dictatorial tendencies. The battle was fought on many fronts – Independent power generation, creation of local development areas, Onshore/Offshore Dichotomy, funding for the dilapidated federal infrastructure in Lagos State. Obasanjo and PDP ensured Lagos was punished for it by withholding the much-needed federal allocations. But Tinubu would maintain the same fighting spirit of the pro-democracy years and won all the battles.

I moved to Lagos in 2006, towards the tail end of Tinubu’s second term in office. The last seven years had witnessed major reforms and legacy projects in Lagos, and I was delighted to see them in person. LAWMA was reformed and I could see their trucks picking up trash even in faraway Ipaja and sweepers diligently cleaning Lagos streets with dignity. LAMATA had been established and driving the Bus transportation reform.

LASTMA was caging the traffic madness on Lagos roads. I saw the remodelled public schools, especially the Millennium School on the Ojodu to Ogba road. As of 2006, Lagos state had maintained unbroken record of free education in public schools and consistently paid WAEC fees of all SS3 students in Lagos without discrimination based on religion or ethnicity.

This is the Lagos Tinubu remodelled and was about to handover to his successor in 2007. Unlike other states, Lagos under Tinubu had refused to sack non-indigenes in its public service or send them back to their respective states of origin. Unlike other Governors, Tinubu had a cabinet of indigenes and non-indigenes including other tribes outside his Yoruba race. Tinubu also led the way nationally in returning mission schools back to their original owners – Catholic, Methodist, Baptist, Anglican. These are the foundations of Lagos of today, a thriving city of all tribes and religions, isolated from Nigeria’s extreme level of insecurity and tribal warfare.

In 2007, Babatunde Raji Fashola became Governor. It was another victory for Tinubu despite intense, initial rejections of the Fashola candidacy. I watched on television as Tinubu made case for Fashola on many platforms including his own party, now Action Congress. There were agitations from the Christian community. Why should another Muslim succeed Tinubu? There was also a loud outcry of imposition, but Tinubu made his points and worked for victory in the general election.

Fashola made it to Alausa, and all critics watched in wonderment as he took off on the tarmac Bola Ahmed Tinubu had laid for eight years.

Enough has been said about Lagos enjoying the investments made by the Federal Government when it was a federal capital.  Do I have to remind myself that the federal government ran away from the rot in Lagos to start a new life in Abuja as far back as 1992?

I have followed governance in Lagos closely since 1999 when Bola Tinubu became Governor and I have now lived in Lagos for 16 years to reach a conclusion on this debate. Tinubu was handed an investment that was dwindling in value and yielding no returns. He restructured the investment and invested more in it. Today, the returns on investments are coming in droves, making Lagos the fourth Largest Economy in Africa and the second in West Africa.

Bola Tinubu exited public office in 2007, leaving behind a legacy of bruising fights and victories for true federalism and good governance.

Commitment to Progressive Politics

There have been debates about the lack of ideology in Nigeria’s politics and references are made to defections across party lines. One may need to look deeply to see that there are a few who have defined their ideology and stuck to it in all seasons.

Bola Tinubu is one of them, a true progressive that has never crossed to the right wing of the ideological divide.

In the botched third republic, Bola Tinubu was with the Social Democratic Party which was grounded in the progressive ideology.

In the Fourth republic, he was with Alliance for Democracy, also a progressive party. As Governor of Lagos State, the progressive ideology was at the core of governance and has been sustained for an unbroken period of 23 years.

He also created the Action Congress, a progressive party which later became the Action Congress of Nigeria, yet another progressive party.

And he was the mastermind of the biggest merger of progressives in Nigeria’s democratic history, the All Progressives Congress in 2014.

Road to 2023 Presidential Election

The outcome of the most brutal presidential primaries in the Fourth republic once again confirmed Bola Tinubu as that political figure I have always known for courage.

Now in his 70’s while I am in my 40’s with a successful career in the private sector, Bola Tinubu has become the most formidable political figure in Nigeria. It was never served to him A la carte. It was 30 years of democratic struggles and political networking.

Never in our democracy have we seen a politician without a public office convincingly win the presidential primaries of a ruling party, in a contest that had an incumbent Vice President, incumbent Governors, members of the Federal Executive Council and Senators.

Bola Tinubu broke a new record many would not admit. A bigger battle is coming in 2023, and I look forward to it with a renewed hope of 1993.

Bola Tinubu deserves this same spot where late Chief Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola was standing in 1993.

Like Abiola, he won a brutal presidential primary against all odds. Like Abiola, he chose a formidable Muslim running mate in Kashim Shettima from the minority Kanuri tribe in Borno. Like Abiola, he has gone for an all Muslim ticket. Like Abiola, he is facing criticism for the same faith ticket he has chosen. I was old enough in 1993 to remember the rumours about Abiola sinking a ship load of bibles in the Atlantic ocean to stop the spread of the gospel in Nigeria. Yet he won. Like Abiola, Tinubu is poised to win the 2023 Presidential Elections. This time the hope of 1993 shall be fulfilled in 2023 when that handover is finally done on May 29, 2023. No annulment and no death foreseen by God’s grace.

To secure victory for this same faith ticket, I hope Christians like me will acknowledge that there is no greater religious tolerance than having a Christian wife and partner for over 40 years. I hope Christians like me will remember how Bola Tinubu returned the Christian mission schools back to the Churches despite genuine concerns and reservations from the Muslim community.

I hope non-Yorubas will acknowledge how Tinubu continued to make Lagos the land of equal opportunities for all tribes and faith when he had the option to turn it to a tribal Yoruba state in 1999 as the governor with unfettered powers to do so. He chose the path of nationalism and inclusion, and Lagos is better for it. I hope the people reward him for all these, despite his shortcomings which we all have as humans.

I have never had a personal encounter with Asiwaju Tinubu. I wish I have. My apologies for disappointing those who were looking for scoops or spectacular stories of my encounters with him. I have only been privileged to live in his time and experience his politics and approach to governance in the last three decades. This is enough for me to support him like many others who have similar stories to share.

I hope the undecided can find some truth in my story to help shift their votes to Tinubu in the coming elections.

Nigeria will achieve greatness with him in the saddle.

-Oladele writes from Lagos



Source: This Day Live

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