History was made yesterday morning when Bola Ahmed Tinubu, the former Governor of Lagos State, was declared the President-elect of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. The coalition he husbanded so meticulously in 2014 has endured and produced its second President within eight years. Despite the predictions of chaos and violent divorce that haunted the recent campaign, President Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress (APC), is going to hand over power to Asiwaju Tinubu of the APC. The friendship and political alliance between two unlikely men have produced a political legacy for our country that may define the future.
Tinubu is a man of colourful antecedents, who over the years, have built, with persistent industry, the largest political estate in Nigeria. When he first came up in the public space in 1991, he was one of the protégés of the late Major-General Shehu Musa Yar’Adua.
He joined some other politicians in Lagos, who were ready to challenge the political hegemony of Baba Kekere, the legendary Alhaji Lateef Jakande, first elected Governor of Lagos State. In the end, both Tinubu and Jakande became very close to Chief Moshood Abiola, the publisher of the Concord Group of Newspapers, who became the presidential candidate of the Social Democratic Party (SDP), one of the two parties founded and funded by the military regime of General Ibrahim Babangida.
Abiola won the June 12, 1993, presidential election, defeating his only opponent, the candidate of the National Republican Convention (NRC), Alhaji Bashir Tofa. Then Babangida annulled Abiola’s victory. That was when the Tinubu phenomenon was born.
On Monday this week, some of the leaders of the opposition parties, especially the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the Labour Party (LP), called for the annulment of Tinubu’s victory so that we can start anew, because they claimed the election was flawed. Anyone who is familiar with Nigerian history knows that annulment of the process is not the way forward. It is the road into the Forbidden Forest where imps and demons are in charge. I looked at the faces of all those in the forefront of these call for annulment and I realised that they were not with us during the struggle against military rule when we asked for the validation of Abiola’s victory. It was that struggle ultimately that has given us the Asiwaju Presidency.
Tinubu would be the first Yoruba person to win the presidency with the explicit support of his people. When General Olusegun Obasanjo became the Nigerian Head of State in February 1976, he came in as an accidental beneficiary of military politics following the assassination of General Murtala Muhammed.
When Chief Ernest Shonekan was appointed Head of the Interim National Government in 1993, the Yoruba rejected him. They wanted Abiola and regarded the Shonekan regime as illegal. When Obasanjo won the presidency in 1999 on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), it was without the Yoruba votes. The Yoruba at that election voted for Chief Olu Falae (now Kabiyesi Falae) who was the candidate of the Alliance for Democracy (AD) and the All Peoples Party (APP) coalition.
The call for the annulment of Tinubu’s victory by some leaders of the opposition is unfortunate. In 1999, there was a strong campaign among the political elites calling on the military regime of General Abdulsalami Abubakar to annul Obasanjo’s victory and extend the transition programme. This call also had a strong support from an influential and powerful section of the military. By this time too, Chief Falae, the main victim of Obasanjo’s victory, had bought the idea that the military should void the election and re-start the process. Few days after the election, Falae was at the Sheraton Hotel, Abuja, where he was to address a press conference where he would call on the military government to annul the presidential election.
Though Obasanjo was not the candidate supported by our group, the Idile Oodua, we were putting pressure on the leadership of Afenifere, led by our unforgettable leader, Senator Abraham Aderibigbe Adesanya, to regard Obasanjo’s victory as tolerable and better than the continuation of military rule. What Idile was opposed to was the emergence within Afenifere of elements who had played prominent parts in the deceitful military sponsored politics.
Obasanjo, who had given a wide berth to Afenifere after his return from prison, was not in that category. He had suffered during the Abacha dictatorship because of his principled stand against the regime, and for this, he spent more than three years in prison. Now he had been elected President. Three members of our group, led by Bayo Adenekan, an engineer, were sent to represent us in the Afenifere Caucus. The other two were Prince Dayo Adeyeye and Funminiyi Afuye, a barrister. They kept us abreast of happenings in the caucus.
Many of our colleagues believed that the triumph of Obasanjo meant the continuation of military rule by other means and they wanted him stopped. I disagreed with them. It was this kind of sentiment that was almost prevailing on Chief Falae who felt cheated because he claimed that the departing military regime was working towards a predetermined answer favouring Obasanjo. Therefore, he was to address the press conference in Abuja. My colleague, Dayo Adeyeye, was with him at that moment.
That morning at about 10:00 a.m., Otunba Solanke Onasanya, one of our most respected leaders in Afenifere, called me on the telephone. There was no GSM in Nigeria as at 1999, but I had landlines in my house. Onasanya warned that we were playing with fire because of the manner we were going to allow Obasanjo’s victory to be annulled. He said he had spoken to Falae but he remained adamant.
“Please talk to him; maybe he may listen to you.”
Otunba Onasanya gave me the phone number. I called and luckily it was Dayo Adeyeye who picked the call. I explained to him my discussion with Baba Onasanya. Adeyeye then invited Chief Falae to the phone. Falae was one of our frontline leaders during the struggle against military rule. He is courageous, cerebral, selfless and patriotic. He spent many months in detention under Abacha.
“You cannot call for the cancellation of the election,” I told him. “You can only say you reject the result and would challenge it in court.” He agreed with me. Adeyeye helped to re-write the press statement. The rest is history.
There is no doubt that this year’s election is far better than any we have ever witnessed. It was largely peaceful and orderly. Yet we see that the losers felt cheated because it was not perfect. They would have their day in court. That is the beauty of the system we are developing. It is not going to be perfect in four or eight years time, but we are growing. We should congratulate ourselves as Nigerians.
Tinubu has four years to prove to us that we are not wrong to give him a job he wanted so badly. He is highly qualified and truly experience. But he would soon find out that the Presidency of Nigeria is an adventure into a strange forest for which there are no guiding maps. His new job requires stamina, courage, wisdom, tolerance and persistence.
Our father, Kabiyesi Adeyinka Oyekan, the Oba of Lagos, installed Tinubu as the Asiwaju (leader) of Lagos. He is now the Asiwaju of Nigeria.