By Uche Ugboajah
The strongman and leader of South-West politics, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, has been at the receiving end of all manner of attacks in the past few days, including from members of his own political party, the All Progressives Congress (APC). The attacks are coming not only from those who hate him, those who secretly admire his guts, those who fear him, but also from those who have been eating from him for a long time. But what exactly did Tinubu do to warrant the kind of bile that has been lately unleashed on him?
The offence of the former governor was that he publicly – for the first time – let the world hear exclusively from him what already was no longer news even in the beer parlour, the story of the becoming of President Buhari. Yes, who does not know how Tinubu together with a few others paved the way for General Muhammadu Buhari already termed a “serial loser” by the media, to become Nigeria’s president in 2015.
I have read and heard many people ask, what did Tinubu do for Buhari in 2015? Well, even President Buhari himself, I believe, will not in good conscience follow that thought pattern. Yes, the Jagaban cannot claim to have solely enthroned Buhari in 2015, but he showed the pathway and led from the front. Even more significant is the fact that many of those in the South-West struggling now to harvest the glory of 2015 with Tinubu, were there not as Buhari’s supporters, but simply as Tinubu’s followers.
Lest we forget, Tinubu did not just provide the platform and possibly a large chunk of cash that enabled Buhari and APC to defeat a sitting President, he continued to support the Buhari presidency even when it amounted to self-immolation. Those political hounds now out in the boulevard with knives baying for the blood of Asiwaju should just look back and see how Tinubu, even at personal cost, had done his best in bringing stability to the government he helped bring to power seven years ago.
At the most critical moments in the life of the Buhari administration, who was there to provide the needed and critical stabilizing support of the South-West region when it seemed that all the other zones of the country especially, the North-Central, the South-East and the South-South, had decidedly turned their back on the President? Tinubu it was, of course. Yes, the most obvious and indeed justified criticism of the Buhari presidency is its brazen mismanagement of the nation’s diversity. Buhari has been accused of being too much of a Fulani man rather than being the Nigerian president and this disposition plays out poignantly in his many appointments and even in the siting of projects across Nigeria since 2015.
Let us take for instance the appointments in the security sector of the country, which has left out an important swathe of the country, the South-East, under Buhari. Ordinarily, you would have expected a federalist like Bola Ahmed Tinubu to speak out or speak up and tell the president that the essence of federalism is for each segment of the federation to see a little of itself in the bigger picture frame of the country. Tinubu, before his association with Buhari, would not have stomached the deliberate northernization of the country’s security council by President Buhari. But Tinubu chose to be silent at this anomaly maybe because of friendship, personal loyalty and support for the President. Or maybe out of selfish interest now couched as “lifelong ambition.”
Second, when Buhari showed his hand early in 2015 by letting Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu know that he was just one of the “national leaders of the party,” not the National Leader, he simply walked away without a whimper. Indeed, the Buhari presidency carried on in its first term as if Tinubu did not exist until the reality of the reelection dawned on them. Then, the presidency realized how important Asiwaju was and started courting him again. Even Tinubu’s wife, Senator Remi Tinubu, could not hide her disappointment on the way her husband was “trashed” just like a filthy rag after all he did to help Buhari become president. “He was campaigning, I did too. We were running three campaigns in my house. And for him to be trashed like that? But I saw somebody who has love for this country. I hate to speak because when I stand in the front of God, I don’t want to, because of this man, go to hell. Occasionally, I would chip in and I would say, ‘You’re still helping out? Why are you helping out?’ He would say, ‘This country matters to me more,’” Tinubu’s wife reportedly told the media.
Despite the humiliation Tinubu again led the charge in 2019 for the president’s reelection. He could have pitched tent with his good friend, Atiku Abubakar, who could easily have won had Tinubu supported him against President Buhari. Again, when it seemed that the South-West, and indeed the rest of the country, had taken a position against the Fulani herdsmen because of the activities of some criminal herders, strangely, Tinubu appeared to be the only man standing behind Buhari and the Fulanis demanding that criminals, rather than an ethnic group, should be dealt with for who they are. Remember also the #EndSARS protests, which President Buhari wrongly called a “coup by young people to remove him from office.” Although the protests were targeted at ending police brutality and bad governance, it could have ended anyways without the intervention of people like Tinubu.
You cannot dismiss Tinubu’s unmistakable loyalty to President Buhari and the APC since 2015 as mere pursuit of personal interest to achieve his lifelong ambition. If so, there wouldn't have been any need for Asiwaju to mortally injure himself on many occasions. When Tinubu made that famous “where are the cows” comment when the daughter of Afenifere leader, Pa Reuben Fasoranti, was murdered, he left an indelible scare on himself and lost thousands, if not millions, of supporters in Yorubaland. When Tinubu ditched the youths in Lagos to support Buhari’s government during the #EndSARS protests, he gave away a critical segment of the population that made him leader of the South-West.
Yes, what happened in Abeokuta a few days ago with Tinubu was just a slip; one of those elderly moments. Even Buhari has had his own big share of those moments. Remember Ondo about three years ago when he told the crowd how they (APC) won in Osun State by means of a “remote control.” And it was expected because Tinubu has borne so much humiliation, unrequited kindness, one-sided friendship and disloyalty from those who can be rightly called his beneficiaries. Maybe, in pursuing this lifelong ambition, he has edited himself so much so that people cannot recognize the real Tinubu again. In a way Bola Tinubu now looks like Manchester United - without his signature identity, trying so hard to be what he is not.
Although it is not clear who will emerge victorious at the APC presidential primary, what is clear though are those who will not emerge. Sadly, Tinubu may be on top of this list. In the event Tinubu is elbowed out by Buhari and his men, let him rest assured that nobody, not even Buhari, can “erase him from history.” If Tinubu looks deeper and sees an unfolding movement of young people thirsting for good governance across the land, and plays his card well after his impending loss, he may still end up as the father of a new Nigeria. That way, he will no longer worry about what is written about him in history. He will have the chance to write the history himself.
(Ugboajah, a political scientist, is the editor-in-chief of Ikengaonline)