The Tinubu timelines in Nigeria’s politics
His election as governor of Lagos State in January 1999 was not the first electoral victory of the man who was later to become Asiwaju of Lagos and Jagaban of Borgu Kingdom, Alhaji Bola Ahmed Adekunle Tinubu.
Prior to holding that executive office, Tinubu was elected to represent Lagos West Senatorial District in the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria on the platform of Social Democratic Party (SDP). That was during the short-lived Nigeria’s third republic.
But it was actually his election as Lagos State governor that paved the way to the manifestation of the sterling leadership qualities that have defined the Tinubu outline in Nigeria politics. At his election, perhaps based on his past political associations and exploits, the new governor appeared very clear-headed and clear-minded about the expectations and challenges of his office.
Evidence that His Excellency, the 12th Governor of Lagos State knew what he was elected to do was conveyed in a rich prose in his inaugural address, which he summed up with this outline: “My good people of Lagos State, as the new torch-bearers of hope, we will be required to break ground and brave path, and with your support and cooperation, we shall overcome.”
True to his prediction, Tinubu was to overcome, having earned the goodwill and support of the people through responsible performance of his functions as executive governor. He achieved that feat not only by breaking new grounds, but also braving all odds to emerge as the political torchbearer of Lagos State, nay Southwest of Nigeria.
Foundation For Good Governance
It could be safely argued that it was within Governor Tinubu’s first term in office- the period spanning 1999 through 2003- that the foundation of good governance for which Lagos has become renowned was laid. The essential pillars of the superstructure, including the infrastructure, became noticeable during that period.
As he pursued ambitious programmes in Roads, Housing and Education, the governor carried out the much-needed reforms in the civil service, particularly in the area of dispensation of justice. The innovation of Alternative Dispute Resolution, which gained currency in the Lagos State Judicial system, stands out as one of the many torch-bearing initiatives that took root in the Tinubu dispensation.
It has been noted by experts that the existence and pre-eminence of the legislature signposts every durable constitutional democracy. Apart from the mutually beneficial close-knit relationship between the Executive and the Legislative arms during Tinubu’s tenure, which could be excused on his legislative experience, the governor brought his understanding of democracy to bear.
Tinubu operated on the prism that without the people element or lack of inclusion, democracy could unwittingly become the tyranny of those in authority. And to raise the ideal of inclusion a notch higher, he made it a part of his mandate to hold periodic interface with members of the fourth estate, the gatekeepers of the media of mass communication.
By facilitating the interactions with journalists, who derive their mandate from their social contract with the people, the governor was able to factor in the unadulterated feedback that helped him to blend his vision with practical solutions that resonated with the masses.
Perhaps it could be because of Tinubu’s self-confidence and determination to serve the people with an open mind that he was not afraid to engage, knowing that because iron sharpens iron, with the interchange of ideas, even unrestrained critique of strategies; public policies could be made to serve popular needs.
The creation of the Local Council Development Areas (LCDAs) in the densely populated metropolitan Lagos was part of the newfound approach of expanding popular participation in the running of the affairs of the state.
And as he weathered the storms that attended that brave decision to bring governance closer to the people, Tinubu began to advocate for a functional federal system of government at the centre that would greatly reduce the top-heaviness of Nigeria’s federal governance structure.
His advocacy for fiscal federalism captured national attention, but benumbed by its federal might, the then ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) interpreted the campaign as part of opposition antics to court public sympathy.
It was therefore in his principled stance against the creeping tyranny of procured majority, which the terribly flawed elections produced, that Tinubu gained traction on the drive to expand his political base. His efforts paid off because some of the states, which the ruling party captured in 2003 from the Southwest through guile and gambit, were recovered.
Having established a very effective synergy among the various institutions of government, community based organisations and professional groups, Tinubu created enough legroom for himself so as to navigate the political waters of the state and the nation.
Assault On Flawed Electoral Processes
By May 29, 2007, Governor Tinubu served out his second and final term in office as prescribed by the constitution. The experiences he garnered within that preceding eight years were to be his guide in search of an enduring democratic practice in Nigeria.
Of remarkable importance is the fact that the attempt to supplant his mandate in 2003 and inferences from the globally acknowledged flaws in the 2007 election combined to motivate Tinubu to support the search for electoral reforms in the country.
All indicators pointed to the possibility that there was a clever attempt to obviate democracy in the country, because the 2007 General Elections exposed the keenness and sheer braggadocio of the ruling elite in the perpetration of electoral malfeasance. Compromise of electronic components, defalcation of records and manipulation of processes to generate false results became commonplace.
The election was so massively rigged that even the greatest beneficiary, the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, acknowledged that it did not simulate international standard, not to talk of meeting it.
While the former Vice President Atiku Abubakar and a former head of state, General Muhammadu Buhari, who contested the election respectively on the platforms of Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) and All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP), challenged the Yar’Adua’s landslide victory at the tribunal, Tinubu stoked conversations for improving the credibility of elections.
Of course the experience of his 2003 re-election battle, in which the name of Engineer Funsho Williams, had already started trending on the internet even before the conclusion of the process, must have convinced the former Lagos State governor that unless something was done urgently to clean the Augean stale, elections could torpedo Nigeria’s fledgling democracy.
To make matters worse, the judiciary, which was looked up to as the last hope of the oppressed and dispossessed masses failed to invalidate the election that awarded 70 per cent of the votes cast to the winner in an election with three strong contending candidates.
While other stakeholders were engaged in hand wringing despondency and jumpiness, Tinubu, seemly reflecting on the imperatives of the symbolic broken chain insignia, put on his thinking cap. He must have come to the inevitable conclusion that two missing links, cogent and stout political parties as well as institutional framework to monitoring electoral process, must be provided to serve as a wedge against the slide of the nation’s democracy.
Expectedly the judiciary, hiding its face like the ostrich in the otiose English legal system that is mostly accusatory than adjudicatory, dismissed the petitions against the controversial presidential election.
But just as the justice delivery system traveled with the speed of a snail to determine the various contestations against the election, Tinubu’s advocacy for wider stakeholder involvement began to bear fruit, because two years after the hugely flawed 2007 election, the Coalition of Democrats for Electoral Reform (CODER) was born.
In its mission statement, the group expressed the belief that “with the dynamic trends in the democratic evolution of Nigeria, CODER can no longer be a onetime coalition, but an institution serving as the conscience of the country’s democratic institutions.”
Yet, within that same 2009, Tinubu’s credentials as a democrat was put into serious question within the fold of ACN following internal contestation whether his immediate successor, Governor Babatunde Raji Fashola, should seek another term in office as governor or yield for another party loyal chieftain.
While the Lagos State chapter roiled over whether Fashola should get the party’s ticket to contest the 2011 governorship poll or not, Tinubu did not allow the distractions to slow his search for a pathway towards strengthening Nigeria’s political parties to make them competitive and serve as a bulwark against the bullish rigging that manifested in the 2007 poll.
He carried his campaign and advocacy for improved electoral processes further by calling for the religious implementation of the Justice Mohammed Uwais’ Committee Report so that Nigeria could witness a replay of similar credibility and fidelity that defined the 1993 presidential election that produced Chief M. K. O. Abiola as presumed winner.
However it was Tinubu’s mobilization of ideas and contacts for the welding of fringe opposition platforms into a mega-party that received popular acclaim among politicians of the progressive bent.
Unfortunately the demise of President Yar’Adua in office on May 5, 2010 slowed down Tinubu’s march for the evolution of two strong political parties that could curb the excesses of one-party absolutism. The presidential accident threw up the fresh face of a chance president in the person of Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, the former Vice President, to contest the 2011 election as an incumbent.
Buoyed by the fresh face on the presidential seat, Nigerians, who had begun to show latent aversion to PDP’s garrison behaviour in electoral matters, resolved to give the party the benefit of the doubt. Sensing the thaw in national misgivings against the ruling party, it was obvious to Tinubu that the indicators did not approve of a possible electoral victory against the PDP Leviathan.
Change, Of Focus/Leadership
EIGHT years after he left office as governor, Tinubu succeeded in pulling off a historical brace: The merger of political parties happened, the mega party, named All Progressives Congress (APC), succeeded in dethroning the almighty PDP from the zenith of political power after 16 years of the country’s democracy.
To this day, students of political history are astounded by the Nigerian example, how the vision of one man was able to alter the political behaviours and idiosyncrasies of the people. A combination of ideological messaging and sloganeering helped to destabilize the former ruling party.
However, not minding his contributions to the political engineering that produced APC and recorded the electoral victory, it was obvious that Tinubu and other like-minds that were in the fore front of the political battle against the right wing political tendencies, were systematically sidelined.
With that new development, which seemed to be largely unforeseen or anticipated, the challenge of delivering on the mandate was exacerbated by the bifurcation of focus and leadership style.
Consequently, the Tinubu idea of constant stakeholder engagement and periodic evaluation of processes and strategies did not feature in the newfound victory of the former opposition elements.
But, like a tireless and visionary Argonaut, Tinubu has continued to advocate for a more robust political platforms as the lever for sustaining the democratic promise of good governance. His recent letter to APC stakeholders at the height of attempted leadership insurrection in the party, conveyed the essential ideas that drive Tinubu’s politics.
He reminded his party about the founding principles of APC, saying: “We built the party because we saw it as perhaps the only enduring hope to bring progressive governance to this nation.”
Tinubu’s long term ally and former colleague in the class of 1999 state governors, Akinrogun Segun Osoba, looking back at the Tinubu’s timeline in politics, said, “If you look at Nigeria, there is no politician with an accurate and consistence succession arrangements like the national leader of APC and that is what stands Lagos State out among others in terms of development and progress in the last 21 years since Nigeria returned to democratic rule.”
But as if echoing the scriptures that the Wisdom of Solomon has nothing to do with the age of Methuselah, Bashorun Reuben Olorunfunmi stressed that both old and young look to Tinubu for leadership, because “leadership is not tied to age.”
Yet as leader, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, who turns 68 years today, summed up what should be his admonition to leaders in his May 29, 1999 inaugural speech, when he declared: “As flag-bearers, we are not unmindful of the heavy burden and responsibility that we carry. We are not unmindful of the huge expectations of our people, young and old, man and woman, able and disabled. Nor are we unmindful of the misery and poverty that the generality of our people have had to endure almost forty years after Independence.
“Our goal, as the Prophet of old commands, is to lighten the burden of our people, alleviating poverty by providing jobs for our youths, houses, secure homes, water, good roads and creating efficient mass transportation system, industrial development and providing life more abundant for our people.”
On such a day like this, The Guardian newspapers, notably the flagship of Nigeria’s print journalism, decided to celebrate the man whose political life mirrors Nigeria’s long and chequered path to constitutional democracy.