kemi Odebiyi: the Amazon who Saved Tinubu’s Political Career

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Adewale Edun

As Nigeria’s President elect, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, takes his oath of office on May 29, he would be standing on the shoulders of many giants as well as on the threshold of history. As a man who fought gallantly against establishments, Nigerians would be having as their leader an activist who not only funded the pro-democracy movement but also an active participant in the struggle for the entrenchment of civil rule.

Asiwaju’s heroics in the fight against anti-democratic forces have been documented, hence no need to dwell on that. However, his struggle to ensure adherence to democratic values and cultures even after the military’s departure needs to be appreciated.

In 1999, Tinubu emerged as one of the governors in the Southwest of Nigeria, an area exclusively controlled by Alliance for Democracy (AD). The Peoples Democratic Party, which was the ruling party, wanted to capture the six states of the Southwest under the control of AD. Many tactics including subterfuge and subtle forces were used to cajole the people of Southwest whose one of them was the President of the County.

President Olusegun Obasanjo of the ruling PDP was challenged to bring on board Yoruba people towards his reelection in 2003. Many, including serving governors believed that Obasanjo should be supported to win a second term. This became the prevailing slogan across the party lines in Yoruba land which later became the albatross of the governors. Since Obasanjo didn’t get the support of his kinsmen in 1999 and still went ahead and won, many reckoned that he should be supported.

While all the governors in the Southwest who were elected on the platform of AD agreed to work for Obasanjo’s reelection, Tinubu, who was the Governor of Lagos State disagreed with his colleagues. He went all out to fight for his political survival but was confronted with the Federal government forces including police and the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).

This period was known as the era of “do or die” politics as many undemocratic practices marred the electoral process. The INEC was culpable because of the intense pressure on it by the Federal Government and hence became biassed.

While INEC’s staff compromised in most parts of the Country especially in Southwest and AD governors lost their reelection to the ruling PDP, the Resident Electoral Commissioner in Lagos, Mrs. Kemi Odebiyi stood out and resisted the pressure. Mrs. Odebiyi who was married to late Senator Jonathan Odebiyi, the former leader of the Senate and deputy leader of Chief Obafemi Awolowo, ensured there was no electoral malpractice.

The victims of the do or die era who were rigged out include Governors Olusegun Osoba, Ogun, Lam Adesina, Oyo; Niyi Adebayo, Ekiti, Adefarati, Ondo and Bisi Akande of Osun.

The heroic efforts of Mrs. Odebiyi in the 2003 elections became a watershed and a defining moment for Tinubu’s political journey. But for the patriotic and courageous stance of that Yewa born woman, Tinubu’s political career would probably have ended prematurely like those of Osoba, Akande, Adefarati, Adesina and Adebayo.

Currently her son is the serving senator representing Ogun west senatorial district Sen. Tolu Odebiyi.

It would not be out of place if Asiwaju paid tribute to this amazon, a woman of courage and integrity in his acceptance speech on May 29th and many others who laboured and toiled for democracy and rule of law.

Adewale Edun wrote from Ibooro in Yewa North LGA of Ogun State

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