By Raheem Ajayi
I write from the inside.
After reading “Dreams from My Father”, a book authored by Barack Obama, the 44th American President, I concluded, just before he was elected in 2008, that Obama made up his mind to become the US President as early as when he was just 8 years old. His, was a trajectory evidently influenced by a conscious disposition of a man determined to fulfil his dreams.
Nigeria’s President-elect, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu shares a similarity with Obama in this aspect of knowing what he wanted at an early age and pursuing it using everything humanly possible to accomplish his dream! No wonder he said it has been his lifelong ambition to become the President of Nigeria.
Typical of a man who knew what he wanted and the skills as well as exposure required to achieve it, Tinubu made sure he schooled at one of the most prestigious Universities in the World. Armed with a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration with Honours on June 22,1979 and majoring in accounting, Tinubu was ready to thread on the slippery political field.
Jagaban, as he is fondly called, took the political space by storm winning the Senate seat of Lagos West on the platform of Social Democratic Party (SDP) in 1992.
After serving as Governor for two terms of 8 years, Asiwaju became entrenched politically. He quickly became what you could call an “institution” in Lagos State, Nigeria’s commercial nerve centre. He didn’t just attain the status without some challenges but he was able to weather the storms. Asiwaju brought in younger people who midwifed his vision for a new Lagos with latitude for individual creativity which opened the State for more opportunities. Leaders of his party, Alliance for Democracy (AD) resisted his style of governance which was largely seen by the older generation as a way of relegating them. This led to a pseudo ideological struggle which climaxed into open hostilities.
I recall, with some nostalgia, an event which almost marred Asiwaju’s visit to Lagos State University (LASU) in 2000 where he was billed to commission some projects. Some anti-Tinubu forces had been mobilised to protest against him. Some pro-democracy groups held a meeting prior to the day when news filtered out about the plan to humiliate Tinubu. The meeting was at the instance of Olusegun Mayegun who was a doctoral student at the University of York at the time during one of his visits.
As the Secretary General of the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS Zone D), I was invited to the meeting. The meeting resolved not to allow Tinubu, who was part of our struggle for democracy, to be hounded and humiliated by anti-democratic forces. I was asked to lead a team of students to forestall and neutralise the planned protest. When Jagaban got to LASU campus, he virtually held my hand while he was ushered into the venue of the event.
After the event, we all went to Park Lane at Apapa for Pa Abraham Adesanya’s birthday. Late Bola Ige who delivered the keynote address on that day had said that youth should wait for their time. When it was time for him to speak, Tinubu countered Ige saying if the youth were not asked to wait before fighting for democracy, they shouldn’t be asked to wait for dividends of democracy. As he was leaving the event, he spotted me on his way out. He stopped to thank me for what we did for him earlier. I have long known Tinubu as a man who doesn’t shy away from acknowledging good even in a public arena.
Tinubu went ahead to win election for a second term in office largely on account of legacy projects he initiated which changed the face of Lagos. In fact, his performance during his first term in office made many of us in the pro-democracy groups to drum up support for him. Some of us played active roles in his reelection campaign team which was known as Independent Campaign Group (ICG). Fresh from the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC), I was appointed Planning, Research and Strategy Officer while Olusegun Mayegun and Kayode Ogundamisi were appointed the Deputy Director of the Directorate and Coordinator of Self-determination Groups respectively.
Following the defeat of all governors elected under the platform of AD except in Lagos State, Tinubu’s political influence began to take firm roots across Yoruba land. He would subsequently become the rallying point for elections across the states of the southwest with his proteges and allies elected governors as well as legislators at the federal and state levels. With Lagos firmly secured, Asiwaju’s political machinery became impregnable and if not invincible; with consequential ripple effect across the Southwest.
However, on February 25, 2023, Lagos invincibility was demystified and its impregnability shattered when Peter Obi of the Labour Party and his “Obidients” political movement defeated the entrenched structure of Asiwaju and APC during the Presidential election. The Labour Party scored 582, 454 while All Progressive Congress (APC) scored 572, 606. No one would have imagined that a relatively new political party like LP could defeat APC in Jagaban’s Lagos. Why was APC able to rally round to win Lagos that it lost three weeks earlier in the gubernatorial election? I will get there in a jiffy.
After Tinubu’s loss of the Presidential election in Lagos; it now occurred to many that Asiwaju could not have achieved all he did without some committed men and women who put great sacrifices to ensure that Jagaban attained such an enviable status in Nigeria’s political history.
One of such pillars of support behind Jagaban is the former two term Governor of Osun State and current Minister of the Interior, Rauf Aregbesola. A man from Marxist-Lenin political background, Aregbesola was like the de facto “Prime Minister” to Tinubu. Though his portfolio was Commissioner for Works and Infrastructure during Tinubu’s eight years as governor, Aregbesola was more of a coordinating Commissioner for the administration.
Aregbesola could be likened to what Nikolai Patrushev is to Vladimir Putin, the Russian President. Patrushev who has been secretary of the security council of Russia since 2008, a consultative body that works out the president’s decisions on national security affairs, is the most powerful person in that cabinet.
However, the relationship between Aregbesola and Tinubu went sour shortly after Aregbesola left office as governor of Osun State in 2018. Gboyega Oyetola who served as the Chief of Staff to Aregbesola succeeded his principal but political differences became irreconcilable. A “ghost” narrative which suggested that Aregbesola was reluctant to support Oyetola who is a relative to Tinubu emerged. This narrative was allowed to fester and a big wedge was created between Tinubu and Aregbesola on the one hand and Oyetola and Aregbesola on the other.
Most of the narratives that have shaped political discussions and contests have largely derived their strengths from this subterfuge. Those who created that narrative obviously did a very good job because it became so popular. However, when lies become the horses that ideas ride on, such would only last a while even if they make some people comfortable.
It was Liz Gilbert, an American journalist and author who retorted about this. “What is better: uncomfortable truth or comfortable lies? Every truth is a kindness, even if it makes others uncomfortable. Every untruth is an unkindness, even if it makes others comfortable.”
Unknown to many an incident occurred on August 8, 2017 that revealed Aregbesola’s choice of his successor. Aregbesola’s mother, Alhaja Saratu died on August 1, 2017 and her Fidau prayer came seven days after on August 8th. It was as if the son of the deceased chose that occasion to announce his Chief of Staff, Gboyega Oyetola as his preferred choice as his successor. Thus, it is an act of unkindness to turn facts on the head. There was no way Oyetola could have emerged a Governor if the incumbent, his principal, Aregbesola didn’t support him. In fact, he wouldn’t have won the primaries of his party, APC. This is because no matter how naive a sitting Governor is, he will not lose the primary of his party to anyone he doesn’t support.
It was the musician on that day, K1 De Ultimate (Wasiu Ayinde) who let the cat out of the bag. He was singing ” This is your Legacy Aregbesola, this is where we are going”. K1 was singing this and pointing to Oyetola who was dancing on the left side of Aregbesola while Alhaja Sherifat, Aregbesola’s wife was on the right. Many who got the drift were shocked. Sooner, many began to express disappointment. This is because the governorship candidate was to go to Osun West and Oyetola is from Osun Central. When confronted by some stakeholders, Aregbesola was reported to have revealed that his candidate was Oyetola even though Osun West deserved it. It turned out that Aregbesola had already instructed one of his proteges, Kolade or Korede (I am not sure of the right name) to assemble a team known as Legacy Group for Oyetola. The team had been working underground prior to that moment. K1 who sang about legacy at the Fidau prayer of Aregbesola’s mother apparently had an inkling about the group Aregbesola mandated his loyalists to put in place for Oyetola. Those who came up with the narrative of Aregbesola being reluctant to support Oyetola clearly had their own game plan. Their agenda might not have included Tinubu losing his Presidential election to the Labour party in Lagos but it eventually did. The rest, they say, is now history!
I know some might ask after reading this. What about in Ogun State where the incumbent, Senator Ibikunle Amosun, couldn’t deliver his preferred candidate at the primaries of his party, APC in 2019? The scenario is different, while the National Executive Council of APC under Adams Oshiomhole took the party away from the control of Amosun, Aregbesola was in total control of the party in Osun. The party was not divided and those who had an inkling that Aregbesola would not support them for Governor had either gone to Action Democratic Party (ADP) with Moshood Adeoti or Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to team up with Iyiola Omisore who is now the National Secretary of APC.
Ironically, Governor Dapo Abiodun, who was the beneficiary when the party was taken away from Amosun, repaid Tinubu by supporting Prof. Yemi Osinbajo who contested against Tinubu. That was why Tinubu was hard on Abiodun when he came to campaign in Abeokuta deriding Abiodun while reminding him how he (Tinubu) got him the ticket that made him Governor. Tinubu’s reference to Governor Abiodun as “Eleyi” will remain evergreen in the political lexicon of the Southwest.
Incidentally, Amosun who many would have thought would pay back Tinubu the same way during the Presidential Primaries gave his total support even when overtures were made to him from other tendencies. Amosun stepped down, openly to the consternation of many, and declared his support for Tinubu who eventually became the Presidential candidate of APC.
At Ake Palace, when he was welcomed back to Abeokuta by a mammoth crowd after the Presidential primaries, Amosun gave reasons for his withdrawal from the race. ” I want to be President of Nigeria no doubt, but my wanting to be President is just 20% and that 80% of it is that I want the Presidency to come to the Southwest. Lo and behold, Almighty God has answered that prayer and ultimately, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu who is our flag bearer will be the President of this great Nation, Nigeria”
Back to the scenario thrown up by Osun politics which created huge perception of disagreement between Tinubu and Aregbesola, the outcome of the March 18, 2023 governorship election in Lagos which reversed the defeat suffered by APC in Lagos State with 762,134 to LP’s 312,329 yet again re-enacted the influence of Rauf Aregbesola within the Tinubu’s political fold. Unlike in the Presidential election when LP led APC with over 10000 in Alimosho LGA seen as Tinubu’s political base, APC bounced back during the gubernatorial election leading with 46,000.
Undoubtedly, the success of APC in Alimosho LGA during the March 18 governorship election could be partly attributable to Rauf Aregbesola. Within three weeks, Aregbesola traversed the nooks and crannies of Lagos State to ensure victory for the re-election of Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu. Such intervention eloquently attested to the character of an Omoluabi irrespective of the ugly incident of the past.
Notwithstanding, credit should be given to Tinubu for his dexterity and ability to make a U turn when the need arises. As he is set to assume office as the President of Nigeria, Tinubu already has his job cut-out for him. I have no doubt he is up to the task. More importantly however, Tinubu knows those he can rely upon on account of their proven loyalty and consistency. Verifiable records of performance rather than opportunism should be looked out for if the real changes Nigerians crave for must be the focus of governance. I wish the incoming president the very best of luck!
Raheem Ajayi (firstname.lastname@example.org) writes from Imashayi in Yewa North Local Government area of Ogun State.