Tinubu: Tribute to an icon at 65
By Babafemi Ojudu
Today, he stands as strong as the cedar of Lebanon, neither by his knowledge nor his wisdom alone, but also by his keen reflex, his courage and his bull-like determination to pursue a people-driven cause. It is rare in Nigerian politics, a country always in a state of flux, to have a man dominate the space for almost three decades. There are very few of leaders in this category. Some come like a comet, only to fizzle out like the foam from a detergent, some like a temporary whirlwind, only to be still at its short surge. Asiwaju Ahmed Bola Tinubu has been on the turf since 1990, unflinching, never waning, but increasing in strength and capacity by every minute of the day.
The history of the most reputable campaign for democracy in Nigeria will not be complete without chapters devoted to him, so also will the account of the movement to deepen democracy be incomplete without constant references to his name. Asiwaju has become a recurrent decimal on Nigerian political chess game, where he has assumed the status of the indomitable knight.
As a Senator under the platform of the Social Democratic Party,(SDP), Nigerian history would have been different if Asiwaju had collaborated with the then military junta to scuttle the will of the people and truncate their best expectations. He had offers. He had juicy plates put forth by the anti-democracy capons, being one of the most vociferous voices In the then National Assembly. Rather, he pitched tent with the masses, his private home serving as the launch pad of resistance against the uncountable arrows fired at the pro-democracy coalition, the only group at the time that stood against the tyrannical manipulations of the military class. Considering the enormous arsenal of the military and the marauding network of hawks, his decision at that time, like many of us did, was like standing bare-chested to face a fast moving train that was off track.
It was an epoch of killings and the nights of long knives. Asiwaju became one of the most remarkable figures in the campaign against the annulment of the June 12 Presidential election and the zeal for the enthronement of democracy. It was a battle for live and death. There were countless assassination attempts; there were immeasurable plots, having been singled out as one of the brain boxes of the movement. It was around this time that destiny brought us closer together and our relationship was sealed.
Meeting and working with a man in a period of national adversary, is always a relationship that one should treasure and preserve. Our meetings had to be conducted in the darkest recesses, under the trees, in the motor parks, on the shores of the Lagos beach, in the underground garage and sometimes inside the mosques or churches in the bid to avoid the prying nozzles of the enemies. It also required a high level of trust and confidence in each other. Betrayal of him as a leader would mean handing him over for treasonable charges.
Asiwaju thought me that when you believe in a cause that is just, there should be no going back. From him, I learnt more that you begin to see obstacles only when you take your eyes of your goal. Asiwaju has a will cast in iron, his determination is etched in stone and his clarity of purpose cannot be disputed. He is firm, resolute and dogged.
In the tortuous history of the 1990s, Asiwaju was convinced that the will of the people would triumph. His family was as at great risk. His businesses singled out for assault and meltdown, his finances isolated for state-sponsored attacks, his home raided and kept under deadly watch, but one thing that could not be taken away from him was his will.
In the campaign for democracy in Nigeria, he gave his flesh, his soul, his energy, his heart and the totality of his being. His personal resources were invested in the tough campaign against one of the most formidable military institutions in African history. Going into exile became the inevitable option. While abroad, the enemies kept on the pursuit, recruiting covert agents to strike life out of him. For us at the homestead, the heat had reached a boiling point with many seized on the streets, killed or thrown literarily into the lion’s den.
Raising a global anti-military campaign was not an easy task, especially when you have to do it with virtually no resources. The result was the enthronement of democracy in 1999. It is to the benefit of Nigerians that Asiwaju kept this zeal till date which has helped in many ways to transform Nigeria and institute eternal democratic ethos. It is to the credit of credible leaders like Asiwaju that the future of democracy in Nigeria was defended with their own sweat and blood, to the benefit of all today.
Since 1999, Nigeria has been squelching through difficult and muddy pathways. The progress may be slow, and the steps not too fast, but Nigeria is not moving backwards. The gains are enormous. For the first time in Nigerian history, there have been unimpeded political civilian-to-civilian transitions. For the first time in history, Nigerians have been making their choices without jackboot interventions.
Asiwaju’s determination to help sustain democracy is legendary. Within the contradictions of the democratic space, Asiwaju continues to stand out as a man of principle. It was no surprise that he was the only State Governor that did not lose the 2003 gubernatorial elections among all the Alliance for Democracy, (AD) State governors. He fought hard like a lion, against the enormous state machine of the Peoples Democratic Party, (PDP) and amidst the cynicism of his peers. The result was that almost all the topmost echelon of the ruling party relocated to Lagos, all eyes on him and all state machinery directed at bringing him unto his knees. He won the battle decisively and convincingly. Since then, he has become the tiny bone choking the throat of reactionary elements across the country.
I have always had course not to doubt Asiwaju’s deep sense of judgment. Nigeria by 2014 was almost going to the dogs. There was a meltdown. Fear and trembling held the nation in awe. Terrorism was at its prime. Suicide bombers ruled a part of the country. Nigerian slipped into the red light district of mourning and affliction. The ruling party was helpless and hopeless, except to browbeat the people and hide her incompetence under the cloak of bullying.
When the whistle was blown in 2014, the race seemed so long, the hill looked too high and the task too daunting. How could a new political coalition uproot a political party entrenched for 17 years? How could the mountain be moved? Asiwaju was again singled out as the albatross. He was hunted. His home was seen as the hotbed for radical ideas that would latter humble the ruling hegemony. Asiwaju became a pestilence, a ghost, that hunted the foes from dusk to dawn. Offers came for him to back down, promises made, if only he could leave the stage, but it was too late. His alliance with the masses could not be thrown into the thrashbin. He already had his gloves on, right in the ring, and would not have let down the enthusiastic but toil worn audience, whose liberation from the fetters of iron was tied to the victory against the sham regime. But at the end of the pitched battles, Nigerians, led by the likes of Asiwaju, broke a jinx in Nigeria by defeating the almighty Federal Government in a convincing battle that brought the elephant down on her kneel in one big bang.
Since 2015, hope has been reinstalled, despair fading, like the evening sun under the able leadership of President Mohammadu Buhari. At 65, I have no doubt in my mind that Nigerians still need and will continue to need the services of Asiwaju Ahmed Tinubu. His qualities are sterling, his intellect keen. His liberalism and sense of patriotism are not in doubt, so also is his passion for the renaissance of a great nation founded on justice, liberty and the dignity of man. As you mark your 65th birthday, we all wish you a long life, blessed with happiness and fulfillment of your desires. Happy birthday to Asiwaju, a fighting spirit whose life has been dedicated to the promotion of the most cherished values of democracy. Happy birthday to an uncommon hero.
Senator Babafemi Ojudu is Special Adviser on Political Matters in the Presidency