Every March 29 his disciples gather for an intellectual banquet. This year’s feast attracted President Muhammadu Buhari, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo and an army of APC faithful. Unlike the other nine years where seminal topics on democracy were discussed, this year’s Ahmed Bola Tinubu Colloquium, held to mark his 66th birthday, was expectedly devoted to PDP bashing. And they thoroughly did it with relish. This piece is, however, not about what was discussed at the colloquium. It is about an aspect of this enigma which this writer finds commendable and worthy of study.
Love him or hate him, there’s something about this former governor of Lagos State that you cannot but notice. Forget the stories of corruption around him. His political leadership and sagacity should interest political and leadership scholars.
Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, in my humble view, leads the pack of the most ‘successful’ politicians in Nigeria today. To some, this assertion may appear controversial but it fits into my comparative studies about the politics and development of South East and South West. A profound thinker and political strategist, he has remained relevant on the political scene, both in opposition and in power. From his NADECO days to the formation of Alliance for Democracy (AD), to Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) and All Progressive Congress (APC), the Jagaban of Borgu kingdom has galvanised and inspired an army of passionate loyalists. Using Lagos as his canvas, he fiercely fought for and won the political hearts of the majority of South West. With successes recorded in the South West, he successfully built a formidable national coalition that elected President Muhammadu Buhari in 2015 under the banner of APC. His coalition ousted a sitting president, a rare feat in African political history. I am more interested in his uncanny ability to identify and raise talents. He has produced a good number of ‘graduates’ from the Tinubu School of Political Leadership. Here’s a sampler:
Prof Yemi Osinbajo (SA), was his Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice. He is today, Nigeria’s Vice President. Rauf Aregbesola was Tinubu’s Commissioner for Works. Today, he is serving his second tenure as Governor of Osun State.
Babatunde Raji Fashola (SAN) was Tinubu’s Chief of Staff and successor in office. Forget the public view of their relationship now, Fashola is today Nigeria’s Minister of Power, Works and Housing. Governor Akinwumni Ambode was his accountant general. We were witnesses to the subtle struggle between him and Fashola over Ambode. In the end he easily prevailed. Alhaji Lai Mohammed, Buhari’s controversial Minister of Information and Culture, was Tinubu’s first Chief of Staff. Babatunde Fowler was appointed by Tinubu as Chairman of the Lagos State Internal Revenue Service. Today, he is the Executive Chairman of the Federal Inland Revenue Service. And many more in not too visible positions. In Lagos State today, after his experience with Femi Pedro, there’s a ‘rule’ influenced by the Jagaban that deputy governorship position is now reserved for women. And Lagos deputy governors are never idle; they are assigned a ministry, notably education, to supervise.
At the National Assembly, there are a good number of his ‘graduates’ who have occupied and some are still occupying seats till today. Since 1999, the Tinubu camp has produced almost 98 per cent of the members of the National Assembly from South West, which include his wife. The fiery politician is, perhaps, the only member of the Class of 1999 governors who has what could pass for a movement. His contemporaries in the South East are Dr. Chinwoke Mbadinuju, Dr. Chris Ngige (Anambra), Achike Udenwa (Imo), Orji Uzor Kalu (Abia), Dr. Chimaroke Nnamani (Enugu) and Dr. Sam Egwu (Ebonyi). Why was it difficult for any of these governors to achieve Tinubu’s feat in the South East? Why did they not raise an army of passionate loyalists like Tinubu did in South West? Why has it been difficult to build one dominant political block in the South East as it was in the days of Nnamdi Azikiwe? And many more questions.
Tinubu’s pragmatism, doggedness and ability to inspire a committed followership is seriously needed in the South East. It has been said that the hallmark of a true leader is not just the ability to rule well but also the ability to nurture and groom successors. Tinubu has, in my view, done well in this area. I do not think that other geopolitical zones are that lucky, with South East as the worst hit with leadership crises. From Abia to Imo, Ebonyi, Enugu and Anambra states, it’s the same unending fight between political ‘godfathers and godsons’.
With his People’s Progressive Alliance (PPA), Orji Uzor Kalu tried to galvanise new leadership and followership but lost steam midway when the federal forces were rallied against him. Peter Obi had a golden opportunity to nurture the All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA) into a great platform for Ndigbo but he didn’t rise to the occasion. Chimaroke Nnamani showed intellectual capacity, built a new political class in Enugu but lacked the reach and enough knowledge of the politics of the zone. Sam Egwu was too into himself and showed no interest on any pan-Igbo matters. Achike Udenwa was too occupied with the vicious politics of Imo State. Mbadinuju and Ngige were too pre-occupied fighting godfatherism.
There’s an urgent need for a serious conversation in the South East about the region’s economic and political future. But the conversation needs content, tone and direction which only a visionary and committed leadership can provide. The type of selfless leadership once provided by the likes of Akanu Ibiam, M. I. Okpara, Sam Mbakwe and Emeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu. Now, providence has thrown up Governor Willie Obiano of Anambra State to lead APGA into new heights. The forthcoming 2019 general elections offer an opportunity for him to spread the APGA credentials to Imo and Abia states. This requires pragmatism and commitment. It requires a strategist in the mould of a Tinubu to navigate the labyrinth of many political challenges facing the geopolitical region. Obiano sufficiently showed promise in this direction with the kind of support he gave Dr. Alex Otti in the last gubernatorial election in Abia State. It’s obvious that Ndigbo seriously needs to re-negotiate their position in the present structure of Nigeria. They need a Moses and a Tinubu to do that. Will Obiano rise to the occasion?
•Onyima, a former Anambra State Commissioner of Information, Culture and Tourism, wrote from Umuoji.