By Tunde Rahman
Twenty years in the life of a nation may be a short period of time. But when such a span of time embodies something meaningful and impactful, it is extremely noteworthy. And so Nigeria at present is celebrating two decades of uninterrupted democracy since the democratic restoration of 1999. Considering where the country is coming from- a long period of coups and counter coups, 30 months civil war, three previous short-lived attempts at democratic rule, military dictatorship of the worst form occasioning all kinds of experiments and fraudulent political engineering including an annulment of a free and fair election and then a brutal dictatorship during which many were either killed or maimed- having another democratic resurgence lasting 21 years, and still counting, is indeed significant.
Operating a democracy, the best form of government mankind has evolved, has never been easy anywhere, talk less in Nigeria. For our democracy to have endured all of 20 years means Nigerians have invested heavily in its success. We all deserve special congratulations for working to entrench democracy in the land. These investments have come at great costs, which, however, have not been borne in equal measure. Some Nigerians sacrificed so much for it, including paying the supreme price like business mogul Bashorun MKO Abiola, the winner of the annulled June 12 election, his wife, Kudirat and journalist, Bagauda Kalto, among others. Many were incarcerated. Thousands who suffered immense pain in diverse manners remain nameless and faceless. Some were forced on exile for a long period.
One of those who had to flee into exile to escape the death squads of the Abacha military junta over the agitation for the de-annulment of the June 12 election from where he played a leading role in continuing the struggle is Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, the All Progressives Congress National Leader. In exile, Asiwaju became a critical rallying point for the opposition, making things uncomfortable for the Abacha junta back home until that regime collapsed. Following the promise of the succeeding General Abdulsalam Abubakar regime to hand over power, Asiwaju Tinubu returned to the country from exile in 1998.
In no time at all, he became one of the leading lights who formed the Alliance for Democracy, one of the three main political parties of the time. Persuaded by his close associates and friends, Asiwaju threw his hat into the ring for the governorship of Lagos. Against the remonstrations of those who wanted to impose a candidate on the AD, he and his associates insisted on open primaries buoyed by support from some temperate leaders of that party. With open primaries, he emerged the governorship candidate of the party, contested for the 1999 governorship election and was elected.
If his contributions to the return of democratic rule again in 1999 after almost 16 years of military rule was remarkable, his role in nurturing and deepening democracy in the land from that period onward is even more worthy of chronicling. Saying Asiwaju is a major pillar of the nation’s democracy that seized every opportunity to deepen the practice of transparent, responsive and accountable governance, federalism and the rule of law in Nigeria both in words and deeds is stating the obvious.
As governor, he put together a team of tested technocrats and experienced managers, unrivalled in Nigeria’s history, to help him actualize his vision for the state. It is not surprising that many of them are still holding top leadership positions at different levels in the country today. Tinubu and his team laid the foundation for a modern Lagos, fashioned out a master plan and engineered most of the innovations that spurred the unprecedented ongoing development and prosperity witnessed in Lagos today. As he brought radical changes to both the economic and political landscapes of Lagos, enhancing the state’s fortunes in the process, he also made significant contributions to fiscal federalism and constitutionalism.
Under his watch, Lagos challenged the Federal Government on many constitutional issues. His government filed as many as 14 cases at the Supreme Court and won all. One of such landmark cases was the one in respect of creation of additional local councils in the state, with the Supreme Court upholding the validity of the new councils but stating that they remained inchoate until the National Assembly had done its part by listing those councils in the constitution. Nevertheless, the 20 Local Government Areas and 37 Local Council Development Areas (LCDAs) are alive and well today. They constitute the basis for accelerated rural development in Lagos State thanks to Tinubu’s vision and courage.
At the inception of this democratic dispensation in 1999, for instance, the Federal Government routinely deducted funds as a first line charge from the Federation Account for what it called “Special Funds”. These included funding of the Joint Venture Contracts and NNPC priority projects, servicing of Federal Government’s external debt, funding of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, and funding of the judiciary and other federal responsibilities. It was after the deduction of these monies that whatever was remaining was shared among the states and Local Government Councils. The robust legal challenge by Lagos State at the Supreme Court put a stop to this practice to the advantage of the states and local governments.
Again, it was the crusading legal action by Lagos State under Tinubu’s leadership that led the Supreme Court to declare that planning within the territorial jurisdiction of any state was a residual matter over which the states and not the Federal Government could exercise control. In the words of Tinubu’s Attorney General at the time, Professor Yemi Osinbajo (SAN), “The Supreme Court by a majority of four out of seven justices in a full constitutional court held that urban and regional planning as well as physical development were residual matters within the exclusive legislative and executive competence of states and that grant of approvals, permits and licences for building and physical development in Lagos State including under bridges, loops and highways set-back are the residual responsibility of the state government”.
When former President Obasanjo withheld revenue allocations to Lagos on account of the creation of those additional councils, Asiwaju was forced to look inward, devising ingenious means of funding the new councils and running the state. Such resourcefulness birthed the innovations that moved the state IGR from about N600 million monthly in 1999 to around N25billion and over N30billion monthly today. So significant was what Asiwaju and his team did in eight years that many continue to acknowledge his ingenuity.
In a tribute to the APC leader during his 67th birthday in March this year, President Muhammadu Buhari described Tinubu as one of the strong pillars of Nigeria’s democracy while also praising him for his selflessness in serving the country and contributing his quota towards making life better for our teeming people. “Asiwaju’s uncompromising posture in the face of injustice and refusal to follow the path of least resistance for personal gains stand him out today as a rare breed and one of the cornerstones of Nigeria’s democracy, especially with his track record of persistence, consistency and effective leadership,” the President said.
“As the father of modern Lagos State,” Presidential Spokesman Femi Adesina quoted the President as commending “the visionary and inclusive leadership style that the Asiwaju provided for the commercial nerve centre of Nigeria for eight years, laying the foundation for a modern and technologically-driven city, and ensuring that every successive leader in the state sticks with the master plan of a greater Lagos.”
From the Alliance for Democracy (AD), Asiwaju and his associates moved to form first, the Action Congress (AC) and then the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) when the AD became polarised in the aftermath of the choice of that party’s presidential candidate for the 1999 poll among other contentious issues. In the 2003 election, Asiwaju became the only AD governor who survived the virulent onslaught of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), which contrived to win the election at all cost in the South-west and credit Obasanjo with home-base support. It was to Asiwaju’s credit that he led the struggle in winning back, one by one, those South-west states illegally captured by the PDP through the courts, which upheld the cause of justice.
With the ACN now in firm control of the South-west, Asiwaju’s ACN began alliance talks towards the 2011 election with the Congress for Progressives Change (CPC) led by then General Muhammadu Buhari, but that alliance fell through. It is instructive that that merger of the South-west and North-West progressives and other like minds, once predicted by the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo, and which fell through in 2011, was eventually successfully and consummated in the build-up to the 2015 election, thus giving birth to the APC. For the first time in Nigeria’s political history, that rainbow coalition that is APC, unseated an incumbent president and formed government at the centre.
Since then, in a bid to get the party to wax stronger, Asiwaju and his cohorts have had to battle some undemocratic forces within the party and their underhand tactics. For instance, after the initial bright successes of the APC during which elective convention was the order of the day, some members wanted to foist dictatorship and automatic extension of tenure on the party. Asiwaju and other democrats successfully wrestled this move to the ground.
Tinubu spearheaded the struggle for the adoption by APC of direct primaries as a method of picking the party’s candidates for elections, involving the generality of the party members as opposed to some small coterie of delegates. That agitation culminated in the election last year of a consummate labour activist and former governor, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, as APC chairman. Oshiomhole has been changing the narrative in APC to the admiration of many and discomfiture of others.
Asiwaju did much more. Which of those other onerous contributions should one highlight? Is it the crucial role he played in persuading the Federal Government to give June 12 the honour it deserved, thus bringing the matter of the annulled election to a proper close or the leadership he provided, as Co-chair of the APC presidential campaigns, in galvanising the party’s rank and file to work assiduously for the president’s re-election in March this year, knowing full well that President Buhari is a honest and patriotic leader who, in his first term, had taken concrete steps towards laying a firm foundation for a greater Nigeria?
Tinubu’s role as a leading advocate of the legitimation of June 12 has borne ample fruit with President Buhari conferring on the hero of June 12, late MKO Abiola, a post-humous Grand Commander of the Federal Republic (GCFR) award while MKO’s running mate, Ambassador Babagana Kingibe, received the Grand Commander of the Order of Niger award. The icing on the cake was the pronouncing of June 12 as Democracy Day by President Buhari. Now, the National Assembly has passed the bill making June 12 a public holiday and Nigeria’s Democracy Day. In the 2019 election, President Buhari posted a resounding victory, roundly defeating the PDP, and its candidate, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, to win a second term which he began a few days ago.
In their book-“Statesmanship and Political Leadership: Analyses of Nigeria’s Fourth Republic-A Festschrift in Honour of Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu”, the authors of the book, edited by Prof. Olanrewaju Fagbohun (SAN) and Adewale Aderemi, Ph D, who interrogated Asiwaju’s role in Nigeria’s democracy, said of the APC leader: “At critical junctures since his emergence as a public figure in the early 1990s, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu has been a pivotal figure in the equation, by a dint of political doggedness as the last line of resistance to the ruling party, which historically never ruled the South-west, not only weathered incredible political turmoil but also nurtured the dominant political platform of the region from the brink of disintegration to becoming the nucleus of the new ruling party, ousting the sixteen-year incumbency of the PDP in the process.”
Any need to add more. All that Asiwaju has accomplished hasn’t come easy. As common in the trajectories of great men like Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Dr. Nnamdi Azikwe and many other leaders, Asiwaju has had his own fair share of treachery, deceit and campaigns of calumny, even by some of those he trusted. He has, however, weathered the storms. He is carrying on and waxing stronger. One of the tasks he has taken upon himself at present is safeguarding and strengthening party supremacy within the governing party and ensuring adherence to the party’s position in respect of emergence of the National Assembly’s presiding officers. Asiwaju has a lot more to offer. Surely, in the fullness of time and with the gift of life and continued good health, the fullness of his robust intellect, competence, and capability will be released in the service of our country.
(First published in 2019 but still relevant today)