by Joachim MacEbong
In a political space full of divisive characters, Bola Ahmed Tinubu divides opinion like few others. As the man leading the resurgence of the South West economically and politically, comparisons with the late Obafemi Awolowo are inevitable, and it is perhaps in this area where he divides opinion the most. His supporters view him as a master political strategist who is a worthy heir to Awolowo’s legacy, while to others he is merely a political hustler who cannot be mentioned in the same breath with a man Ojukwu called ‘the best President Nigeria never had’.
These comparisons just obscure Tinubu’s own achievements, which must be considered on their merits. After a career as an accountant, he joined politics in the Third Republic on the platform of the Social Democratic Party (SDP). He won election into the Senate in 1992, representing Lagos West. When the presidential elections which were supposed to round off the transition programme were annulled in 1993, he joined the fight to restore democracy, eventually fleeing into exile the following year.
Sani Abacha’s death in 1998 was Tinubu’s cue to return home and yet again join politics. He became Lagos governor in 1999 on the platform of the Alliance for Democracy (AD), the successor to the Action Group and United Party of Nigeria in previous dispensations, both of which were led by Obafemi Awolowo.
However, following the 2003 elections, the Alliance for Democracy was nearly run out of its own backyard by the ruling PDP, and Tinubu was the only one left standing. He then set about rebuilding the party, and in 2006 was the Action Congress was the result.
He was also engaged in a long battle with then President Obasanjo over the creation of 37 Local Council Development Areas (LCDAs). Council funds for Lagos were withheld for years, and this is arguably the reason why the collection of Internally Generated Revenue has been vigorously pursued by the state since then, in stark contrast to other states of the federation.
None of the above achievements are likely to be as significant as being in the forefront of creating an alternative nationwide platform to the PDP. Nigeria’s political landscape has often had one national party, with a few regional parties in opposition. The only time there were two national parties was in the Third Republic, were both the SDP and NRC had a nationwide presence, but were essentially creations of the Babangida regime.
For years, it has been obvious that to properly challenge the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), a second national party is necessary, but it seemed impossible to imagine the various actors coming together to achieve this. A number of attempts have been made in the past, but all have come to naught, most recently in the days before the 2011 presidential elections.
Now, however, it is finally happening. The coast is not clear just yet, but there now seems a real momentum about the new party, enough to drive defections of PDP governors and federal lawmakers opposed to President Jonathan and the PDP chairman, Bamanga Tukur.
Even so, bringing the All Progressives Congress (APC) to life required much more than just discontent with the status quo. Tinubu has proactively sought support from politicians all over the country, displaying a pragmatism that has been the hallmark of his politics. That pragmatism also makes him a divisive figure, but the lesson to young Nigerians who are desirous of making real change happen is simple: To achieve your objectives, you may need to partner with people you may not like personally, people you may have criticised before.
For the greater good, hold your nose and do it.
– MacEbong is a blogger and an editor