Tuesday 22 April 2014

Jagaban Asiwaju Bola Tinubu 'Uncommon man' - By Sam Omatseye

The story began in an obscure room in England. The ignominious fall of the Abacha junta foreshadowed a new era in Nigeria. Like bivouacking armies, the habitu├ęs of that room had shifted their tents from home to a stranger’s land. There and elsewhere in the western world, they pitched battles for democracy against an era of the butchery and finality of a tyrant’s order. IBB first represented it and preceded Abacha of the Gestapo, goggle frame and the fame of excited whores.
The unraveled Abacha era meant it was time to go home for this man. Others did not trust the so-called promise. They doubted democracy would return. To them, it was a false dawn, shadowy with booby traps. Isolation and battle from a distance had imparted them with an awful comfort. Better to grieve and throw lobs of bombs from outside than risk the fates of the then lamented dead. Kudirat Abiola, Alfred Rewane, Bagauda Kaltho, Shehu Yar Adua, et al.

It was not fear; it was realism. They had love for country. But as Chinua Achebe noted in his Things Fall Apart, it is from the house of the coward that fingers are pointed to the ruins of a brave man’s house. They were not cowards, but they had had enough ruins to lead them to the path of caution.
But this man was not for the popular caution of his fellow fighters for democracy. After a futile drama of cajoling, persuading and jostling for ideas, he surrendered any effort to sway them along his path of bravado.
“I want to go and see my mother,” was the clincher for Senator Bola Ahmed Tinubu. No one could argue against that sentimental salvo. They surrendered to mama’s boy. He left them in London, back to the land of his birth for a rebirth of politics of the progressives. He did not want to stay back like a fighting romantic. Not like the Japanese soldier Hiroo Onoda, who would not return home 29 years after the Second World War was fought and won.

For Tinubu, the war was won, that war against the soldiers. If Heraclitus knew that the story of life is battle, he knew another theatre was about to brew at home. He wanted his rifle loaded.
He craved the solitude, or what Alan Sillitoe called the loneliness of a long distance runner. He had to win but he had to trust his gifts and conscience. That capacity to trust his judgments and instincts and win in unlikely circumstances has come to typify his public life.
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We have seen this in the past decade. We saw it in his decision to defy Obasanjo while other Southwest bigwigs of the AD followed the president’s coattail. They were caught napping seeking the oxygen of survival while the Owu chief swept all the states for PDP. Lagos State with Asiwaju Tinubu became an island of the progressives. We saw it when he hit on the bright idea that independent power projects would simplify power. He was ignored, but it is the wisdom of the day.

When his years as governor were in their last flames, he placed his cards on one Babatunde Raji Fashola, SAN. He weathered a bitter and divisive storm from within his inner sanctum and outside interlopers. But that choice of the governor of example has remained the best decision to date of his public life.
With the captain came a whirlwind of progressive onslaught in governance in the country. The Adam of change in Edo State, Adams Oshiomhole, has stunned the state of red dust and doughty warriors with his forays of spectacular achievements in education, roads and the environment. Then came the other states in the Southwest. Ekiti State under Kayode Fayemi signposted a welfare programme for the elderly and unleashed infrastructural renewal. The State of Osun under Rauf Aregbesola is turning a supposedly backwoods state into a city on the hill, with his audacious blend of educational innovations, infrastructural breadth and policies of compassion. Later came the duo of Abiola Ajimobi in Oyo State and Ibikunle Amosun of Ogun State. All over Ogun State are testimonials of roads and bridges constructed in such breakneck speed that states with fabled riches have not matched in eight years of performance. You just have to visit Ibadan to see how one man’s tenacity and devotion can change a society. Ibadan has been liberated from the squalor and timid vision of all the governors in that state since 1999.
All these men stand for the opposition in national politics. They have governed with a greed for change. I wonder what their predecessors think now when they see what these men have done.
How different would the nation have been if Asiwaju Tinubu did not act alone in that sultry room in London, or if he had tagged along with his fellows with Obasanjo? We would be a nation of one party, with the opposition clawing and snarling impotently from the sidelines. The same is said of France today about Charles de Gaulle, whom historians have described as “always alone”. He is the most remarkable Frenchman since the small general from Corsica.
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It was in that spirit that he embarked, about a year ago, upon a mission to build an opposition party. That has given the nation the All Progressives Congress. This is, as it stands, a titillating proposition. He has with his accustomed brio, empathy and fiery dexterity brought together the most formidable opposition in the nation’s history. As it is, this is a stellar achievement. All the other coalitions in our history, from UPGA to PPA, were soap bubbles because the partisans could go back to their default homes. APC presents a fait accompli. It has weathered the disorienting logic of its critics that it is a pigsty, accommodating the scum of prostitutes. Those who say that lack historical judgment. All great political acts were no moments of purity. Ask Churchill who coalesced enemies into his war cabinet, including those who would have sold out to Hitler. Or Lincoln, who ran a government of rivals as documented in Doris Kearns Goodwin’s A Team Of Rivals. They forgot that even Awolowo’s Action Group was a whirlpool of strange ideological bedfellows as historian Sklar and even Duddley tell us. Charles de Gaulle, the statesman of rigidity, accommodated communists when he set up his government.

The party is a winnowing machine and it ultimately yields to the organising genius of its leaders. This is the task that Tinubu faces and the jury is still out on that. If he succeeds, then it would be his greatest decision. So far, except his critics don’t want to admit it, he is the most influential citizen of this era. He is a picture of endurance and wise daring. As his foes come at him, he soars and fattens like John Webster’s black birds in a dark and stormy cloud.
As he marked his 62nd birthday, he focused on the common man. Yet he is not a common man. But few leaders combine his contradiction of a “patrician” breeding with the common touch like him. He can speak the language of the CEO with the same assiduity that he chants the rhythm of the Mushin meat seller. Street wise, elite savvy, he is a double threat who can descend from the sky and erupt from the earth at once, to paraphrase American journalist Roger Rosenblatt. He has the skill to speak anyone’s language and rally others together. We need that kind of temperament and talent in an age of religious schisms and tribal loyalties. If that is his gift today to Nigeria, it is also his challenge. Happy birthday.

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