Nigeria: Tinubu, MKO, June 12 – ‘How We Remade History 29 Years After’

Senator Dayo Adeyeye is the National Coordinator of South West Agenda, SWAGA, a pro-Tinubu political pressure group.

In this interview, Adeyeye speaks on the emergence of the National Leader of All Progressives Congress, APC, Bola Tinubu, as the party’s presidential candidate. While saying Tinubu is the man to beat, the SWAGA leader establishes a link between his candidacy and the late Chief MKO Abiola’s outing 29 years ago.

Recall that exactly 29 years ago, Nigerians trooped out to vote in an election that has now generally been accepted as the freest and fairest in the history of the country. The poll, contested under a two-party system, had Abiola as the candidate of then-Social Democratic Party (SDP) and Alhaji Bashir Tofa of the National Republican Convention (NRC) as the rival, with Abiola substantially adjudged to be the winner. The annulment and Abiola’s efforts to reclaim his ‘mandate’ threw Nigeria into turmoil. In 2018, the Buhari administration moved Nigeria’s Democracy Day from May 29, the day the nation ditched military rule in 1999, to June 12, in recognition of Abiola, who died in 1998 in government custody, as the symbol of democracy.

You were in the forefront of the campaign for the emergence of Tinubu as the presidential candidate of APC, now that he has emerged, what is the significance of the victory?

The victory is good for Nigeria because Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu represents all that is good in Nigerian politics. We all know that so many things are wrong with our politics. So many things are also wrong with Nigeria.

We believe that with his victory, there would be a turnaround in this country. The problems that bedevil this country would be addressed and Nigerians would have a new lease of life.

The challenges of insecurity, economic stagnation, youth restiveness and total collapse of the education sector among others would be a thing of the past with total dedication. And I believe that Tinubu being a focused person would give Nigeria a new lease of life. The victory is very significant for the future of Nigeria. That is why a lot of Nigerians are euphoric.

Surprisingly, the North/South issue that characterised pre-primary conversations didn’t reflect in the result. How did the Tinubu camp achieve it?

This is a repeat of what happened in 1993 at the primary election that threw up the late Chief MKO Abiola as the presidential candidate of Social Democratic Party, SDP. I was involved in that process. When it comes to critical moments, Nigerians always overcome their sectional, ethnic and religious challenges.

They can always come together when they see a good product. At the last moment, men of good will came together and realised that we must seize the moment. They realised that we must unite the country by finding a way around our problems and not accentuate them.

They realised that it was better to allow rotation of power between North and South because that is the only reasonable thing to do in a multiethnic and multi-religious society like ours. They felt that it was only fair to support the South in getting the presidency. And this is what is going to ruin the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP.

We are going to have a repeat of the June 12, 1993, election, which was between Abiola and the late Bashir Tofa. PDP had miscalculated by giving its ticket to a northerner. Just the way Nigerians voted for Abiola in 1993, they would massively vote for Tinubu on election day.

It is exactly 29 years since the June 12 election and Tinubu apart from being an associate of Abiola was one of the key players in that historical event. After the annulment of the election, he was deeply involved in pro-democracy struggle. 29 years later, he won the ticket to contest the presidential election…

History is repeating itself. Tinubu who was a key player at the time is now the central figure. I believe that 30 years after, the dreams we all had that were aborted prematurely will become a reality in 2023. Tinubu would win and that dream would be fulfilled. It is God’s wish that the dreams would be realised 30 years after. Given the high wire intra-party politics that foreshadowed the election, it is obvious the Tinubu victory wasn’t a fluke. How was it possible for him to emerge amid the North/South debate, which overheated the polity?

What God has destined nobody can change. You can maneuver and conspire but the will of God always prevails. I also want to commend the political sagacity of Tinubu. He is a master strategist, who has been in this business for a long time. As I said earlier, at the last moment, men of goodwill put national interest above personal interest.

They realised that insisting the presidency remains in one part of the country, wouldn’t augur well. They felt the need to try a new hand from another part of the country. What matters to Nigerians is what government would do for them. And Tinubu has proved he is a friend of the people. He proved it in Lagos and continues to do so after leaving office. I think in the end all these factors came to play.

A critical look at the voting pattern showed that most delegates from North and South-East overwhelmingly voted for him. It was surprising that the South-East which had strongly made a case for the Igbo presidency voted massively for him. Was there an agreement of sorts?

It shows that Tinubu would be a great unifier who can bring everybody in the country together.

He is an inspiring leader and charismatic figure. It is not as if there was any agreement of sorts. He campaigned more than any aspirant in APC. This is what nobody can deny. He went to every nook and cranny of the country except the South-East. He was not able to visit the South-East because of time.

In the end, he was able to meet many of their leaders here in Abuja and reassured them that the government of Bola Ahmed Tinubu would be a government in which easterners can find total comfort. He assured them that they would be key players in the affairs of Nigeria. He did it in Lagos and brought some of them into his cabinet. They thrive in Lagos unmolested and unhindered. I think the policy of accommodation in Lagos which ensured the Igbo thrived under Tinubu and continue to thrive made Igbo leaders see him as someone they can trust.

Some aspirants stepped down for him in surprising manners, making people suspect that Tinubu may have bought forms by proxy. What do you think?

That is not true. He didn’t buy forms for anybody. What kind of politics is that? I don’t know how people think in a warped manner like that. Why would you buy forms for people? Instead of that, the people should be campaigning with you. Is that not better? I don’t know why people reason this way? Why would they think you bought forms for people to compete with you and confuse the electorate?

That doesn’t make sense to me. He didn’t buy forms for any of them. I think many of them came to realise that they had a weak support base and couldn’t make it. They felt at the last minute that it was strategic to join the moving train so that they wouldn’t be left behind. That was what happened. It happens in politics. When people find out that they don’t have a chance, they join the team with prospects. That was what happened.

Your group, SWAGA, started the sensitization and mobilization for Tinubu’s candidacy. Was there a time you nursed fears that things may no longer work in your favour?

There was never a time I entertained any fear. In this campaign, I knew from day one that this was Tinubu’s moment. I knew he would make it. That was why we plunged headlong, campaigning without looking back. I knew there would be a lot of obstacles, opposition and conspiracies. I knew we would overcome them and triumph in the end. There were problems we considered as big but were convinced of surmounting them and winning the ticket.

Even towards the end when some people were saying someone had been adopted as a consensus candidate, I said it wouldn’t work. I was sure the will of the masses would prevail at the end of the day. In Nigerian politics, which I have participated in for over three decades, I have always known that power belongs to the people. Politicians should always try to have the people behind them.

The man who has the people behind him is the person that would triumph. When you look at the APC today, the man who commands the rank and file is Tinubu. And it is going to be difficult to do away with the wishes of these people. What we have been doing in SWAGA in the last two years, was to galvanize that support.

We convinced the masses to see Tinubu as the leader they can trust. That was how we built a strong support base for him. At the end of the day, the will of the people prevailed. As long as you have the people behind you, you shouldn’t entertain any fear. Any mafia can come in but the masses matter.

The leadership of Afenifere, Yoruba Council of Elders, YCE, and other Yoruba groups are excited over the victory. But one recalls that the leader of Afenifere, Pa Ayo Adebanjo, wasn’t disposed to Tinubu’s candidacy. He had consistently made a case for the South-East presidency based on equity and justice…

It was unfortunate what the leadership of Afenifere did. But it wasn’t the entire leadership, it was Pa Adebanjo. Papa Fasoranti was behind Tinubu. Chief Olu Falae was behind him. We visited them in Akure. I think the person you are talking about is Pa Adebanjo. He may be the acting leader but his opinion is not the position of the entire membership of Afenifere.

I remain a prominent member of Afenifere. I want to say that every leader must not go against the wishes of his members. You must not be out of touch with the mood of your members. That was what happened in this case. Afenifere is meant to defend Yoruba interest and not the interest of any other group.

Those people, south easterners, have their organisation, which was formed to defend their interests. When you now abandon your home and begin to champion the interest of another home, it is not fair. I am happy that the entire Yoruba race is supporting Tinubu.

Now, the support would be solidified. I want the leadership of Afenifere to embrace that support. Of course, Pa Adebanjo would have no choice. He wanted a southeastern president but the two major parties didn’t nominate anyone from the South-East. I believe he would have no choice but to support Tinubu. You can forget about the personal differences between both of them.

At the end of the day, it is the interest of the country that matters. It would be difficult for anyone to say that Atiku would perform better than Tinubu. Awolowo stood for good governance and that has been the hallmark of Yoruba people. Yoruba do not hero-worship for nothing. Awolowo is not revered because he was a Yoruba man.

He is revered because he performed well as the Premiere of defunct Western Region. He ran the best government anybody could hope for at the time in the entire world. That was why we supported him till death. And the Yoruba revere him till date. He remains a great leader. Even generations that didn’t know him have come to support “Awoism” as a philosophy.

What is happening now is the same thing. People believe Tinubu did well in Lagos. He would do well on the national stage. That is why the entire South-West would vote for him. Last year, I said Tinubu already had 12 million South-West votes. I can even say now that the South-West will give him 15 million votes because people are excited. And the entire Yorubaland including Kwara and Kogi would vote for Tinubu. Edo State would vote massively for him.

29 years ago, Abiola’s choice of Ambassador Babagana Kingibe as running mate resulted in a Muslim/Muslim ticket. There were no issues about that at the time. Now, there are concerns that Tinubu may likely pick a Muslim as a running mate. People are worried because, unlike the Abiola era, current dynamics do not welcome such a combination…

I knew the debate that took place in 1993 before Abiola finally settled for Kingibe. I believe Tinubu, in his usual characteristics, would consult widely with all leaders across different bodies before making his choice. And when he makes the choice, it is going to be a winning ticket. The consultation has started. It is a choice that would be acceptable.

Imbalances

Tinubu would be fair to all groups in Nigeria. If there are perceived imbalances against any group, people shouldn’t expect him to continue with them. He would be guided by national interest. No group would be favoured or disfavoured. Every geopolitical group would be represented at the table.

At the APC convention, when some aspirants, especially those from the South-West were stepping down, many had thought that Vice President Yemi Osinbajo would have followed suit. But he didn’t. How would your group relate with him going forward?

Tinubu has already extended an olive branch to all aspirants in his acceptance speech. It is left for the Vice President to take it and come on board. Tinubu’s hands of fellowship have been extended to him. I believe we can overcome that. The Vice President is a good man. Ambition can make people blind sometimes. We can’t deny that. But now that he has seen the reality on the ground, he would support Tinubu’s quest for victory.

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