Is Tinubu the new Awolowo?
This is an old but interesting debate. But never a time has it been more relevant than now, with the results of 2011 elections which saw the opposition, the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), inspired by Bola Tinubu, routing the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the takeover of the south west. Can Mr Tinubu now be said to be the authentic leader of the region, having rallied it once again into the progressive fold, a feat that was only achieved in the first republic when Obafemi Awolowo was the premier of the then Western Region? The question of who succeeds the late sage has dominated political discussions in the south west in the last decade since the passing away of Awolowo's protÃ©gÃ©s: Adekunle Ajasin, Bola Ige and Abraham Adesanya. But none of the leaders that have laid claim to being the successors of the late sage have lived up to his achievements and larger than life image.
Mr Tinubu, the former governor of Lagos, seems to have his future role cut out for him. In 2003, he survived the PDP blitz when the party took over the south-west in a landslide election that will go down as the worst in history. How Mr Tinubu survived the federal machine unleashed by former president, Olusegun Obasanjo, is still being discussed as a lesson in deft political survival. At the time when the region's leaders fell to the maneuvering of the PDP, Mr Tinubu ensured that his party retained Lagos in the massive rigging of the 2003 elections. In the civil rights years when opposition to military rule was at its peak, he was a priority target of the military junta. He escaped into exile only to come back as a senator in the warped military democracy of the time. Since then, he has been at the forefront of the quest to entrench nationwide democracy while building a viable opposition base from the region. Is he at the threshold of history? Let's look back in time.
Prior to independence, Awolowo was persuaded by prominent members of the Action Group to lead the party as the leader of the opposition. Excluded from national government, the position of Awolowo and his party became increasingly precarious. In spite of the travails of the time, Awolowo remained in the opposition, sticking to the progressive philosophy of his party. Is there any similarity between the late Awo and Mr Tinubu in the latter's doggedness to remain in the opposition despite the federal government breathing down his neck since 2003? There seems to be a sense of deja vu that the events which shaped the politics of the south west from 1959 to 1963 played out in the last 12 years.
The role Mr Tinubu played as the face of the opposition since the 2003 and 2011 elections has increasingly brought him in close comparison to the late leader. But his detractors say it is too early to describe him as the successor. In a tribe where the 'egbon' (elder) syndrome determines leadership and privileges, he continues to be opposed by the elders of the polarized pan-Yoruba group, Afenifere, who believe he does not possess what it takes to succeed Awolowo. Are they still maintaining that position?
His critics have also pointed to his overbearing attitude, undemocratic tendencies of imposing candidates, but some have also said in the tough political terrain, those traits come in handy. They were also said to have been used by Awolowo to keep errant members of the old Action Group in check.
In recent years, allegations of misconduct brought against Mr Tinubu have not been substantially proven, just as he has continued to move a step ahead of his political adversaries. With the just-concluded elections, majority of people, not only in the south-west, are beginning to see him as the face of viable opposition to the PDP.
Only time will tell if Mr Tinubu is the leader of the Yorubas, if he is the modern day Awolowo.
By Bayo Olupohunda