“Unserious old men. Bola was the only person who did not listen to them. All of us who listened to them are now former governors. Only Bola that did no listen to them won second term election.”
I asked who the man was, he did not disclose but said it was one of those Afenifere leaders. It was since then I started looking at how politics of the South-west panned out between 1999 and 2011. Bola Ahmed Tinubu seems the only politician who understands the Nigerian version of the game and what it entails.
Shortly after he came into office, he faced a major crisis: his qualifications and his real identity. At the heat of the crisis, a group of journalists from a leading newspaper house had gone to interview him. One of the reporters had kept asking him to let them see his certificates to be sure. “Aburo, (younger one) I have them. Trust me, I have them,” Tinubu said. “Then let us see them your excellency to put this matter to rest,” the reporter retorted. “I have them,” Tinubu kept ‘reassuring’. After some time, others prevailed on the guy and the reporters left. Tinubu nearly cried when he saw their report the following weekend. It was there and then that he promised that should he survive the ordeal, he would never joke with the power of the media again. And he did survive.
Coming out of the ordeal, he got his aides to start courting newspaper editors. He set up a strong media network that extended beyond his official aides. He set up a strong media management machinery and he ensured it was well ‘oiled’ (if you know what that meant). He changed the narrative against his estranged deputy, Kofo Bucknor-Akerele, and labeled her ambitious deputy. During series of reconciliation meetings, he ensured that party leaders who came were heavily compromised. Their car trunks always felt impacts of ‘Ghana Must Go’ filled with notes after each meeting. Kofo soon realised she was alone. Soon after, ‘ex’ was put before her title.
Tinubu played along with Afenifere leaders in the build-up to the 2003 elections. He was part of the deal by AD not to field presidential candidate. But he never surrendered the party machinery to them in Lagos. He kept it intact while managing the Afenifere leaders. Aware of the ‘Shock and Awe’ strategy of the rampaging PDP, he held strong. Of six AD governors, only he won second term election. Dazed and in shock, Adebayo told me Obasanjo called all the defeated governors that should he ear any protest in South-west, they would pay dearly for it. With his colleagues now ex-governors, Tinubu moved to the next stage: upstaging Afenifere.
All the AD governors were shocked at their defeats. They never prepared for it. Reason they were virtually broke within months of leaving office. Tinubu saw this and exploited it. With massive resources at his disposal, he kept oiling party machinery in Ogun, Osun, Ekiti, Ondo and Oyo. He was also taking care of his former colleagues who were now jobless. Gradually, the old men in Afenifere lost their influence. Ijebu-Igbo (home of Baba Adesanya) lost its attraction.
Now fully in control of the party, he made his next move. One day in 2005, he called Aregbesola and Opeyemi Bamidele and thank them for their loyalty. He, however, told them that this last man standing they were calling him was not a praise. He wanted them to explore the possibility of getting South-west back from PDP by 2007. While Aregbesola agreed to go and try his luck in Osun, Opeyemi head-hunted and found Fayemi. Tinubu, knowing Fayemi from their NADECO days, was said to have been uncomfortable with his choice. He preferred Opeyemi himself. But Adebayo prevailed on him and he had no choice. This was another attribute of his: knowing not to push his luck too far.
Providing the logistics and money, these men started their campaigns despite their respective states being under no-nonsense governors. Again, Tinubu’s media investment came handy. Demonising Fayose and Oyinlola, the former being a monster truly, the battle line was well-drawn.
Tinubu understands the role money plays in an environment like ours. He made so many of his aides rich. From strugglers in 1999 and 2003, they were stinkingly rich by the time he was leaving office in 2007. He is the one that should be called architect of stomach infrastructure! He knows how to build and sustain loyalty. Check it out: hardly has anyone who was with him since 1999 not with him now. He holds unto them. They know his inadequacies but they can die for him. That’s the power of money! And he also ensures one thing: it must percolate down to the smallest party member.
In 2006, the then COMET Newspaper was up for grabs. Tinubu heard of this and made his move. He got his media team to explore the possibility of buying the paper over. Good deal. He changed the name of the newspaper to THE NATION, invested heavily into it and bought state of the art press in Lagos, Abuja and Por-Harcourt. After the newspaper had stabilised, he set up NATIONAL LIFE but was a not a success, Before then, he was said to have made moves to buy over AIT when the station was having crisis. He was prevailed upon not to.
Tinubu is arguably the most accessible politician in his class. While others slam their doors close, he opens his own. It is another strategy that has helped him hold into his fort.