At Eagles Square, Tinubu comes home
by Sam Omatseye On Jun 12, 2022 THE NATION
As he picked his party’s presidential ticket, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu never directly invoked M.K.O Abiola in the raptures of his acceptance speech. He did not need the rhetoric or ritual of a priestess to do it. No witch of Endor necessary, nor the enchanting words of Orestes and Electra in Aeschylus’ Greek play, Libation Bearers.
Abiola haunted the place himself, first at night and the following daylight. He was there in physique and in spirit. He hovered over the square. He was there at the arrivals of guests and delegates. He was the chief of the caravan, unseen but in full martyr’s regalia.
He was there when the crowds cheered, when the votes were cast, when President Muhammadu Buhari spoke and the contestants perorated, priding themselves on their credentials and begging for votes. M.K.O. was the main credential.
The All Progressives Congress (APC) and the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) held their special conventions to pick their presidents at different Abuja locations – APC at Eagles Square, PDP at the MoshoodAbiola Stadium in Abuja. Both events happened virtually on the eve of June 12, a day that testifies to a struggle for democracy and the will of the Nigerian people.
But it is on record that one party respected the man who shed his blood and other treasures for that cause, and the other held its nose as though Abiola and his martyrdom were a sty. PDP had presidents that said no to June 12 as a monument and even harbinger of this republic: Olusegun Obasanjo, Umar Yar’Adua, Goodluck Jonathan. Obasanjo began by subverting it with a calendar. June 12 was no democracy day. It had to be May 29. He wrestled the dead without data but with a date, both as intra-ethnic rivalry, a martial ego and a lie to history. Yar’adua with bad health and little democratic credentials was too remote to touch it. Jonathan resisted and pursued false symbolisms, looking at it as a war of tribal and partisan grudges rather than statesman’s duty. For 16 years, Abiola’s ghost screamed in the confines of a grave. Yet, when the party held its special primary and hoisted AtikuAbubakar, Abiola’s ghost frowned from twilight to night. They were inhabiting his house but did not build it.
Until Buhari came, an unlikely soldier whose first stage in history was to banish democrats. He it was who started the journey, embraced the man and his past, ghost and man on the same stage. Hence June 12 became a holiday, and our Democracy Day. Even though alive, a new legacy banished Obj’s to the sepulchre.
But when Tinubu held up the party flag at the convention, it was an apotheosis of sorts. Tinubu was a soldier of democracy, who fought, fell and rose again. He fought with words, beginning as a senator when he saw the senate as a platform to twit power, to lay bare the hypocrisies of a Babangida administration that spoke democracy but spiked it. He fought in Lagos, was pursued, was locked up, fled, anticipated the soldiers and moved to Europe and the United States. He rallied the troops. He, a technocrat and accountant, became a voice and artillery for a cause.
He came to fight when Abacha died and opportunists wanted glory where they did not invest. He returned, and he fought another war: to save democracy from democrats.
The PDP was the big party, his Alliance for Democracy became his new military tank. All votes must count. Soldiers should be out of the way. No electoral heist. He won to be a governor of Lagos, but his Southwest was under a thraldom of a soldier in the mask of a republican. He was alone, fighting and amassing new troops to redefine and reinvigorate a new era.
He won state after state, deploying law and street, and the nuances of a judiciary. In the end, he became the brain and mobiliser of a new coalition, the most successful in Nigeria’s history, for its sweep and its little time. It routed perhaps the most formidable political machine in Nigerian history, the PDP.
When he sought to be the APC flag bearer but he had to fight to get it. He did not seek it as an entitled titan, not as a father but an applicant. When resisted, he fought as a democrat even within his own political home. It is the spirit of a democratic warrior that triumphed when, even his rivals stood down in homage to his brio, pluck and strategy, his chemistry of human touch and thinking.
Kudos also to President Buhari who resisted the overtures of those who wanted anointing, as though democracy were another contraption of autocracy. He unlocked Abiola out of his grave, enshrined him with a date and a reign. The emergence of Tinubu as the party’s flag bearer was Abiola standing guard not far from a place where a stadium is named after him and for a process for which he gave up the ghost.