SOJI AKANBI , THE ENGINE IN TINUBU’S VICTORY IN OYO STATE by Keni Akintoye
Now that Senator Bola Ahmed Tinubu has emerged as Nigeria’s president-elect in one of the most fiercely fought presidential election battles ever in the history of the country, the time may be right for all citizens, politicians and students of political science to take the lessons learnt from this historic event, particularly in the context of the popular saying that politics is local.
I am trying to identify a politician who is not a former president and yet has remained relevant in our polity without occupying any political office for 16 years.
Think about the many years he has stayed at the top of politics in Nigeria as a kingmaker, a negotiator and an influencer; in fairness to Senator Bola Ahmed Tinubu, one would be right to call him a political colossus.
However, the irony this time around is that the emergence of Bola Tinubu as the president-elect in 2023 wasn’t much about his ingenuity, it is what I call the 3G of political warfare – the power of goodwill, good luck and grace.
Tinubu didn’t just happen to us; he is a beneficiary of the political structures he had built over the years.
I am not unaware of the fact that this word “structure” became one of the most common in the run up to the election, as every Tom, Dick and Harry underrated Labour Party’s Peter Obi on the basis of him lacking the structure to win a presidential election in Nigeria.
Really, there is nothing to be called political structure. It is a function of the people working as your foot soldiers in the wards, local governments, states and constituencies across Nigeria; people that see your interest as theirs, your victory as their victory.
This was Bola Tinubu’s biggest blessing in 2023. He emerged winner of Nigeria’s presidential election courtesy of the people who laid down everything to see him emerge as president.
Of special interest to me is the intrigue that played out in Oyo state. How do you explain the voting pattern where the electorates peacefully went out to vote for APC in the federal election and returned to vote overwhelmingly for the PDP in the governorship election?
Once again, the people of Oyo State proved to us all that they remain one of the most sophisticated voters in Nigeria.
They choose who they want and believe in, regardless of what anyone else says and it is either because they trust you or you earn their trust by strategic affiliation with those they trust.
When Ibadan-born Senator, Rilwan Adesoji Akanbi and other Yoruba eminent sons initiated the idea of the South West Agenda (SWAGA) in 2020, as a journalist I interviewed him to understand the rationale behind such move, which seemed too early at the time.
He was quick to declare that this, for him, was first about the Nigerian presidency returning to the southwest and about it going to the most competent hand.
So, I asked who this competent hand was. He laughed and said affirmatively, Asiwaju.
This came at a time when the man called Jagaban had not formally declared his interest in the race. The media monitored SWAGA’s activities.
From the way they set up their internal leadership, working with Ekiti-born Senator Dayo Adeyeye as co-chair along with the likes of Sen. Gbenga Obadara, Hon. Oye Ojo, Sen. Tony Adeniyi (SAN) and others before taking the position of Vice Chairman, one could tell he meant business.
SWAGA toured every Yoruba state to launch their movement, visited the most notable monarchs starting with the Ooni of Ife to the late Olubadan, Alaafin and many more who are alive today.
By the time BAT declared his ambition to be president, over 340 endorsements had been secured from various obas in Yoruba land; the southwest gladiators were ready for him and the next big hurdle at the time was getting the APC ticket. Obviously, the next phase of lobbying with delegates was met with little or no resistance.
For many Nigerians, including the man himself, BAT’s victory at the APC primary election was a huge surprise having suffered a lot of media attacks with questions surrounding his health, but it was not a surprise to the likes of Soji Akanbi.
In my January 2022 article titled, “If Rotimi Amaechi will be Nigeria’s President”, analysing the chances of the immediate past Transport Minister, and permutating based on the belief that he had the capacity, he could be the president’s candidate for the APC ticket and that he stood a good chance among the party’s over 20 aspirants at the time, I cited BAT as an example of how a political ambition should be sold.
I wrote, “We must learn something from the Tinubu ambition. Since 2021, the frenzy of his presidential ambition had taken over the southwest with several first-class monarchs and leaders of strong power blocs already publicly endorsing him, while several support groups had started emerging and canvassing for him.
All these were achieved without the man making a single public statement about wanting to be president of Nigeria and this is because of the movement called SWAGA – South-West Agenda.”
Just as I warned that he remained the man to beat, Tinubu beat Rotimi Amacehi and Vice President Yemi Osinbajo to second and third place respectively.
Once this hurdle was crossed, Akanbi launched another weapon called COMBAT to ensure that he delivers his own Oyo state which understandably needed extra effort as it was under the grip of the opposition party, PDP, led by Engr. Seyi Makinde.
The Coalition Movement for Bola Ahmed Tinubu (COMBAT) in Oyo state, solely funded by Senator Adesoji Akanbi, left no stone unturned in his quest to win for Tinubu.
From Oke Ogun to Ibarapa and Ibadan metropolis, he engaged directly with leaders of political parties, market men and women, artisan groups, pensioners, students, teachers and principals, associations of professional bodies, young academia of higher institutions, religious bodies, community leaders and social clubs.
Add to that list, the civil servants, NULGE members, road transport unions, tricycle and okada riders and so many more.
There was also the Strategy and Planning Committee which was the think tank for the Tinubu ambition.
This committee gave birth to the Tinubu-Shettima Grassroots Independent Campaign Council. They also had the Planning and Monitoring Presidential Campaign Council which Akanbi was the Southwest Anchor, while also Chairing the Planning and Strategic Committee.
Truth is, if Akanbi was not leading, he was working as member of the committees. He was involved in all of them!
Even , when the results of the state primaries seemed to have further polarised the APC in Oyo state and was threatening to slow down the Tinubu movement, Akanbi continued to consult with stakeholders and threw this mission wider beyond APC.
He knew quite early that the secret to victory would be to sell his candidate directly to the people and get other neutral political power blocs to journey with him.
The PDP’s mistake of handing their party’s presidential ticket to Atiku Abubakar would also probably be one of the most memorable twists of fortune in the history of Nigeria’s presidential elections.
Governor Seyi Makinde was clear with his rejection of a northern candidate for his party and had pitched his tent with the G5. What no one saw coming was his willingness to risk his own second term by not supporting his party in the presidential election.
Many also expected that he would support the Labour Party candidate who was his fellow PDP man just few months earlier. But once the Oyo monarchs, statesmen, and other powerful politicians had queued behind Soji Akanbi and the Tinubu agenda had been well sold to Oyo people by COMBAT, Governor Makinde saw the vision and welcomed Tinubu to Oyo, ensuring that the people’s votes counted without interference even when his party members threatened vengeance.
Such bravery! But no surprises, that name “Makinde” must count for something.
If anyone thinks the job done by COMBAT in Oyo state was a fluke, Atiku’s victory in Osun should give a clue of how difficult it is to win a state governed by the opposition party in Nigeria and what a political masterstroke Akanbi and his co-travelers pulled off.
This can be likened to the upset Peter Obi’s Labour Party pulled off in Lagos. Of the 12 states that APC won in the presidential elections, they lost three in the governorship – Zamfara, Rivers and Oyo with Oyo the only one governed by an opposition governor seeking reelection.
All said and done, one year after several warnings that Senator Bola Tinubu could be the man to beat, regardless of our reservations about his health or physical capacity to do the job, Tinubu has indeed emerged as the man to beat, and truly, it didn’t matter that he looked frail in the buildup to the polls.
While he must be commended for running the most pan-Nigerian campaign, visiting all 36 states and the FCT, we must also admit that his victory rode on the strength of his nationwide political structure and the power of his network in Northern Nigeria, the major ingredients for becoming Nigeria’s president.
In all of this, Oyo state stood out for the southwest region. Although, I saw the handwriting on the wall as the election drew closer when all you could hear was BAT, my biggest surprise was on election day.
While the PDP and APC party agents could be seen at my polling unit, I kept wondering who or where the Labour Party, NNPP and other party agent were. This was how anonymous the other contenders looked.
So, when INEC announced that Tinubu polled 449,884 votes to win Oyo state, no one could fault it. This turned out to be the highest number of votes he got in any southwest state and among the top five states with his highest popular votes.
The job had been done almost 365 days before we voted. It is a mix of joy and disappointment depending on whose side you are, but the biggest win for me is that Oyo people made their choices clear in a peaceful, civil and friendly manner. (vitalnewsngr.com)
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