At the palace of the Shehu of Borno on Saturday, the Borno State governor, Professor Babagana Zulum said something brief but profound. He was introducing the APC presidential candidate, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, to the revered monarch. Tinubu, Zulum said, had been there for Borno and its people at the most difficult times of its 1,200-year history. When many people gave up the city of Maiduguri as a forsaken theatre of Boko Haram insurgents, Asiwaju Tinubu was there. Not once.
In the words of Governor Zulum: “During our trying times he has always been with us. He has visited us between seven and eight times in the last eleven years. There is nobody else that has done anything like that for us.”
That testimonial by Governor Zulum gives only a glimpse of the enduring relationship that Asiwaju Tinubu has built with northern Nigeria and its people over the years. E no be today, to use Nigerian street lingo. The relationship had been an organic one built on the pillars of friendship, empathy and togetherness devoid of the political quid pro quo of you-rub-my-back-I-rub-yours. It is therefore a little wonder that the man is so widely accepted by the people on the other side of the Niger. This is visible from the wild reception his campaign train received in key northern states; from Kaduna, the region’s defunct headquarters, to Kano, its commercial nerve centre and up to the capitals of the North’s traditional systems of the Fulani (Sokoto) and Kanuri (Borno).
Reacting to photos of the mammoth crowd from one of those outings, a Twitterati exclaimed: “Northerners don put this Tinubu matter for head”. Yes, in a country where our politics often expose our schisms that could be surprising. But it is the North’s way of first acknowledging merit and, second, appreciating years of genuine friendship and camaraderie.
It is for this reason that despite the weightlifting effort of the PDP candidate, Atiku Abubakar, and his strategists to whip up ethnic and regional sentiments majority of the people have refused to buy into their selfish gimmick. The question on many lips is: What has that candidate done for the people of the North to warrant a harvest at the polls? The people are evidently wiser to identify with the person who has always been there for them over one who nominally claims to be their own.
The story of Asiwaju Tinubu’s association with the North is a long one. I will attempt a quick recast. Tinubu’s consequential political journey began with the North. At the beginning of the windy Third Republic botched transition, Tinubu pitched his tent with the late Shehu Musa Yar’Adua. He chose to work with Yar’Adua even when his own kinsman, Lateef Jakande was on the ballot. When the Late Chief MKO Abiola emerged as the presidential candidate of the Social Democratic Party (SDP), Tinubu played a prominent role in tipping up Ambassador Babagana Kingibe as Abiola’s running mate.
In more recent times Tinubu had burnt the candle at both ends in his support for the ambition of Northerners in four consecutive presidential elections: Atiku in 2007, Nuhu Ribadu in 2011 and President Muhammadu Buhari in 2015 and 2019. This is in addition to dozens of others he supported for various positions unconditionally out of true altruism. It is a twist of fate and funny that both Atiku and his campaign chief, Governor Aminu Tambuwal, were beneficiaries of Tinubu’s political magnanimity, the latter for his emergence as the House of Representatives speaker in 2011.
Beyond the shores of politics, Tinubu has always identified with predicaments faced by the North. He also paid more than just lip service. In fact, he acted much more than he spoke or showed up. As a permanent resident of Nigeria, he associates more closely with the happenings around the country and has always extended hands of fellowship or offered his metaphorically large shoulders to shoulder parts of the burden. He had been to places from Zamfara to Birnin Gwari to console victims of banditry and offer hope and aid. No one else, not the person shouting ‘I’m your own’ had been to any of these places for purposes other than rallies.
In the weeks leading to the election day, and in the opposition’s desperation to paint Tinubu with tar brush, they manufactured many lies. For a man who turned the tide of the OPC violence and integrated the Hausa community in Lagos, they charged him with direct opposite. For someone who went to the Arewa House in Kaduna in mid-October and spoke to the admiration and commendation of northern elders —some of them Atiku’s own foot soldiers—a hireling came late in the race to say he had no plans for the North. Their lies had been debunked again and again. Northerners living in Lagos had come out to speak of how Tinubu and his policies gave them a place and opportunities to excel. A Katsina man is today a commissioner in Lagos state —a tradition started by Tinubu—many others are elected into different positions of leadership. Millions of children of northern extraction have benefitted from Tinubu’s non-discriminatory policy of free education. A lot of them have gone to excel in different fields.
At the beginning, they went about with the insinuation that Tinubu is a sick man. He shamed the naysayers through his effortless but very grueling campaign. All the lies have crumbled like a pack of cards and it is now time for Nigerians to vote for the candidates they can trust and one with original ideas and a track record of drawing water from a dry well.
The vibe out there is positive. Asiwaju’s suporters and teeming voters are upbeat to deliver him comes Saturday. They have trashed the tales of ethnic mongers and have chosen the path of honour and fairness which demands that good is returned with goodness.
As the colonial officer, Sir Brian Sharwood Smith wrote about the relationship between Britain and its then northern Nigerian colony, Tinubu may have come from Lagos and speaks no Hausa or Fulfulde but he has proven to be always a friend of the North. The trustworthy people that they are the northerners are ready to reciprocate his friendship and love.
By Abdulaziz Abdulaziz
Mr Abdulaziz is a Special Assistant on Media and Publicity to Asiwaju Tinubu.