Senators Abu Ibrahim and Bola Ahmed Tinubu were in the Senate together when Ibrahim Babangida was in power. They have remained great friends since. In this interview with AYO OLUOKUN, he explains why the chemistry between the two of them. Excerpts:
Can you tell us about how you met Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu and became friend with him?
Well, I first met Asiwaju in the Senate under former President Ibrahim Babangida then in 1993. He was in the Social Democratic Party, SDP, and I was in the National Republican Convention, NRC.
You were in a different political party from him. How did you become friends then?
We were in the same Senate and we were both Senators. During our contributions to debate on the floors of the Senate, I noticed that Asiwaju was very articulate. I admired the way he usually spoke and we became friends. We had become very close friends before the dissolution of the Senate by the military regime of late General Sani Abacha. So, after the dissolution of the Senate, we continued to interact. We held a meeting in Lagos after the dissolution of the Senate which was termed illegal by the then military government and we were arrested and taken to Alagbon Close where we were detained. But they couldn’t get Asiwaju initially. We were detained and later granted bail because we were accused of trying to overthrow the then military government. We were later granted bail, but they asked us to be reporting back to the security operatives. In the process of our reporting back, somehow they found Asiwaju and arrested him and our bail was revoked and all of us were then detained again. So, we started the process of trying to leave detention again. I became very close again with Asiwaju during our detention. It is a very long story— how we were taken to court, released and so on. So, I knew him from the Senate, to the period of our detention in Lagos for about a month or so. We stayed in the same detention facility and since then, we have been very, very close.
How were you able to maintain your relationship with him over the years, because both of you were not always in the same political party?
Sometimes, I am surprised too that even when we were in different political parties, we still relate very well. I think that also demonstrated the magnanimity of Asiwaju – if you are his friend, you are his friend for ever and he will do everything possible to maintain that link. When he was governor, I used to go to Lagos a lot to discuss with him. He was a governor, I was in the Senate and we continued to relate.
How would you describe him, what kind of person would you say he is?
Asiwaju is a kind person, very generous and somebody who can mentor people. You can see how he did it in Lagos. He is a nationalist; he believes in Nigeria, he believes in the unity of Nigeria. Look at the way he put his cabinet together as the governor of Lagos State – the cabinet was made up of people from various parts of the country. And from then, I realized that he loves Nigeria so much, he believes in the unity of this country, he is a stabilizer— every tribe relates with him easily. He is not a tribalist and he is a very generous person.
What role would you say he played in the formation of APC which both of you are now members of?
Surprisingly, I was the one who started the issue of Asiwaju and Buhari coming together. I was in the defunct ANPP with Buhari. I was also in CPC with him. Asiwaju is my friend outside the party. So, Tinubu was in ACN, Buhari was in CPC. Buhari contested election three times; he couldn’t win because he couldn’t get the spread of votes across the country. So, one day I suggested to Buhari that the only way he could win was to get the spread of votes across Nigeria and the only way to do that was to get a strong politician from the South. I suggested Tinubu who was immediately invited for a meeting in Kaduna, and the discussion started. That was around 2010. At that time, we were talking of alliance, not merger because the 2011 election was coming. The election was very near then. So, we were talking of alliance. But you know that under the presidential system, forging alliance is very difficult unlike under the parliamentary system. So, unfortunately, that didn’t work. And election took place in 2011 and Buhari lost again. So, after that election, we said let’s start early: we began to talk about issue of merger. Subsequently, I was one of the prime movers of the merger – starting from the alliance between the CPC and the ACN.
How would you describe his contributions to APC as a political party since its formation?
He is a very big stabilizer in APC. If Asiwaju didn’t participate strongly on some many fronts, the APC as a party would have been in a very serious trouble. He champions the legal cases of candidates who lost elections. He gives leadership, and he gives assistance. And whenever it comes to election, Asiwaju is at the forefront in APC. You can go to him to get assistance, tell him what your problem is. If it is legal, he will try and find a lawyer for you, if it is financial, he will assist. He is so generous. Let me tell you, I won election four times, three were actually saved by Asiwaju despite the fact that we were in different parties at the time. He is my friend, he relates with me and he assisted me very well. So, I will never forget him. I will remain loyal to him. That’s why I am standing with him now. Whatever he wants me to do, I will do it. I will help him as he helped me. I cannot be an ingrate because he has helped me a lot.
You have been going around trying to sell his aspiration to be Nigeria’s president in some parts of Northern Nigeria. Are they buying his candidacy?
What people don’t realize is that Tinubu has the biggest political base now because he has almost inherited Buhari’s political base. And that’s because everyone of Buhari’s men believes that Tinubu made Buhari president, so they like him.
Is it really true that Tinubu made Buhari president?
But they believe Tinubu made Buhari president because of the merger. It was when Asiwaju came into the merger with Buhari that Buhari was able to win the presidency. He tried three times before then and he failed. But the moment Tinubu came in, Buhari won. So, the over 12 million voters of Buhari in Northern Nigeria liked Tinubu. And that’s why I said the easiest way for APC to win the 2023 presidential election is to get Tinubu and give him the ticket. Once you put Tinubu on the ballot, he will win because the political base of Buhari is with him and that’s about 12 million voters.
But are you sure he is going to get the APC presidential ticket?
He is the leading aspirant now and I cannot see how APC can bring out another person as its presidential candidate except Tinubu. I don’t know, but I don’t think that is possible. He has the support base. He has the qualifications to be a good president. He was a governor, a senator; he successfully ran a state like Lagos. The people saw how he ran Lagos. If we are looking for capability, Tinubu is the best. We can see what he did in Lagos; how he upgraded Lagos to the level it is now. That is a good qualification for him. I believe he can do the same thing for Nigeria. Let’s give him the opportunity.
What is your message for him on this his 70th birthday?
I pray for longer life for him and good health and I will urge him to continue to play the noble role he has been playing to stabilize this country, of giving leadership and working for improvement in the lives of Nigerians. He should continue to do that.