The Chilling Story Of How Former Lagos Governor Bola Tinubu Was Almost Assassinated During Ramadan In December 1999
On the 12th of December, 1999, the executive governor of Lagos State, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, was shaken to the core of his existence. With tremor in his voice, he narrated how he was almost gunned down during the early hours of that day. Tinubu explained that he and his entourage were on their way home after inspecting the refuse clearing exercise of the Lagos State Waste Management Agency (LAWMA) and the monitoring of the Rapid Response Squad when all of a sudden the access road to the Lagos State Government House along Marina was blocked by some vehicles and a massive crowd.
At that moment, Tinubu said his security details tried to clear them and make way for his convoy but that was when chaos ensued. The policemen attached to him were attacked and bullets were rained on Tinubu’s car. The security forces guarding the governor fired back and a fierce gun battle ensued. Tinubu said as the bullets kept flying on both sides, a section of his security forces shielded him and took him to his residence.
Initially, there was some confusion as to the exact time the governor was attacked. The earliest reports put the time at about 12:30 am of that day. But later, Mike Okiro, the Lagos State Commissioner of Police said the attack against Tinubu was carried out about 3:30am. Tinubu himself said he had left the government house at about 2:30 am after discussions with his last guest. Tinubu’s aides on their own told reporters that the inspection tour lasted for about half an hour or so in order for the governor to arrive home in time for the early morning prayers and the early morning meal which must be taken before 5:30 am during the Muslim Ramadan month of fasting. Thus, they said the time of the attack was around 3:30 am.
For Charles Akaya, the deputy commissioner of police in charge of the criminal investigation department (CID), the attack took place 3:00 am. But the confusion was not only about the precise time but also about the people who really wanted Tinubu dead. According to the police, those who attacked Governor Tinubu with the intention of assassinating him were none other than members of the militant Oodua Peoples’ Congress (OPC). The police put the blame on OPC and said four of the attackers were killed by the police while seven were arrested.
On the other side, some aides of Tinubu insisted that the attackers were actually armed robbers and not OPC members as said by the police. They also said there was no assassination attempt on Governor Bola Tinubu. But who wanted Tinubu dead? Well, in August 1999, a big scandal broke out with Tinubu accused of falsifying his educational qualifications. Tinubu cried out saying his political opponents were behind the scandal and were engaging in a smear campaign against his name with the eventual plan of removing him as the governor of Lagos. Therefore, the initial speculation was that his opponents were the ones behind the assassination attempt.
To add more fuel to this accusation, a chieftain of Tinubu’s political party, the Alliance for Democracy, AD, was arrested in connection with the assassination attempt. The whole plot assumed a new twist when Lateef Oshodi, the leader of the group that attacked Tinubu said that he belonged to the Ganiyu Adams faction of the OPC. He also said they were very unhappy with the way Tinubu settled the Ketu/Mile 12 market crisis that erupted between Yoruba and Hausa traders in November 1999. Tinubu had imposed a dusk to dawn curfew on the area and gave the police the order to embark on a manhunt for the OPC factional leader Adams.
But some people were not convinced that OPC was in anyway involved in the attempt on Tinubu’s life. One of those people was Abraham Adesanya, leader of the pan-Yoruba organization Afenifere who said there was a grand plan to demonize the OPC. Another chieftain, Ayo Opadokun, the general secretary of the Afenifere also said the leadership and members of OPC are respected and well-behaved people who shunned all forms of crime and focused only on the protection of the Yoruba people. Frederick Fasheun, the leader of the original OPC faction said OPC had nothing to do with the attack on Tinubu’s convoy. Fasheun said OPC’s work was to protect the Yoruba people and their interests and could not possibly attack Tinubu who is a Yoruba man himself. But Fasheun did not stop there. He also, like the police, pointed the accusing fingers at the OPC faction led by Ganiyu Adams accusing them of relentless violence and numerous attacks on Yorubas and non-Yorubas.
Fasheun was not blabbing. On the 14th of December, 1999, some armed members of the militant faction of the OPC launched a devastating attack on the private hospital of Fasheun in Mushin. They set the hospital on fire and also destroyed three vehicles and one ambulance. Luckily for Fasheun, he was not present in the hospital when the attackers were unleashing their terror.
Tinubu’s had many enemies on many fronts and one of them at that time was the legal luminary and human rights activist Gani Fawehinmi. He had engaged in a legal battle with the police over allegations that Tinubu forged his qualifications. Fawehinmi called on the inspector-general of the police to meticulously investigate the attack on Tinubu because the whole incident looked too suspicious. Fawehinmi said he suspected that the ‘propagandist machine’ of the Lagos State government was the one at work. He accused Tinubu of spreading false rumours just like Adolf Hitler did with the burning of the German parliament in 1933 to pave way for him to clamp down on the Jews and gypsies.
Fawehinmi said that since the forgery scandal against Tinubu broke out in August 1999 that a lot of strange events had been happening in Lagos which included five communal clashes in which over 200 people were killed. The Tinubu camp did not find this funny at all. Dele Alake, special adviser and commissioner for information said Fawehinmi was only using his access to the media to talk crap. Alake said during the Sani Abacha dictatorial regime, gunmen attacked Adesanya and Wada Nas who was the special adviser to the late general accused Adesanya of organizing the attack against himself but that with the trial of Abacha’s gunmen, the truth was being revealed to the whole world. Alake said:
‘ I will therefore equate Fawehinmi’s statement with that of Wada Nas during the days of Abacha.’
On the side of the police, the seven suspects they arrested who claimed to be members of the OPC were Yemi Solomon, Rasaki Alatishe, Kayode Olubori, Taye Fagbola, Ayodele Enikanoshe, Ganiyu Nurudeen and Kayode Akinwale. Lateef Oshodi, leader of the group was arrested during the process of investigation. The police also said an unnamed chieftain of the Alliance for Democracy, AD, had also been arrested on the suspicion of sponsoring the attack on Governor Tinubu.
The suspects arrested by the police also had theirs to say. They said they were actually holding a meeting at Agbole Etti, a sub-clan in Lagos Island area of Tapa Oshodi with its own Eyo masquerade, when reports reached them that there was a robbery operation going on at the Tafawa Balewa Square where two OPC members were being robbed. The suspects said they organized other members to ambush the robbers. According to the OPC suspects, the convoy of the governor ran into them when they were engaged in a shootout with the armed robbers. They said they did not even know that Tinubu was in the entourage when they opened fire on the governor’s security men. Oshodi denied the allegation that some disgruntled politicians sponsored them. He said:
‘Nobody gave us money. This is a voluntary job.’
The police commissioner Okiro said they recovered some charms and dangerous weapons from the OPC suspects and told Lagosians there was enough security and police presence in Lagos State. Tinubu did not see it from that angle as he appealed to the federal government to allow for state police so he could go ahead and train about 20,000 policemen. President Olusegun Obasanjo did not agree, state police remains a big issue in Nigeria today while Tinubu triumphed against all odds to become one of Nigeria’s most dogged political strategists.
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- Who Wants Tinubu Dead? Wale Akin Aina, Newswatch, December 27, 1999, pages 16, 17, 18.