The South West Agenda for Asiwaju (SWAGA ’23), one of the groups that mobilized support for Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s victory in the recent presidential election, stands out for two things. One: From day one, it started out as a collective initiative of a group, unlike others which came as individual initiatives before others were invited, drafted or volunteered to join.

Two: SWAGA began as a local or regional support group and expanded to national prominence. This sets it apart from hundreds of other groups which started small and got swallowed up by other, better structured and funded counterparts.

The idea that resulted in the formation of SWAGA was mooted sometime in 2020 by a group of politicians from the South West. At that time, the 2023 Presidential election was still three years away and Tinubu’s participation in it was still in the realm of speculation. The idea was part of an effort by the group to awaken the consciousness of the people towards the need for a President from South-West region in the post-Muhammadu Buhari dispensation – and they had Bola Ahmed Tinubu in mind. “We looked at how this could be achieved and we decided that a group could be the pivot,” Hon. Bosun Oladele, a former member of the House of Representatives and SWAGA National Secretary, said in an interview to mark the first anniversary of the official launch of the organization.

The initiators of the group set membership criteria to include prominent politicians from the South West who had the time and resources to devote to such a project. The other criterion was to admit those who could either be automatic delegates during indirect presidential primaries or had the capacity to pull a large followership for direct primaries.

“The only set of people that we felt will have the time and some resources to be able to do that are former members of the National Assembly,” Oladele who represented Irepo/Olorunsogo/Orelope Federal Constituency of Oyo state from 2015 to 2019, explained.  “The idea is that every former member of the National Assembly, be it Senator or Reps are automatic statutory delegates. If they say it is indirect primary tomorrow, even if they have gone to another party, wherever they are, they are among the delegates that will vote by rights and by law for all the parties…So, we decided to bring former members of the national assembly together, with the belief that we already have some votes in the kitty in case indirect primary is adopted.”

With the benefit of hindsight, Oladele and group also looked at the possibility of direct primary where all party members would vote. So, they decided to bring in notable politicians at the grassroots level that had a bond with the people at the grassroots. These included former and serving local government chairmen, House of Assembly members, councillors and other party leaders that could mobilise support for Asiwaju Bola Tinubu.  “That was the concept of SWAGA. At the time we were forming SWAGA, we just believed that we should have a political pressure group for advocacy on behalf of Asiwaju Bola Tinubu.”

The emerging group started by constituting the Central Working Committee made up of two members per state. But in Lagos state, they had to accommodate four members because of the size of the state. “Honourable Oye Ojo did a great job in terms of networking. We were all driven by the passion to see what we can do for Asiwaju given the fact that he has done so much for the South West and the progressive family,” Oladele said.

The new group had its first meeting in November 2020 where the name, South West Agenda for Asiwaju (SWAGA’23), was adopted. Its official launch took place on December 15, 2020 in Ibadan, the political capital of South-West Nigeria.

The occasion was attended by the likes of Senators Musiliu Obanikoro and Adeseye Ogunlewe and many dignitaries.  Interestingly, people came even from Northern Nigeria, including the Arewa community.

After the launch, the group, led by former minister of works, Senator Adedayo Adeyeye (Ekiti) and former Senator Adesoji Akanbi (Oyo), decided to meet some traditional rulers beginning with the Alaafin of Oyo, Oba Lamidi Adeyemi. The traditional ruler told them that the idea of canvassing support for Asiwaju tallied with his own thought and advised them not to chicken out from what they had started.

They later met the Olubadan of Ibadan who gave SWAGA his blessings, saying the project was in the interest of South-West Nigeria. The next port of call was Osun state where the group was received by the government and people of Osun state. They met the Ooni of Ife, Oba Enitan Ogunwusi, Ojaja II, who also gave his blessings, hosted about 300 of them to lunch and prayed for Asiwaju to succeed. The group met the Ataoja of Osogbo and Oluwo of Iwo who were present at SWAGA’s launch in Osogbo. There were over 40 traditional rulers in attendance during the launch, according to the National Secretary.

From there, the group went to Ogun state where all their coordinators down to the ward level were present. The Alake of Egbaland, Oba Adedotun Gbadebo said SWAGA had brought home his own candidate. He promised to pray for them because it would be to the glory of Yorubaland for Asiwaju to fly the APC flag and become the next president. The group also met the Akarigbo of Remoland who also prayed for Asiwaju to succeed. The visit to Ogun state was rounded off with a senatorial inauguration, a massive event, which brought Ogun Central, Ogun East and Ogun West senatorial districts together. Several traditional rulers in the state who attended the event spoke glowingly about Asiwaju. From there, the group went to Yewaland to receive blessings from the Olu of Ilaro, the paramount ruler.

From Ogun, SWAGA moved to Ondo state where it met Papa Reuben Fasoranti, former Afenifere national leader who said the time could not have been more appropriate than now for Asiwaju to contest for the presidency. He also prayed for Asiwaju’s success. “For us, that was an endorsement in a million,” the SWAGA National Secretary said. After three days traversing the entire landscape of Ondo state, the group went to Ekiti state for a full day of activities that virtually locked Ekiti down.

Oladele described the event in Lagos state as the mother of all inaugurations. The group went to virtually all divisions in Lagos state, from the Badagry division to Ikorodu division, to Lagos Island division and to Epe division. Oladele: “It was a week-long activity, from street advocacy to visitations to all the Kabiyesis and the reception was awesome. You could see the expectant enthusiasm in the traditional institutions and the people. Everybody wanted to participate in what we were doing, to the extent that people started buying Ankara (aso ebi), fez cap and t-shirts with SWAGA name and logo printed on them. The youths had street rallies and all strata of the society were fully represented from artisans, transport union workers and even professionals. We also got keynote speakers, people from the academia to speak on the day of the launch. The Governor, Mr. Babajide Olusola Sanwo-Olu came out to give us the necessary support. He commended us and said our courage was awesome because we threw everything into the project without fear that it may not spread as we wanted.”

Within one year, SWAGA which was conceived as a regional support group had spread to many other states across the country. States which had established affiliates of SWAGA in the first year included Akwa Ibom, Delta, Rivers, Niger, Kwara, Kebbi, amongst others, as well as FCT Abuja and North Central.

Apart from geographical growth, SWAGA also expanded demographically in its first year of existence. Women and youth wings sprang out. The women’s wing, called Women for SWAGA, is headed by Hon. Ayo Omidiran, a reputable grassroots politician and federal lawmaker. She is the State Coordinator for SWAGA in Osun State and doubles as the General Coordinator for Women for SWAGA. Omidiran had twice represented Ayedaade/Irewole/Isokan federal constituency in Osun State at the House of Representatives on the APC platform. She was a special guest at the “Greet and Meet” event organised on December 5, 2021, by the Lagos State for SWAGA, led by Hajia Fatima Bello.

Omidiran told her audience that her group  had been going around the states of Nigeria, visiting its affiliates, especially in the South-West States to rally support for Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu. “We have boasted that we (SWAGA ’23) have 12 million votes ready for Asiwaju in 2023…  “but this morning in Lagos, Women for SWAGA Lagos have promised to mobilize 2million women in Lagos alone to vote for Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu in 2023. I know they can do more than that. That’s why they say in the minimum. I believe you, I know Nigerians believe you and the calibre of women we have here say much about that belief.”

Oladele said that SWAGA ’23 is self-financing and sustaining. “Every money we have spent so far has been from our personal contributions without support from anyone, including Asiwaju himself. Till today, we have not gone to ask him for any financial support. It is a cause we believe in and are convinced about and so our members have resolved to put in everything they can, both physical and material resources to ensure it succeeds.”

Assessing SWAGA’s standing after one year of existence, Oladele said: “there are other groups supporting Asiwaju and canvassing for him but SWAGA has become the number one group and brand mobilizing support for Asiwaju Bola Tinubu across Nigeria today. Till tomorrow, SWAGA ’23 is the number one pressure and support group for Asiwaju Bola Tinubu.

Following Tinubu’s victory at the APC primaries, SWAGA issued a statement, jointly signed by Adeyeye and Oladele to appreciate their principal, Tinubu, and members.  They commended  all members of SWAGA’23 for voluntarily, relentlessly and passionately working to ensure the emergence of Asiwaju Tinubu as the Presidential flag bearer of the APC. “Now that the first stage of the process is over and won by our principal, we must embark on the final and crucial stage which is the general elections and the race to the Presidential Villa. Our group SWAGA’23 must, therefore, continue at the forefront of the campaign and mobilization at the grassroots for support and votes to win the race for our Principal.

“We must appreciate our principal for according us this recognition and responsibility at this time and we undertake neither to relent nor disappoint.

“We shall, therefore, embark on our mapped-out programmes very soon and we urge our members and affiliate groups to be ready for the mother-of-all campaigns. Together with God, victory is assured”, the statement added.

Of course, Tinubu won, and is now the President and Commander-in-Chief, Federal Republic of Nigeria.

That SWAGA was able to play such a pivotal role in the electoral victories of Tinubu in the party primaries and presidential election was not surprising. The group benefitted immensely from the wealth of experience of its leadership under the National Chairman, Senator Dayo Adeyeye, and National Secretary, Hon. Bosun Oladele, respectively, and others.

Senator Adeyeye, 66, a political scientist and lawyer, has had a work experience spanning three major professional fields – teaching, journalism and legal practice. He has been a successful politician who has played major roles on Nigeria’s political stage for decades.

As a pro-democracy activist, Adeyeye was a member of the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO); Director of Publicity, Falae for President Campaign Organisation (1990-1992); Adviser on policy and Press Matters, M.K.O. Abiola for President Campaign Organisation (1993); Spokesperson for the Alliance for Democracy (AD); and a member of the South-West Delegation to the Nigerian leaders of Thought Conference, Abuja.

Adeyeye was an Ekiti State governorship aspirant twice – in 2006 and 2018 – losing twice in controversial primaries. Adeyeye was also nominated twice for appointment as a minister, lost the first under President Umaru Yar’Adua but was confirmed under Goodluck Jonathan to become Minister of State for Works between 2014 and 2015.

Adeyeye’s election as Senator for Ekiti South Senatorial District in 2019 was later upturned by the election tribunal in favour of his closest rival, Abiodun Olujimi, after the recalculation of the results. Since then, he has been playing one political role or the order, including National Chairmanship of SWAGA ’23 since 2020.