By Muyiwa Olayinka
There is no doubt that Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu remains one of the dominant political figures in Nigeria today. A Yoruba man from one of the most politically ethnic stocks that made up Nigeria, he has been able to entrench himself into the consciousness of Nigeria and has proven his dexterity to survive in the murky waters of Nigerian politics.
A lot has been said about this political icon, this article will X ray his rise in politics, his current challenges in the ruling party, All Progressive Congress (APC) he helped to midwife, his rumored presidential ambition to succeed President Buhari in 2023 and to cap it all, the need to rebrand himself.
Evolution of Tinubu
Little is relatively known about the younger Tinubu, much of his formative stage is shrouded in secrecy. His biological parents are unknown, but was adopted by late Iyaloja of Lagos state, Abibatu Mogaji. Though unconfirmed sources said he’s from Iragbiji in Osun state, this line of story could probably be true and confirmed why Tinubu is more interested in Osun state with his nephew, Gboyega Oyetola the current governor.
He attended St. John’s Primary School, Aroloya, Lagos and Children’s Home School in Ibadan, South West of Nigeria, then went to the United States in 1975, where he studied first at Richard J. Daley College in Chicago, Illinois, and then at Chicago State University. He graduated in 1979 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Accounting.
Tinubu worked for the American companies Arthur Andersen, Deloitte, Haskins, & Sells, and GTE Services Corporation. After returning to Nigeria in 1983, Bola Tinubu joined Mobil Oil Nigeria, and later became an executive of the company.
His political career began in 1992, when he joined the Social Democratic Party where he was a member of the Peoples Front faction led by Shehu Musa Yar’Adua and made up of other politicians such as Umaru Yar’Adua, Atiku Abubakar, Baba Gana Kingibe, Rabiu Kwankwaso, Abdullahi Aliyu Sumaila, Magaji Abdullahi, Dapo Sarumi and Yomi Edu. He was elected to the Senate, representing the Lagos West constituency in the short-lived Nigerian Third Republic.
The abrupt annulment of June 12 1993 Presidential election by General Ibrahim Babangida IBB believed to have been won by Chief MKO Abiola changed the political trajectory of Tinubu. General Sani Abacha who inherited the transitional government hurriedly put together by IBB when he was forced to step aside, and headed by Chief Ernest Shonekan dissolved the democratic institutions. This singular action set a chain of series of actions that nearly set the nation on fire.
Tinubu teamed up with other prodemocracy groups including National Democratic Coalition (NADECO) to fight the annulment and the prolonged incarceration of the presumed winner, Chief MKO Abiola. In the course of the struggle, Tinubu was arrested and detained at the dreaded Alagbon prison. He had to flee Nigeria, after his temporary release, and went on political exile in United Kingdom, for fear of his life, and continued his political activities putting pressure on the military junta to reverse the annulment.
This period marked a turning point for Tinubu that eventually helped his political career. He along with other activists like Chief Alfred Rewane, General Alani Akinrinade, Professor Wole Soyinka, Dr Kayode Fayemi, Bashorun Dele Momodu Chief Ayo Opadokun, and Rear Admiral Ndubuisi Kanu became thorns on the flesh of the military junta of Abacha.
Fortunately General Abacha died in office and not too long after, Abiola died while efforts were being made to secure him a conditional release. The deaths of Abiola and Abacha ushered a golden opportunity for Nigeria to return to civilian rule, Tinubu had no choice than to join the next phase.
The making of Tinubu, a political strategist
Three parties namely Alliance for Democracy AD, All Nigeria Peoples Party APP and Peoples Democratic Party PDP were the existing party in 1999. In Lagos Late Funsho Williams had a formidable political machinery and was ready to contest the gubernatorial election in Lagos but was prevailed upon by the leaders of Yoruba socio political group, Afenifere to step down for Bola Ahmed Tinubu.
Bola Tinubu won the governorship primary and went on to win and became Governor of Lagos state between 1999 to 2007. AD, a Yoruba party of Southwest went on to win all the states, namely Oyo, Osun, Ondo, Ekiti and Ogun.
Olusegun Obasanjo, a Yoruba man from southwest emerged Nigerian President on the platform of PDP. The dynamics of politics in Nigeria as at that time made Obasanjo to have a political working partnership with AD to win his re-election. Tinubu pointed the dangers of having a working relationship with an opposition but his pleas fell on deaf ears. The political tsunami of 2003 general election swept all the AD governors in the southwest leaving only Tinubu that won his state convincingly. Other states like Ondo, Ekiti, Ogun and Osun were won by PDP candidates.
By the time Tinubu completed his second term in 2007; he refused to go to the Senate like other ex-Governors of his class but stayed back in Lagos to recover some of the lost states in Southwest to the opposition party of PDP. The political sagacity of Tinubu and his doggedness came to the fore when his efforts paid off after joining forces with former National Labor Congress leader, Adams Oshiomhole to reclaim his stolen mandate in Edo state in 2008. Oshiomhole ruled from 2008 to 2016, completing two terms before handing over to his successor, Godwin Obaseki
Tinubu joined forces with his former NADECO colleague, Dr Kayode Fayemi to secure a favorable court judgment in October 2010 that sent Engineer Segun Oni, a PDP candidate out of office. He capped his political success by securing another favorable court judgment in favor of his former commissioner in Lagos, Raufu Aregbesola to remove Chief Olagunsoye Oyinlola another PDP candidate in Osun state.
The golden moment of Tinubu’s political career peaked when he joined forces with other opposition figures to win against the ruling government of Goodluck Jonathan of PDP and elected the current President Muhammadu Buhari in 2015 Presidential election. Tinubu was instrumental to Buhari’s success because as the towering political figure from south, he was able to mobilize and garner substantial elusive southern votes. He midwifed the handshake across River Niger and extended it to north, instrumental to the mergers of the legacy parties of Action Congress Party (ACP), All Nigerian Peoples Party (ANPP), Congress Party (CPC), All Peoples Grand Party Alliance (APGA) that metamorphosed to All Progressive Congress (APC), the ruling party. Buhari who had tried unsuccessfully three times in the past will forever grateful to the political mastery of Tinubu.
The declining political fortunes of Tinubu
Tinubu was given his dues in the government and had the opportunity to make inputs in key major appointments. For example, the Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo is a nominee of Tinubu, so also the former chairman of Federal Inland Revenue Service FIRS, Babatunde Fowler. He is given the title of the national leader of the ruling party but this could be likened as a political subterfuge because according to the statutes of the party, Mr. President is the national leader of the party.
The party faced internal squabbles due to conflicts of interests among groups that formed the government in the first term. For example the executive arm of the government had running battles with legislative arm that invariably stunted the smooth running of government affairs and the party.
The crack between Tinubu and the government of Buhari became noticeable in 2018 when Senator Remi Tinubu complained publicly about the exclusion of her husband (Tinubu) in decision making.
“I was hurt with, you know, what they did to my husband after the campaign,” Mrs. Tinubu said during an appearance on TV Continental’s ‘Your View’ in Lagos. “Occasionally I’ll chip in and say, you’re still helping out? Why are you helping out?” While Tinubu was losing grip at the national level, he was also losing in the south west region.
In Lagos state where Tinubu holds sway, he had to contend with the ‘Abuja boys’ led by his godson and ex-Governor of Lagos state, Babatunde Fashola, in arriving at the joint ticket of Babajide Sanwoolu and Obafemi Hamzat as a compromise candidate in 2019 governorship election. Deputy Governor Hamzat represents the ‘Abuja boys’ while Sanwoolu represents the Tinubu’s camp, both went to win the election to replace Akinwunmi Ambode led government.
Tinubu’s candidate in the last Ondo governorship election, Abraham Segun failed at the primary, while Rotimi Akeredolu, ably supported by the Federal Government won the election in 2015. This year’s election that is half way has seen his candidate, Segun the only candidate that was disqualified at the party’s primary among the twelve candidates of APC.
Dr Kayode Fayemi broke ranks with Tinubu, his campaing financed and supported by the federal government before he won his reelection in 2018 to beat Ayo Fayose’s preferred candidate, Olusola Eleka
Tinubu’s candidate, Adebayo Adelabu lost to PDP’s candidate Governor Seyi Makinde in Oyo state governorship election in 2018. Tinubu’s nephew Governor Gboyega Oyetola was elected through a political macabre and abracadabra in Osun state. Currently Tinubu’s influence in South west is limited to two states, namely Lagos and Osun state, though his party’s candidate is in charge of Ogun state .
Despite the crack with the Buhari led government, Tinubu supported him in his reelection in 2019 Presidential election and Buhari won. Buhari had a slight edge over Atiku Abubakar of PDP in South west a pointer to the dwindling political fortunes of Tinubu
Tinubu though denying it, has quietly nursed the ambition to contest Presidential election and succeed Buhari in 2023 general election. He has steadily with the support of the erstwhile Chairman Adams Oshiomhole controlled the members of the national executive committee and the machinery . Unfortunately for him, his ambition has not endeared him to the mainstream of Yoruba leadership that viewed his ambition as abandoning the noble ideals and objectives of protecting Yoruba interests in a divisive Nigeria.
Some of the reasons suffice:
1. Tinubu has abandoned the agelong quest for restructuring and federalism he agitated for when he was in opposition
2. He sat on the fence during the incursion of the marauding Fulani herdsmen into the south west. Many Yoruba elites were kidnapped, farm crops were destroyed. For example, elder statement,, Chief Olu Falae was kidnapped and his farm destroyed. The famous statement “Where are the cows” he made during the condolence visit to leader of Afenifere’s leader, Chief Fasoranti, when his daughter, Mrs Funke Olakunrin was killed in broad daylight has put him in bad light.
3. He was not in total support of Amotekun, a security outfit promoted by the core six southwestern states to stop the incursions.
The sectional agenda promoted by Buhari’s government has made a cross section of Yoruba to agitate for Oduduwa republic, a reaction to the continued sidelining of Yoruba leaders in national politics. For example, the Vice President Yemi Osinbajo has in recent times been relegated to the background.
Tinubu’s influence in the party has been drastically whittled down with the recent dissolution of the National Executive Committee by President Buhari. The recognition of Victor Giadom faction of APC led to the dissolution and the removal of Chairman Adams Oshiomhole. Not too long ago, a prominent Yoruba traditional office holder, Aaare Ona Kakanfo of Yorubaland, Gani Adams mocked Tinubu about his current predicament in a viral video.
The way forward for Tinubu
I could not agree less with supporters of Tinubu that it’s within his constitutional right to contest for the highest position in the land but however, the pursuant of the ambition is too early. Tinubu has shown his hands too early.
The present government has just been elected and barely spent a year; early politicking will distract the government from its set objectives and be bogged down by partisan politics, most especially when the nation is still battling with the pandemic of Coronavirus.
Tinubu should be mindful with benefit of hindsight that past elected democratic Nigerian Presidents emerged by other factors apart from personal desire. He should be reminded that mere playing regional politics and positioning his ‘boys’ in key positions are not enough. Some of his boys have grown to become men with guided personal interests rather than playing second fiddle to a political godfather. Tinubu had to ban the mandate group of APC in Lagos to stop one of his closest associate and minister of interior, Rauf Aregbesola from his hidden agenda. The erstwhile national legal adviser, Dr Muiz Banire who along with Babatunde Fashola drafted the constitution of APC has jumped ship.
The political demographic has changed unlike what entails in these past twenty years Tinubu had been holding sway in Lagos state. For him to be relevant, he needs to rebrand himself to the new political realities. He could decide to become an elder statesman, playing the role of a selfless and patriotic citizen while playing partisan politics. The hawks and the pro northern establishments in Buhari’s government are not favorably disposed to his candidacy and will do anything to stop him.
The time to rebrand is now or else he could be disgraced and shamed.