From his political journey as a Senator, governor and political godfather, the President-elect, Bola Tinubu, will today be sworn in as the fifth democratically elected President since Nigeria’s return to democracy in 1999, DEBORAH TOLU-KOLAWOLE writes
Bola Ahmed Tinubu will today assume office as the 16th President of Nigeria. The man popularly known as Jagaban, the leader of warriors, has never hidden his ambition to rule the country. True to his conviction and the title bestowed on him by the Emir of Borgu in Niger State, the politician believes that power is not served à la carte.
In 2022, when he announced his desire to succeed Buhari, the old general whom he helped make President, he was advised to remain a kingmaker.
But he insisted, “I have made others king. It is time for me to be king” while adding the fact that his lifetime’s achievement was to be Nigeria’s President.
Not a stranger to politics, Tinubu’s political journey began in 1991 as a member of the Peoples Democratic Movement, the political group of the late Major General Shehu Yar’Adua (retd.).
Though disliked by many, his years of experience gained by understudying Nigerian politics and tactics over the years would later work for him. Notwithstanding the fact that not much is known about his early years, Tinubu aged 71 has remained one of the most relevant politicians from the political class of the 90s.
Tinubu was said to have returned to Nigeria in 1983 after a few years of studying abroad at the Chicago State University and a stint in Arthur Andersen, Deloitte, and GTE Services Corporation in the United States.
In 1992, Tinubu was among the new set of politicians who were cleared by the former Head of State, General Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida, to contest elections, and he was elected as the Senator representing Lagos West constituency in the Third Republic that lasted just for 22 months.
During his brief stint in the Senate, he led the Senate Committee on Banking, Finance, Appropriations and Currency. To date, he is still regarded as one of the most active senators during that period.
In 1993, when former military dictator, Gen Ibrahim Babangida annulled the June 12 Presidential election won by the late Moshood Abiola popularly known as MKO, Tinubu was among prominent Nigerians who kicked against the injustice and the move by the military dictator to perpetuate himself in office. Tinubu did not only physically participate in various peaceful protests against the annulment; he addressed many press conferences to condemn Babangida and made the office too hot for him.
Though the military dictator would later set up an interim government headed by a civilian, Ernest Shonekan, he ensured that a former coupist, Sani Abacha remained in Shonekan’s cabinet. For activists like Tinubu, there was only one solution and that was for Abiola to be installed as President.
By November 17, 1993, Abacha overthrew the interim government of Shonekan in a bloodless military coup. Despite numerous protests by pro-democracy groups, Abacha became ruthless and suspended the 1989 Constitution for a full-blown military government. He also disbanded the national and state legislatures, removed the elected civilian governors, and banned political activities.
In early May 1994, Abiola who ran his campaign under the theme, ‘Hope 93’ announced his intention to form a ‘Government of National Unity.’ A week after, the formation of the National Democratic Coalition was announced. The group, made up of politicians, retired military officials, and pro-democracy figures, was formed in an effort to coordinate and focus the various pro-democracy factions around four main demands: The military must leave political office; Abiola must be installed as president; a sovereign national conference must be held to debate the country’s future and the country must be restructured along truly federal lines.
The plan by Abacha to hold another election for the constitutional conference was resisted by the members of NADECO and former lawmakers who met secretly and issued statements calling on the dictator to surrender power to Abiola.
On June 1, Ameh Ebute, the former senate president, publicly announced the senators’ decision to reconvene. Tinubu, Ebute, many senators and members of the House of Representatives were arrested the following day and detained without charge for weeks. They were alleged to have committed treasonable offence against the state and Tinubu, on his part, was also accused of planning to bomb Ejigbo NNPC depot. They were later granted bail by the court after several weeks of being humiliated by the security agencies.
Though Tinubu fled the country because of threats to his life, he would later come back to Nigeria following General Abdulsalam Abubakar’s decision to hand over power to a democratic government. Tinubu returned to Nigeria in 1999 and joined the Justice Forum, a political platform for the progressives in Lagos and became one of the prominent members that formed the Alliance for Democracy. He was supported by members of NADECO, Afenifere and citizens alike. This gave him the base he needed to emerge as the Lagos state governorship candidate under the AD.
Tinubu in a landslide victory polled 814,000 votes to defeat the candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, Dapo Sarumi, who got 184,000; the candidate of All Peoples Party Nosiru Kekere-Ekun scored 122,000 votes. Tinubu won 19 of the 20 local councils. He also won a second term in spite of the offensive launched by then-president Olusegun Obasanjo. While other AD governors failed to get a second term, Tinubu was re-elected and continued to dictate the politics of the nation’s commercial centre.
Expectedly, his control of politics in Lagos and across his South-West region has not gone down well with his political opponents who have continued to question and scrutinise his pedigree, educational qualifications, integrity and other aspects of his life and political career. The ex-Lagos state governor’s chokehold on Lagos is a sore point for those who love to hate him.
In a bid to actualise his dream of ruling the country, the jagaban struck an alliance with retired Major General Muhammadu Buhari, a serial election loser. The alliance between Buhari’s northern bloc of the Congress for Progressive Change and Tinubu’s southern bloc of the Action Congress of Nigeria would later birth the All Progressives Congress and make Buhari the president in 2015 and 2019.
Fast forward to early 2022, Tinubu declared his intention to run for the presidency. In an interview with state house correspondents, he announced that he already informed Buhari of his intention. What Tinubu probably did not know at that point was that the race for the presidency was not going to be easy.
The odds appeared to be against him. Buhari whom he helped to become the president did not offer a word of endorsement or support. Not only that, the chairman of the party who was instrumental to its formation went ahead to endorse Lawan. Like a bolt out of the blue, Abdullahi Adamu announced that Buhari had endorsed Lawan as the consensus candidate of the party. However, the intervention of the APC governors and some other stakeholders gave Tinubu some respite. He subsequently won the party ticket but his choice of a fellow Muslim as running mate became an albatross. The nomination of Kashim Shettima, ex-Borno State governor, drew knocks from the Christian community and posed a grave challenge to his election success.
But if he thought winning the APC presidential ticket was the last internal party hurdle he would face, Tinubu was proved wrong by the Central Bank Governor Godwin Emefiele’s naira redesign policy and the cash crisis that ensued across the country. The fuel scarcity which also hobbled businesses and threatened the February election also posed a headache for Tinubu. These issues were rightly or wrongly blamed on Buhari and some elements in the presidency were said to be opposed to Tinubu’s ambition. Though the CBN and Presidency denied that the policy was targeted at Tinubu, the South-West political kingpin in an outburst in Abeokuta, Ogun State alleged that it was intended to frustrate the electorate and prevent them from voting for him.
Tinubu who spoke in Yoruba said: “They don’t want this election to hold. They want to scuttle it. Will you allow them? They have started coming up with the issue of ‘no fuel’. Don’t worry, if there is no fuel, we will trek to cast the vote.
“If you like, increase the price of fuel, hide the fuel or change the ink on the naira notes, we will win the election. We will use our PVCs (permanent voter cards) to take over the government from them; if they like, let them say there is no fuel, we will trek there (polling booths).’’
Amidst fuel and naira scarcity, the 2023 Presidential elections were conducted on February 25, 2023. Despite the technical and logistics issues recorded during the polls, Tinubu defeated his opponents with a wide margin, scoring 8.7 million votes. He garnered over 25 per cent of the votes cast in 30 states, more than the 24 states constitutionally required and was declared the president-elect by the Independent National Electoral Commission on March 1, 2023. Following his emergence as the winner, Tinubu and his running mate, Shettima were faced with a barrage of lawsuits filed by the opposition parties disputing the outcome of the election.
Regardless of the opposition to his victory, Tinubu will be sworn in as Nigeria’s 16th President at Eagle Square, Abuja, today. It remains to be seen whether he will overcome the challenge to his ambition of leading the largest country in Africa as he aims to revive in 2023 the hope that was dashed by the military in 1993.