Op-ed: Why Bola Tinubu Lost the 2023 Presidential Election

By Rudolf Ogoo Okonkwo

In his article, “Osinbajo’s Road to Abuja: The Untold Story,” Olawale Olaleye told how Osinbajo ‘defeated’ Bola Tinubu to become Muhammadu Buhari’s vice-presidential candidate.

According to the story, early in 2015, as soon as Buhari became the presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Bola Tinubu set up a committee to come up with a way to justify to the nation his inevitable choice as Buhari’s running mate. That was because the Buhari-Tinubu ticket would have imposed Muslim-Muslim candidates on Nigeria. One of the committee members was Yemi Osinbajo, the current Vice President of Nigeria. As the story went, Osinbajo expressed to the committee members that it would be difficult for him to go back to his constituency and explain the potential Muslim-Muslim ticket. Osinbajo’s discontent got to Bola Tinubu, and he held it as a grudge against his former Attorney-General when he was the governor of Lagos State.

While this was going on, Muhammadu Buhari’s committee set up to shortlist his possible Vice Presidential candidates arrived at three names. One of the names was Yemi Osinbajo. When Buhari took the three names to Bola Tinubu to give him the honor of picking one in recognition of his contribution to Buhari’s campaign, Tinubu flared up when he did not see his name on the list. In the intriguing negotiations and permutations that followed, despite Bola Tinubu’s initial rejection, Osinbajo ended up as the Vice Presidential candidate of Buhari instead of Tinubu.

That was how Tinubu lost out in his quest to be Buhari’s running mate in 2015. Of course, if Bola Tinubu had been Vice President for the last six years, a different conversation would be going on in Nigeria today.

Now, here is how Tinubu will lose out in his quest to become the President of Nigeria in 2023.

Undoubtedly, amongst those who have declared their interest in running for president in the 2023 election, Bola Tinubu is the most formidable. It was not a secret that he had nursed the ambition of being president since he left the governorship of Lagos State in 2007. He has invested a lot of political capital in building a humongous political structure across Nigeria. As the political season opens up, he hopes to deploy all his resources to attain his ultimate political goal.

The troubles with Bola Tinubu’s candidacy are enormous. Some are within his control, while others are not. No candidate for the presidency of Nigeria has ever come into the campaign with much political baggage as Tinubu, not even Muhammadu Buhari.

We can find in three folds everything wrong with Muhammadu Buhari in Bola Tinubu. In 2015, there was the myth that Buhari’s abbreviated performance in 1984 as the military Head of State was what Nigeria needed. We cannot say the same about Tinubu. Nobody can say that Tinubu’s abysmal performance as governor in Lagos State from 1999 – 2007 displayed any spark of brilliance that can make a dent in Nigeria’s precarious situation today. In 2015, some thought Buhari was disciplined. In 2022, everyone knows that Tinubu is not disciplined. In 2015, some saw Buhari as incorruptible. In 2022, everyone knows Tinubu as the epitome of bullion-van-level corruption in Nigeria. In 2015, some looked at Buhari as healthy and agile. In 2022, everyone knows Tinubu is ill and sluggish. In 2015, some perceived Buhari as someone that commanded respect within military circles. In 2022, everyone knows that the only military wings that respect Tinubu are the touts, alayes and the area boys.

Unlike Buhari, who had several opportunities to try, Tinubu has just one chance – 2023. It is a do-or-die situation for him. He has no second chance. If he doesn’t win, he goes home without fulfilling his dream. That puts tremendous pressure on the man.

So, we expect a vigorous campaign from Bola Tinubu. And as the first week of his one-shot campaign shows, it won’t be an easy ride for the self-described “kingmaker” who wants to be a king.

The self-inflicted personal baggage of Tinubu is well known to all. His inability to present a straight biography is one of them. Nothing about him is straightforward – his age, his name, his certificates, his schools (primary, secondary, university), his parents, his source of wealth, the state of his health, his ever-changing ideology, etc. Even his classmates are unknown. At least, Buhari has been taking pictures with his secondary school classmates as proof that he went to secondary school.

Though possession of a crooked biography has never stopped anyone from being the president of Nigeria, the case of Tinubu is so egregious. They are coming at a point when Nigerians are less tolerant of such character flaws. It does not help that more and more Nigerians are beginning to see the correlation between such flaws and the performance of the bearer, as Muhammadu Buhari exemplified. It does not help Tinubu that Nigerians are coming into a new awareness of how personal things affect professional things and how individual faults impact the collective interest of we, the people.

Of course, in Nigeria’s crooked democracy, the people have little say on who will ultimately become their president. The power brokers are the most significant determinants of who will emerge as president.

Here is what is working for Bola Tinubu.

If APC fields Tinubu as its presidential candidate, APC is finished. If APC does not field Tinubu as its presidential candidate, APC is finished. As a result of that reality, APC is trying, but it has not found a way to extricate itself from that quagmire.

In 2015, when Nigeria was still at its innocent stage, Buhari was forced to pick a pastor as his running mate to deflect the perception of him as an Islamist. In almost seven years in office, Buhari’s obscene mismanagement of Nigeria’s diversity raises the stake so high for Bola Tinubu. The heightened ethno-religious tension in Nigeria complicates Tinubu’s life on so many levels.

If Tinubu were to become the presidential candidate of the APC, his first challenge is finding a Vice Presidential candidate that will be satisfactory to Northern leaders. As we have seen in the past, a Northern Christian is not satisfactory to the North as a vice presidential candidate when the presidential candidate is a Southern. It doesn’t matter if the Southern is a Muslim because, in the North, a Southern Muslim is not seen as authentic as a Northern Muslim. The North would rather have a Southern Christian president with a Muslim vice president than a Southern Muslim president with a Northern Christian vice president.

While a Muslim-Muslim ticket could win the presidency in 1993, it was unacceptable in 2015. And that was why Bola Tinubu was not named the Vice President to Buhari then. Buhari’s performance makes it ten times more difficult to sell a Muslim-Muslim ticket to Nigerians in 2023. Of course, Bola Tinubu thinks he can sell it, another indication that he lives in a world of those who have taken mkpurummiri. Tinubu thinks his Southwest base, known to care less about whether their leader is Muslim or Christian, will abide by him. This is so 1993.

But the truth is that the power brokers in the North are not going to take that chance. They instead back another candidate that will not bring about so many complications to their interest. And that is why they are leaving the room for a Northern candidate to be the presidential candidate of the PDP, just in case they need to default to supporting the party in 2023.

Another thing not working for Bola Tinubu is that in northern power circles, nobody trusts him. He is not an Obasanjo. In the past, he had expressed his distaste for one-Nigeria. Coming out of NADECO, he once flirted with the campaign for a radical restructuring of Nigeria in ways the North detests. The bottom line is that Tinubu does not fit into the character that either the North or the South will want for president. No wonder the Southwest-based cultural group, Afenifere quickly disassociated themselves from his campaign for president.

When it is all said and done, history will record that Bola Tinubu used the first part of his life to destroy the last. He was not the first to do so. And he will not be the last. That realization should console him. And irrespective of who becomes the president of Nigeria in 2023, Nigeria would be better off than the country would have been if it were to be Bola Tinubu.

Okonkwo teaches Post-Colonial African History at the School of Visual Arts in New York City. He is also the host of Dr. Damages Show. His books include “This American Life Sef”, “Children of a Retired God” among others.

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