Nigeria - Who Is Aspiring President Bola Tinubu?

Bola Tinubu, national leader of the All Progressives Congress (file photo).
13 January 2022
analysis

Ruling party chief and influential former Lagos governor Bola Tinubu has declared his ambitions to run for president in Nigeria's 2023 elections.

Bola Tinubu, the national leader of the ruling All Progressives Congress party, is seen as one of the front-runners to succeed President Muhammadu Buhari in Nigeria's presidential elections slated for February 2023.

"I informed the president about my ambition," Tinubu said, announcing his plan to run for president. "I have the competence, vision and capacity to build on the foundation of the president."

One of the country's most powerful political figures, Tinubu is also thought to be one of the richest people in Nigeria, Africa's largest economy and most populous nation.

But Tinubu still faces nomination by his party amid speculation that Vice President Yemi Osinbajo may also seek the the party's backing as presidential candidate.

Wily operator

To his supporters, Tinubu -- a Muslim from southwest Nigeria -- is a shrewd political operator with a reputation for getting things done.

His critics, however, are suspicious of the unknown sources of Tinubu's vast wealth, as well as his reputation as a political "godfather," who uses his power and influence to win support for preferred candidates.

They also question the health of the 69-year-old Tinubu, who spent three months abroad in 2021 undergoing and recovering from knee surgery. His long absence from official and party functions last year triggered a flood of rumors of ill health, and even his death.

On top of this comes swirling debate that Tinubu could be considerably older than 69 -- with theories based on supposedly suspicious edits on his Wikipedia page.

Even if his age is correct, in a country where half of registered voters are between 18 and 35, young people hoping for change may prefer a younger candidate as the successor to 79-year-old Buhari.

Exiled during military rule

An accountant with a degree from a Chicago State University in the United States, Tinubu worked at major firms, including as an executive at Mobil Oil Nigeria, before winning a senate seat in 1992.

But this first foray into politics was brief. After running afoul of Nigeria's military government for his involvement in the pro-democracy National Democratic Coalition, Tinubu fled into exile.

Upon the death of Nigeria's military leader Sani Abacha, he returned in 1998, heading straight back into politics.

From 1999 to 2007, he won two back-to-back terms as governor of Lagos State, which encompasses most of the city of Lagos.

Popular Lagos governor

At that time, the country's commercial capital -- with its population of some 13 million people -- was crippled by crime and corruption, and was sinking under the weight of unchecked population growth, traffic and trash.

Both his lovers and haters agree that during Tinubu's tenure, Lagos scrubbed up dramatically, transforming into a modern city.

Tinubu wooed investors and made far-reaching tax reforms, "using these resources to restore basic infrastructure and expand public services and law enforcement," according to a Briefing Paper by the Carnegie Endowment.

Rubbish got collected, crime fell, trees were planted and traffic was better managed.

Reputation as political 'godfather'

Tinubu officially departed Lagos politics in 2007, but he has been seen as grooming Lagos state governors ever since.

"I am a talent hunter. I put talents in office, I help them," he told Reuters news agency in 2015 during a Lagos gubernatorial election. "I use the best hand, the best brain, the best experience for the job."

Critics highlight this practice of installing his own man in office in Lagos State as evidence of Tinubu's cronyism.

They also point to outstanding questions about how Tinubu amassed his substantial wealth and real estate holdings -- the extent of which is unknown.

Although he hasn't held an elected position since the end of his second term as governor, Tinubu has been deeply involved in Nigeria's politics as a master strategist.

He was behind negotiations to unite Nigeria's opposition parties and push for electoral reforms resulting in the merger of Nigeria's three biggest opposition parties into the All Progressives Congress party in 2014.

He supported Buhari as the party's presidential candidate in the 2015 elections. Buhari's victory was in part thanks to Tinubu's extensive influence in Nigeria's southwest, especially Lagos.

Tinubu continued his support of Buhari in the 2019 elections.

On the eve of the polls, photos of two armored trucks driving into Tinubu's residence went viral on social media.

The next day, Tinubu admitted that the vehicles were carrying cash to his property, but added that he did nothing wrong.

"Excuse me, if I don't represent any agency of government and I have money to spend," he told reporters. "As long as not to buy votes."

Tinubu said it was nobody's business if he was giving money to people.

Kingmaker wants to be king

Speaking to journalists after announcing his presidential ambitions, Tinubu was asked why he wasn't satisfied to remain a kingmaker.

"About the cap of the kingmaker. I've never seen the cap of a kingmaker before. That is the truth," he said. "And I've never seen where it is written in the rule book anywhere in any country that a kingmaker cannot be a king unless you commit murder."

Meanwhile, Tinubu's supporters are rejoicing over the Electoral Amendment Act of 2021.

The act, which still needs to be signed into law by President Buhari, mandates that political parties allow all of their registered members to participate in voting for the candidate through direct primaries.

A direct primary could boost the chances of victory for Tinubu, "who is wealthy and commands a huge support base across many states," saidan analysis by the website The Africa Report.

Ubale Musa contributed to this article.

Edited by: Sonya Diehn

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