At 4.10 a.m. Nigerian time on Wednesday, 1 March, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, the candidate of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), was declared president-elect by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital.
That development, on the first day of March, marked not just the conclusion of a contentious presidential election process, but also the culmination of one man’s long and difficult march to the zenith of his country’s political power.
In the most wide-open presidential election Nigeria has seen since 1979, Mr Tinubu polled 8,794,726 votes to defeat 17 other candidates. His two closest opponents, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar of the PDP and former Governor Peter Obi of the Labour Party, are calling for the cancellation of the 25 February poll, alleging that it was tainted by voter suppression and the failure of INEC to upload polling units results from the over 176,000 polling stations to a web portal as stipulated in its guideline.
INEC has dismissed the claims of the candidates, whose agents walked out of the national collation centre, where the returns from the states were tallied, and advised them to take their grievances to the election petition tribunal, as stipulated by law. The president-elect a few hours later on Wednesday gave an acceptance speech before cheering party leaders and supporters, in which he offered reconciliation to his opponents and their supporters.
Mr Tinubu and a long-term ambition
Mr Tinubu has consistently played major roles in party politics since 1992 when he was elected senator for Lagos West District. He has since then been governor of Lagos for eight years. But unlike his three main opponents, including former Governor Rabiu Kwankwaso of the New Nigeria Peoples Party (NNPP), who returned fourth, this was the first time he would be running for president, whether in the party primaries or general elections. His victory means that he took the prize on first attempt, just like Shehu Shagari, Olusegun Obasanjo and Umaru Yar’adua before him.
Yet, it seemed on many occasions, between the point that he declared his bid and the certification of his election early Wednesday morning, that the feat might elude him. Mr Tinubu was the first in the APC to announce his bid. That was in January 2022, after a meeting with President Muhammadu Buhari at the presidential villa in Abuja.
The choice of location or timing of the announcement seemed to have been a strategic design to create the impression that President Muhammadu Buhari was in full support of the former governor’s ambition. But after several weeks of hesitation, many other aspirants declared too, including some ministers assumed to be close to the president.
And when Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, an associate of Mr Tinubu, also declared, it was taken as a confirmation that the president did not want the former Lagos governor, his most important political ally since they formed the APC in 2013, to succeed him. Mr Tinubu’s presidential ambition finally seemed imperilled a few days before the party primaries when he made the controversial “Emi lokan” (it is my turn) remark in Abeokuta, Ogun State while addressing party delegates. It was taken as a public attack on the president and the last kicks of a dying horse. But after a few more days of intrigues in the party, Mr Tinubu recorded a stunning landslide victory at the APC national convention in Abuja.
But it did not take long before the speculation that the president was not supportive of his candidature regained life. Mr Tinubu seemed to confirm the speculation when at a campaign stop again in Abeokuta, he spoke out against a fuel supply shortage that had lingered for several months across the country, and a currency redesign policy of the Central Bank of Nigeria. Kaduna State Governor, Nasir el-Rufai, later said on television that some fifth columnists at the presidency designed the two disruptive policies to incite voters against the APC at the general elections.
In spite of appeals by APC governors to the president to extend the deadline for the swapping of old naira banknotes for new designs of the banknotes, the central bank stuck to its schedule. Violent protests broke out in parts of the country over the severe scarcity of cash that arose from the implementation of the policy. But even after some APC-led state governments sued the federal government at the Supreme Court over the policy, Mr Buhari refused to vary his approval to the central bank for the implementation of the policy. The opposition, led by Atiku and Peter Obi of the Labour Party, hailed Mr Buhari for his stand on the issue, interpreting it as a determination to stop Mr Tinubu and state governors from buying votes during the elections.
It was under these circumstances that the APC went into the elections on Saturday. And the outcome underscored widespread dissatisfaction with the ruling party. In the presidential poll, it came top in only 12 states across the country, down from 19 when Mr Buhari was reelected in 2019. Mr Tinubu also lost Lagos, his stronghold since 1999, to the Labour Party while Mr Buhari’s Katsina flipped to the PDP. In the North of Nigeria, where it had been dominant since 2015, the APC won only six of the 15 states in which it has governors.
In the end, Mr Tinubu managed to draw the highest votes, although the votes in quantum and as a percentage of the total votes cast, were still the lowest by a winning candidate in the Fourth Republic. Yet that feat was entirely due to the division of the opposition, which split into three, and an unresolved internal crisis in the PDP. The Labour Party, whose candidate was the PDP vice presidential candidate in 2019, seized the strongholds of the main opposition party in the South-east, South-south and North-central. In Lagos where Mr Obi embarrassed Mr Tinubu, the PDP candidate suffered a worse rout, leaving Mr Tinubu with a net gain of about 500,000 votes over Atiku, his closest rival. And in Kano, where the APC share of the votes fell by half, the beneficiary was the NNPP which also seized most of what had been the PDP shares in previous elections. The crisis in the PDP also saw the party losing strategic support in especially Rivers, Oyo and Benue states.
However, in spite of the opposition cannibalising and leaving itself supine in the fight, the poll could still have dragged into a run off, but for the residual support that the APC retains across the North. Mr Tinubu came out with more votes in the North-west and North-central than Atiku, despite losing the four-K (Kaduna, Kano, Katsina, Kebbi) states and taking only two of the seven states in a zone with the largest voter population in the country and long-term fortress of the APC.
By his victory in the presidential election, Mr Tinubu became the third person from the South-west to be elected president in 30 years and in the entire history of the country. However, the election of the first one, Moshood Abiola, was annulled and he died in prison under the military while insisting on the de-annulement of the 1993 presidential election and revalidatiion of his mandate. Despite the hard way he secured his victory, the president-elect is going to the Aso Rock Villa with a reputation of a successful governor, party builder and political strategist. This will raise expectations among Nigerians and outside the country about the prospects of Nigeria on his watch. After the security and economic crises of the past eight years, many believe Mr Buhari’s is not a tough act to follow. Some reports on Tuesday stated that Nigerian stocks rose upon information that Mr Tinubu was heading for victory.
Mr Tinubu and an anonymous entry
Mr Tinubu made an almost anonymous entry into the political terrain during the political transition programme of General Ibrahim Babangida. He was a member of the Peoples Front political association founded by the late Shehu Yar’adua but the group and others were denied registration as political parties by the junta. Instead, it established two parties, the Social Democratic Party and the National Republican Convention. The Yar’adua group moved into the former and it was under the party that Mr Tinubu was elected senator in July 1992.
After Sani Abacha, the military successor of Mr Babangida, scrapped the transitional democratic institutions, including the National Assembly, threw Mr Abiola into jail and went after his supporters with an iron fist, Mr Tinubu joined in the formation of the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO) which sustained a campaign against military rule. His involvement in the pro-democracy struggle forced him into exile. When he returned home after the June 1998 death of Mr Abacha, Mr Tinubu joined in forming the Alliance for Democracy and was elected the first governor of Lagos in the Fourth Republic in 1999. He was the only one among the six governors of the party, all of them in the South-west, to retain office in 2003 after Mr Obasanjo’s PDP seized control of the region during the president’s reelection that year.
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Mr Tinubu’s legacy as governor of Lagos include pioneering the Bus Rapid Transit System and LAGBUS, establishment of the Lagos State Traffic Management Authority (LASTMA) and creation of 37 local council development areas. As an advocate of true federalism, he referenced at least 13 matters related to the principle of federalism to be tested by the Supreme Court. His creation of the LCDAs led to the federal government seizing the allocations to local governments in the state from the federation account until he and Mr Obasanjo left their different offices in 2007.
After his tenure as governor, Mr Tinubu concentrated on rebuilding his party to reclaim the Southwest from the PDP and to build alliances outside the region for influence in national politics. In 2006, Atiku, at that time a vice president, who had fallen out with President Obasanjo and was being hounded by the PDP, crossed over to the Action Congress of Mr Tinubu to run unsuccessfully in the 2007 presidential election. After further incarnation as Action Congress, Action Congress of Nigeria, Mr Tinubu’s party merged with two other legacy parties (the All Nigerians Peoples Party and the Congress for Progressive Change) and factions of APGA and the PDP to produce the APC in 2013. The party was an instant hit with the Nigerian voters and it defeated the ruling PDP in the 2015 elections. Several leaders of the APC spoke on various occasions about the pivotal role of Mr Tinubu in the formation of the APC.
According to President Buhari, “If Bola Ahmed Tinubu did not participate, there wouldn’t have been a merger and there wouldn’t have been an APC government at the centre. That is absolutely clear.”
Speaking in the same vein, a former governor of Rivers and Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, said: “I think what was important is that he was able to gather the political class together – it was key, more than gathering the populace, because once you gather the leadership of the political class then you could ensure there was unanimity of purpose and they could sell jointly this CHANGE mantra… He is a progressive.”
When he is sworn in on 29 May, Mr Tinubu will become Nigeria’s fifth president of the Fourth Republic. Controversy persists over aspects of Mr Tinubu’s biography, especially his date of birth, parentage and early education. However, his records established that he was born on 29 March 1952. He went to the United States in 1975, where he studied first at Richard J. Daley College in Chicago and then at Chicago State University. He graduated in 1979 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Accounting.
MrTinubu worked for the American companies Arthur Andersen, Deloitte, Haskins, & Sells, and GTE Services Corporation. He returned to Nigeria in 1983 and joined Mobil Oil Nigeria as an auditor, and later became an executive of the company.
He is the author of at least two publications: “Financialism: Water from an Empty Well”, which was co-written with Briane Brown; and “Common Sense Revolution”, which was presented at the seventh Bola Tinubu Colloquium.
He has many honorary academic awards, including: Doctor of Civil Law (DCL) (Honoris Causa) by the University of Njala, Freetown, Sierra Leone; Doctor of Science (D.Sc) by Kano State University of Science and Technology; Doctor of Science (D.SC) in Management Sciences by Ladoke Akintola University of Technology; Doctor of Political Science and Diplomacy by Adeleke University, Osun State; Doctor of Business Administration by University of Abuja, and Doctor of Business Administration by Usman Dan Fodio University, Sokoto.
The president-elect also holds many chieftaincy titles, including Asiwaju of Lagos, Aare of Ile Oluji, Eze Obalu Dike Gawu na Oko, Jagaban of Borgu, Are-Ago of Egbaland and Wakilin Raya Emir of Gusau.
Mr Tinubu is married to Remi, who is a current senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.