Nigeria's political 'godfather' Tinubu fulfils presidential dream

Wednesday March 01 2023
All Progressives Congress party candidate Bola Tinubu

Nigeria's ruling All Progressives Congress party candidate Bola Tinubu addresses supporters in Abuja on March 1, 2023 during celebrations at his campaign headquarters. He has been declared the president-elect following Saturday's elections. PHOTO | KOLA SULAIMON | AFP


Bola Tinubu, a political "godfather" famed for his strategic deftness and clout, never hid his ambition to be president of Nigeria.

The 70-year-old has now fulfilled his "lifelong" goal by winning the 2023 Nigeria’s presidential election, according to the final results released by Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) of Nigeria.

Despite lingering questions about his health and past corruption allegations, the two-time Lagos state governor will succeed President Muhammadu Buhari, a former army general he brags of helping put into power.

Electoral fraud claims

His ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) faces accusations of electoral fraud in Saturday's election from its two main opponents. But together with INEC officials, they have dismissed these claims.

Often referred to with the chieftain's title of "Jagaban", Tinubu has spent years building his Lagos powerbase into a nationwide network of contacts from Lagos market cooperatives and transport unions to political operatives.


But in a surprise result from Saturday's polls, rival Labour Party candidate Peter Obi won stronghold Lagos State.

"You win some, you lose some," Tinubu said of the result, urging his supporters to remain calm.

Days later the tenacious leader, who campaigned with the slogan "It's my turn", was confirmed as the winner of the presidency.

Political activist

A Muslim born in Nigeria's Yoruba-speaking southwest, Tinubu trained as an accountant in the United States and worked for several US companies, including as a treasurer at oil giant ExxonMobil.

He was a political activist before becoming a senator and later governor of Lagos State from 1999 to 2007.

During his activist days, he along with others, were hounded into exile by military dictator Sani Abacha for campaigning for a return to democratic rule in 1999.

Described by his allies as an astute political strategist, he co-founded and financed the Alliance for Democracy, which later became the Action Congress of Nigeria, and then helped form the ruling All Progressives Congress.

Pushed Buhari to victory

He was instrumental in bringing together APC factions, pushing Buhari to victory in 2015 and ending 16 years in power for the rival People’s Democratic Party (PDP).

The Buhari election win considered the first opposition victory in Nigeria, as well as his 2019 re-election, were partly attributed to Tinubu's political influence.

In a mark of his staying power, Tinubu kept a tight grip over the governorship of Lagos from 1999, holding the post until 2007 and holding a hand in choosing his successors since leaving office.

His influence in Southwest Nigeria irked some would-be candidates who missed out on top jobs, criticising him as dictatorial.

"Tinubu has a very aggressive, very solid political machine," said Dapo Thomas, a Political Science lecturer at Lagos University.

Corruption charges

Not only has Tinubu's political power been controversial, but also has his financial dealings.

He is believed to be one of Nigeria's richest politicians and after leaving office, he was accused of corruption, money laundering and operating more than a dozen foreign bank accounts. He was neither charged nor has he denied these accusations.

On their campaign trail, PDP critics labelled him as "wobbly, wonky and narcotic-devastated," a reference to health concerns as well as a 1993 US court filing that cited a "drug-related seizure of property" from his US bank account.

Unknown source of wealth

The source of his wealth is unknown, but he has investments in a number of business ventures, from media and aviation to tax consultancy, hotels and real estate holdings.

One critic described him as "a greedy politician" who has gobbled up major sources of revenue from Lagos.

But Nigeria’s Information Minister Lai Mohammed, who was Tinubu's former chief of staff, insisted he was among the shrewdest of political operators.

After the Nigeria’s presidential inauguration scheduled in May, Tinubu will face difficult decisions around removing costly fuel subsidies. He will also be expected to address rising poverty and rampant insecurity in the country.