Asiwaju Bola Tinubu: The unusual godfather

By Haniel Ukpaukure

No leader in history has ever been loved by everybody – no human being does. The greatest and most significant record of a leader that was not loved even by his own people was Jesus Christ, whose people, the Jews, hailed ‘Hosanna’ to herald him in his triumphant entry into Jerusalem one day and, a week later, shouted ‘crucify him’, which was a prelude to his death on the cross.

Bola Tinubu, the national leader of the All Progressives Congress (APC), may not enjoy the love of everybody including even those whose interest he devotes his time, resources and energy to fight for. But he cannot be ignored anywhere in Nigeria. He has become a permanent fixture in Nigerian politics, and no discussion on political developments in the country is complete without generous mention of his name. “I am in the news more because I’m working; Nigerians discuss active men on the field”, he says of the recurring mention of his name in political discussions.

Sometime in 1986, shortly after the then military president, General Ibrahim Babangida returned from a two-month medical leave in France where had gone to treat a strange foot disease known as radiculopathy, the late sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, visited him in Dodan Barracks, Lagos, to wish him speedy recovery. In acknowledging Awolowo’s importance and relevance in the country, Babangida described him as the main issue in Nigerian politics.

Today, Tinubu is undisputedly the main issue in Nigerian politics. Nothing best underscores this assertion than the fact that it is still four years to the next presidential election; yet, discussions today on President Muhammadu Buhari’s potential successor are focused on Tinubu, even when there is no indication so far that the man has signified interest for the highest office in the land. Such is his relevance on the country’s political scene where he bestrides like a Colossus.

Tinubu is a godfather – and one that is different from the usual god fathers that are found in every segment of society; in business, sports, religion, education, entertainment, etc. The human face that he brings to his brand of god fatherism stands him out from the crowd and makes it difficult for him to be ignored, even by those who hate him.

Until 2015, he was commonly referred to as the god father of South West politics. That sobriquet changed when he single-handedly led the geo political zone out of the regional politics it had traditionally played to national relevance, the reason Buhari was able to break his 12-year jinx and shed off the toga of a serial presidential election loser.

Many words have been used to describe Tinubu, and none is off the mark. Thinker; master strategist; leader; organizer; mobilizer; visionary; benefactor; dependable ally; rewarder; philanthropist; nationalist. You name them. Across the length and breadth of the South West, and now gradually going out of the region into other parts of the country, there are dozens of people who unhesitatingly identify with at least one of the sobriquets as having applied to them.

Tinubu has been accused of amassing wealth and power. But none of his traducers has accused him of using the wealth and power for his selfish aims. He has used them to better the lot of others politically, economically and socially. Thousands abound whose lives he has changed forever. This easily explains the reason he has an army of fiercely loyal disciples and followers behind him, many of who would gladly lay down their lives for him, for any cause he believes in. And there are many who would not bat an eyelid killing for him.

It is obvious his followers and those that have benefitted from him understand his philosophy of helping others. “If you want me to do something for you, line up in orderly manner; then I can share my peanuts”, he was reported as saying.

Tinubu left office as Lagos State governor in 2007 after two successful terms that heralded a new era of accelerated development in the state. Not many of his contemporaries of that time are still heard of today. Some have become elder statesmen staying in the background to offer advices when needed. Some retired to live quiet lives waiting for their final call from this side of the Great Divide. But Tinubu has remained even more relevant today than he was then, not only in Lagos and the South West, but also in the country.

It is to his credit that the state has had high performing governors since he left office – a testimony to his uncanny ability to identify gold in its raw form. He identified Babatunde Fashola, his former chief of staff as good enough to take over from him, despite the former’s relative lack of political experience compared with those that lined up for the job. Fashola became a success story, good enough for Buhari to unprecedentedly entrust with three key ministries in his first term.

He brought Akinwunmi Ambode, a former civil servant, out of retirement and made him Fashola’s successor. If Ambode did not get the chance to run for a second term, it wasn’t for poor performance, but for the peculiar nature of Nigerian politics that requires an office holder to be ‘a good party man’, beyond performing well in the office for which he is elected.

Those who fault Tinubu for imposing governors on Lagos cannot fault his choices, for they have all been high fliers. He does not look at political experience or religion in his choice of who to support for the governorship of the state. He looks at competence and ability to deliver. “I am a talent hunter. I put talents in office; I help them”, he told Reuters, on his choice of governors for the state. “I use the best hands; the best brains and the best experience for the job”.

Though a staunch Muslim, his choice of the present and immediate past governors have been Christians – evidence of his open mindedness on the sensitive issue of religion. It may also be mentioned the fact that his wife, Senator Oluremi Tinubu, is a Christian.

His latest protégé, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, is the youngest of the three governors he has ‘given’ to the people of Lagos. If the morning can be used to determine the day, it may be safe to assume that the current governor will follow in the footsteps of his predecessors, the god father inclusive.

Tinubu’s capacity for selfless leadership is legendary. He demonstrated this by voluntarily giving up his party’s ticket to run for election into the Senate for Ganiyu Solomon to pacify him when the latter felt cheated by his (Tinubu’s) preference for Fashola for the governorship of Lagos. He had the popularity and wherewithal to ignore him and contest the election which he would have won easily. But he surrendered the party ticket to Solomon in order to make him feel accommodated in the party.

Tinubu recognizes the fact that talent does not have tribe. This explains why he made Ben Akabueze, an Ibo, his commissioner for economic planning. He also ensured Fashola retained the man in the same position. He was instrumental to Akabueze’s appointment as the Director General of the Budget Office by President Muhammadu Buhari. He has again demonstrated pan-Nigerian disposition when it comes to holding of public office by getting Joe Igbokwe, also an Ibo who had served for many years as spokesman for the Lagos State chapter of ACN and until recently APC, into Sanwo-Olu’s cabinet.

Tinubu values and rewards loyalty. It is the reason many would gladly swim or sink with him. He is a benefactor with a difference, with unparalleled benevolence. Those who know him say he is highly forgiving, fully understanding that no human is perfect. Examples abound of disciples who fell out with him, but returned to his warm embrace and rehabilitation when they beat retreats. That is something many god fathers in Nigeria would not do.

Tokunbo Afikuyomi, who served in the Senate with him during Babangida’s still-born Third Republic, fell out with him when he supported Fashola for the governorship of Lagos and left the then Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) to seek greener pastures in the All Nigeria Peoples Party. Having failed in the attempt to win the governorship on the platform of ANPP, Afikuyomi returned to Tinubu and got appointed a commissioner under Fashola – with Tinubu’s support.

Femi Pedro was Tinubu’s deputy during his second term, but left the party just in time before he was impeached to join the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) whose gubernatorial flag he flew in the 2007 election. Having lost the election, he returned to Tinubu’s warm embrace and promptly got a board appointment by Fashola – with the support of his former boss.

Musiliyu Obanikoro left the Alliance for Democracy to become the tool former president Olusegun Obasanjo used in fighting Tinubu. He first ran for the governorship of the state on the platform of PDP, and later got appointed minister of state for defence by Goodluck Jonathan. With the coming of an APC federal government, Obanikoro returned to seek re-union with Tinubu by decamping to the ruling party. Today, his son who had before now tried unsuccessfully to win election into several offices in Lagos is a major beneficiary of that move by finally getting elected into the House of Representatives – thanks to Tinubu.

Such has been Tinubu’s large heartedness and benevolence that there has been something of a competition by beneficiaries to immortalize him in appreciation of his kindness and generosity to them. There is perhaps no part of Lagos where there is no edifice or public institution that is named after him, some of which he may not even be aware of. The appreciation even extends to his family.

Shortly after his mother, Alhaja Habibat Mogaji died, the Lagos Market Traders Association promptly appointed his daughter, Folashade Tinubu-Ojo, to replace her as the Iyalode of the association, despite being only in her forties then. The title is usually reserved for those among the oldest in age and experience. The market on Ikeja Along Bus Stop on the Lagos-Abeokuta Expressway is named after the young lady – in appreciation of her father’s kindness and generosity to others.

It looks like the issue of Tinubu in Nigerian politics will continue to dominate national discourse as 2023 gradually comes into focus. Nigerians can only watch developments as they unfold.