Nigeria’s Top 10 Most Influential Political Actors-Asiwaju Bola Tinubu

To describe Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, Nigeria’s President-elect as the country’s most influential politician of the moment is to state the obvious. Not even the seemingly weighty issues raised against him by opponents and analysts in the build up to the 2023 general elections about his personal credentials, health status and Muslim-Muslim presidential ticket were able to diminish his political influence.

If election outcomes are a good measure of political influence (and they are), the results of the party primaries and main elections have amply proved Tinubu’s leadership in political influence in Nigeria. He won the presidential ticket of his party, the All Progressives Congress (APC) with ease, almost in a landslide. In the presidential election held on February 25, Tinubu scored 37 percent of the votes cast, the highest individual tally, leaving the other 17 aspirants to share the other 63 percent. The next three runners up got 29% (Atiku Abubakar), 25% (Peter Obi) and 6% (Rabiu Kwanwaso), respectively.

Tinubu also won the highest number of states, 12, outrightly (Zamfara, Jigawa, Borno, Niger, Kwara, Kogi, Benue, Ekiti, Oyo, Ogun, Ondo and Rivers). He came second in 19 states (Kebbi, Sokoto, Kaduna, Katsina, Kano, Gombe, Bauchi, Yobe, Taraba, Nasarawa, Plateau, Adamawa, Osun, Lagos, Cross River, Akwa Ibom, Edo, Imo and Ebonyi).

Commenting on the significance of these victories, Prof. Muhammadu Jega, former Chairman of Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), said: “The number of states that a candidate wins outright is important. Equally important is the number of states in which he came second. Also very important is, if he came second with only a narrow margin in most of them.”

Apart from his personal victories, Tinubu’s influence helped many other APC candidates in the Governorship, National and State legislative elections win their own seats. At the completion of the supplementary elections, his party emerged as the majority party in the Senate with 59 member-elect.

In the February 25 election, the party had 55 senators-elect but gained additional four seats during the supplementary polls. The six opposition parties have 50 senator-elect put together.

Of the 360 House of Representatives seats, Tinubu’s APC won 162, PDP 102, Labour 34, leaving the remaining 62 for the other parties.

He is billed to be inaugurated as Nigeria’s sixth elected President on May 29.

The President-elect has been building his power base, the source of his influence, since the early 1990s. By the time he entered the 2023 presidential race, he had built himself into a one-man political institution. He was instrumental to the birth of three formidable national political parties which provided him solid platforms to dominate Lagos State and national politics. He was elected Senator in 1992 on the platform of the Social Democratic Party (SDP), the centre-left party created by the military President, General Ibrahim Babangida; became Lagos state Governor between 1999 and 2007 under Alliance for Democracy (AD) and Action Congress (AC) and National Leader of APC from 2013 to date.

During this period, he has built massive political structures across the country, acquired stupendous wealth and groomed many of his loyalists and associates across the country, especially in his immediate constituencies of Lagos and Southwest, to occupy powerful offices at state and Federal levels, including governors, state and national legislators, ministers, Vice-President, special advisers and head of Federal agencies.

Tinubu is credited with singlehandedly installing his three consecutive successors till date as Lagos state Governor since he left office after serving two terms as the Governor of the state. They include, Babatunde Fashola, Akinwunmi Ambode and the incumbent, Babajide Sanwo-Olu.  In fact, it is generally believed that anyone and everyone who has become a Senator, House of Representatives member, state house of assembly lawmaker or even a council chairperson in the state from as far back as 2003 had the approval of Tinubu.

Outside Lagos, some of the elected or appointed public office holders who were reportedly sponsored or assisted into such positions by Tinubu in the South West include Rauf Aregbesola, Minister of Interior and former Governor of Osun State; Kayode Fayemi, former minister of Solid Mineral Resources and immediate past Governor of Ekiti State; former and present Governors of Ondo state, Olusegun Mimiko and Rotimi Akeredolu; as well as Abiola Ajimobi, late Governor of Oyo state.

The President-elect’s hand was also seen in the ascension into office of Adams Oshiomhole (as Edo State Governor, National Chairman of APC and Senator-elect in the February 2023 election). At one time or the other since he was Governor of Lagos state and founder or co-founder of national political parties, Tinubu has provided platforms for politicians such as Atiku Abubakar, Nuhu Ribadu; and even the incumbent President and Vice-President, Muhammadu Buhari and Yemi Osinbajo, respectively, to contest for or ascend to power. There are many others.

It is within the context of the long list of people he had assisted to get into political office across the country over time that analysists situate his recent controversial campaign statement, ‘Emilokan’ (It’s my turn, in Yoruba). It is interpreted as meaning that after helping others realize their political ambitions, it was now his turn to be supported to realize his.

This year, 2023, by his strategic calculation, is the time to realize that ambition; the year the Nigerian political kingmaker extraordinaire would, himself, become king. With his victory in the February 25 election, there can be no doubt that Nigeria’s Presidency has come within his grips. His exercise of political power and influence has come full circle.

Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu was born in Lagos, Nigeria, to the illustrious Tinubu Family of Lagos State. He attended Richard Daley College, Chicago Illinois, where he earned himself a place in the honours list of the College. He subsequently proceeded to the Chicago State University, Illinois, where he obtained a Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration (Accounting and Management).

During his undergraduate years, he was honoured with the Outstanding Student’s Award, the University Scholar’s Award and the Certificate of Merit in Accounting and Finance. With his successful academic profile, young Bola contested and won his first political election as the President of the Accounting Society of the institution in his final year at the University.

Upon graduation with honours and several awards, Bola Tinubu cut his professional teeth at the American-based Arthur Anderson, Deloitte Haskins and Sells (now called Deloitte Haskins and Touche) and GTE Service Corporation – the largest Communication and Utility Company in the United States of America.

On his return to Nigeria and with his international experience in Financial Management, young Bola joined Mobil Producing Nigeria as a Senior Auditor before he retired as the company’s Treasurer.

As pragmatic, charitable, grassroots’ person, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu saw communal service as a veritable tool for social development. He never hesitated to serve his community, spearheading several financial contributions and fund-raising for community development programmes in Lagos State. He led Primrose Group, a political action organization pushing for fundamental changes in the politics of Lagos State.

Asiwaju Bola Tinubu opted for full time public service in exchange for his lucrative job at Mobil. His first foray into active politics was as a founding member of the defunct Social Democratic Party (SDP). In 1992, he was elected as a Senator to represent Lagos West Senatorial District. At the National Assembly, he distinguished himself as the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Banking, Finance, Appropriation and Currency – a foremost committee of the Senate.

With the annulment of the June 12, 1993 Nigerian Presidential Election and the consequent fresh militarization of the Nigerian politics, Tinubu became a founding member of the famous pro-democracy group, the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO) which, for several years, engaged the military for the very soul of Nigeria. Subsequently, Tinubu suffered many arrests and detention, harassments and constant threats to his life, forcing him to flee Nigeria for his personal safety. He, however, did not give up the struggle as he joined NADECO abroad to continue the agitation for the restoration of democratic governance and civil rule in the country.

In 1998, Tinubu returned to Nigeria to heed a call for all Nigerians to join in the National Reconciliation and Development. A year later, he began his two-term public service as an elected Executive Governor of Lagos State on the platform of the Alliance for Democracy (AD).

Political antecedents

Accounts of Bola Tinubu’s political antecedents can fill a book of many volumes. Suffice it to say that, in the last three decades, he has bestridden the Nigerian political landscape like a Colossus, transforming himself into one of the most powerful politicians in Nigeria’s contemporary political history. Any politician from Lagos state who became somebody during this period – Governor, Deputy Governor, minister, Senator, amongst others, did so on the back, reputation and goodwill of the maverick former Governor. Similarly, those who fell from political grace to grass owed their misfortune to their impudence to challenge Tinubu or failure to reckon with his influence. Tinubu’s sphere of absolute political influence, till date, extends to other southwestern states of Oyo, Ogun, Osun, Ondo and Ekiti where he determines the fate of state governors and other politicians – who gets elected or reelected and who does not. In many other parts of Nigeria, he has created a sort of cult followership among all the strata of the political elite on account of his astute political craftsmanship and influence.

This explains the national spread of the votes he scored and the states he won in the February 25 election.

Tinubu has a way of building or rebuilding highly successful alliances and political parties. As an astute political strategist, Tinubu, as AD Governor, survived the massive incursion of the ruling PDP to the South Western States of Nigeria as the lone re-elected Governor of the party in 2023. He was actively involved in the creation of the Action Congress (AC), (later Action Congress of Nigeria) as a recourse to the decimated AD. Rallying like-minds across the country, he sold sound ideals and programmes on this fresh and new political platform. Within a few months, he transformed this new party into the credible opposition to the PDP in the country.

Following the victory by PDP in the April 2007 elections, Tinubu was active in negotiations to bring together the fragmented opposition parties into a “mega-party” capable of challenging the PDP in 2011. In July 2009, he called for implementation of electoral reforms spelled out in the Uwais report to ensure that the 2011 elections would be as free and fair as the elections of 1993 had been.  This move resulted in the formation of APC by Tinubu alongside Muhammadu Buhari in 2013. The goal was to build a stronger party to get rid of the ruling party, the PDP.

In 2015 Tinubu’s objective was achieved when APC won the presidential elections and most of the polls across the country.

It has been widely reported that Tinubu took his first concrete steps to actualize his “life-time” presidential ambition with the formation of APC. According to reports, APC at birth was a union of political forces loyal to President Buhari and Tinubu, a sort of equal partnership in which the party’s National Executive positions were shared between the two leaders. Tinubu reportedly conceded the party’s first presidential slot of two terms (eight years) to Buhari while he held the Honorary title of National Leader. The history of scuffles and instability in the national leadership of APC is generally believed to be the story of Tinubu’s Presidential bid: he seeks to dominate the party’s structure and hierarchy which he could deploy to his advantage in this year’s presidential election. The removal of Adams Oshiomhole, Tinubu’s arch-loyalist, as APC National Chairman in 2021 was interpreted in Tinubu’s camp as a calculated attempt by his opponents to scuttle his presidential ambition by removing his henchmen from the party leadership. The crisis created by Oshiomhole’s removal left the party without elected leadership at all levels for more than one year.

Tinubu’s reputation

Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s score on this account is a mixed bag. It is in the nature of the murky waters of Nigerian politics that no one plays at the level Tinubu did and for the length of time he did without accumulating both accolades and scum, deserved or otherwise. Both the credit and debit sides of the President-elect’s political balance sheet in the last three decades are highly loaded with positives and negatives. The debit entries centre on the questionable status of personal records of his parentage, his age, university attended, health status and source of his famed wealth (he reportedly claimed to be richer than the Osun State Government).

On the political front, the man who built his political career on the foundation of pro-democracy struggle is accused of undemocratic tendencies. These usually manifest in his intolerance of dissent and politically bruising brushes with his Deputies (Kofo Akerele-Bucknor and Femi Pedro), political godsons and associates (AkinwumiAmbode and Aregbesola). He is also charged with ideological contradictions reflected in the mismatch between rhetoric and actions. For instance, the President-elect is accused of failure to use his party to restructure Nigeria, a position he advocated fiercely before APC won power in 2015.

In the campaign leading up to the February 25 election, the major issue that weighed heavily against him was the state of his physical and mental health which his opponents claim question his capacity to lead Nigeria as president.

Some credit entries in Tinubu’s political balance sheet include his capacity to design and deploy winning strategies to achieve political objectives and his outspokenness on any cause he believes in. He is also credited with being a successful Governor of Lagos State with a knack for identifying and installing suitable successors who have kept the touch of performance glowing in Lagos State. He is regarded as a benevolent leader and godfather who grooms and nurtures his associates to great heights in politics and other endeavours.

For his excellent performance as the Executive Governor of Lagos State (1999 – 2007), Tinubu received several awards, including the Best Governor in Nigeria for Year 2000 by the Nigerian-Belgian Chamber of Commerce; 2002 Best Practices Prize in improving the living environment, awarded by the Federal Ministry of Works and the UN Habitat Group; Year 2000 Best Computerized Government in Nigeria Award by the Computer Association of Nigeria. Tinubu was conferred with the Honorary Doctor of Law Degree by the Abia State University in recognition of his immense contribution to democracy, good governance and development of Nigeria. He is the proud recipient of numerous other chieftaincy titles and a patron of many professional and social organizations.

The results of the Presidential election have confirmed Tinubu’s acclaimed reputation as a born fighter. As expected, and against all odds, he deployed all his political arsenal, resources and influence to outclass his opponents and charmed his admirers to victory.

On May 29, all things being equal, Tinubu will be crowned the ultimate political influence welder when he is inaugurated as the President and Commander-in-Chief of Armed Forces of Nigeria.