2023 PRESIDENCY: IF NOT TINUBU, WHO ELSE DOES THE CAP FIT?
By: Adémólá Òrúnbon
Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, popularly called BAT, is a master strategist, generalissimo, who has dominated the politics of Nigeria’s commercial capital for over two decades, Tinubu, has long been overdue and expected to make a run for the country’s top job–his formidable political network, propensity for deal-making and substantial personal wealth give him a head start over many other contenders. In the 2023 presidential elections, Tinubu has been coquettish. After the latest rumpuses in the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), in which Tinubu and his allies seemed to lose out, he mocked those pundits who purported to know his political intentions.
“Indeed, to those who have been actively bleating how the President’s actions and the National Executive Committee (NEC) meeting have ended my purported 2023 ambitions … Already you have assigned colourful epitaphs to the 2023 death of an alleged political ambition that is not yet even born.” That was the pronouncement and submission of Tinubu after the purported dissolution of National Working Committee (NWC) of the party after the NEC meeting of the ruling party, which was attended by PMB himself.”
Precisely, on the 25 June, the ruling party’s National Executive Committee (NEC) had dissolved its National Working Committee (NWC) on which Tinubu and his allies had a clear majority and could choose the party chair. They lost that battle. Now the management is in the hands of a caretaker committee and state governors are battling to reassert their control over the party’s machinery. The general view is that Tinubu will run in 2023 but he has not announced any such intentions. This secrecy may be a new strategy given that he is facing serious rivals in the party and the government. Tinubu has not held an official position in government since his second term as Lagos governor, which ended in 2007, but his influence in national politics has grown.
The schisms in the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), have led to the formation of at least two different camps: Nasir el Rufai, Governor of Kaduna State and Rotimi Amaechi, Minister of Transport on one side; and Tinubu, the national leader of the APC and deposed Chairman of the APC, Adams Oshiomhole, on the other. Other factions within the party include senior party people such as Kebbi State governor Atiku Bagudu, Ekiti State Governor Kayode Fayemi, Works Minister Babatunde Fashola. For now they are discreet about their ambitions but many have their eyes on the succession in 2023. Mind you, Tinubu is a former two-time Governor of Lagos State and he retains the mass support till date, with crowds of people gathering outside his mansion on Bourdillon Road, Ikoyi, on a daily basis. They credit him with the social and economic progress seen in Lagos over the past two decades. They add that he has also ensured that progressive Governors run the state since he left the post.
Some of Tinubu’s notable achievements as Governor then include; improving the state’s waste management system and better incentives for civil servants (salary increases and better quality of working environments). His successor, Mr. Babatunde Raji Fashola, was responsible for the implementation of the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) Lite System, which ferries passengers in high-capacity buses on dedicated bus lanes. Also, Governor Akinwunmi Ambode, the immediate past Governor, was shut out when he tried to move away from Tinubu and his desires and instead of allowing him to run on the APC ticket for the second term, he was replaced by Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu. Governor Sanwo-Olu, the current Governor, another one of Tinubu’s picks, has been praised for his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic in the country’s most densely populated state.
Although Tinubu is widely loved in Lagos, his vast wealth and real estate holdings raise questions, especially amongst the critical and independently wealthy citizens. Most attention has focused on the operations of a company called Alpha Beta Consulting which was awarded a contract that gave it exclusive rights to collect taxes on behalf of Lagos State when Tinubu was governor. It was believed to also receive about 10% commission from the revenues collected. Many pro-transparency groups and opposition activists have demanded information about this group and its links with Tinubu and other politicians in the state. After being a two-time governor of Lagos State, he became known as the ‘godfather of Lagos’, handpicking his successors.
Under Tinubu’s tenure as governor of Lagos State, Alpha Beta Consulting was awarded the contract to collect taxes for the state on the recommendation of a committee whose members included the state’s then Attorney General Yemi Osinbajo (now Vice President), then Commissioner for Finance, Mr. Wale Edun and former Commissioner for Economic Planning and Budget, Mr. Yemi Cardoso. But, all attempts by journalists using the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to discover the terms of Alpha Beta’s contract with the Lagos government and its beneficial owners have been blocked by the State Government officials, arguing that the freedom of information only applies to the Federal Government. It is imperative to highlight Tinubu’s influence amongst the Area Boys–loosely organized gangs of street youth who roam the streets of Lagos. He is held up as a man of the people, often giving out free food to poorer Lagosians.
When the APC was formed–a merger of the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP), the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), Congress for Progressive Change (CPC, headed by current President Muhammadu Buhari), and the All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA)–Tinubu was a key member, not even a key member but a key player in bringing together these parties to oppose the ruling Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) ahead of the 2015 elections. After being a two-time Governor of Lagos State, he became known as the ‘godfather of Lagos’, handpicking his successors, as I earlier mentioned above. Those that stopped listening to him, or decided that they held all the power, were removed–as was seen with Akinwunmi Ambode, a one-term Governor of Lagos State who was pushed out in the State primaries ahead of the 2019 elections.
But, falling out of the good graces of both the people of Lagos State and the kingmaker of Lagos politics resulted in Ambode’s going from being the Governor of the country’s most thriving State to being hunted down by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) in just six months he was replaced on the APC ticket for the gubernatorial elections by another Tinubu loyalist, current Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu. Tinubu’s current role is the national leader of the APC, a title that, although an honorific, gives him power and influence within the party structures. It is of note that Tinubu holds two chieftaincy titles: Asiwaju of Lagos and Jagaban of Borgu Kingdom in Niger State, in a country where traditional leaders are still widely respected, these Chieftaincy titles enhance his power and reach. Many younger politicians owe the success of their careers to Tinubu, notably Fashola, and Vice-President Osinbajo. His model has always been to encourage the younger generation.
Before the dissolution of the NWC, it was said that at least 15 out of the 20 members were loyal to Tinubu and Oshiomhole. Governors loyal to Tinubu include Ganduje of Kano, Masari of Katsina (President Buhari’s home state), Abdulrazak of Kwara, Sanwo-Olu of Lagos, Abiodun of Ogun, and Oyetola of the State of Osun, amongst others. Some were asking questions about whether President Buhari wants to play a leading role in determining his successor, like Obasanjo did in 2007. Nobody knows the answer of this for now and certain, but people around Buhari are trying to make sure they are on his good side, hoping that if he does decide to influence the choice and the primaries, he will be on their side, but Tinubu has been on the verge of contesting the race for the fact that most of his allies had been on consultation tours to Alaafin’s palace and others stalwarts.
Although the Nigerian political system is meant to work in a way that the presidency rotates between a Southerner and Northerner in power–implying that Buhari the Northerner should be succeeded by a Southerner –the question of whether the APC’s next candidate will be a Northerner or Southerner looks far from resolved. Tinubu cannot succeed with support only from the South-west; he needs Northern votes as well. Will the eight million strong voters block that Buhari tapped into to stay with the APC, regardless of candidate, or will they go to a Northern candidate, regardless of party? For example, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar of the North-East state of Adamawa is likely to contest again for the PDP and fight for those eight million Northern votes. The collaboration between Buhari and Tinubu in 2015 involved the latter being tasked with bringing in the South-West votes and providing a Southern technocrat as the Vice-Presidential Candidate. When the APC vote count from the South-West for Buhari slipped, it seemed that Tinubu had become less important for him.
It’s unclear how far Tinubu and Buhari trust each other. And whether Buhari would support Tinubu as an APC candidate for the next presidential election. Buhari plays his cards close to his chest. Tinubu has not announced his decision to run for President in 2023, but it will surprise few if he does. Though Asiwaju Tinubu remains a local hero in Lagos, the country’s commercial capital. He would prepare his campaign with an acute strategic sense of the voter data and the political messaging, and Tinubu’s critical task would be to bring in allies from across the middle and the north to bolster his national reach–his deal-making in the past has proved effective but this would be his greatest test yet. But, whether Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu is contesting or vying for the presidential election or not in this country, my submission still remains that he is worth voting for by the Nigerians in all ramifications. Indeed, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu must even contest for the number one position in this nation.
Òrúnbon, an opinion writer, poet, journalist and public affairs analyst, writes in from Federal Housing Estate, Olomore, Abeokuta, Ogun State.